RIF tiff: Who gets fired?

The boss doesn’t know best, writes Samuel Culbert in a New York Times op-ed. Performance reviews are “subjective evaluations that measure how ‘comfortable’ a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results.”

So how should teachers be laid off when districts are forced to reduce staff? Flypaper asks.

. . . until stronger teacher evaluation systems are in place, it seems that our education system faces two stark choices: make lay-off decisions based on seniority, or trust administrators to pick and choose the teachers to fire. Which option do you think carries greater risks?

Fordham staffers weigh in and others leave their opinions in the comments. I’d like to trust principals to choose their teaching staffs, but I worry about the strong incentives to dump the top-scale teachers, including those who are competent, in favor of young teachers who may not be quite as good but are much, much cheaper.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. SuperSub says:

    Well, there is one big solution to Joanne’s worry…a flat pay scale.

  2. Yeah, while I’m no huge fan of seniority, I would never trust principals. (note to any of my principals–it’s not personal! I promise!)

    We’d need to completely revamp teacher salaries and remove most of the control of salary from the principal before I’d be willing to let principals have control.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Managers in the private sector may like or dislike their employees, but that is not the vital component of a successful employee/employer relationship; productivity is. Bosses love effective employees because they make them look better as managers. Many bosses set a side personal dislikes to benefit their bottom line, whatever that may be.

    As long as principals are held accountable for the performance of their schools, I would give them the decision making responsiblity for hiring and firing. The problem is that they’re not held accountable in part because they aren’t freely able to hire and fire now.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    I worry about the strong incentives to dump the top-scale teachers, including those who are competent, in favor of young teachers who may not be quite as good but are much, much cheaper.

    “Value” has a price component. If the more senior teachers are more expensive, but not better *ENOUGH* to be worth the extra money they make, what is the problem with keeping the much cheaper, but slightly less good teacher(s)? People make this sort of decision all the time — not the “best” barber, but much less expensive … not the “best” gardener, but much less expensive. We do this for all sorts of personal services. Why should principal’s not do this for teachers when deciding how best to use a certain amount of salary money?

  5. Incredibly other businesses are able to do this. Usually it’s a lot easier than it seems at first glance. Years abck i asked my manger if we were losing anyone in a round of layoffs. She replied ‘Not anyone who will be missed’.

  6. Heads of private schools are likely to have hiring and firing power. The father of one of my son’s teammates was the headmaster of a local private school and when he heard about my son’s 7th-grade science teacher, he said she would have been out the door as soon as he had a replacement arranged – and the heads of private schools worked together to make sure they maxxed out their files of subs and possible replacements. This was a teacher who (a) was so incompetent in her subject area that the class was fully aware of it and (b) verbally and emotionally abused her classses on a regular basis, telling them she hated them etc. The school had been documenting this for years but, as a minority female science teacher, she was almost untouchable.

  7. what is the problem with keeping the much cheaper, but slightly less good teacher(s)?

    Teachers have no control over their salary. They are required to get raises every year. Thus, by firing the expensive teachers, the principal is almost always firing the older teacher, who has no control over the raises.

    Until teachers can control their salaries, it’s not only unfair, but a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  8. Were the Fordham staffers’ opinions added to get the 2 cents in from the right wing nut job crowd?

  9. As ever, “What works?” is an empirical queston which experiment will more accurately answer than will an appeal to Divine ( or legislative, or bureaucratic) inspiration. For this reason, federalism, local control, and competitive markets work better that State-monopoly enterprises.

  10. (Mike): “Were the Fordham staffers’ opinions added to get the 2 cents in from the right wing nut job crowd?
    Naw; just to bait the lefty loons.

  11. “as a minority female science teacher, she was almost untouchable.”

    Oh momof4, you just had to throw in that she was a minority woman, didn’t you…
    Just makes your “story” that much more “juicy.”
    Are you saying they would have fired the teacher if it was a heterosexual male?

  12. that should be “heterosexual Christian white male”… cuz we all know they are the most persecuted unprotected class… and he would have been thrown out on his azz for being anything less than a stupendous teacher, right momof4?

