Boom. The hit laid out against this School District initiative reminds me of that which was witnessed a few years ago against City-County consolidation / rapture -- only much faster and more bone-jarring.
The foundation community unveils something for public schools:
But now, a one-size-fits-all law that enshrines seniority as the defining basis for teacher layoffs is jeopardizing this critical progress [of developing teacher evaluations for improving outcomes]. (P-G, Oliphant, Vagt, Behr)
And the teacher's union sacks it:
The claim that seniority keeps bad teachers in the classroom and harms children is absolutely false. The two objectives of this movement are to weaken unions and to pay teachers less. (Hileman, PFT, P-G)
Read both of those, because there's a lot more to both arguments than just that.
What awful timing. Just as organized labor is rallying around itself and forging a consciousness.
And ay caramba, what problems!
Everybody who remembers school should remember at least a small handful of teachers who seemed to have checked out -- who lost the fire if indeed they ever had it. And can probably remember occasions on which a generation gap between teacher and student (spanning several generations at once) seemed to have gotten in the way of effective teaching engagement.
If one needs a primary care physician but cannot shop around forever for doctors, one does not want the doctor walking in to qualify due to seniority alone. You want the doctor who is most brilliant and/or who maintains their position by achieving consistent results and/or whose experience has in fact made them excellent and able to thrive under many challenges.
Then again, seniority provides undeniable protections against arbitrary and capricious administration-level decision making -- and is empowering for teachers in the classroom.
And these aren't even the core problems!
The problems are here and here and here, among other places. And the Pittsburgh Promise is a great opportunity for students savvy enough to seize advantage of it, but it's not destined to generate a rush of taxpaying parents and guardians to send their children to kindergarten through 8th grade here in the School District. And after K-8, the family probably feels comfortable as suburbanites and pursuing other scholarships. If we want our students to be better, we need to make our schools better -- and picking and choosing our teachers with fine-toothed combs is certainly one, but only only one possible avenue.
What to do?
We need to check out the Gates genius plan, which apparently they've already sunk all this money into (money which had once felt like the "silver lining" around School District contraction and austerity).
We need to check out the "professional growth system" the teachers' union says it's already starting to utilize.
We need to see if there's any room to salvage and combine the working emerging from both investments.
We need to figure out whether en mass public schooling is sustainable in these economies and, if not, figure out whether and how we must best reconnoiter the arrangements we have relating to charter schools, vouchers and increasing privatization.
But I do have one idea. As a political progressive, I am enthusiastic about transparency, believing it to improve end results. How about going ahead and evaluating our teachers -- with any model, or with several -- and instead of utilizing the results to plan layoffs and to make other staffing decisions, simply posting them? Post them online, post them in the classroom directly behind the teacher so students can see them, send them home with every report card. Don't stop at the final scores or letter grades, but give us all the interesting details. It might motivate teacher excellence by softer and more social means!
MORE: Pure Reform, Pure Reform. There is also a teachers union election coming up which is being watched closely by a few.