|In the wake of the take over of Markham Middle School, one of the lowest performing schools in the state, Sullivan was hired as principal and tasked with turning around the school. Of course, this was done by firing the entire staff:
As part of the turnaround, the partnership hired Tim, along with a new teaching staff, and required the school's existing teachers to reapply for their jobs. In the fall of 2008, the school opened a fresh chapter under new management, and with mostly new staff. Most of the teachers were young, optimistic, and energetic.
Note the structure of the first sentence: Sullivan was hired along with all new teachers - then the teaching staff was allowed to apply for their jobs. Not surprisingly, the new staff didn't include many of the senior teachers, but instead mostly "young, optimistic and energetic" new teachers.
This is a dog whistle for an education reformist's core belief: Young Teacher = Good Teacher
Old Teacher = Bad Teacher
In reality, the only way a young teacher is always a better teacher is in the free market belief that education should be run like a business - including having a profit motif. Young teacher = cheap teacher. Old teacher = expensive teacher.
So the restructure circumvents seniority rights, and a new less experienced and less costly staff is put in place in what can probably be argued as one of the more demanding teaching environments in the nation.
But then budget cuts rock Los Angeles Unified, and the district decides to release approximately 10% of its teachers at the end of the school year. The recession came home to roost as unemployment rose, tax revenues dropped and the housing bubble collapsed. So naturally the problem is: Seniority?
The second year, Tim's leadership team started hiring again. But instead of being able to hire the teachers he wanted, he was required to hire from the district's displaced-teacher pool-senior teachers who had been let go by other schools. Just before school started, Tim and his team interviewed 24 candidates in a four-hour district-hosted job fair. The school offered contracts to 21 of those candidates. Only two of the teachers accepted the offer, and of the 19 who rejected it, 15 had not even bothered to visit the school.
There are so many talking points here, so allow me to unpack this a bit:
A "displaced teacher pool" sounds so blatantly negative, as if this was some band of teachers who had been "let go" for performance problems. In reality what such a "pool" most often refers to regarding seniority rights is a pool of candidates that had previously been employed with the district and were released due to something non-classroom related - declining enrollment, budgetary constraints or the like. In other words teachers released not due to anything under their control or related to their performance.
So why not just re-hire the Markham teachers that were released? Seniority is the blame, according to the authors! But is it really? Note that even though the school released half its teachers, it rehired for the start of the next year. The unrealistic budget cuts and associated decision to pink slip teachers is the real cause of the trouble here, not seniority.
Not surprisingly, when teachers get pink slipped for reasons like this, they tend to go and find positions in other districts rather than subject themselves to the uncertainty again. This is more likely the reason that 19 of the candidates offered contracts didn't accept them let alone visit the school. They most likely left the district (and/or the profession), and moved on to another position.
Teachers in the pool are there because they retain a property right to an open position having been released for non-performance reasons months prior. I don't know about you, but most people I know start looking for a new job immediately rather than just sitting around hoping to be recalled by their former employer. Yet the author tries to imply that the "senior teachers" exhibited incompetence through their lack of visiting the school and turning down a contract.
It's far more likely these teachers didn't want to work in an environment that the author admits is "hard to staff" and in which the faculty was thrown out in a restructure, replaced with younger cheaper teachers, half of whom were then let go after only one year in yet another round of reactionary budget cuts.
So, Markham started the school year relying on long-term substitutes to fill many of the still-vacant positions. Many were not equipped or qualified to head any classroom. But because of the seniority policies, the school's hands were tied. And, come spring of the second year under partnership management, almost half the school's staff was laid off again in the next round of district budget cuts.
Here we have more leaps of misplaced causation. One of the primary roles of an administrator is staffing. The explanation given here is essentially this: We couldn't hire who we wanted due to those damaging seniority rights, so we had to start the year with terribly unqualified subs.
Let's lay the blame where is belongs: unrealistic budget cuts first, the administrator in charge of hiring second. The first question to ask is why did the district release all those
inexperienced and cheap young and energetic teachers, only to have to rehire before the next school year? The second question to ask is why did the administrator in charge start the hiring process "just before school started"? Unlike other fields, education has a definitive window when the best applicant pool is available.
For those outside education here's a hint: Just before school isn't within that window.
Seniority rights normally don't restrict when administrators can interview. They only require administrators to offer contracts to those experienced teachers on the seniority list. They also don't require those contract offers to linger indefinitely. If the contract is not accepted, then other offers can be made further down the list. If the offer is made right before school starts, then hiring is going to be more than bit difficult and seniority has nothing to do with it.
But seniority rights do get in the way of an administrator hand picking their staff. It makes it hard for them to replace "senior" teachers who cost more with the younger cheaper ones. It really cramps an administrator's ability to fill positions out of political patronage or to getting rid of teachers with the wrong ideas or orientations.
The cause of staffing issues at Markham was not due to seniority rights. The cause was due to the way education is funded in this nation, how this funding is being threatened by state's budget crisis, and education "reforms" pushed by those outside the classroom attempting to make those in the classroom the scapegoats for all problems that surround education systemically.