Teacher seniority rules under fire

As teacher layoffs soar, rules that protect senior teachers, regardless of competence, are under attack, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In New York and California, school leaders want the state legislature ban the sole use of seniority in layoff decisions.

Last year, Arizona passed a ban, and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., in addition to letting go some new teachers, laid off some who would otherwise have been protected by union seniority rules. Teachers unions in Arizona and Washington sued over the moves, but they lost their court challenges.

Veteran teachers are attractive targets for cost cutters because they earn so much more than new teachers. A top-scale teacher may earn twice as much as an entry-level teacher — but not be anywhere near twice as good.

In Seattle last year, parents started asking, “Why is my great teacher being laid off while this teacher, who everybody knows is not a good teacher, doesn’t get laid off?” said Venus Velazquez, a parent who said she is one of dozens attempting to remove the seniority protection from the next teacher contract.

. . . “I consider myself a union supporter, but I don’t support the seniority system,” said Lynnell Mickelsen of Minneapolis, who is organizing a community group to oppose the main use of seniority in layoffs.

In a shrinking school system, which has resulted in the loss of 1,300 teacher jobs since 2001, “terrific teachers have been laid off, and [some of those remaining] are depressingly, relentlessly mediocre,” Ms. Mickelsen said. “People are so frustrated about this.”

The underlying issue is that teacher pay bears no relation to teacher effectiveness. If the best paid teachers were the best teachers, there would be an incentive to keep them in hard times.

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  1. And veteran teachers, who earn so much, are also practically the reason for the existence of the unions.

    If the current batch of union officials can’t keep the high-seniority teachers employed regardless of economic conditions, the number of kids or the teacher’s competence then the current union officials will be chucked out at the next election.

  2. Miller Smith says:

    Who hired those “mediocre” teachers, gave them good evaluations each year until they “earned” tenure, and then gave them good evaluations each year thereafter? The union? The parents? The students? Nooo! It was the administration that gifted us with the very teachers that they now complain about. What nerve!

    I have served under seven principals in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland since 1988. When I was hired on Oct 18, 1988, over the phone while I stood in my mother’s kitchen in East Tennessee, I was somewhat surprised that PGCPS had no qualified applicant living closer. To my surprise, I found out that I was literally the only qualified certified applicant they had on file. That should have told me something.

    I ended up in a high school that could only be described as “wide open.” The principal and admin were never in the halls and only came to see me to do the minimally required observations for my first year. It was pitiful.

    The school was “wide open.” Students ran the halls at will-even to the point that students would walk in classroom with lessons in progress to talk with friends. The place was a crazy house with teachers holed up in their classrooms like hostages.

    When I complained to school admin and to the area super, I was told that because I had multiple certifications in science and math that I had, “options.” I threatened to quit in the middle of my first year if I was not allowed the transfer to a new school that all new teachers were forbidden their first two years in our system. They let me go.

    I ended up teaching AP Chemistry the next year at Bowie High in PGCPS-an upper class very good high school with the largest population in the State of Maryland. It had the principal and admin staff the politically connected parents demanded for their children. And that is the key-the parents.

    The admin at Bowie High does their job. They do the six, seven eight and more formal observations of a poorly performing teacher and do all the paperwork that is required to motivate that teacher to become better-or get kicked out. Our admin puts the union to work. Our admin floods our union with all the proper paperwork, procedures, remediation, intervention, etc. Our union comes in to do their own evaluations of targeted teachers and, in general, finds them wanting as well. And then the union tells those teachers to straighten up.

    It has been a pleasure to work at a school where the admin does their jobs. The rare occasional issues with allegations of violations of union rules, but those true issues get resolved quickly and all legitimate protections are in place.

    If the parents quoted in the article want to know why “good” teachers are being let go in favor of mediocre senior teachers, they need to ask themselves the question: Who allowed these mediocre senior teachers to get to be mediocre senior teachers and who allowed them to stay mediocre senior teachers? Sure as heck wasn’t the union.

    So parents, if you have a school that stinks and is full of stinking teachers, you best remember this-a fish rots from the head.

  3. Because we all know that increasing turnover improves effectiveness…

    Now, in fairness, in some systems, it might improve matters. Get rid of the worst teachers, hire good ones, and other good teachers who were thinking about jumping ship because of crappy colleagues might decide to stay.

