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With layoffs coming, it's time to stand up for seniority

By Ron Whitehorne on Feb 14, 2011 03:57 PM

With many school districts facing budget shortfalls, teachers, including those in Philadelphia, will likely face layoffs.

The budget crunch coincides with a growing attack on teacher tenure and seniority as the governing principle for teacher assignment and layoffs. Even Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, and long time teacher union organizer and staffer, has joined the chorus calling for “peformance” as the “driver” in decisions around these issues. And former Washington, D.C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee has made ending tenure and eliminating seniority central agenda points of her “Students First” campaign.

Much of the current debate over tenure ignores the many changes that unions have embraced to address some of the criticism of tenure and seniority based practices.   Many unions, including the PFT, have agreed to changes in teacher assignment and transfers that give schools more flexibility and control over staffing. Unions, again including PFT, have also agreed to changes in teacher evaluation and made it easier to remove ineffective teachers. Thus, at its worst, the critics of tenure are attacking a straw man that bares little resemblance to current practice.

But when it comes to layoffs, we can expect the unions to fight for the principle of last hired, first fired, and rightfully so. Without this principle, teachers have no job security. Older teachers at the top of the pay scale in a climate of budget austerity will be targeted for layoffs. New teachers at the bottom of the scale will be more likely to be retained. Teachers who are outspoken can expect to go, while those who are cronies of the principal will get to stay. Women, who have a nasty habit of getting pregnant, will be more likely to go than men. These are some of the historic reasons the trade union movement has always championed the seniority principle. It is no different in education. 

Of course the District and the opponents of seniority will tell us that they are “for children” and want to keep the best teachers in the classroom. What they really want to do is render the unions impotent, pit teachers against each other, and save money at the expense of their workers.

Children will not benefit from a teaching staff that would be in all likelihood less experienced. Here in Philadelphia the highest proportion of inexperienced teachers is in the lowest performing schools, mostly in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods. While obviously not every experienced teacher is an effective teacher, research does show that experience is an important predictor of teaching success.   We should be about retaining experienced teachers. The attacks on tenure and seniority will have just the opposite effect.

As teacher unionists, we should be about fighting the layoffs which will increase class size and undo some of the positive gains in student achievement over the last decade. But if they come, and it seems certain they will, we should defend the seniority principle and demand that no new hires, including Teach for America and Teaching Fellows, are made until every displaced teacher is recalled.

Comments (88)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 4:20 pm

Teachers that are new to the district are not necessarily inexperienced. Some of us have been teaching for over 10 years, but do not have Philadelphia seniority. I agree that it's about keeping "experienced" folks, but there are some excellent teachers that are without seniority and tenure that are going to be axed because or their lack in that area. Honestly, no matter how you look at it--there's no good or "fair" way to do this lay-off. everyone will have something to gripe about in regards to how it was done.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 4:30 pm

Just because a teacher has less experience does not mean they are less effective inside a classroom! I understand that is in a way hinders room for layoffs to be tailored toward the out spoken, the "pregnant proned" women etc. But what about the best practices? And the best for the children? It just seems we lost the.meaning of education...

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 14, 2011 5:54 pm

 There is no objective way to rate teachers in terms of effectiveness.   My argument is that to allow an administration in the context of a budget crisis the discretion to select who goes and who stays is unlikely to produce positive results for children and would effectively destroy the union.   Seniority is an objective standard and  is more likely to have positive results for students given a rough correlation between experience and effectiveness.   The best way to avoid this dilemma is to organize a fightback against the cuts and demand that classroom teacher positions and key support staff are prioritized if layoffs occur.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on February 14, 2011 5:17 pm

Perhaps just you lost it. "Pregnant proned"? Please explain this. Is this another word for woman?

And actually, you seem to have missed recent (last 20 years) of educational research, too. Experience almost always (over 90% of the time) leads to more effective teaching. In Philadelphia, depending on qualifications of the individual, student achievement in benchmarks, PSSA, AP classes and SAT scores is greater in class rooms led by teachers with 3 or more years of classroom experience. This is not an anomaly, but is borne out to some degree (exact comparison is impossible) nationwide.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 5:04 pm

There is a correlation between experience and effectiveness. That's a little more complex an argument than "Being inexperienced means you're a bad teacher." Not every inexperienced teacher is ineffective. But, again, there is a correlation between experience and effectiveness. There's no perfect way to fire teachers. Some good teacher is going to lose his or her job. Seniority, taking into consideration the research and conditions on the ground, provides us the best rate of retaining effective teachers. (Yes, we would still lose some effective teachers.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 9, 2011 2:20 pm

Exactly. Let's keep paying the Superintendent that NO ONE likes or supports WAY TOO MUCH money instead of giving a crap about the kids who are our future.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 4:39 pm

