William R. Hite Jr. knows it's a tough ask: $120 million from a state that historically views Philadelphia and its public schools "as a cesspool."
So, the superintendent figures, the only way the nearly-broke Philadelphia School District is getting the cash it needs from state coffers is to end teacher seniority.
"If we stand any chance to get money from Harrisburg, it's going to have to support something that is different from what we have now," Hite told the Inquirer Editorial Board on Thursday, adding that legislators are unlikely to support a system where "individuals get another increase just because they're remaining on the job another year." [emphasis mine]First of all, if the teachers in Philly did give up their seniority, and Hite got all that money, how much was he planning on giving to the teachers? Because it seems to me that if their acquiescence is all that's required, they should get it all.
Think that'll happen?
Second: on behalf of Philly's teachers, I challenge Dr. Hite to present any compelling evidence whatsoever that ending seniority improves student outcomes. Just about every developed country uses seniority in its school staffing and/or compensation decisions. Eliminating seniority probably wouldn't save much money, and the unforeseen consequences may be severe, especially given how imprecise "quality-based" layoffs would be.
The truth is that Hite and Harrisburg want to end seniority not because that policy has been shown to improve student achievement; they want to end seniority because they want to dump their failures on to teachers.
The conservatives running the state have failed to provide the children of Philadelphia with the resources necessary to the run the schools; they have also failed to provide the housing, health care, public safety, economic development, and other infrastructures necessary to ensure that the city's young can grow up to lead productive lives.
They've failed because they are the puppets of a ruling class that has subverted the political system to its own ends. Governor Tom Corbett pushed Pennsylvania to spend more on prisons than on higher education. The state has led the way in expanding the growth of for-profit cyber-charters, which have been a fiscal and educational train wreck. Edu-pirates like Vahan Gureghian have paid for the campaigns of Corbett and his fellow conservative travelers; in return, they have abdicated their oversight responsibilities, allowing Gureghian to become a very rich man at the expense of the poorest children in the state.
But even worse: these politicians have refused to address the chronic poverty, immoral inequality, and regressive taxation that has crippled the Keystone State:
To be fair: Pennsylvania isn't alone. This pattern is to be found all across America: the working poor and middle class are working harder, making less, and paying more in taxes. Meanwhile, the plutocrats - like Eli Broad - spend their money training urban superintendents - like William Hite - to come into large cities and blame the shameful lot of their poor children on teacher seniority. Incredibly, they make the case that fixing all of their failures is not nearly as important as eliminating LIFO.
Of course, the nice thing about being a lackey to the rich is that you're never asked to sacrifice either:
Hite's plea for teachers to give up their hard-fought workplace protections would have a lot more credence if his central office was sharing in the pain. But that's not how the Broad-funded world of big city education works these days. The little money that these districts get flows away from the classroom and towards hacky consultants, petty bureaucrats, and incompetent "researchers" (trust me, if anyone knows about this, it's us New Jerseyans).
So even if Hite's faustian bargain was legitimate, and more money would come to Philly if teachers gave up their seniority protections, there's no guarantee that the money would wind up going to any part of the budget that would actually help kids.
If Hite wants to make his case against seniority, let him make it. But demanding that teachers cave to his demands in exchange for adequate school funding is extortion. Philadelphia's teachers have already shown they aren't going to take this crap lying down. The rest of us need to tell them we've got their backs while they continue to stand up to these bullies.
Billy Hite is our kind of guy!