I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Commish

Bob Braun interviews Ed Commish Brett Schundler in the first of a two-part piece. I'd rather have had the transcript than Braun's narrative, but the piece is still worth scrutinizing.

...but what does he really think of the public schools he is constitutionally sworn to support?  That’s not an easy question to answer, even after sitting with Schundler for three hours and talking about the schools.
You sat with the Education Commissioner for three hours and you don't know what he thinks of the public schools? That's worrisome: either Schundler doesn't know, won't say, or Braun didn't ask the right questions. Not a great start.

But does it matter to him whether those teachers are new or experienced?
"There’s plenty of data that teachers gain very rapidly in performance and then kind of plateau as a group," he said. "It varies among individuals. But, after 20 years, is someone better than a teacher with 15 years? There’s no data to suggest that.’’
OK, so? What are we trying to get at here? Well, go down a bit:

But what happens if reductions in support for schools leads to the need to fire tenured teachers? Now, seniority all but determines who stays and who goes — senior teachers can "bump" the jobs of the less experienced. Schundler would rather see "educational effectiveness" trump seniority.
"I’d be willing to listen to the arguments of those who argue that seniority rights are more important to serving children than educational effectiveness," he said.
Ah - he's trying to make the case that senior teachers could be RIF'd in favor or less senior teachers. Now, why would he do that?

If 9,000 veteran teachers retire, he said, the savings will allow the rehiring of all teachers given layoff notices this spring. Laying off new teachers, he said, would mean the loss of "some of the most energetic, attractive teachers you have.’’
So veterans are not energetic?

"Sometimes when they’re in their last years, and they’re thinking about retiring, they’re not quite as driven." 
It's becoming more obvious here: Schundler wants to set the table to fire better paid and more experienced teachers and replace them with less experienced and cheaper ones.

Let's think about that for a minute: to save money, he would push out the 30-year veteran and keep the teacher in her fifth year, because the senior teacher costs more to retain. Schundler says there really isn't a difference in the teaching effectiveness of the two anyway.

I'd have to say that while my reading of the literature (which is hardly comprehensive) doesn't show a lot of research into this topic, I would agree that there are plenty of people who are just as good - if not better - in their 10th year as teachers as people in their 35th year. So Schundler has a point - except...

This attitude will kill the moral of the teaching corps and destroy the profession.

If Schundler's view becomes policy, 25-year veterans will have to fear for their jobs because they are more expensive than 10-year veterans who are just as effective. Sure, that saves money in the short run - but who is going to stay in the profession under those rules? Once you've gotten really good at what you do, shouldn't that be enough? Are we really saying a 30-year veteran has to show they are better than a 20-year veteran to keep their job?

Let's get real here - this isn't about "teacher effectiveness" - it's about salaries. Brent wants to pink slip expensive teachers in favor of cheaper ones. He uses the argument that the less expensive teachers are just as effective, and he may be right. But who in holy Hades is going to go into a profession where you get used up for a few years and then get thrown out when your salary gets too pricey?

The 4% raises that have been so decried lately are not just about rewrading veterans - they are about drawing qualified people into the field. When you're a five-year teacher making $50K, and you see that the 30-year veteran down the hall is making $85K, you think that it's worth it to stay in the profession because there will be at least a little more reward for seeing it through. But if that 30-year vet is making the same as you, you're going to rethink your career options.

This has never been about "merit pay" - that's a ruse. It's about cutting teacher salaries and benefits. Brent couldn't be clearer about that.

And that's the question no one has yet asked of him or Christie: should a teacher who is good at their job be able to make slightly more than the rate of inflation over the course of their career?

Who's gonna ask?

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