  13. tim-10-ber says:

    Who knows? Parents, students, fellow teachers particularly those that receive the prior grade students…probably not the principal. Test scores know…

  14. That was a direct quote from the principal. Having had dealings with the county ed bureaucracy, which has been successfully sued over some of its race-based policies, I believed him. Anyone who believes that race,ethnicity and (female) gender don’t enter the equation is naive, at best.

  15. Malcolm,

    I’m a teacher with 2 college degrees and 18 years teaching experience. That makes me much more knowledgeable and experienced in education than all of the Fordham staff put together.

  16. I think it pays to ask a different question: Why do schools have such an incredibly difficult time with something most businesses take for granted?

    If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that it has to do with the fact that there is no labor market for teachers. (Yes, I know market is a dirty word to some people. Too bad.) The unions have ensured that pay in most cases is a formula: years in field + number of credentials = salary. No consideration is given to the fact that teachers are unique professionals who bring varying skills and knowledge in the door. Nor is any given to the fact that two otherwise equal teachers may be radically different fits for a position because they have different personalities. And that’s just from the school’s point of view.

    From the teacher’s side, there is no room to maneuver in either direction. Different people need different amounts of money to satisfy their wants and needs. To Cal’s point, some teachers might forgo a raise to keep their job if they had the choice. Others might choose to walk in that situation.

    As a corollary to this, I think the current state of school administration is proof of the old saying: “Attempt to idiot-proof something, and God will build a better idiot.” Between the fears of litigation and union pressures, school administrators have been systematically stripped of any sort of discretion in doing their jobs. This leads to decision making without thought to consequences (or much of anything else).

    What’s the solution? I don’t know. But why the hell are people talking about solutions without looking at the problems?

  17. Stacy in NJ and Joanne Jacobs, please forgive my salty language, but Stacy in NJ, are you crapping me?

    Sure, plenty of private-sector managers are intelligent and open-minded enough not to let personal likes or dislikes, biases, or insecurities get in the way of how they evaluate and work with their subordinates. But a big heaping boatload of them are tripped up by that stuff, and for many of those, there are no consequences. Every big bureaucratic corporation, even the most fantastically successful one, is burdened with waste, inefficiencies, and lost opportunities arising from the failure to successfully judge and organize its own talent.

    This concept that the private sector never takes its eyes off the ball, always bats close to 1.000, and very quickly and neatly rectifies the rare mistake it does make . . . it’s a skosh off-base.

  18. Stacy in NJ says:

    Hey, Tim, Maybe batting .500 is good enough? Certainly better than public education. My point is that the private sector is more efficient, not that it’s perfect. And in the end they are responsible to their bosses, end users, and customers unlike public educators.

  19. Anyone who thinks the private sector is efficient or has generally good managers has never worked in the private sector. Dilbert is a documentary.

  20. Stacy,

    Perhaps you should do a little reading up on the subject before you spout nonsense, or you just lying intentionally?

    US students do great, until you factor in the 20-25% living in poverty.

    Attacking teachers and teachers’ unions is just an attempt to draw attention away from the REAL problems facing this country.

  21. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, I worked in the private sector for 20 years. I worked in a highly competitive industry. Anyone who thinks the private sector isn’t more effective than public education has never worked in public education. And, by the way, the private sector spends it’s own money, not tax dollars, so any inefficiencies it tolerates are its one business, while the crap education our schools serve up is everyones business.

    Mike in Texas, Perhaps you should do a little reading up on the subject before spouting nonsese, or are you just lying intentionally? Nah-Nah. So there. If this is the quality of your discourse, I pity your students.

  22. Stacey, sorry to continue the off-topic conversation, but to say that private sector oopsies are confined to the private sector and don’t involve taxpayer money–again, are you crapping me?

    Getting back on topic, I’m all for giving principals more autonomy and making it easier for them to fire truly bad teachers. But not until we return to the practice of having principals come up through the ranks as master teachers. Bad administrators are a far more prevalent and destructive problem than bad teachers, imo. And something would need to be done to take the teacher’s salary out of the equation–I’m not sure how we propose to attract good people to the field if they know they’ll be sitting ducks once they start to make a decent living.

  23. Chartermom says:

    Maybe the entire paradigm for teacher pay needs to be changed. Paying more for seniority and not productivity doesn’t make sense. And the problem is compounded by the fact that more experience doesn’t necessarily translate into better teaching.

