Hug, Interrupted.

Leo Casey simply does not want to be loved! We were just about to hug it out and then he goes and does this. It’s not the first time Leo has disagreed to agree with me. And again, in this case, we don’t have much of a disagreement except perhaps an implied one about the extent that UFT’s contract is representative of very much. That’s a premise you can explore here for yourself. But we seem to agree on the point that this school is not a typical NYC school. But, Leo keeps throwing up stuff I apparently unknowingly think (he’s runnin’ with Rothstein these days). None of it really matters but this one caught my eye:

The real issue that inside-the-beltway education think tanks have is not that teacher union contracts prevent educational innovation, but that they put limits on management rights and management authority. Union critics seek unfettered management power, such as the power to fire without any due process, and arguments about educational innovation are only stage props for achieving that objective.

Hmmm…I’ve never written any such thing but I’m actually curious if anyone has? I’m not sayin’ it hasn’t happened but I read a lot and can’t recall seeing anything so nutty, even from the nuts. If any readers can find something from a Washington-based organization, left, right, or center, arguing that teachers should be able to be fired without any due process please send it along, preferably with a link. Granted, such a policy would violate federal and state laws, but I’m wondering if anyone has ever even put forward such an idea or if it truly is a strawman as pure as freshly driven snow.

Update: Who knew that NYC Educator was such a voyeur?

5 Replies to “Hug, Interrupted.”

  1. I’m deeply offended, and I take emphatic exception to–oh, wait, I thought you called me a lawyer.

    Never mind.

  2. I hate to pass up an opportunity for jokes, especially for a suggestion about more hugging.

    So we agree that union contracts are not a major impediment to reform, and teachers have been helping to lead the innovation. As numerous studies of turnarounds have shown, even when contracts give a great deal of freedom, school systems can’t benefit fully because of the lack of capacity. As Joel Packer observes, we need a lot more money to build capacity.

    Even “Kevin: ‘I’ll fight the whole lot of ya'” semi-agrees, while also changing the subject.

    Kevin also argues correctly that “at the same time the current dollars aren’t being spent efficiently.” But why blame teachers and unions for the idiotic policies that we warned would be counter-productive? Central administrative offices around the country made those silly decsions.

    When NCLB was adopted, education veterans knew that a new line item would be added to budgets around the country – the Cover Your Ass appropriation. Rampant test prep, slapped together after-school remediation, primitive tutorials and “credit recovery” programs were bound to fail educationally, but they served their purpose of CYA. Just about every “quick fix” that a consultant could put into a Power Point was added to the CYA appropriation line.

    So we should hug and agree, “Don’t blame you. Don’t blame me. Blame the central office guy under the tree.” No! We need a Marshall Plan for teachers and for principals, and expanded pre-K, and capacity for turnarounds. And we need to build “rifleshot” accountability into each, while abandoning the primitive NCLB system.

    Kevin used a revealing phrase, when he asked, “why spend billions of new dollars for same same political headaches?” Of course, we teachers hope to give headaches to politicians who impose counter-productive scams on us, and our students.

    But let’s remember our real goal. We want the opportunity to impose the headaches on ourselves. If we really want to help poor children, we are volunteering for the headaches that will always accompany an honest effort to address educational challenges.

    As Packer indicated, NCLB was predicated on the belief that these challenges aren’t that hard and we just need to make teachers get off their asses. Which brings us full circle, when given a utopian task and no real capacity to address the complexities of the issues, central offices across the country will respond with CYA.

  3. Dear Eduwonk,

    Though Mr. Casey is cynically dismissive of the real value of innovation that a more entrepreneurial educational system would allow, I think you’re not taking seriously the depth of the difference in opinion on the issue of managerial autonomy.

    It really hinges on what is meant by the term “due process.” If due process means that people can’t be fired on a discriminatory basis, yeah there are few who are opposed to it. But if “due process” means a principal can’t fire someone he thinks is incompetent without proving that incompetence through documentation to an outside body, I must admit, that I myself (and many of my friends in the DC think tanks, though generally my more conservative ones) am vigorously opposed to this (un)due-process.

    I am an at-will employee (at a DC non-profit) and I could be fired VERY quickly if my boss decided that I was not doing my job well. Someone getting fired abruptly rarely ever happens, but it does happen, and usually when it does it’s because someone was really not cutting it or was way out of line. In all cases I’ve seen such firings were to the benefit of the organization.

    Not only do I not see anything wrong with this, I would much rather work in an environment where people who don’t do their job well don’t work there for long. I don’t see why professionals need the kind of due process protections that we associate with industrial workers who are in danger of exploitation by corporations who negotiate on dramatically asymmetric terms. I think teachers ought to be true professionals, with both the benefits and the risks that entails.

    So in that regard I would prefer to see teachers paid an average of $80,000 a year, but work as at will employees, much like many people at the think tanks we all know. The persistent idea that we must invest lots of money in helping bad teachers become good ones, instead of just firing them and replacing them with people who we don’t have to remediate seems to me an outgrowth of the low wages and low status of the teaching profession. Has anyone every heard of remediation at McKinsey, (or at a DC think tank for that matter?) If management sees problems, but also promise, they give support; if they see only problems you won’t be working there long. If teaching jobs were desirable for reasons of money or status then we could afford to fire people who are bad at them because there would be others lined up to take their place. But because teaching right now requires people to deal with a lot of degrading nonsense, and compensates them very poorly, it is not particularly easy to replace poor-performers with better performers.

    The answer to this dynamic is not haggling for slightly-less-degrading, but still degrading working conditions through collective bargaining.
    A better answer is to treat teachers like real professionals which means high rewards, high performance demands, and meaningful differentiation between high and low performers which will sometimes mean people get fired. This is the model favored in most performance driven professions.

    And if you are looking for examples of people putting this thought in writing I did so myself, near the bottom of this post:

    “So how about instead of setting a goal of halving class size, requiring us to spend $150 billion, we instead set a goal of doubling teacher pay, so that average is around $100 K and simultaneously have a ruthlessly competitive tenure process where you only take the super-high value added teachers. While we’re at it let’s not bother about the necessity of having really high level data systems to do truly statistically unbiased value-added assessments of teachers in their first few years, and instead just demand that teachers up their students scale scores by certain fixed amounts or they don’t get tenured. You can make crazy, unfair and potentially arbitrary demands like that on people when you pay them huge sums of money. Now maybe I’m just getting a little carried away.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.