Monday, September 12, 2011


I texted a Tacoma teacher friend to ask what had happened Monday night at the union meeting.

I got a one-word response.


With 87% of the membership voting for a strike, Tacoma will not be having school tomorrow, Sept. 13.  The superintendent says he's going to court to get an injunction to stop it.

The sticking point is 'seniority,' in a subtle aspect.  The district wants the flexibility--as Board Member Kurt Miller says--of letting principals reassign teachers as they see fit, without seniority getting in the way.  Flexibility would be great, but don't think it comes without negative and unintended consequences.  

In an environment where hiring and placement preferences (of principals) can be driven as much by who can/will coach a sport as on teaching/content area abilities, I wouldn't want to have to play the 'satisfy the principal' game and wonder every year whether I'd be reassigned to a new position.  

In fact, for the last two years I've had an unusual and new class added to my schedule just days before school starts.  I was qualified for these classes, but they were not my first choice, and they were not what I had signed on to do.  One class added to my 'regular' routine is manageable.  Being completely reassigned to a new subject area or building, that's different.

So, whence comes the big push to create this 'flexibility'?  Apparently, the Achievement Gap movement (see Vibrant Schools Tacoma--about 2/3 the way down this link-- and candidate Dexter Gordon) has latched on to the current seniority arrangement as the source of the achievement gap. 

They rely in part on the consultant's report, which says

The Advisory Committee found that the achievement gap for African American students is caused primarily by:
  • Inequitable distribution of skilled and experienced teachers
This is the first reason listed under the primary causes, even though one page later the report says,
The degree to which quality teachers are available to African American students in Tacoma schools could not be determined with the available information. 

The obvious question, then, is by what reasoning do the anti-seniority advocates think that eliminating seniority for the sake of flexibility will help close the achievement gap?

Is it that principals and the district are more responsive to social pressure than the contractual language on seniority?

Or do they think that principals are going to single-handedly discern the best reassignments?

Certainly, the seniority system needs some adjustment, but the district's proposal is a lot more than adjustment.

'Flexibility' sounds great.  It's always better than rigidity, I guess.  But locating authority in one individual is also problematic (to say the least), especially when those individuals do not always have the full trust of their own staff.

So, I hope somebody who supports the 'flexibility' movement will articulate just how that generates better outcomes, and how abuses will be prevented. 


Lynette said...

I would think that most jobs are subject to the whims of management. Such is life. The only way to keep anyone from abusing ANY system is agreed upon processes.

I think we have all been subjugated to people who are 'phoning-in' their job performance because of tenure or time in service. I think it would be more productive to negotiate processes to reduce the risk of abuse than to strike and take kids out of school.

karl said...

When I see the idea of giving principals more autonomy with school staffing decisions I get worried. The reason is that I have met more than a few that weren't even fit to teach classes at our jr hs. They were political lackeys who were little different than some of the most anti-intellectual students and parents. They blew in the prevailing winds. Idiocracy comes to mind. I somehow imagine being replaced by Brittney Spears because the kids like her better.