Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Five Myths About Tenure and FILO

There's plenty of discussion and argument to be had in the debate about doing away with tenure and FILO. But here are five points that don't need to be brought up any more, ever, because they are bunk.

1. Teachers want to protect bad teachers.

The prevailing myth is that when a bad teacher hits a school, other teachers circle the wagons and do their best to protect that lousy teacher from any consequences.

But when Mr. Dimbulb McSucksalot moves into the classroom next door, you know who suffers 2nd most (right behind the students)? I do. I have to put up with his out-of-control hubub. I have to listen to "Why are you making us work today? Mr. McSucksalot gave his kids a study hall!" Next year, I'll be the one who has to teach his former students when they arrive in my classroom a full year behind. And I'm the one out in the community having my professional standing smeared because Mr.McSucksalot drags down the reputation of all teachers at my school.

You think I don't want him to shape up? Think again. I curse my administrators for hiring him, I curse them for keeping him, and I curse them for letting him do a crappy job without remediation or discipline. Fix him or fire him, help him or counsel him out-- I guarantee you that Mr. Sucksalot's colleagues would love to see somebody deal with the issue.

2. Tenure Guarantees a Job for Life

A zombie argument that won't die no matter how many times it is shot in the head. Tenure guarantees due process. Tenure guarantees that districts can only fire teachers for some good reason. That is it.

Teachers are fired for incompetence all the time. Heck, teachers still get fired for moral turpitude. Here's a coach/teacher who was fired for a photo showing her fiance touching her clothed breast. Here's a teacher who was fired for posting photos from her European vacation that show her holding alcohol. Tenure does not prevent the firing of teachers. Period.

3. Administrators Hands Are Tied

We are frequently led to believe that schools are filled with administrators who would love to get rid of Mr. McSucksalot, but gosh, union rules just keep them from doing so. Baloney.

It is true that in some huge urban districts, officials have allowed the growth of byzantine rules and regulations for firing teachers, but they still have room to move (and with public pressure on their side, they could de-byzantine themselves as well).

The vast majority of districts have no such complicated issues. In most districts, administrators like to say, "My hands are tied" because it's so much more palatable than saying, "I could, but it would be a lot like work and I don't wanna" or "I hired this guy and I'd rather not publicly admit that I blew it."  Or even "Do you have any idea how much work it would be to fill that position?" And they definitely don't want to say, "Turns out some of our teachers aren't very good."

The problem with administrators' hands is not that they are tied; it's that the administrators are sitting on them. Behind every bad teacher who still has a job is an administrator who isn't doing his.

4. Young Teachers Are Being Shut Out of the Profession

Current numbers are hard to find for this issue, but here's what we know.

Something like 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within five years (and only a few leave to become investment bankers of education thought leaders). And between 1988 and 2008 the mode of teacher years of experience shifted from 14 to 1. In other words (if you don't speak statistics), in 1988, it was most likely a child would have a teacher with fourteen years of experience; in 2008, it was most likely a child's teacher would have one year of experience.

It is true that in recent years states have been shedding jobs like my dog sheds hair (that's "a lot," for those of you who don't know my dog). But it is also true that enrollment in college education programs has been dropping; my local sampling finds a decline of around 50% over those years. Young people aren't just leaving the profession; they're avoiding it in the first place.

The anti-tenure, anti-FILO narrative is that our schools are glutted with old, worn-out teachers who need to step aside for young, quality teachers. But in fact we don't have a glut of crusty old teachers; we have a glut of shiny new ones.

5. Teachers Don't Want To Be Evaluated

This part of the narrative says, "Teachers resist all forms of evaluation because they don't want to be held accountable." Baloney.

I don't know a single teacher, locally or across the country, who does not expect to be held accountable for his job performance. But here are the minimum two factors that any accountability measure should include.

First, it should actually measure how well I do my job. If we polled the taxpayers of my district, how many do you think would say, "We hire teachers to have our kids get good scores on standardized tests. That's it. That's all we hire them to do. Nothing else." No, the taxpayers of my district pay me good money to do a large and complex job, and they deserve to know how well I'm doing that job. ALL of that job. Evaluating teacher entirely or in part by student standardized test scores is like evaluating physicians on their prescription handwriting.

Second, it should not be alterable by the whims of my boss. My evaluation should not reflect how well he likes me, how many times I've pissed him off, how often I've flunked a star football player, how regularly I attend church, or how well he approves of my choice in spousal units.

Teachers absolutely recognize the right of taxpayers to know what kind of work they're getting in return for their tax dollars. That's why we think an evaluation system should be used that actually reflects our actual job performance, not one that is about as reliable as a blind man flinging darts over his shoulder at a dart board.

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