Friday, February 24, 2012

Seniority Survives Another Year in Oakland Unified

Senior Ringleaders Ready to Be Fired
Seniority rules and teacher transfer rights will remain intact in Oakland Unified for the remainder of the school year, in spite of Superintendent Tony Smith’s push for change, according to the Oakland Tribune. Teachers who are displaced by school closings or whose positions have been cut will continue to choose new positions from a list of openings for which they are eligible, with seniority determining who gets first pick.

Sup. Smith was pushing an initiative called "mutual matching," with teachers listing their top choices, principals listing their top choices, and the district making the final decision. Regardless of the merits of the superintendent’s plan, many teachers felt the process was being rushed and not given sufficient time for analysis. Without union support, the plan could not be implemented this school year.

For teachers, this is a good thing. The district plans to close five elementary schools in June, displacing over 50 teachers who will be able to seek new positions using the existing seniority system.

Critics like to say that no other industry hires people in this way. Yet hiring is NOT done in this way. Hiring decisions are in fact made by local site administrators. What we are talking about here are teachers who have been displaced because their school has been shut down, through no fault of their own. They have not been fired or laid off and they are not being hired or rehired. They are still employees of the same school district. They still have the same boss (i.e., the superintendent and school board) and the same person is still cutting their paychecks.

Critics also say that site administrators ought to be able to control who works at their sites to ensure the best “fit” for their school arguing this will improve learning outcomes for students.

Image by laurelrusswurm
This is a red herring.

All bosses want this power and most want it absolutely, not because there is any evidence that it improves learning outcomes, but because they think it makes their lives easier and makes them look better to their bosses downtown. Many want total control over every aspect of their schools, including the right to impose reforms, pedagogies, bell schedules, additional responsibilities and commitments, with complete compliance and support, regardless of whether they are violating teachers’ contractual rights or undermining the interests of their students.

While the “good fit” hypothesis may have some relevance in certain schools where “buy-in” for a unique culture helps maintain the integrity of that culture, a good teacher should be able to teach anywhere and be effective in any milieu, regardless of the culture. It is also questionable whether any given special culture plays a significant role in student achievement, while some special school cultures may actually undermine learning, curiosity and motivation. Schools that have obsessive and excessive cultures of testing preparation, planning and cheerleading may fall into this latter category.

The consequences of abolishing seniority and/or giving administrators more say in how transfers occur will be that the most senior employees (i.e., the ones making the highest salaries) will be let go in favor of cheaper and more malleable younger teachers. It will result in outspoken, critical or pro-union teachers being let go in favor of passive, quiet “yes men” who are willing to try every reform suggested and pile their plates high with extra responsibilities and commitments. It will allow administrators to rid themselves of employees they do not like for vindictive and arbitrary reasons.

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