Tuesday, October 31, 2017

PA: Teacher Tenure, Seniority on Chopping Block

Here we go again.

Reformsters and their PA GOP friends have been trying to do away with teacher job protections in Pennsylvania for years now, but this year, they took a new approach-- burying the attacks on teacher seniority and tenure in a big bill strapped onto PA's ever-disastrous budget shenanigans.

The budget appears to be just about settled, albeit quietly, so as not to draw attention to how long it had been unsettled (long story short-- this year, for variety's sake, instead of failing to pass a budget, the legislature passed a budget and then a group of House GOP representatives blocked any attempts to fund it). The omnibus education bill has been detached from the budget, but it is still sitting on Governor Wolf's desk, a Frankensteinian heap, a clinking clanking clattering collection of caliginous junk.

I thought that sounded familiar

House Bill 178 featuress a whole bunch o'stuff, including but not limited to:

* A bunch of procedural rules for how ESSA plan review shall be handled, mostly aimed at making sure that the legislature has ample opportunity to get their grubby amateur hands on the plan. So that'll be a big help.

* A requirement for all new school board members to get a training from the Ed department

* Training programs for charter school trustees, too

* Districts under financial watch will have a state overseer to serve as their czar

* Districts may now claim "economic reasons" as a cause for cutting staff (this is added to a list of causes that includes cutting programs, reduced enrollment, or school consolidation). Such cuts may NOT be based on how much a particular teacher is paid, and if a superintendent gets caught violating that rule, he'll get a letter in his permanent file. So, you know, really heavy consequences for that one.

* Districts must suspend an equal percentage of administrators. This seems... tricky. If a district has 100 teachers and 5 administrators and they cut 5 teachers, does that mean they must chop off one principal's arms? Fortunately, the Secretary of Education can waive this requirement if the district's operations are "already sufficiently streamlined" aka "any time he feels like it."

* Some noise about reporting the economic factors and also making sure that staff cuts won't hurt academics, mostly providing the legislature plausible deniability ("We told them not to cut important stuff! Just, you know, teachers.")

* Staff cut for financial reasons MUST BE cut in descending order of recent evaluations. So anyone with two consecutive "unsatisfactory" ratings goes first. This will not help much, as the number of unsatisfactory teachers in PA tends to hover around 200. After that, the district works its way up the evaluation scale. For the time being, teachers are clumped by rating and not precisely ranked by their actual rating. I presume that will come later.

* Presuming they won't get jobs elsewhere, they will be called back in reverse of the order they were laid off.

* No contract can negotiate anything that contradicts these rules.

* I'm not positive, but I think section 1216 would now say that a teacher candidate can't be denied a diploma if they flunk the PRAXIS or similar test.

* No lunch shaming.

* Opioid abuse instruction.

* A bunch of measures to beef up agricultural education.

* The ability for charter schools to manage themselves as chains rather than a series of independent schools owned and operated by the same company.

* And once again kicks the can down the road on using the Keystone exam as a graduation requirement. This keeps happening (the requirement was supposed to kick in last year) because legislators keep being alarmed by how many students would be denied diplomas they have otherwise earned because of this Big Standardized Test. They don't seem to understand that this will never change; somebody needs to go to Harrisburg and explain norm-based assessment to them.

Somebody also needs to read the legislature in on the recent Houston court decision about EVAAS, the OG of VAM systems and the identical twin to the VAM system used in PA (PVAAS). In that decision, the court ruled that using the VAM system as a means of terminating teachers was nuts and indefensible. The system for suspending teachers in this bill are not quite as severe as Houston's, but if this bill becomes law, I expect we'll be in court soon enough.

If you are in Pennsylvania, please join me in tweeting, emailing and calling the governor to encourage him not to sign this thick slice of baloney. This is not what education in Pennsylvania needs. It remains to be seen exactly which internal organs the legislature lacks.


  1. Actually, forcing school board members and charter school trustees to sit through a mandatory, useless, boring training from the state department of ed might be a good thing--they'll have personal experience of what teachers go through every year.

  2. The legislature puts the Governor in a delicate position with an election on the horizon....I can hear the campaign adds from Scotty Wagner....That big bully Tom Wolfe allows students to be shamed for not being able to pay for lunch and he allows teachers that scored lower on their evaluation to stay when we are letting go of good (and cheaper) teachers.....The most unfortunate piece of this is that people bubbling in the election sheets or pulling the levers won't expend the effort to separate the wheat from the BS. With elections this coming Tuesday, all of those representatives will be back for another term and we will continue to have Party over Purpose in Harrisburg.