    In looking at the salary situation maybe teaching does need to take a look at some practices in the private sector (or even elsewhere in the public sector for that matter).

    For starters in private companies where I worked there was/is generally a hierarchy of staff level positions and you move up through the hierarchy based on a combination of performance, experience, available openings and interest. As you moved up you are increasingly given more responsibility and are expected to provide more value. You also operate with less supervision and become responsible for guiding others. (I’m not talking about progression through management here — but a progression designed for staff (teachers)). And keep in mind that for each of these levels pay is generally defined as a range and raises are provided by merit so typically a more experienced person or someone with special skills can still make a bit more than someone newer to the level.

    A progression might look something like this:

    Entry
    Associate
    Sr. Associate
    Senior
    Super-Senior

    Entry is typically a young new hire who is doing productive work but is receives a lot of supervision and guidance. Folks only stay at this level for short time (6 to 12 months, occassionally a bit longer). This would be equivalent to a first year teacher.

    Associate — more independent but still receives a lot of guidance and has lower responsibility levels. This would be young (in experience) teachers who are only responsible for their own classrooms and receive a lot of guidance and assistance particularly when dealing with challenging (academically or behaviorally) children (and parents). Perhaps their class sizes might be a bit smaller or they receive a bit of extra planning time to make up for the fact that they aren’t yet as efficient at things like planning.

    Sr. Associate — next step up — more responsibility and independence but still receive guidance. These would potentially be 4 to 7 year teachers. They are still primarily focused on the classroom but might be asked to assist with from time to time with school wide evaluation, planning or strategy project, or to provide occasional coverage. They would be expected to deal with challenging children more independently. They would also be expected to be better teachers.

    Senior — seven years and up. Some teachers may never reach this level or never even be interested in reaching this level. Here in addition to their classroom they would be expected to provide guidance and mentorship to younger teachers. Perhaps they would “lead” their grade level or mulitple grade levels or departments. They definitely would be expected to be better teachers. They would be involved in school planning and strategy projects on a regular basis. There might be a requirement to work at least part of the summer break in planning activities.

    Super-Senior (Master) — these are the individuals who are truly the best. They can teach others how to teach and are expected to do so. Their primary role at a school would be the guide the other teachers and provide leadership in the classroom. They may have a class but would probably not be in the classroom full-time (they’d either have an assistant or would provide “special” sessions in classrooms or otherwise enrich the school). These teachers would probably work most of the summer (there needs to some allowance for vacation, I’m not suggesting removing that).

    I realize that the descriptions here are vague and details would need to be addressed by experts (teachers and administrators but maybe a private business consultant could help!) but they are provided to just give an idea of a concept that allows for seniority to be recognized (and paid for appropriately) by multiple factors other than just years in job. Key factors are that raises aren’t automatic with seniority and that more responsible positions pay more. In this case a principal (or district) wouldn’t automatically get rid of all new or all senior people because they would need a mix of both. Plus a teacher would move up if there is a need for that higher level and if there is not will either need to change schools or districts or wait for an opening. It’s not perfect but it can work

  24. Stacy in NJ says:

    Tim, No, I’m not crapping you. Are you crapping me?

  25. The only way you wouldn’t be crapping me is if you believe AIG, Bank of America, Citibank, Goldman, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, GM, Chrysler, and all the rest should have been allowed to fail. If you don’t think all of those businesses should have been allowed to fail, would you mind explaining to me how the trillions in direct and indirect handouts extended by the Treasury to these firms — necessary only because the geniuses at these firms made one horrible decision after another — isn’t, as you put it, “our business”?

  26. Stacy in NJ says:

    Tim,

    I believe they should have been allowed to fail. Period. They made horrible decisions at those firms in part because of perverse incentives provided by the federal government and incompetent regulators. Crony Capitalism at its best. Joanne’s post was about who should make the decision to fire teachers. My point was that those who are accountable for their performance should be able to fire and hire. In theory it would be great if principals could do this. Currently, they can’t because they are NOT accountable for performance while unions are involved. While at the top end large corporations who are in bed with their government whores are perversely incentivized to act irresponsibly, that’s not the reality for most business. Most American businesses are small and employ fewer than 100 employees. Small businesses are the largest employer in America. You can bet managers and owners at those firms are incredibly aware of the value of employees whether or not they personally like them or not. So, yes, most businesses in America are capable of hiring and firing employees based upon need and ability efficiently.

