Tuesday, May 10, 2016

PA: Seniority Attack Continues

Monday the Pennsylvania Senate passed their version of the tenure-clobbering, seniority-crushing HB 805, a bill with the heavily ironic title the "Protecting Excellent Teachers" act, which yields the unfortunate acronym PET, as in "teachers should be treated like dogs." This comes on the heels of the House version that passed last summer. 

The idea, as always, is that when teachers are furloughed, the state wants districts to cut teachers loose based on their rating. In PA, we have four categories (Awesome, Good Enough, Get A-workin', and Sucky). Under PET, a district would let its Sucky teachers go first, following seniority ranking within that category. Then so on through the categories.

The practical effects would, at first, not be all that great, because almost 100% of PA teachers rank as Okee-Dokee.  But this is a foot-in-the-door bill, and it would set the stage for the day when some experienced teacher who ranks 0.01 lower than a colleague is going to hit the street.

It is also a misdirection bill, because it also throw its weight behind financial considerations. Under this bill, any district can claim financial stress and start laying off teachers for monetary reason. Which teachers do you suppose would make the most attractive targets for a district trying to cut costs? And of course in Pennsylvania, the number of districts under financial stress are roughly All Of Them.

The good news is that Governor Tom Wolf  plans to veto the bill. The bad news is that it's not going away any time soon. The even worse news is that lots of folks think it's a nifty idea. I know. They live near me.

As usual with reformster shenanigans, much of the script is flipped. Quick! Who thinks that the state government should override local control and force local elected officials to surrender their power? This time, it's the GOP (the party that was, once upon a time, the party of small government).

Here are the usual questions, popping up again.

Why shouldn't we fire bad teachers instead of protecting them with tenure and seniority?

First of all-- we can. Bad teachers can be fired. I've seen it. It's a real thing.

Second of all, you need to be able to identify bad teachers. Ask the person who's asking you this question how they think bad teachers are identified. Then explain to them how it really works:

Students take a reading and math test. A magical formula figures out what score the student would have achieved in an neutral alternate universe, and if the student doesn't beat that imaginary score, it's the teachers' fault. The math teacher, the English teacher, the history teacher, the phys ed teacher, the music teacher.

Next, describe thunderdome. Every teacher is ranked. If another teacher ranks higher than you, you are closer to being fired. Under those circumstances, it is not in your best interest to help your colleagues.

This system changes the teacher's job. What do we pay you to do? We pay you to get the students in your room to score high on a test. That's your job. Is that what the taxpayers want?

Ironically, today there is a piece out about a charter system that uses exactly what the PA GOP envisions, and the result is terrible morale, huge turnover, and cheating. Success Academy has actually fulfilled its role as a laboratory of education, and their experiment has proven their techniques to be a huge failure.

Meanwhile, let me be the gazzillionth person to note that if we ranked legislators on how well they do their job, the ten-month late half-a-budget is proof positive that every legislator should be fired and sent home.

But the whole thing is an exercise in misdirection, because if the legislators are so deeply concerned about the tight financial pinch of all their school districts, they could fix that by actually fully funding schools. Instead, they continue to follow the program of starving education and trying to crush the teaching work force.

For teachers, one last think to note-- the only thing that is keeping this from happening is the man in the governor's mansion. Either of the previous occupants would have been happy to sign this bill. And that is why teachers need to pay attention at election time.


  1. (my edit to the last sentence):And that is why every teacher, teacher spouse, families, neighbors, and friends of teachers, PLUS any person who has a child in school or WILL have. PLUS anyone who actually cares about their tax rate must vote for a governor and legislators who actually support education instead of trying to muck about with it.

  2. Agreed on everything that was said by Peter Greene. The only way we can prevent further teacher abuse is by voting and standing our ground. Voices are the most important weapon we can use against this corrupt system!