Going Thin, Or Going Away…

NYC Educator is down on New York teachers’ union honcho Randi Weingarten for consorting with the likes of Green Dot’s Steve Barr. I’m a big fan of NYC Educator, who in addition to writing a fun blog is a great guy. But I think he’s out of step here while Weingarten gets it: The days of traditional teacher “tenure” are coming to and end. That’s for the good. As education becomes more talent sensitive and more attention is paid to effectiveness, policies about hiring and firing are going to become more, well, sensible. The research evidence (e.g. Sanders, Hanushek, click here for a powerpoint cheat sheet) is pretty clear that over just a couple of years highly effective teachers can really change outcomes for kids – in a positive direction – and highly ineffective ones can do the same, in the wrong direction.

Those changes are going to happen one of two ways. Politicians from both parties are fond of saying things like, “end teacher tenure as we know it.” And they say things like that for a reason. So it could end in a backlash, as these things sometimes do. Alternatively, “thin” or modified contracts like the one at Green Dot point the way toward a system that sensibly protects teachers’ rights while also prizing effectiveness and performance. That’s a more constructive dialogue because like other public servants teachers deserve protection against arbitrary and capricious practices.

Interestingly, to date Green Dot’s contract hasn’t been tested in practice so it’s still more or less a theory. The environment and culture there is such that low-performers don’t want to stick around anyway, regardless of contractual language. When it’s actually tested it will be well worth watching because the contract itself isn’t as weak as NYC Educator makes it out to be in the first place.

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