Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More complicated than it appears

I suppose it's easier for news reports and partisans to latch on to something like 'teachers want to protect seniority' and skip over the complications of such a situation.  

Today, news reports said the Tacoma district was willing to retain seniority.  I hear it as the district agreed to retain seniority in layoffs.  But there's more to it.  One of the other aspects of  seniority has to do with who gets to decide which teachers can have which assignments.  And this part the district wants to eliminate, I'm told.  This could create a situation in which principals can freely (and therefore sometimes arbitrarily) move people where s/he wants.

Consider this scenario.  The district seems to want to end seniority completely in cases of school to school transfer/displacement.  It then becomes possible that a principal could move to another building and entice a few of his/her favorite teachers to come along, promising them choice assignments, and displacing those who already hold those jobs.  If such 'flexibility' (as the district calls it) were in place you could end with something like this:
A veteran teacher retires from a long-held spot.   The principal brings in a teacher from another school, enticing him with a promise to make him department chair and give him a plum class assignment, jumping him over longer serving teachers in the department.  The department meets and collectively decides that they prefer not to have the new member get thusly ushered in to the choice assignment, without any experience.

Seniority rights are part of the support for the teachers' claim.  But let's not get hung up on the notion of seniority or flexibility.

The real issue is about governance of the school and its programs.  Let's face it, teachers are not always completely confident in principals' decision-making and judgment.  And such authority is a lot to vest in one person.  

So seniority may be somewhat rigid and mechanistic (so let's talk about adjustment to that), but it has been designed to safeguard against scenarios like the one above--which did happen.

Construing 'seniority' as a nothing more than a scam to protect teachers, and therein substantiating demands for 'flexibility' is unhelpful in that it swings the pendulum just as far in the opposite direction.  

Let's not scrap one institutional arrangement in favor of another equally problematic institutional arrangement.  Let's make sensible choices about adjustments....Let's create systems that actually work.

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