As a husband, brother, and son of 3 Philadelphia school teachers, seniority is one of the most important and key elements to maintain in their job. What I would like to know is if they layoff teachers with 3 years or less seniority (which the District proposed), who then will teach in the newly formed Charter Schools and Renaissance Schools? This is a good question because no PFT teacher can be forced to teach in these schools. Therefore, these schools typically are staffed by newly hired teachers or those with under 3 years teaching in the District. Who will staff these schools? Also, I thought it was funny to see Ackerman say she is taking a 10 day furlough---what a joke. Why doesn't this new Governor start with chopping her overpaid salary and Leroy Nunery's inflated salary and look to dismember the SRC. The SRC is responsible for fiscal oversight and they have dropped the ball on this one. The SRC and Ackerman misused Federal Stimulus funds and used it inappropriately. There should have been more fiscal responsibility with these funds. Now, we are $400 to $500 million behind?? This doesn't happen overnight. By the way, I can see it now--Ackerman will cry no money for raises next January when the new contract expires. The PFT needs to take the bull by the horns and start following what Chicago's teacher union has done. Step up or get out!

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on February 14, 2011 5:46 pm

Here is how I think it may go.

Some low-seniority teachers will be laid off. Will it be those with one year? Those with two? Who knows. Those with more seniority will fill the jobs they want, presumably at better schools, Non-Promise-Academies, etc.

Then, the list of those laid off will be used to fill the gaps. No, PFT teachers do NOT want to work at Promise Academies. However, if the choice is between a Promise Academy or no job, many people will work at a Promise Academy. This especially applies to those with mortgages, high student loans, etc.

This will ensure that the staff at these schools is in general young, inexperienced, and easy to control. These are the kinds of teachers who will follow a script and jump through the hoops and hang up the posters that they want to see during walk-throughs.

This will also ensure that Promise Academies will have lower per-student costs despite Saturday School and all those things. If the teachers make half as much, it doesn't matter if they are paid a few dollars to work a few hours longer.

But the $500 million dollar question is: will any of this actually help students learn?

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on February 14, 2011 5:18 pm

My last post was in response to the second comment.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 5:16 pm

You wash out all of DiCarlo's piece in your link by reducing it to "research does show that experience is an important predictor of teaching success." You completely miss the boat on his piece. Ironically, in linking to his piece with that statement, you do exactly what he says: "The [experience to achievement] relationship is substantial but context-dependent, and blanket statements about it often hide as much as they reveal."

In fact, DiCarlo openly points out that "...there is evidence that experience matters less – or less consistently – in poorer schools (also see here)." I strongly suggest that you actually read the piece and the research instead of looking at Strauss' introduction and DiCarlo's conclusion.

For example, if you actually read some of the research DiCarlo cites, you would know that-- shockingly-- you just referenced a piece that shows evidence of TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers performing similarly or above their traditionally licensed peers: "When we include test scores from the prior year and other student level covariates in the regressions (columns (2) and (7)), the coefficients change dramatically. In math, students assigned to Teaching Fellows performed no differently than similar students assigned to traditionally certified teachers, while those assigned to TFA corps members outperformed by 0.01 standard deviations" (http://www0.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jrockoff/certification-final.pdf).

However, it would be remiss for me to post just that-- in fact, I would be doing what you do. The researchers also find underperformance and other differences dependent on a number of factors. Just as experience-to-achievement is not this simple relationship that you pretend it is, certification-to-achievement isn't either.

There are excellent experienced teachers, good ones, mediocre ones, and sub-par ones; there are excellent inexperienced teachers, good ones, mediocre ones, and sub-par ones. There are excellent old teachers; there are excellent young teachers. It is not one or the other. You acknowledge the change in removal processes that the union has worked on, but then you hypocritically revert back to blindly supporting "the principle of last hired, first fired, and rightfully so." So when it comes to removing teachers, it is okay to use performance and evaluation-- no matter how many years, 2 or 20-- but when it comes to layoffs, only years count. Yeah, that makes sense.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 6:08 pm

"evidence of TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers performing similarly or above their traditionally licensed peers:"

Traditionally-licensed peers of how many years' experience?

Submitted by Erika Owens on February 14, 2011 6:45 pm

Thanks for this further explanation. I added that link there, not Ron. I was searching around for a good reference and liked that one because it did give such a broad take on the issue (and many of the original studies I found in some cursory initial searching were 10-20 years old).

I don't think anyone's arguing it's a simple, or singular, one to one, but it is a factor that has consistently shown to have an influence.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 7:03 pm

Well, that's a bit anticlimactic and misleading.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 14, 2011 10:05 pm

Let me explain my "hypocrisy" in a little more depth.  I think working people, including teachers, need strong unions that can stand up for their interests.   As a teacher I also believe that teacher unions need to be concerned with teaching and learning, and must take responsibility for the profession.   Balancing these concerns is not always easy.  

As I indicated I support the changes unions have made to take more responsibility for teaching and learning, but I also think unions have an obligation to their members to protect them from the kind of arbitrary treatment that dispensing with seniority would foster.

