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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Seniority in Teaching: An Unproven Problem

You can always count on Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger editorial page to come up with solutions to problems that they haven't shown to exist:
The NJEA, while backing the weaker tenure proposal, has come miles from where it was on education reform. Yet when it comes to seniority, there was no give. The union, along with most Democrats, argues that veteran teachers will be fired to save more money. 
That’s highly unlikely, because it would violate federal laws against age discrimination. The real effect of these rules is districts are forced to fire good young teachers in time of layoffs. And since urban districts are losing students faster and enduring more layoffs, the seniority rules are a special burden to them. In Newark, thanks to a shrinking student population and the rapid expansion of charter schools, Superintendent Cami Anderson will soon be forced to get rid of young teachers en masse, no matter how effective they are. Over the next year, the district is projected to lay off some 300 to 500 teachers.  
The Legislature needs to find a way to avoid this carnage. A starting point would be to allow a local union to give up absolute seniority rights in contract negotiations, which is now barred by law.
Oh, yes, I'm sure lots of locals will go for that - especially now that the Legislature followed Tom's advice and took away their right to bargain benefits. If there's anything teacher locals are dying to do now, it's give up even more stuff on behalf of their members...

Further: if charter expansion in Newark is forcing Anderson to get rid of younger teachers, can't they just find jobs in those charters? You know, the ones that are so freaking awesome (not)? If Tom's so worried about losing good younger teachers, maybe he ought not cheer on more unaccountable, unproductive charters.

But here's the main thing: where is the proof that older teachers suck? Because I've been looking, and I have yet to find it.

Tom's entire argument is premised on the idea that a significant number of enthusiastic younger teachers are better than a significant number of burned-out older ones. And yet he has never put forward one shred of evidence that this is true.

The fact is, we know experience in teaching is correlated to student achievement, no matter how the reformyists have tried to twist the facts. We know about 40% of first-year teachers will not last long enough to earn tenure. And we have no evidence of massive teacher burnout in urban schools or otherwise.

We can precisely measure how many years a teacher has been teaching; we most certainly cannot measure a teacher's effectiveness with the same precision. Replacing the admittedly imperfect but unquestionably precise metric of seniority with the undoubtedly inaccurate and imprecise metric of "effectiveness" gains us nothing and makes personnel decisions far more capricious.

Someone asked me today if I ever thought Moran would come around, given the overwhelming evidence and logic that contradict his views. The sad fact is, he should have understood this stuff a long time ago - long before he ever tried to write about this subject. And yet he persists in laboring under the delusion that his views are based in research and common sense.

They aren't. But hope springs eternal.


czarejs said...

Makes you wonder whose pocket he's in. Honestly, can you ever remember an issue that the S-Ledger was so dedicated to?

Galton said...

With full control of the metrics and detailsof the new evaluations, the reformers do not need to eliminate the seniority protections. It may take a bit more time but "they" can get ineffective ratings on anyone they choose and the appeals are only applicable on process.