    Then again, I’ve heard of very few teachers who’ve left because their colleagues were difficult to work with. I know of far more who left because the administration was difficult to work with.

    Other than that… pretty much an IAWTC to Miller Smith. šŸ™‚

  4. If seniority rules are dumped, and cost cutting rules the day, then a large number of administrators will get rid of the most expensive teachers including the best ones. If a veteran teacher earns twice as much as a rookie, and is four times as good, they’ll still lay off the veteran. The good administrators won’t, mind you, but there are a lot of bad administrators out there.

  5. Miller Smith chronicles a perfect example of why it’s so difficult to get quality individuals to teach in urban districts. Why should anyone subject themselves to the lawless domain of an inner city school where there is little to no parent involvement or support and people are literally in fear for their safety.

    Most intelligent teachers will opt for the civilized environment of a suburban school district where parental and administrative support are givens.

    The ONLY way to entice teachers to work in these lawless urban schools is to pay them more, A LOT MORE (maybe $15K-$20K per year more). Otherwise the notion of a quality teacher in every classroom is never going to happen.

    Put yourself in the position of young Mr. Smith here. What would you probably do?

  6. Having worked in the private sector, I am positive if seniority were removed entirely from the lay off process (it shouldn’t be the whole enchilada), that the highest paid teachers would be let go regardless of talent and effectiveness. The fact is, it is not especially difficult to be a good enough teacher, and schools are full of them at all pay levels (despite horror stories). There is little test score payoff between good enough and terrific since NCLB doesn’t care if your kids are geniuses; it only cares if they pass a minimum. Not that we have any decent system of measuring teacher effectiveness anyway.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting my phud, but I think it would make me too expensive to hire if we were relocated.

  7. then a large number of administrators will get rid of the most expensive teachers including the best ones.

    Actually, that probably won’t happen. They’ll want to, but the highest paid teachers will be the oldest teachers, and that will set them up for a whomping age discrimination lawsuit.

    So they’ll have to show that they treated all laid off teachers the same way–given them the same warnings, gave them the same opportunities for improvement, and so on.

    Now, if I were a senior teacher and started getting warnings about my performance, when before that I’d had no problems at all, I’d start documenting and fighting the warnings like crazy, because it would clearly be a sign that they were putting the paperwork in place to lay me off due to expenses.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    “The underlying issue is that teacher pay bears no relation to teacher effectiveness.”

    It’s been pretty well documented on this blog that teacher pay *does* have a relation to teacher effectiveness, though it is indirect. New teachers, who are also the teachers who are paid least, are worse on average that teachers with a couple of years of experience. Some of those new teachers will develop into good teachers, some will remain bad, and some will quit teaching, but whenever this subject is raised here the overwhelming consensus is that first year teachers are not as good as teachers with more experience.

  9. Roger Sweeny says:

    So, Cardinal Fang, would you agree with the statement, “Teacher pay bears no relation to teacher effectiveness after the first five years”?

    “Almost no relation”?

    “little relation”?

  10. tim-10-ber says:

    Cal — in the real world — business — age is no longer a factor. You do have to show the older associates that are fired the list of positions being eliminated and the age of those associates. This gets you past any lawsuit. Education would do well to adopt many business practices and this is one of them. In addition, salaries are not the only reason for dismissal but they can be. Performance can and should be primary…If school districts are looking for dollars to eliminate I hope the gut the central office and principal offices and leave as many of the classrooms along as possible. Seniority should not make any difference when it comes time to reducing expenses…

  11. in the real world ā€” business ā€” age is no longer a factor.

    Ooooh, the real world? You’re sure you know what that is? Because you appear to have “the real world” confused with law firms, which is one of the few sorts of companies that has associates. In the real world, there are all sorts of layoffs, not just 22 year old and 27 year old associates, with the occasional 45 year old for an oddity. You know, out in the “real world”.

    I’m not at all sure what your point is. Mine was pretty simple: those people who are worried that the most expensive teachers will be laid off, regardless of competence, don’t have to be too concerned because the oldest teachers will be the most expensive, and any attempt to lay off the most expensive would trigger an age discrimination lawsuit–something that often happens in the “real world”, where I was employed or consulted for a long time prior to entering teaching.