Friday, February 25, 2011

Rhee: Save Great Teachers And Sack the Rest

The Sacking of Public Education
As reported previously, admitted serial child abuser and mass teacher-job killer Michelle Rhee has moved operations to Sacramento, California, to be near her hubby, accused serial pedophile (and Mayor of Sacramento) Kevin Johnson. On Wednesday, Rhee’s new organization, Students First, launched its first big campaign: “Save Great Teachers,” which sounds wonderful, like save the whales. Who isn’t for great teachers? The problem is that the actual goal of Save Great Teachers is to get rid of everyone else by ending seniority.

Like most of those who support the destruction of seniority, Rhee apes back many of the same false justifications, like seniority-based layoffs hurt disadvantaged students most (see here). It is true that high poverty schools tend to have less experienced teachers and it would seem that a seniority-based system would therefore harm these schools more than others. This was the rationale for the ACLU-backed lawsuit in Los Angeles that has shielded 40 odd low-performing schools from all layoffs in LAUSD’s coming orgy of pink slips. However, layoffs never happen purely by seniority. A young teacher in a high demand position (e.g., special ed or science) is likely to keep his or her job, while a senior teacher in a lower demand job (e.g., social studies or English) may end up getting a pink slip. According to Students First, Facts Later, from the Shanker Blog, the two best layoff analyses available indicate that seniority-based layoffs are spread relatively evenly between higher and lower poverty schools (see here and here).

One of the main reasons why advocates support an end to seniority has nothing at all to do with students’ wellbeing. It has to do with the claim that it would save districts money (senior teachers earn higher salaries than novice teachers). However, this claim assumes that large numbers of senior teachers would be fired under a merit-based system, which is absurd if it was truly based on teacher skill. Like most other professions, teachers improve with experience. Therefore, under a merit-based system, the longer one has been in the profession, the better they should be at their jobs. While there are many excellent novice teachers, few if any have reached their peak within their first few years. It is true, some may already be better than some veterans, but chances are this is a small percentage.

There is another important issue here that never seems to be part of the discourse: If we value teachers and want the best for our children, then we should be supporting them throughout their careers with the material security that comes from the seniority system. Keep them in the classrooms. Likewise, everyone deserves material security. Until we are ready to abolish wage slavery and capitalism itself, we should be fighting to secure material wellbeing for all workers. Considering that poverty is the most significant influence on academic achievement, this should also help improve test scores and graduation rates, and close the achievement gap, too.

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