Commentary: Progress vs. Seniority: Redefining Job Security for Teachers

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With teachers being laid off as a result of the recession and vast budget deficits, how do schools decide which teachers will go? As seen in the New York Times, in New York City, outdated rules put in place by teachers unions and their friends in local government mean that new teachers will be the immediate casualties of lay-offs. In contrast, longer-tenured teachers protected by seniority will be safe. The elimination of a substantial crop of young, skilled teachers will could help undo efforts to raise accountability, competition, and innovation in NYC public schools, while protecting the interests of unions.

This isn’t to say that new teachers are uniformly more skilled or more deserving of security than teachers who have been around for twenty-plus years. But maybe it is time we overhauled the status quo governing teacher performance and retention.

This phenomenon is hardly unique to New York. A disturbing report in the Los Angeles Times reveals how incredibly unreliable current standards are for evaluating performance and reward. Though these standards vary from city to city, no matter where you look, teachers unions have a vested interest in accruing benefits and solidifying their political pull, not in progress.

There is legitimate concern, however, for what should constitute new standards of evaluating tenure. As noted by the New York Times, “Limited data on teacher effectiveness in New York City suggests that a purely performance-based system would not favor younger teachers.” There is no fool-proof plan for improving the standards of teacher retention and job security. However, such decisions should not be based primarily on seniority. Assertive efforts, such as those backed by Governor Schwarzenegger in California, must be taken to combat union efforts to eliminate competition and impede progress.

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