Apparently this is not a concern for you.  Personally I'm tired of hearing how teachers "don't care about children" because they have the gall to care about job security ...and this from corporate CEOs, politicians and bureaucrats with their golden parachutes, DROP pensions and big bonuses.

Most teachers I know care deeply about children and are willing to sacrifice for them.   I don't see why they should have to apologize for wanting to be treated fairly.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:05 pm

What evidence is there for the "kind of arbitrary treatment that dispensing with seniority would foster"?

There are lots of anecdotes of corrupt administrators, yes, but do we really think that most school leaders would suddenly start firing mistreating teachers if seniority were weakened?

I will grant that Philly is a tough place to take a perspective on this, because the leadership at the top here is so vindictive and not terribly coherent or competent. But I think that there would be just about as much "arbitrary treatment" as there are "teachers who don't care about children." Both are cliches that don't have a great deal of substance behind them. Most administrators are generally good people, even if they aren't extraordinarily competent. Yes, there are horror stores of the tyrants, but those are actually fairly rare. I fail to see how administrators who, on one hand are too disorganized, or, in a lot of cases, nice, to actually follow through with unsatisfactory observations, would suddenly start arbitrarily mistreating teachers if only the shield of seniority were dropped.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 15, 2011 3:29 pm

do we really think that most school leaders would suddenly start firing mistreating teachers if seniority were weakened?"

I don't think it is about the intentions or moral character of administrators.   I would agree with you that the majority are motivated by the same concerns that teachers are.   The pressure to reduce costs and maintain the power relationships that characterize the bureaucracy drives the process.  If your looking for evidence look no further than the status of teachers in the period prior to unionization.    In Philadelphia getting a position was all about who you knew (ward leaders played a major role in hiring),  racial and sexual discrimination was pervasive, pay was lousy, class size was over 40 children per class, and there was little in the way of due process.  Then as now there were decent, even great principals as well as petty tyrants.  

 

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 15, 2011 3:41 pm

I think we also need to remember that our administrators in the buildings are under a lot of pressure from outside the buildings are requiring low scores on the current observation forms. It is a natural progression that many of these observations will lead to other issues, if the union and contract get weakened.
My current principal does not share such information, but the last one did and I know he was lectured about the 3's and 4's he scored us with. Because our school has needs, it is assumed it is our fault and no one in the building can teach. We all know what to say to that.

My point is that we should pay attention to history, but current trends are vital, too.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 15, 2011 4:44 pm

 Excellent point, Meg

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:50 pm

Well-said, Ron. People (education reformers) seem to have a fantasy that people in the private sector do not have some job protections. I know many people who work in the corporate and medical world, and even though most of the top employees are not unionized, VERY rarely can these people be fired without their employers establishing a years long paper trail with evidence that the unsatisfactory employee has had chances to improve (this goes even for alcoholics and other addicts). And you are right, when they are asked to leave, it is usually with a nice severance package and a promise not to badmouth the employee. The vast majority of teachers work very hard under some very challenging conditions and are honored to do it, but due process and a modicum of security are not too much to ask.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 11:16 am

K.R., this is the same anonymous commenter who asked you for data, you cited it, and then I thanked you. (I write that solely to maybe provide some continuity; I should probably invest in a nickname.)

Typically, if I don't agree with you, you always/ usually have solid information to back up what you are saying. Here, though, I think we disagree, and I am wondering if it is because we are talking about two different things: layoffs versus firing. So instead of arguing pointlessly, I am just curious to get your opinion: should layoffs versus firings be governed by separate processes? If so, what role should seniority play?

I agree with you that unless there is an excellent review process performed by intelligent and conscientious individuals, performance reviews are useless (I am a former teacher who scored all exemplary based on a 5 minute observation, and I am not exemplary). I also agree that VAS is a weak indicator in its current form (for example, some VAS models rely on randomization of subjects, but in a school, often the assignment of students to teachers is not random at all). Given those two qualifiers, do you think seniority-- no matter the quality, however you want to define it or indicate it-- is the only thing to go off of?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on February 15, 2011 11:18 am

Hello Anon! I guess when I replied to Ron, I was really talking about firings. They are two different processes and should be handled differently. I admit that I do not know any good and fair way to do layoffs. As I said in another comment, my school will be devastated to lose some of our young teachers. I do not believe the district is at all honest about cuts. To my mind, and many others who work in schools, EVERYTHING in 440 (even heat and air conditioning), certainly security and the cafe, and outside cleaning/management services should be eliminated before even ONE teacher is cut. Administrators--buy your own laptop--I did. Principals and administrators, buy your own cellphone, teachers do! Tell all administrators they are expected to have a cell phone that THEY pay for and use it. Many of our old buildings have intermittent heat at best, so why allow 440 to be heated? Arlene and company should experience the students' world. Most of us do not have air conditioning, why should 440? I buy tissues (not to mention pencils and pens) for my class (and cleaning wipes for the desks), so why should people at 440 have these things supplied? I realize I am ranting a bit here, but if "children come first", Arlene needs to prove it and ask Alan Bukowitz (sp?) or someone like him to INDEPENDENTLY audit the cuts.

