-By Larry Sand
Julius Caesar came to a bad end on March 15th, the same date many good teachers were warned that they may be unemployed in June.
“Nearly 20,000 Teacher Pink Slips Statewide Show Drastic Need for More Education Funding” screamed the headline on the California Teachers Association website.
First, let’s straighten out the union spin. Typically when a person receives a “pink slip,” it means that they are fired. What some teachers actually received is a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice, which according to state law, must be sent to teachers by March 15th if there is the slightest chance that they will be laid off in June. School districts really don’t know in March what their budget will be for the next school year so they plan for the worst case scenario. It’s unheard of for all teachers who get the notices to actually be laid off, but some will, and they must be notified if there is any chance they will lose their jobs.
As a young teacher in New York City in 1975, I lost my 6th grade teaching because the city was in the midst of a fiscal swoon. A few thousand of us were laid off because we were the newest hires, not because we were the worst teachers. The union contract did not make any provision for getting rid of the poorest performers, just the newly employed. Fast forward 37 years and we are still doing the same stupid thing.
In California, the state education code stipulates that seniority must be the determinant as to who gets the ax when times are tough. Last in, first out (LIFO) is the law of the land in California and is a terrible way to make staffing decisions. Teachers should be assessed on their merits, and if layoffs must happen, the poorest performers should go, just as in every other field.
How many bad teachers are there? (Please spare me the “teacher bashing” epithet; there are stinkers in every field – doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. The difference is that if the latter continuously fail their clients, they will be forced out of their profession. But not teachers.) Former GE CEO Jack Welch said that the bottom 10 percent of any field should be replaced. I will use a more conservative number – let’s say that 5 percent of teachers are poor performers.
In California, there are about 300,000 teachers. If 5 percent of them aren’t fit to teach, that means we have 15,000 who should seek work elsewhere. If each of these teachers has 20 kids in a class, it means they are ruining the educational experience of 300,000 children a year. If a young student has two dogs in a row, in all likelihood they will never catch up, thus inflicting permanent damage. And a middle or high school teacher in the bottom 5 percent can do even more harm, as he or she may have 150 students per year.
Another thing to consider when laying off teachers is that by not limiting your choice to newest hires, not as many would have to be let go. That’s because the newest hires are always the lowest paid, thanks to the antiquated step and column pay scale that school districts use. This set-up rewards teachers for the number of years on the job, irrespective of their effectiveness.
The consequence of ridding schools of their lowest performing teachers can be transformative. According to Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek, if we just got rid of the bottom performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers – a common practice in the private sector — our education system could rival that of Finland’s world class system.
Of course, common sense changes will be difficult to bring about in California due to the enormous power of CTA. Teachers unions care not a whit about teacher quality. They just want as many breathing, dues paying bodies in the classroom as possible.
Julius Caesar had good reason to fear March 15th. It is a crying shame that so many excellent teachers should have that same fear.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.
“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.
Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.
Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.
CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.
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