June 10, 2011

Seniority Means Efficiency in Whistleblowing?

Justin Katz

Can't say I buy the rationale that Eloise Wyatt offers for preserving seniority policies among public school teachers:

By eliminating seniority you get rid of the protection that lets teachers speak, up and stand up when an administration is hurting children. In my time as a special-education teacher in Providence, it was common for administration to save money to shortchange or totally deny students the services they were required to have by law.

Only when students had teachers protected by seniority was there someone to advocate for those students. It is not only special-needs students who can get ground up in by administration. Often students need an advocate. Sadly, any teacher who speaks out now might find themselves without jobs.

That might be an argument for tenure (although one must then wonder why every employee of every conceivable business doesn't need such protections), but seniority? What if it's a young teacher who sees the need to advocate for students? Indeed, it seems far more likely that fresh eyes in an educational system are more apt to spot the inappropriate activities that have worked themselves into the school's culture.

Of course, even by considering the topic to this extent, I'm allowing for the sake of discussion the assertion that teachers are more likely than administrators to be students' advocates. It seems to me that, in a properly run school, the principals, superintendent, school committee, and other non-teaching personnel would have at least as much motivation to ensure that students are well served and their parents satisfied with the job that the schools are doing.

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The grammar in these teacher-sent letters to the editor leaves much to be desired. I know that this particular teacher is a special education teacher, but perhaps writing samples should be required for future hires.

"I am pretty sure you will not print this because it interferes with The Journal's right-wing dreams"

Sad when an author's credibility is completely shot from the very first sentence.

Posted by: Dan at June 10, 2011 4:14 PM

I agree with Justin here, on all points.

Simple solution that makes things better instead of worse:

Instead of 'seniority' being based solely on time in the system, base it on something that demonstrates value.

For instance, only allow teachers to 'step up' if the classes they turn out have the same or more 'proficient' students than when they came in, then define 'seniority' as what step folks are on instead of how many hours they worked.

This way, a teacher who works in a tough school or gets a class of lemons isn't going to get screwed for having lower scores than a teacher who gets a great class in a better school.

Posted by: mangeek at June 10, 2011 4:44 PM

Would someone explain to me, in cogent language, why academia requires senority, or tenure?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 11, 2011 10:10 AM

"why academia requires senority, or tenure?"

I'll do these one at a time:

It doesn't need seniority, but if you are going to have 'steps', you need a way to retain higher-stepped folks over lower ones, otherwise districts would just fire folks after they 'got expensive'. The way it works is that teachers start at pretty low pay ($35K-ish) and step-up every year until they make a decent middle-class salary ($60K+). Now you'll notice that I'm not using any nasty terminology here... I think top-step teachers -should- be making $65-$80K, considering the responsibilities they have (they should also have 401K plans, but that's a different story). On the flipside... Just stepping-up on a yearly basis seems foolish to me, Neither students, faculty, nor staff should be getting automatic step-ups without showing a documented net-positive impact.

Now some folks might say "it should just ALL be managerial control", but that assumes good management, which many districts and schools clearly don't have. I don't want to -add- nepotism and corruption to what's already messed-up, public schools are clearly 'union shops', and they're staying that way. The best I can hope for is reform that gives us schools full of SOLID educators, while the low-performing ones never step-up to pay levels that keep them retained.

As for tenure, I do think it's important to have a few folks who are really good at their jobs, really well-respected, who are immune from political attacks or free to pursue experimental methods. Is this important in K-12? No; but in universities it has a lot of value, mostly revolving around advocacy and research. I would imagine that tenure might have an advantage in public K-12 schools, just so the business of choosing curriculum could go to 'on-the-ground experts' instead of paid or corrupt committees. Obviously, you'd want limits on what proportion of 'tenured' faculty would be acceptable and the process to get it would be arduous.

So there you go... On AR I often seem liberal or even progressive when I say that teachers should have some protections and get aid well, and on RIFuture I get scorned for saying they should have 401Ks and not step-up annually. In the end, these moderate views could probably deliver much better education, for less money, without making teaching a horrible job that nobody wants to do.

Posted by: mangeek at June 11, 2011 4:47 PM

Justin asks a good question;

What if it's a young teacher who sees the need to advocate for students?

If Justin's young teacher sees the need to advocate for a student and has knowledge of the law and believes that their interpretation is correct, will that young teacher risk making waves in pushing for an outcome that is at odds with the actions of administrators. In bad economic times with pressure on schools to cut costs and layoff or fire teachers how many young teachers lacking seniority and tenure would push against those who may be the ones who decide who stays and who goes?

Posted by: Phil at June 12, 2011 9:18 AM
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