Sunday, July 30, 2017

PA: Tenure Under Attack Yet Again

Okay, Pennsylvania. Here we go again.

Slipped into the byzantine negotiations surrounding this year's Budget-pallooza, some kind soul has re-inserted a favorite reformster method of doing away with teacher tenure.

This is an idea that reformsters have pitched with varying degrees of success in a multitude of states. The idea is to do away with job protections without actually saying so, instead saying that a school district should be able to fire teachers for "economic reasons" and that firing should be based not on seniority, but on teacher evaluation scores.

Usually this is pitched as a law. In 2014, StudentsFirst was pitching it like crazy. Not surprising as the group (which has apparently let the security certificate on its site expire) is the reform group set up by former DC chancellor, She Who Will Not Be Named*, a group that has worked hard to gut public education and tear down the teaching profession. I don't say that lightly-- I've learned to believe that there are reform-minded people with whom I strongly disagree, but who are reasonably honest and sincere in their pursuit of their goal. She and StudentsFirst are no such group-- intellectually dishonest and self-serving, this is a group that has been devoted to tearing down the profession and public education. And they've done it with the happy cooperation of Democrats as well as GOP folks.

These days, post-She, the group's profile has sagged a bit, but in 2014 they were lobbying hard in Pennsylvania. That year, House Bill 1722 was the result. In 2015, the same idea surfaced in Senate Bill 805, and by 2016, the damn thing was still kicking around, though at that point Governor Tom Wolf was pledged to kill it if it landed on his desk.

But now it's back again.

The idea is pretty simple. If your school district wants to cut teachers, it used to have to justify this with reasons like declining enrollment, cut programs, combined schools, and combined districts. You know-- reasons related to education. But the new rule would add "economic reasons" to the list. And in Pennsylvania, with the most inequitable funding system in the country, just about every district in the state can claim "economic reasons."

Then you start cutting teachers based on evaluations. Earlier versions of the law organized teachers by their rating-- awesome, great, okay-ish and sucky-- but I'm not sure how the current proposal reads. PA's evaluation system uses numbers that would allow a more exact stack-ranking, though it would be a joke, as we are also a state where teacher evaluation includes a building score (SPP) and THAT score is 90% based on test scores. Teacher scores are soaked in the widely debunked VAM sauce. Here's what I found when the bill surfaced in 2015:

Here you can see a letter written by the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Stephen Bloom, back in February. It contains several fine slices of baloney, including this statistic thrown out without any references:
Research demonstrates that under a seniority-based layoff system, the more effective teacher is dismissed roughly four out of five times. 
What research? How is it demonstrated? And why haven't we heard about this before like, say, during the Vergara trial's work of destroying tenure and seniority in California? Those guys were clearly willing to bring up anything they could think of to make their point-- but I don't believe they mentioned this. So I kind of suspect this is not an entirely fact-based statement.

The implications of this kind of policy are many and ugly. Teachers who want job security had better fight their way into a schedule that includes the best test-takers, and collegial sharing of techniques and ideas between teachers would be self-defeating-- if your professional peer has a good year and you have a bad one, it could cost you your job.

Supporters of this law repeatedly frame it as a law to protect excellent teachers, as if Pennsylvania has a problem with schools that are laying off genius first-year teachers left and right while hoary old burnouts take up space. But there's no sign that this is true, in particular no evidence that older teachers are lousy, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. As for chasing off great young teachers-- well, the more common problem in the state is that there are no jobs to hire them into in the first place as budgets are slashed and funding is sucked off by charters.

And seriously-- if PA legislators wanted to make sure that bright young teachers weren't scared away from teaching, they might attempt to fix Pennsylvania's broken funding system, boost funding to where it needs to be, and generally insure that no district had "economic reasons" for firing anybody. After all, if we're only firing teachers because of economic reasons, that means the district is then operating with fewer teachers than it should have. How exactly is that a win for anyone? And how does it "protect" young teachers to know that they will never, ever have job security again? Exactly what about that makes the job attractive?

This is union-busting, profession-gutting legislation that can barely even pretend to do what it claims it will do. The ideal for She-style reformsters is a frequently-churned, easily-fired, low-earning teaching staff that never gets comfortable enough to get uppity or to provide support to the union, and this bill is perfect for those goals.

It's an attack against the teaching profession and public education, and it's back-- again-- on the table in Harrisburg, so it's time-- again-- to call your elected representative and voice your opinion. This thing has passed the Senate, but the whole budget business is such a clusterfarpfignugen that it's hard to know when it will make it to the governor. And this is a far more politically adept move than previous attempts-- I'm guessing the Governor won't trash the whole budget just because it includes a part about ending teacher tenure. Call. Call call call.

*It's been a longstanding policy of this blog not to increase the internet footprint of a woman who is the Kim Kardasian of education


  1. Don't forget the part where tenure is worth actual money to me (in the form of mortgage rates etc) yet costs taxpayers nothing!

  2. The sponsors of this bill would like public education in PA to look like today's White House staffing.

    Imagine a school run by Sally Yates, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci, with Trump on the Board of Trustees.

    How is this vision of public education healthy? How is it even rational?