Archive for January, 2011
I have to applaud San Diego’s board for thinking out of the box. Four years ago, when a different SDUSD board sent preliminary layoff notices to nearly a thousand certificated staff , I thought the move was penny wise and pound foolish. By that, I mean that the actual harm caused by projecting layoffs based on illusory numbers from the Governor may have satisfied the budget crunchers but was educationally unsound. Based on previous experience, it seemed that many of the cuts would be rescinded and the federal government might come to the rescue. In the end, that’s what happened and most of those notices were rescinded. However, the damage was done – to staff, to students, to schools. I reccomend that San Diego and other boards start to advocate for some fundamental changes in the system. For years, CTA and their partners have supported the March 15 notice even though “real” numbers aren’t available until months later because they like the crisis that it creates. It’s an effective political strategy – and who cares about the harm to less senior teachers. The unions don’t really focus on them anyway. If they did, perhaps they would also advocate for the elimination of seniority-based layoffs.
That’s a thought for San Diego and other district’s in the same boat. Perhaps, they could join LAUSD in their legislative agenda to change many of the crazy rules and regulations that govern the layoff and dismissal processes! Let’s end the last in/first out seniority based process. Let’s put a stop to bumping! How bold would that be!
In an interesting piece of commentary, Dr. Kerchner argues that the push for pay for performance in education might have the same impact as free agency in baseball. He raises the possibility of teachers unions functioning as “agents” for the best teachers, distorting salary schedules and teacher distribution as teachers are lured to the best, most financially rewarding jobs.
His analysis reminded me of a Star Trek episode where the crew is transported into an alternate dimension where everything is the opposite of reality. In the alternate universe, the Stark Trek Enterprise is feared for its brutality and its crew and captain are evil and greedy.
In order for Dr. Kerchner’s analysis to be accurate, we would actually have to live in an alternate universe where school systems recognized teacher talent as a valuable commodity, the primary function of unions was support and create great teachers instead of defending the worst and ensuring that everyone was paid based on seniority.
Currently, we have shortage fields such as math, science and special education where districts, no matter how willing they are to pay extra for high need teachers, can’t do it because of local teacher’s contracts and the blinding intransigence of our statewide teacher’s unions to consider differntial pay for skills (much less pay for talent). As a special education teacher, I used to get recruitment flyers in the mail from other districts who had a shortage of special educators. But the incentives they offered were never all that great.
Teachers with hard to find skills and those who are exceptional at improving student performance should be rewarded to for their work. There are a hell of lot more of them than top tier professors or baseball players. Many of them work wonders in difficult circumstances while the burned out or incompetent teacher down the hall gets paid a lot more because of how many years they’ve been teaching.
That’s the reality of our current system. The scenario Dr. Kerchner describes could only exist in an alternative universe.
2011 promises to be an interesting year. Jerry Brown is the Governor. Tom Torlakson is the SPI. There are new members of the education committees in both the Assembly and Senate. There are new players in the education landscape such as the recently established non-profit known as CORE, composed of seven of the more forward thinking, high-profile districts in the state. And there is a giant budget deficit with no prospect of a federal bail out (with Republicans now in charge of the House). In fact, the talk coming from the Republicans is about cutting the education budget, not adding to it.
Brown is expected to propose more cuts to K-12 and higher education when he comes out with his January budget. And with the loss of two years of federal funds to plug holes, a lot of districts will be in deep doo-doo (as a former President used to say).
The Governor is likely to put two options on the table to fix this problem for districts – more categorical flexibility – and a ballot initiative to raise taxes to bolster public education. The question that needs to be asked about both options is this – who benefits from them? If the answer is students, then I’m all for both. But if the answer is the adults that are dependent on school systems serving as glorified jobs programs with terrible results for students, than the answer is no. Categorical flexibility is great when it’s used in districts with leadership focused on improving student performance. But that’s not always the case. More dollars for public education is great if it’s used to help struggling students and retain vital progams. But not if its used to support underfunded pensions or unsustainable salary and benefit levels. The bottom line is dollars for the students first. They are the future of California.