Monday, December 6, 2010

Parsing Mulgrew on tenure, teacher effectiveness, teacher evaluation, value-added: What he should be saying, but won't

Just heard Mulgrew on Brian Lehrer in relation to Cathie Black's positions opposing tenure and last in first out (LIFO) for layoffs. Talk of teacher effectiveness and cost effectiveness.

Not the latter is a newer wrinkle of the ed deformers - the argument that given 2 roughly equal teachers it is more cost effective to get rid of the one who makes more money. They can even argue that if a teacher who makes 100G is superb, it is still more cost effectie to keep two 3rd year teachers making 60G.

Now if you are running a business that idea looks good. But is it really cost effective over the long term when you are dealing with an entire profession that would react poorly - even the younger teachers who hope to put in a long career and one day get paid accordingly? Other than real newbies who have no plans to stay - think Teach for America - the shock troops of the ed deform movement - the degrading aspect of this attack undermines the profession and weakens teacher effectiveness over the long run. I would bet most teachers from 3rd year on would be absolutely opposed to weakening of tenure and the end of seniority for layoffs - which are a pretty rare affair. Many teachers I know starting around 1969-70 were excessed at least once - and in '75 we had massive layoffs by seniority and call-backs by the same means - an orderly system instead of the chaos the ed deformers are calling for.

Of course we heard none of this argument by Mulgrew who instead talked about the fact that tenure is due process not life-time jobs and that if there are ineffective teachers the principals should have gotten rid of them before it was time for layoffs. Good points for him - he even talked about how tenure is not a contract provision but state law long superceding the lifetime of the union. (By the way - tenure as people talk about it as a lifetime job is more aligned with college teaching though even that is based on some due process system). He also talked about the fair funding formula - the tactic tha charges principals for the costs of the teachers instead of lumping all salaries into a central fund - and how it encourages principals to get rid of of more expensive teachers. So not terrible even though he could have been much stronger - but as we know- the UFT is partway on the ed deform bandwagon - or wants it to appear that way.

When Brian brought up the release of individual teacher evaluations, Mulgrew was weak I thought in not arguing how they should never be released for all sorts of reasons that have been argued. Instead he attacked the accuracy of the value-added results at this point and seemed to argue that when they were accurate it would be OK to release them.

I think there have been enough arguments about VA and the narrow tests they are based on. We think there is a lot more to a teacher than can be expressed in a number. The union should be making that case instead of bragging how they are willing to cooperate in their own members' demise.

For the kind of defense we would like to hear from out union - but never will read this at Modern School:

Value Added & Performance Pay Scams Weaken Teacher Pay and Autonomy

Stephen Krashen, from Schools Matter, has an excellent posting on the idiocy of Value Added teacher assessments and performance pay: Seniority and Teacher Layoffs: A Red Herring

Like so much of Ed Deform: It's all about money. Senior teachers are higher on the pay scale and cost districts more money than younger inexperienced teachers. Krashen argues that this is the only rational argument for dumping experience over youth since veteran teachers generally do a better job. They have more years of on the job practice. They have more experience from workshops, professional development, and collaboration with peers.

However, there is one more reason to dump older teachers: Control
Experienced teachers are less likely to go along with every hare-brained ed deform plan concocted by their administrators. This is one reason why charter schools like KIPP are able to get their teachers to work weekends and summers and be on call well into the night. 
Retired UFT Bronx HS District Rep Lynne Winderbaum on the NYCEDNews Listserve said:
Of all the words used to describe Cathie Black, "parrot" may be a new one. But it seems that after her listening tour of Tweed, she has now come out repeating the tired old propaganda that has been adopted by the Department of Education for the last nine years.

This morning at 6:15 AM on NPR Cathie Black announced that she "has a problem with the practice of granting 25-year-olds tenure, insuring them a job for the rest of their lives for just showing up to work everyday".   Also, she "has a problem with laying off the 'last in' first".  She stated that she could never run a company successfully if these practices existed and that these practices would never be accepted in business.
Frightening to see that her ignorance regarding these issues had been replaced by the misrepresentations she is being taught. First of all, there is no practice of granting 25-year olds tenure. Anyone of that age who does achieve tenure has already served three years in a classroom and has been trained during that probationary period to work on techniques and strategies to improve their pedagogy. At any time during the three year period, if the teacher does not show improvement or an aptitude for the job, he or she can be summarily fired--no questions asked. It is called a "discontinuance of probation" and it is used frequently. After three years, if the teacher has been satisfactory rated, only then is tenure granted. And if an administrator has any doubts about granting tenure, there is the option to extend probation for an additional questions asked. 
Cathie Black is also showing her ignorance of the fact that tenure is not a "job for the rest of their lives for just showing up to work everyday." Tenured teachers can be fired under the terms of state education law Section 3020a. That's all tenure gets them: a due process proceeding. It does not mean a job for life. It is just a guarantee of a fair hearing, with evidence presented and with representation. Private sector workers would love to have such security, but apparently a successful business cannot incorporate fairness according to Black. A tenured teacher cannot be summarily fired for any reason as a probationary teacher can. That's all tenure means. And if Cathie Black is unquestioningly passing along the false myths that we expect of a person who simply repeats what she hears without any independent research, we should fear what lies ahead in her decision making process.
May I add that without tenure, teachers risk discrimination, being punished for their political leanings, and they will rightly fear exposing wrongdoing or questioning violations such as failure to follow special ed or ELL laws, for example. It is just protection Cathie, not a lifetime guarantee. Get out of your cocoon.
"Last in, first out" was never a policy that was debated until the wholesale closing of schools left many veteran teachers without jobs. Before that, the only teachers in excess were those with one or two years experience. Suddenly there were hundreds of employees who had given their lives to the children of New York City, twenty or thirty years in many cases, who had no place to work, through no fault of their own. They were also the most highly paid. So, despite the fact that many are fine teachers, Tweed looked for a way to paint them all with a negative brush and build a pr position around firing them. Black says the practice would never be accepted in business where the model is to have the power to hire and fire at will. But first she must make a convincing argument that the basis of retaining teachers will never be favoritism or silence about problems at schools. Seniority is a fair way to fight favoritism and nepotism. Do away with seniority and tenure and watch what is unleashed in our workforce. After her week of listening to folks downtown, the breadth of her understanding of the issues may be a mile wide but it is a quarter inch thick.
That does not bode well for anyone in the school system.

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