City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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Larry Sand
Sentenced to LIFO? « Back to Story

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Matthew, the issue is not the 3-5 years time-frame or that it does not appear to be applied to other professions. After all, most of those other professions rely on the willingness of the client to engage their services (that is to say, they involve an arms-length transaction). The problem in the education field is one of monopoly.
I think Jim has it right. Milwaukee, at least in the early days of its experiment, understood that the power of the parent to choose the school had a salutary effect on quality. (I visited and studied that system a number of years ago and can verify the enthusiasm that the schools individually had for recruiting pupils based on what they had to offer educationally.) Any restriction on the capacity of a school to offer parents a product they felt was necessary for their children will militate against quality. It is for that reason seniority is a bad thing. In the end, a free-market system of education will raise standards. That will happen, however, only when the state recognises what it costs to educate a child and provides the parent with that means to shop for a school willing to provide the product of their choice. That is the essence of the Milton Friedman Foundation's premiss.
So why under any circumstances would this 3-5 year window not be a complete disincentive to be in the field of education, particularly as a teacher? Who would want to pursue any career where you were told from day one that after 5 years you will have reached the pinnacle of your growth ability. Of course you can continue to contribute, but spending 25 more years in career knowing they will hold no more promise for your professional growth seems pretty soul crushing. My personal observation along with many other teachers and recent study's has been that the majority of these under 5 years experience teachers in charter schools have no desire to spend more than 5 years in the profession. They are like shooting stars. They burn brightly and then disappear, creating a constant churning over of faculty that only makes the long term process of having a viably consistent level of high academic achievement extremely difficultly. Everyone lately wants to talk about how schools should be taking cues from the private business sector in their efforts to achieve satisfactory results, yet any well run business will tell you they go to extraordinary lengths to eliminate high turnover. And they definitely don't brag about how few years experience their employees have as a way to attract customers.
I don't think it "defies common sense." All I am saying is that studies have shown that teachers don't improve after 3-5 yrs. I never suggested that they "have nothing left to contribute after this." Early career experience pays off and counts more than advanced degrees, class size, and other variables. But after the first few years, teacher performance tends to level off. For more details, please look at Eric Hanushek’s “Teachers Schools, and Academic Achievement.” As a teacher with over 28 years of classroom experience, I wholeheartedly agree with Hanushek’s findings.
SO what is the point of teaching as a profession if the experts now suggest you peak from years 3-5 and have nothing left to contribute after this. That sounds like a very convenient data set if you are repudiating any form of seniority. Yet why are these same statistics never given for engineers, architects, accountants, pilots, journalists, lawyers, middle management executives, and any other of the multitude of white collar professions.
And in what world does anyone make a point of promoting the fact that their employees are the least experienced in the field. I don't care what profession it is. Would anyone go to a hospital that promoted the fact that the majority of their physicians had 5 years experience or less. So why is that somehow a positive in education. It defies common sense.
Currently, districts can meet budget goals by laying off junior teachers, regardless of their competence or effectiveness and the impact on students. If LIFO is eliminated, districts can meet budget goals by laying off the most expensive teachers, regardless of their competence or effectiveness and the impact on students. Do you see a pattern here?

The core issue is that school districts are largely unaccountable monopolies that, under both scenarios, do not have to be all that concerned with outcomes, because their students (ie "revenue") come through the door each day regardless of outcomes. No amount of micromanagement of personnel policies is going to change the fundamental character of that monopoly. There are many, many educators out there who recognize that lack of user choice and provider accountability is the source of much of our dysfunction in public education, and they want to find a better way. Give parents more choices to avoid their neighborhood's K-12 monopolists, and the educators and administrators in question just might arrive at a better system, without the courts' involvement.
There is a problem, or two, with determining teacher effectiveness through standardized test scores, performance evaluations by impartial experts, principals, and parents.

These tools to assess the value of a teacher frequently lend themselves to political manipulation -- manipulation that can have devastating consequences for a teacher's career. For example, what happens to an educator who does not fit the prevailing profile of the political "progressive?" What if a teacher questions the dogma of multiculturalism or does not, as usually expected, pray on the altar of "diversity?" And what about a teacher who is competent but has run afoul of the school's administration because he/she does not believe in grade inflation and thus does not deliver the expected learning outcomes? What kind of job security and fairness could such a teacher expect?

I agree that seniority and tenure are not ideal ways to determine the value of a teacher, but the above suggested assessment tools for teacher effectiveness are equally inadequate. They presume politically impartial administrators of the highest ethical standards who will remain untouched by both political and parental pressures.

I can assure Mr. Sand, based on four decades in the teaching profession, that the ideal of the highest professional ethics on the part of school administrators, particularly as it relates to neutrality in hiring and evaluating teachers, is anything but guaranteed.




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The LAUSD covers a huge area and appears to be divided into several "sub districts". From the article I'm concluding that the seniority system used on a LAUSD-wide basis rather than on a sub-district or school basis (use of which would lessen the disparate impact on just a few schools/areas which have a high proportion of junior teachers. Another "solution" (over time) would be to give the LAUSD the right to require teachers with more seniority to displace "junior" teachers laid off.
This article raises an important question. For years, the left has used state constitutional requirements that all children be educated as a device that courts can use to force legislatures to increase taxes and spending on schools. Well, those exact same arguments can be used to throw out tenure and LIFO provisions in teachers contracts: to the extent they impair the ability of schools to provide a good education for students, they are unconstitutional. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
While the rigid seniority-based system is certainly without merit the notion that the state will create a worthwhile and effective teacher evaluation system is simply ridiculous and assumes factors not in evidence.

For instance, what conceivable reason would districts have to comply with such a system? We already know from areas with such policies already in place that they're very prone to manipulation by the administration for reasons related more to the comfort and convenience of that administration then to the ensuring of an excellent teacher corp.

When 98% of your teachers are rated excellent, the highest rating, then someone isn't taking their duties seriously.

If Mr. Sands seriously believes that school boards and administrators will break with past practice to embrace this new policy when there's not much in the way of reasons why they should and all the old reasons why they shouldn't Mr. Sands ought to resign his position because he has no business running an organization like CTEN.

The unions are still in place and their power would be largely intact even after an adverse court ruling so they'll use all the tools at their disposal to maintain their importance to their membership which, at this juncture, is heavily weighted towards high seniority teachers. I suspect the prospect of being seen as impotent and valueless will inspire those unions to new heights of creativity to frustrate, impede, undermine, erode and damage implementations of any policy that dilutes the power of seniority. They're pretty good at that sort of thing.

And while I'm no fan of seniority or unions the really nasty aspect of this ruling would be that it leaves the administrators with no more reason to run good schools then they'd have even less reason to place any value on teaching skill then they do now. After all, while the teachers are to be, theoretically held to account for their professional skills the administration is not.

If the principal of a district school runs a dreadful school will they be encouraged to run a good school when they can lay off high seniority teachers? I don't see why and Mr. Sands has provided no reason to think they would.

That's the problem that needs addressing.