And, Anon, thanks for thanking me and engaging in an interesting and civil dialogue! KR

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 6:43 pm

Let's be honest - any layoffs will be devastating to schools. I honestly don't know what the right answer is, but I know that laying off all teachers w/ less than three years of seniority will ruin many, many schools.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 14, 2011 6:59 pm

 Amen Ron

Priority number one should be preventing layoffs as much as possible. That means strongly advocating against Senate Bill 1 first and foremost. It also means pressuring your local and state legislators to protect as much Ed funding as possible. While we teach in Philadelphia, we reside all over Southeastern PA. 

Priority number two should be ensuring a logical layoff process. Seniority is the worst best way to do this. If administration weeded out all those who shouldn't be teaching, there would be no debate about last in first out. If administrators took the time to write unsatisfactory observations and incidents, there would be no debate. In the midst of real people losing real jobs, you can not argue about the sunk costs of previous poor evaluation and supervision.

As for TFA and Philadelphia Teaching Fellows; If these programs want to be viewed as anything more than a bypass toward a traditional teaching certificate and stop-gap measure on the real problem of teacher turnover, they should play by the same rules as everyone else. The Education students who have student taught in our city should have no less opportunity to get their first job in the city than the ivy-league grad looking to give back is given.

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:40 pm

You write, "seniority is the worst best way to do this." What does that mean? "Worst best?"

The rest of that paragraph, including the usage of the term "sunk cost," which specifically applies to rational decision making and behavioral economics, is quite confusing-- what are you getting at here?

Lastly, after the unnecessary semi-colon, you conflate TFA and TF. They are different. And then you bring up teacher turnover in reference to the programs again: I am still waiting for the data from a couple months ago to support your fallacious pension argument. Here's the link in case you forgot: http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/103023/provider-proposals-innovation-mod....

Oh, yeah, all TFA and TF are Ivy League grads? I bet that is news to UT Austin and U Michigan, not to mention the other 6 non-Ivies in the top ten. (http://www.teachforamerica.org/assets/documents/Top.Contributors_2010.pdf).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:19 pm

The anti-TFA comments on this site are tiresome. Not because TFA is perfect. It's not. It has many flaws. But because so many of the arguments are simply restating cliches about the program. TFA is actually one of the most diverse recruiters of teachers in the nation -- bring more minorities (Ivy League and otherwise) into the profession than many other programs. Many TFA teachers stay in the profession, and many more stay actively involved in education. Who would you rather write education policy? A partisan operative who hasn't been inside a K-12 classroom since the last day of 12th grade or a teacher who taught for two years? Two years is short, but anybody who's been in this profession cannot discount the impact that spending that amount of time in the daily grind of teaching. And for every TFA teacher who leaves after two years and goes to law school, there's another one that then goes to public health school or social work or some other profession that doesn't exactly fit with a "two-and-done" stereotype that some TFA critics perpetuate. What's more, many stay in the classroom, some as lifelong teachers. Some to teach a few more years before moving in to school leadership (wouldn't you love a principal who had strong critical thinking and management skills PLUS teaching experience?). And for every TFA teacher who leaves after two years, there is more than one "traditionally" certified teacher who doesn't even make it that long.

Submitted by Bruce Wayne (not verified) on February 15, 2011 9:23 am

I too want to chime in about The Notebook gallery's tiresome tirades against TFA. I'm actually so tired that I can't do a retort as eloquent as my above Anon commenters, but there's a series of tremendous misgivings about the program that's based on out-dated myths by a Notebook crowd that seems capable of doing research on a great many things, but consistently take the lazy road when it comes to this program.

--TFA's 2-year retention of teachers is higher than those of the rest of the SDP pool

--TFA isn't the "Ivy leaguers" crowd; there are certainly some Ivy leaguers in there, but the organization also recruits from about 300+ colleges. In addition, about 25% of Spelman's graduating class, 10% of Morehouse's and 35% of Harvard's African-American senior class all apply to be in TFA. Regardless, I think it's also curious to read the implied subtext when people trot out the "ivy league" stamp when talking about TFA teachers--as if coming from an Ivy league school to go into an inner-city classroom was somehow...wrong? I don't get it.

