Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting worse?

The rumor mill in Tacoma has it that the district administration is pushing for significant change (I've heard the word "elimination") of the seniority clauses in the contract with teachers.

Rumors being what they are (and mills being what they are), I want to take care not to be too brazen with this.  I do think it's safe to say that if the district is in fact standing on something so significant, this would have serious ramifications for schools and education.

The apparent logic behind such a change is to make evaluation and removal of "bad teachers" easier, and perhaps, to ultimately maneuver out older, more expensive teachers.

There are forces (read, local advocacy groups) in motion that seem favorable, at least implicitly, to both of these circumstances.

Just what sort of evaluation process would be implemented?  (And, by the way, such a change would make every year a free for all.  Evaluations that lead to removal could be delivered at the end of any and every school year.)

And who would execute the process?  Would it be simply deterministic?   (Test score performance increases of a certain size guarantee a teacher's spot next year?  Some other mechanistic measure?)

Or would a person or panel give input?  Who?  Based on what?  Such input could be really effective...in a high trust environment.  Tacoma, unfortunately, is becoming a lower trust environment every day.

The seniority system (like tenure for university professors) is ripe for review and adjustment, no doubt.  Swinging hard to the other side, 'blowing up' the current institutional arrangements without a robust replacement that all the stakeholders have bought into (sorry for the Ed-speak), isn't a good plan, though.

I'm sure somehow this is what's best for kids...I just haven't figured it out yet.


Anonymous said...

This is Washington. I lost my job which had no contract, had no performance bar I failed to meet. What is wrong with having your contract not renew if you don't meet standards? My general contractor used to point out he was "out of work" as soon as he finished each job. Some of us just need to get used to a harder life. You will survive, you are fit.

Andrew Milton said...

A friend watched his school getting rebuilt, board by board, while they held class in temporary buildings. He marveled at the end of each day how he could see the progress on the building, while he was never sure just what impact he had on students that day.

Measuring the two--the completion of a finite contracting job and the on-going student learning process--are not quite similar.

The issue isn't about employees (teachers) meeting standards. The question is what the standard is. Buildings built by contractors are not quite the same as sentient beings of different background, capacity, motivation, interest, etc.

On another note, do a thought experiment. If half the teachers in your kid's school disappeared, to be replaced by teachers unknown to you or your child, how confident and calm do you think your kid would be that first day? Does stability have any value? Can you be sure that wholesale dismissals and replacement is going to make significant improvement in student performance?

Annie Hopper said...

I have limited knowledge of public school classrooms. For the most part, my kids didn't attend public schools. I've worked in the health room at three different grade schools in the past 5 years, though, and even in that short time (less than 2 years at each school)I've seen teachers moved into and out of each of the buildings. (I have also been amazed to witness families moving in and out of schools at all times of the year, and some as many as 2-3 times in one year.)

My own experience growing up was very different.I attended one grade school from 1961-1968 and remember only two new teachers during that time, and I believe they were hired due to the retirement of their predecessors. The same teachers taught my older siblings In fact, all the staff---principal, secretary,nurse,kitchen, custodian, music teacher and separate band and orchestra teachers---remained the same the entire time.Most of the kids in my 6th grade class were ones I'd known in kindergarten, too. It was a very stable little community. I don't know whether that's typical for that time, or whether it was unusually stable due to the anchoring university (PLU) and affiliated church community whose members, children and faculty wives were well-represented in the school population. I am sure the security of the unchanging, caring staff was beneficial to all the families with kids there (maybe as much benefit to little people as the class content...??)
(A side note: we continued to use textbooks from the 30's, 40's, and 50's. It was a Big Deal the year we got brand new readers, or science texts with a few matched lab materials. And no disposable workbooks. Pennies were being pinched but staff wasn't being cut. We had daily PE, intramural sports, and options to play in a band or orchestra.)
And now I'll return to my rocking chair and quiet musings...

Anonymous said...

I'm same Anonymous who posted above. I hope your comparison of construction to students was not a reply to me, as I made no mention of construction. Rather, I am describing the experience of finishing a cycle of work (e.g., a school year, a task, a job) and having to find new work. Do it well and you get another engagement. Do it poorly and you don't. Simple and right.

How we measure performance was beyond my comment, but your original post mentioned "elimimination" and "blowing up" so my challenge to the concept of seniority is on-topic.

BTW, My thought experiment finds that replacing half the teachers may be undesirable, but that it could matter little either way. As a kid, I cared little whether the teach was new and cared much that they were good. Some bad ones persisted long. Most good ones were obvious in their first year there.