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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Thoughts On "Ed Reform 101 - Merit Pay, Seniority & Tenure"

The next installment of Ed Reform 101 is up: Part 3 - Merit Pay, Seniority & Tenure.

These are probably the most contentious parts of the entire debate, because the corporate "reformers" have framed them in terms of how teaching compares to other jobs. "You guys have a job for life!" "You get bonuses for breathing!" "Why do those burned out older teachers get to stay while great young teachers don't?"

It's difficult to fight back against this, because the objections are so visceral and personal: "I have to prove myself at my job - why don't you?" The fact is, I do - all teachers do. But that's not what this is all about.

Take tenure. Do you have a job where you have to grade children who may have politically connected and powerful parents? Can you think of any job where there is any sort of equivalence? I can't.

It's a unique situation that requires a unique solution. Again, if anyone can show me another way to get around this problem, I'm all for it. Michelle Rhee seems to think the answer is to clog the courts - I think that's just dumb.

Should tenure prevent bad teachers from being fired? Of course not, which is why we need to streamline the process. But, given the political realities of schools, there needs to be a firewall between the teacher and those realities. That's all tenure is.

In the same vein, take merit pay. Do you have a job where your pay is based on the output of others - others you can't fire? Can you think of any job where, if others fail, you pay the price, and you can't choose who those others are? I can't.

Another unique situation; another unique solution. I think there's a place for rewarding excellence, but that has to be done within the context of rewarding great work that may manifest itself in ways only another professional can truly apprehend. Merit pay for test scores? Come on, seriously - does that really make any sense?

As to seniority: where has this myth of the burned out older teacher stealing jobs from the great younger teacher come from? Yes, people can and do burn out; yes, young teachers can and do come in with enthusiasm. But when did we fall so off of the rails that we are basing policy around this picture like it's an indisputable truth?

Experience matters in every field. It's ridiculous that teaching is now being excluded from this basic tenet of life.

In any case, the real question we should be asking about Last In First Out layoff policies is why we are laying off so many teachers in the first place. Don't tell me it's because we're out of money - that's crap.

A wave of teacher retirements has already started. Who is going to take these people's places, especially after the profession has been demeaned and maligned? Getting rid of teacher protections and making job security so capricious is hardly going to help bring new quality folks into the fold.

Of course, if we eliminate tenure, we'll just turn all the positions into patronage jobs. And that will pretty much end high-quality public education in New Jersey and America as we know it. My own kids will be getting out at just about the right time to avoid most of the damage. Will yours?

Tomorrow: unions. Whoo, boy...

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