--similar to one of the other commenter's remarks, the "two and done" mantra is rather tiresome, too--not only do a sizable number stay in the classroom, an even bigger number is staying in education. Here in Philadelphia alone, there are alumni working at Research For Action, serving on Student Advisory Council, working at community non-profits like Philadelphia Futures, Summerbridge/Breakthrough, charter schools, the Education Law Center, or involved in TAG, and working at 440. In addition, as a long-time reader of The Notebook, I know too that a couple of the Notebook's contributors are former TFA teachers, like Molly Thacker, Jon Cetel--and they're great examples too of the fact that the program puts bright people in places where their talents can flourish, and they are free to develop their own opinions, ideas and approaches to best serving the children of Philadelphia. Even in the TFA ranks, not everyone agrees with HOW educating children in Philadelphia should be done, but we all agree that we need to find the ways to get it done. The Notebook, in article and in comments, often cites how teachers are asked to be responsible for students when there's so many other factors that impact a students' life in Philadelphia.

A lot of TFA teachers and alumni agree, and that's why there's so many of us that take the 2 yrs in the classroom and either stay, or find, start or join a series of organizations or programs that attempt to address these issues from another angle to bolster giving Philadelphia's children the best educational experience possible.

Why don't you report on some of the things that alumni are doing, Notebook? It might be a great way to better inform your readership.

Submitted by Erika Owens on February 15, 2011 11:51 am

It sounds like you've been keeping a close eye on TFAers, would you be interested in writing a guest blog about TFA alumni? Former Notebook bloggers and TFA alumni Molly and Anna both wrote about TFA while they were blogging, but I'm not sure if anyone else plans to blog about it soon. We're welcome to more contributions, but I don't think this argument is going away any time soon. And that's especially true if TFA and Teaching Fellows contracts are upheld in the face of layoffs.

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Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on February 15, 2011 11:16 am

I am interested in seeing the actual data of TFA grads staying IN THE CLASSROOM in front of students. Compare the grads who stay in teaching--not "other areas of education" to the two year retention of "traditionally trained" teachers. I, myself, was a non-traditional entrant in education, but my objection to the way TFA is actually thought of and conceived (and sometimes advertised) is that there is too much of a Peace Corps type of vibe. Many, though not all, TFAers seem to think of teaching as something to experience for a short while before jumping off to another career. I am sure many good and dedicated TFA grads have stayed in actual teaching (or maybe become principals), but I to not think that taking jobs outside of actual schools should be counted as someone "staying in education". Working for community groups, foundations, and even wonderful papers like the Notebook are all noble endeavors, but they are NOT teaching jobs. How many TFA grads stay in actual teaching? I do not know the answer, I would be interested to hear it.

Submitted by Bruce Wayne (not verified) on February 15, 2011 12:37 pm

In your haste to post a comment, I think it's a bit confusing to understand what you're asking for: do you want to see the comparison of TFA teachers' performance during their two years vs traditionally trained grads or are you interested in comparing the persistence of TFA alumni post-2 years (not "grads" as you call it) vs the two retention of "traditionally trained" teachers....which, if it's the latter, seems to be an odd comparison to want to make if I'm understanding you correctly. If it's the former, I'd be curious to hear what you suggest using, since it seems like the idea of using virtually any data that anyone references is challenged as incomplete, unfair, etc--not that I entirely disagree with some of these points, but I suspect that it'll be hard to have a balanced conversation if the proof points are going to be contentious. I can say that there are a significant number here in Philadelphia (it'd take some work, but I could get the information eventually) that are continuing this work as principals, assistant principals, school leaders, instructional leaders/coaches, department chairs, teacher coaches and the like.

I just hope you'll be open-minded about such data and not just use it as another opportunity to grind your axe.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on February 15, 2011 1:16 pm

I am interested in how many people trained in the varying ways stay in a school building teaching students. Let's define staying in for the long-haul as at least 8 years (include the first two for TFA and TF if you want). I am even interested in how many become principals (but you are SUPPOSED to have at least 5 years teaching experience to be eligible for a principal's certification). I am NOT interested in how many grads (however they were trained) are working in administration buildings, doing PDs for staff/teachers, or any other "education related" job. Nobody with less than 8-10 years teaching experience should be in charge of any PDs, be a new teacher coach,a teacher leader, or in any other position in charge of helping teachers, anyway. In my opinion, you need a fairly good chunk of years in the classroom to do any of those jobs well. Of course, that is just my opinion--I would like data on actual teachers and principals, not all the other jobs.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 1:57 pm

Same Anon as the one who thanked you and whatnot (and the one who wrote the first reply to Mr. Boyle, and the one who wrote the original question to him a couple months ago on the link I posted). I don't really care about the principal part or the educational professional part-- I thoroughly disagree with you (about experience for being a new teacher coach), but hey, that's my opinion, and that is yours.

I am pretty sure we could find TFA and TF data on retention/ attrition (same stat, either you look at in the positive or negative) if we wanted to (ask TFA staff here; ask TF staff here). However, I believe it may prove incredibly difficult to find that data by teacher entrance pathway-- does anyone here know if 440 has an open or accessible database of this information? I bet they don't, and if they did, they wouldn't probably give it to you. That has been my issue with this argument the entire time: everyone can cast aspersions ("TFA teachers leave," "TF never last"), but I am kind of sure we have no way to actually determine retention/attrition by entrance pathway, so this just goes round and round, with non-TFA/TF disparaging TFA/TF for leaving and TFA/TF constantly refuting the information with anecdotes.