    The world doesn’t begin and end with public sector unions Fortune 500 corporations. Millions of Americans, most in fact, are employed by neither
    .

  27. Stacy, your hierarchy of teacher responsibilities is one I’ve been toying with for a long time. Thank you for writing it out so thoughtfully.

    Schools don’t utilize the strengths of effective teachers strategically enough. The Pretty Good Teacher’s career is a predictable trajectory of three choices: a) teach for years, b) go into administration, or c) quit. Those are uninspiring alternatives for someone with passion and initiative.

    Schools need to more flexibly employ teachers in roles that involve mentoring, curriculum design, error diagnosis and intervention, and staff development.

  28. Tim, I’m not denying that financial firms made a lot of bad decisions, but we all need to recognize that the financial industry is heavily regulated by the government – explains why it gives to politicians of both parties when they’re in or potentially in power – and some of those regulations were and are part of the problem. Politics, including individual and collective politicians, regularly comes between decisions and their consequences in the financial area as it does in many others, including education.

  29. (Mike): “I’m a teacher with 2 college degrees and 18 years teaching experience. That makes me much more knowledgeable and experienced in education than all of the Fordham staff put together.

    You discredit your voice with such absurd statements. Anyone can google “Fordham Institute” and click the “Staff” link.

    Just curious: degrees in what?

    (Mike): “Anyone who thinks the private sector is efficient or has generally good managers has never worked in the private sector.

    Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez
    “Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings”
    __Comparative Education__, Vol. 36 #1, 2000, Feb. , pg. 16,
    “Furthermore, the regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (see, for example, Psucharopoulos, 1987; Jiminez, et. al, 1991). This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education”.

  30. I wonder if it isn’t optimal to have the VGT moving further and further from the students. All those responsibilities mean less time teaching. As I move into more coaching, it means I teach fewer sections, so I see maybe 70 students a day instead of 120. Under that plan, your worst teachers have contact with the most students.

    Just saying. I like the challenge of coaching, etc., but it means I am starting the process of giving up the sucessful AP program I built. Nothing’s perfect.

  31. Stacy,

    You made the RIDICULOUS claim that public schools were “batting less than 500” without any sort of FACTS to back up this claim.

    Check out the CIA World Facts Handbook, the US has a literacy rate of 100%.

    Or am I wasting my time trying to convince you to actually look at FACTS?

    Malcolm,

    I have done so in the past. Chester Finn has very little teaching experience. But I thought I’d take your suggestion so here’s what I found:

    Amy Fagan – no teaching experience

    Chester Finn – no teaching experience mentioned, but I think I read somewhere he taught HS History for a couple of years.

    Chris Irvine – 1 year of teaching experience

    Peter Meyer – no teaching experience

    Marena Perkins – no teaching experience listed

    Kathleen Porter-Magee – no teaching experience listed

    Candice Santomauro – no teaching experience listed, but she did have a successful sales career, which no doubt qualifies her as much as Arne Duncan to be Sec. of ED.

    Gerilyn Slicker – no teaching experience listed

    Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. – “She started her career as a high school classroom teacher.” but no amount of experience listed. Since 50% of teachers quit within the first 5 years let’s be generous and give her 5 years experience

    Daniela Fairchild- no teaching experience listed, but does coach a HS Crew team so we’ll give her a little credit, say the equivalent of 1 year.

    Marvin Harden – no teaching experience, but let’s be fair and point out he’s an accountant.

    Liam Julian – no teaching experience

    Amanda Olberg- no teaching experience

    Michael J. Petrilli – He started his career as a teacher at the Joy Outdoor Education Center, but does not list how much experience he has. Like Winkler let’s give him credit for 5 years

    Joe Portnoy – no teaching experience

    Janie Scull- no teaching experience

    Chris Tessone- no teaching experience

    By my accounts, and remember Malcolm this was YOUR suggestion, that makes 14 years of teaching experience for the Fordham staff, according to their webpage.

