Monday, April 26, 2010

Last Teacher In, First Out? City Has Another Idea

It's great to see that the issue of laying off teachers based purely on seniority – one of the very worst things for kids – made the front page of the NYT today.  Kudos to Joel Klein for pushing this issue!  Even though this article is probably correct that the bill has no chance in Albany, it's an important debate to have, both on its merits and politically.  Now that the rubber rooms will soon be no more, it's important to have an issue that clearly crystallizes for everyone how the unions screw kids.  Yes, it's true that teacher evaluation systems aren't perfect, but let's be clear: even if they were, the unions would still oppose anything except pure seniority-based policies.  A system where EVERYTHING (pay, perks, etc.) is driven by seniority is just part of their DNA – one of the main reasons I compare them to the longshoreman's union – and they will only give it up when forced to (see the recent contract in DC, for example).

Facing the likelihood of the largest number of layoffs in more than a generation, Mr. Klein and his counterparts around the country say that the rules, which require that the most recently hired teachers be the first to lose their jobs, are an anachronism in the era of accountability that will upend their efforts of the last few years to recruit new teachers, improve teacher performance and reward those who do best.

"Nobody I've talked to thinks seniority is a rational way to go," Mr. Klein said. "Obviously there are some senior teachers who are extraordinary. You recruit young talent you think is good for the future, and to just get rid of that by the numbers seems to me to be a nonsensical approach."

This month city officials persuaded lawmakers in Albany to introduce a bill that would allow the city to decide which teachers to let go, although its chances of passing are slim. Similar legislation in California, where thousands of young teachers have received letters saying they could be out of work, moved forward last week, backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arizona abolished seniority rules last year, and this month its Legislature banned the use of seniority if teachers are rehired. Unions argue that administrators want to do away with seniority protections so they can get rid of older teachers, who are more expensive.

They say that without seniority safeguards, principals could act on personal grudges, and that while keeping the best teachers is a laudable goal, no one has figured out an accurate way to determine who those teachers are.

"There is no good way to lay people off," said Randi Weingarten, the former leader of the city's teachers' union, who is now the president of the American Federation of Teachers. "But to be opportunistic and try to rush something through without knowing if there's some degree of objectivity and a comprehensive and valid evaluation system is appalling."


Last Teacher In, First Out? City Has Another Idea

Published: April 24, 2010

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