Without a comparison group (standard certification), there is no validity to any number we get for TF/TFA. If we find out that 40% TFA are still teaching after 8 years, is that currently high? Low? Medium? Better than standard? We have no idea.

In theory, one could use PIMS (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pims-pennsylvan...) to get to it, but you need some log on and access that I don't understand. Also, RFA is supposedly conducting something like this (http://www.researchforaction.org/projects/?id=94), but who knows the levels of analysis and what they are actually doing.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 15, 2011 4:55 pm

We need to start numbering the Anons! :) You are right, though, there is probably no way to get accurate data. You really can't trust the SDP on anything. It would be interesting to see what Research for Action is doing. The whole research on retention rates could probably be someone's PhD thesis! What may be more interesting, though, is people's reasons for leaving--it is my experience that it is almost never the actual teaching or the children, but all the other stuff.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 1:26 pm

Amen - assuming leadership positions should be something earned over time. Too many spend a couple of years in a classroom and think they are ready for "leadership." There should be opportunities for teacher based leadership while teaching. Anyone who hasn't taught in five years, should also have to go back to the classroom for a few years for a "refresher" in what it is like to work with students on a day to day basis.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 15, 2011 4:29 pm

Yes--Arlene has not been in a classroom since 1980 and see where that has put us!

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on February 15, 2011 3:21 pm

As both a former Peace Corps volunteer and a non-traditionally trained teacher, I take exception to your comparison of and simultaneous put-downs of both.
They are similar in some ways---idealistic, usually young, very smart people want to use their talents to make the world a better place, even if only marginally. They are selected from a huge pool of applicants. For many, it is a challenging, life-altering experience and leads to a life of service.

Sure, you can choose to take a different view of each (spoiled rich kids avoiding "real life" for a while), but come on, that is so pessimistic and one-sided. I challenge people to try and see both sides.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 15, 2011 4:22 pm

I apologize. My point was not to cast aspersions on the Peace Corps. It is a very noble organization. I only meant that teaching is a profession and should be viewed as such. It is not a short term volunteer-type activity that one does before they choose a career and should not be viewed that way. I have nothing against TFA per se, and I know some fine teachers who came from TFA. I just think that too many in the program view it as a stopover in their career path rather than an actual career. There are many paths to certification--they are all fine as long as the people taking them are committed to teaching.

Submitted by Bruce Wayne (not verified) on February 15, 2011 5:34 pm

I want to be clear that I'm saying this respectfully, but I find it curious that in one posting you can cite that there are other reasons besides teaching or children that would drive someone out of the classroom---and yet you're fully convinced that everyone that goes into teaching via TFA leaves because they're doing it as a stopover on their way to their true career.

I'll certainly agree that there are a number of people that certainly leave the field entirely and go into something in the private sector, but in return, I'd ask the following:

1. Knowing that these folks are being recruited to work in some of the toughest schools, and that, overwhelmingly, they come in with the highest motivation and intention to do something positive as an educator, what's it say about how we're managing, nurturing or developing teachers in these schools that they're ultimately leaving? Again, this happens with not only TFA teachers, but teachers who have also come from more traditional routes, too

2. and with that, to keep things centered in Philadelphia, it would seem that a number of teachers from TFA end up at charters, whether that's the Mastery system, KIPP, Boy's Latin. For me, I wonder what's being offered in those environments that they feel aren't being offered in traditional district schools?

I think pinning flight from the classroom on the teacher(s) is as hazardous a conclusion as using data to solely determine effectiveness. For someone that's such a staunch proponent of teacher voice, respect and the like, I don't see the value of throwing your colleagues (because TF and TFA teachers are entitled to the same peer respect as anyone else that's come into the classroom) under the bus.

It FEELS like you've got some anecdoctal grudges against the program that trumps engaging in meaningful discourse about what we can do to support teachers growth and stability no matter how they come into the profession.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 15, 2011 5:33 pm

I do not believe I ever said that EVERYONE who goes into teaching via TFA leaves for a certain reason. My only complaint is with the attitude that the program seems to have (not the people IN the program). TFAs own website
http://www.teachforamerica.org/learn-more/
says, "Teach For America is building a movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation’s most promising future leaders in the effort." Not join the teaching profession, but use teaching to become a future leader. (Some of whom may be teachers). It also says, (under reasons to join):
"As a corps member, you will further develop the leadership, management and critical thinking skills essential for success in any field. As you take the next steps in your career, you will have access to more than 200 graduate school and employer partnerships, plus a network of nearly 30,000 leaders working within and beyond education." They are clearly not recruiting teaching professionals, but people who they think will move on. That is how they are marketing their program.