    Since I have 18 years, plus time spent teaching in college AND summer institutes, by your own reckoning and using your suggestion, I DO have more teachign experience than the ENTIRE Fordham staff of “experts”. So I have NOT discrediting the Fordham staff as you claim but in fact have made a statement of FACTS.

  32. (Mike): “I’m a teacher with 2 college degrees and 18 years teaching experience. That makes me much more knowledgeable and experienced in education than all of the Fordham staff put together.
    (Malcolm): “You discredit your voice with such absurd statements. Anyone can google “Fordham Institute” and click the “Staff” link.
    (Mike): “ I thought I’d take your suggestion so here’s what I found:…no teaching experience…no teaching experience…no teaching experience…By my accounts, and remember Malcolm this was YOUR suggestion, that makes 14 years of teaching experience for the Fordham staff, according to their webpage
    You forgot the “two degrees” and “knowledgeable” part. Count degrees.

  33. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mile in Texas,

    You’ve done something all too rare: checked the facts about some disputed assertion and reported back. I salute you. The Fordham people sure don’t seem to have much teaching experience.

    On the other hand, I think the CIA is wrong about 100% literacy (as they are about so many things). If you define literacy low enough, all my ninth graders can read. But if you require a substantial amount of comprehension, lots of them can’t. Many of them still don’t understand much of what they read when they graduate or drop out.

  34. Mark Roulo says:

    Regarding the CIA report on literacy … from the CIA World Factbook site:

    Detailing the standards that individual countries use to assess the ability to read and write is beyond the scope of the Factbook…

    In other words, the CIA is basically reporting the numbers that the countries themselves provide. The Factbook is *NOT* a CIA analysis of the actual literacy rates for various countries.

    So … China (mainland) reports 91% literacy. Given the difficulty of learning the 5,000 or so Chinese characters necessary to read broadly, *and* the grinding poverty in the western 1/2 of the country … well, I doubt that many people reading this forum would consider 91% of mainland Chinese adults to be literate. In Shanghai, sure. But not the country as a whole.

    At one time in the USA, being able to sign your name made you literate. If this is the definition, I’m totally on board with 100% (more or less) for the US, and 91% for China. But, really, if this is the definition, who cares?

  35. (Mike): “Kathleen Porter-Magee – no teaching experience listed.

    Oh?

    (Fordham): “Ms. Porter-Magee served as the director of professional development and recruitment for the 115 Archdiocese of Washington, DC Catholic Schools…Ms. Porter-Magee began her career as a classroom teacher and department chair at both the middle and high school levels. She holds a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross in Political Science and French and an M.A. in Education Policy and Leadership from the George Washington University.
    That’s three degrees and more varied school experience in one Fordham staffer than you claim for yourself. And “Department chair” means she worked her way up, not quit after five years.

  36. Roger Sweeny says:

    Malcolm’s post got me curious so I followed Mike in Texas’ footsteps to the Fordham website.

    Mike missed a little. In addition to the Porter-Magee experience, they say of Daniela Fairchild, “She started her career as a teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, and as a high school rowing coach” (not just “Coach a HS Crew team”). From the picture and the bio, I’d guess it could be as little as one year.

    So there’s a little more teacher experience than Mike caught–but still not much.

  37. “And “Department chair” means she worked her way up, not quit after five years.”

    Not neccessarily. It depends on how many other teachers are willing to assume the responsibilities of the position. I became a dept chair for my school once simply because no one else would do it, and I had less than 5 years seniority at the time.

  38. (Roger): “…there’s a little more teacher experience than Mike caught–but still not much.
    You don’t know that, and neither did Mike when he made his initial assertion: “I’m a teacher with 2 college degrees and 18 years teaching experience. That makes me much more knowledgeable and experienced in education than all of the Fordham staff put together.
    None of the staff bios mentioned pet cats. Can you infer that none of them have pet cats? I’m guessing here, but I suppose any “__Ed.” degree means some teaching experience. Mike did not lebel his assertion a guess.

    Btw, I’m not defending Fordham. They pushed the national standards bandwagon, and I prefer local control. .

  39. Roger Sweeny says:

    Malcolm,

    You’re right. I’m assuming that the staff bios would include teaching experience. If I were running an organization that was marketing itself as expert in educational issues, I would trumpet my staff’s teaching experience.