Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Washington should expect its teachers to be effective

Teachers wish to be paid like the skilled professionals they are, but is this a fair expectation if they don’t face the normal pressures of the job market?

When lay offs happen at a typical company, new hires are often the first to get the ax, but employers usually take other factors into consideration as well, like their employee’s attitude, reliability, and productivity. In other words, their performance.

Not so with teachers. Faced with a severe budget shortage, the Seattle school district plans to save money by laying off 165 of its newest teachers under a “last hired, first fired” system. The longest serving teachers are protected, while the newest lose their job based on only one factor, and one that is out of their control, their seniority. If job performance was a criterion, many of those last hired educators would be sticking around and the long-timers would be hitting the road.

Seattle parents are understandably upset about the threat of seeing their favorite teachers leave their school, and many blame the teachers union for creating employment contracts that protect seniority above all else. Not willing to let this issue ride, a group of angry parents is calling for the school district and teachers union to prioritize teacher effectiveness. From their online petition, signed by almost 800 people:
In the new contract between the teachers’ association and the school district, change the layoff policy to prioritize effectiveness. Put in place a system that promotes, rewards and protects teamwork, expertise, best teaching practices and each site’s unique programmatic needs.
Maybe these parents have been reading the latest research that shows that giving students a great teacher is the best way to help them learn. From the Seattle P-I:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found that the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.
Funny, I think I read the same conclusion in the legislature's Basic Education Task Force report released in December. The recently passed education reform bill was based on the recommendations of this task force. Unfortunately, its recommendations on "merit pay" didn't go over so well with the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, and stalled reform only went forward after it stripped out all references to pay based on teacher effectiveness in order to placate the extremely cantankerous union.

Imagine if your next raise had nothing to do with how well you did your job, only that you showed up for it.

NPI supports labor unions and we believe that they can benefit both workers and their communities, but protecting some union members who have seniority, while hurting those without it, isn’t a successful strategy. It doesn’t incentivize good work or treat employees like skilled professionals. It doesn’t protect any more jobs, and above all, it doesn’t ensure that the most effective, highly skilled teachers are in the classroom.

If we really want to improve Washington’s schools, we need to start where we can make the most difference, with our teachers. We need to attract and retain the best teachers and reward them accordingly. Why should we expect less than the best for our kids?


Blogger Kenny Libby said...

Quote: "extremely cantankerous union" - sounds an awful lot like the neoconservates that the NPI claims to counter. Listen to Bill Gates and his buddy Eli Broad (who are accountable to no one) preach about accountability and the newest fad in reform. They'll experiment in public policy until the data fits their needs; or, they claim failure and walk away.
Call it progressive policy; more like more neoliberal reform efforts.

May 28, 2009 4:48 PM  
Blogger Dexter said...

I have taught for almost 40 years. I have also been a principal and a superintendent. It's clearly true; effective teaching is the best reform we could make in schools. The problem is that effective teaching is like true love; tough to define, easy to recognize. The union has done great work for teachers; for education, not so much. We have to figure out how to keep the union benefits and lose the protection of simple seniority

May 29, 2009 9:58 PM  

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