Now it is their business to recruit whom they want how they want. And if it helps some struggling schools, all to the good. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this, but you are right about finding ways to help new teachers in any program hone their skills and network with their colleagues across the city.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on February 15, 2011 6:24 pm

 Clarification

I don't believe there is a way in which you remove the number of teachers necessary to plug a significant portion of a 400 million dollar hole that meets a consensus of fairness. There are talented people that I work with that might very well be laid off because of this mess. If cuts are deep enough, I could be laid off because of this mess. I still believe that seniority is the best way to conduct layoffs.

Layoffs are about meeting a budget gap. After other cuts are made (hopefully systemic) the remaining difference in the budget will come from layoffs. X number of teacher's being laid off will reach the number needed to achieve a balanced budget. Layoffs are not and should not be about teacher quality. I am extremely leery of anyone working in education that thinks of layoffs as an opportunity.

The sunk cost I spoke of assumes a layoff model that tries to do something other than meet a dollar amount, namely address teacher quality. It is accepted fact that there are a percentage of teachers who are working that should not be. I think the reason for the vast majority of those teachers are still teaching because of the failure of the evaluation and supervision. If stakeholders within the SDP want to improve evaluation and supervision, I'm all for it. But that process should exist outside of the layoff process. I believe that using layoffs to address teacher quality is a short term band-aid on a long term problem. If you could magically get rid of all the "bad" teacher with this potential layoff, it does nothing to prevent future "bad" teachers from working in schools. Within the context of layoffs, the existence of "bad" teachers in the SDP is a sunk cost, immaterial to meeting a budget demand. Improving the workforce of the SDP should done within the Evaluation and Supervision process.  

I'm not sure why you infer I conflate TFA and Philadelphia Teacher Fellows. I mentioned both of them because they have contracts with the SDP to hire their members. I don't believe that membership in either of those organizations should give a candidate a leg up over a traditional education major. It is unfair that these groups might have a predetermined number of jobs reserved for them while the 2011 class of education majors in the city has to look elsewhere, as happened last year. 

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 9:23 pm

You took the time to write quite a long response, but you still don't mention the attrition/ retention data. I am still waiting.

I don't infer that you conflate them. You do. You combine them and then speak in generalities of both with no idea about specificity. You speak of them as "both programs," and then you mention the tired "Ivy League" label for both. They are different. They operate on different contracts. Do you know how the contracts are structured? If so, please tell me exactly how they are structured and cite the information (here's a hint to start: they aren't structured similarly).

It's not fair? Oh, well, since everything is always fair in every aspect of life, I guess I should just cede this one to you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 7:16 pm

The newly layed off teachers will unfortunatley have to work in new Rennaisance ie. Charter schools without pft representation and most likely reduced salary, no job security. But there isn't any job security in public education anymore anyway. Unless of course you work in the suburban areas where students traditionally perform better on standarized assessments. They are pretty safe

Submitted by New Teacher (not verified) on February 14, 2011 8:03 pm

I have mixed feelings. It's not that teaching experience in the district is irrelevant. It's not. But it should not be the sole factor in deciding whether a teacher stays or is laid off. I also understand that many performance measures are not entirely accurate. But, there is plenty of low hanging fruit--both tenured and not--in the district that I think should be picked before I lose my job. That's not to say I'm the world's best teacher. But I work with teachers who can't control their kids and instead yell at them. I work with teachers who talk on their cell phones in the hallways walking with their kids. I work with teachers who can't be organized enough to turn in their paperwork on time. Performance measures might not be able to judge the muddy middle but they can discern which teachers are at the bottom. I personally think those teachers at the very bottom should be the first to be let go regardless of 'experience'. That's the benefit of value-added statistics. Figuring out the very best and very worst. I bristle when people say teachers aren't hard workers and are lazy with their cushy union jobs. But the trust is while most teachers work hard, you can be a tenured teacher without working particularly hard. Luckily most don't take that path but we've all met some teachers who do. And come next September they will have their job and I despite my 55 hour weeks, my advanced degrees, my 95th+ percentiles on the LSAT and my 4 Praxis tests may not.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 14, 2011 9:25 pm

The problem with value added statistics is that they will never tell the whole story. What about the teachers who get all the IEP and learning disabled students put in their class because the principal knows "they work well with them" and enjoy working with them? What incentive will the "good" teachers (I'm not talking special ed teachers, but regular ed teachers who have LS students) have to work with their lower achieving students? Everyone will just want to work with proficient and advanced students. Statistics can be manipulated any way a principal wants to manipulate them. If you think that your principal will respect your 55 hour weeks, scores, and degrees--believe me, the minute you irritate him or her by advocating too hard for your kids, or for school safety, or any of thousands of other things, he/she will cut you loose with nary a second thought. It is horrible that any teacher will lose his/her job--truly they should have a skeleton crew at 440 before ANY teacher--but Arlene and her minions do not feel that way. Until there is a fool and principal proof way to judge teachers the rules we have in place are the only way to go. And as Tim or Ron pointed out, principals can get rid of all the "low-hanging fruit" IF THEY WANT TO DO THEIR JOB. But, they would rather sit back and refuse to write people up or refuse to give unsatisfactory ratings and then blame the union for the bad teachers. Why does your principal allow teachers to talk on the phone while with kids or screech at kids? He/she has the remedy, but apparently does not want to use it.

Submitted by New Teacher (not verified) on February 14, 2011 11:24 pm

Oh, I'm with you on value-added statistics. They tell a small part of the story. And principals need to do their jobs. But what's going to happen now is a crapshoot. Shoot into the barrel see what non-tenured teachers you get. And it will be more or less random. I completely agree that principals need to do a better job. But they also need better guidelines from both the district and the unions on how they can act.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 15, 2011 7:04 am

Principals probably do need better training. The layoffs will be heartbreaking all around. There are new teachers at our school that we will be devastated to lose. I believe the state and city council should do a major audit of all expenses before ONE teacher is cut. All perks like cars, cell phones owned by the district, expense accounts, a cafe in 440 (pack your lunch), should be eliminated before teachers are cut! And, If schools are losing their security officers (it has started already--ask those at Meredith), then 440 should lose theirs as well. We are told to have staff take turns watching the door, why don't the folks at 440 do the same?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:01 pm

"Unions, again including PFT, have also agreed to changes in teacher evaluation and made it easier to remove ineffective teachers."

According to our current contract, once a teacher is rated unsatisfactory (which is the same process from before), they now have one year to improve their practice, not the previous six months, and they get supports from the PAR program. It seems to me that they're getting MORE opportunities than they did previously.

I've taught with some teachers who really didn't care about their students, and made life truly difficult for the rest of the faculty. I'll take a new teacher who's full of initiative over a disillusioned teacher who's updating their facebook status on their phones or screaming at the kids any day.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 15, 2011 3:36 pm

 Don't know where you get the 6 month figure.   Two consecutive years of unsatisfactory ratings has been the standard for many years.   What is new is the intensification of support and evaluation with an eye toward the teacher either making real gains or exiting the profession.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:56 pm

The idea that because there isn't a perfect way to measure teacher effectiveness, we should just use seniority is absurd. Are you going to tell me that your children never had a teacher that was noticeably less effective than most of the rest? If so, then let me know what school that was so I can send my children.

The vast majority of teachers are in the middle -- they can be successful under the right circumstance, but the outside factors (student preparation, school situation, etc.) will have a more measurable impact on their students than their skills. Then there are outliers -- those who are consistently successful year after year and those who consistently underperform year after year. Neither group of outliers is hard to find. Most co-workers, parents, students, and admin know who they are. The teacher who gets their students the next year definitely knows who they are. In a functional setting, the top outliers would be aggressively encouraged to share their skills with their colleagues. The bottom outliers would be exited from the profession. But in public education, neither happens. Everybody is "equally skilled," so we rely on the "objective" measure of seniority -- at the expense of the students.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 14, 2011 10:38 pm

WHO gets to identify the "outliers"? You,me, "everybody"??? Once again, the principal has to do his/her job! There is not any objective, reliable measure of success. Test scores are not accurate, and only measure a narrow set of skills. Do you really want to use "everybody knows" measure. You might think that "everybody knows", YOU are one of the good teachers, but perhaps you are mistaken. Perhaps the principal would rather keep the person who brings him/her coffee every morning or buys him/her lunch on half days--stranger things have been known to happen. I agree that poor teachers should not be teaching, but their are proper ways to get them out--use them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2011 11:43 pm

That's why you need quality leadership, which doesn't emerge from a system that relies almost entirely on seniority. You get some good ones and some bad ones, and a lot of ones in the middle. It's part of the entire culture of public education -- "we can't figure out who's actually good, so we'll just pick the oldest/nicest/most friends with me person to lead."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 5:02 am

Look what Ackerman was doing just yesterday. She made a trip to Harrisburg to complain that she can't fire teachers. She's such a lovely woman. Taking 500,000 dollars a year and wasting tax payer money while being totally incompetent as a leader is totally acceptable, folks!

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11046/1125518-53.stm

"Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Harrisburg Acting Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney said they need to be able to fire ineffective teachers faster."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 8:45 am

My spouse was hired in the school district two years ago so we're both quite worried about possible layoffs. I'm curious if the PFT would be willing to forgo the pay raise in January of 2012 they negotiated in the last CBA to prevent layoffs. My guess is no...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 9:21 am

You have to also realize that many teachers have children and expenses like everyone else. Considering they received a 3% raise every year and a half (not every year) on this contract, why should they forgo a raise? Keep in mind all of the out of pocket expenses that teachers have Ex: school supplies that they need to purchase because this District can't even supply enough construction paper to last 2 weeks for kindergarteners. My wife spends nearly $700 to $1000 out of our account for school supplies while teachers in suburban school districts receive a $1000 stipend for supplies!!! Why not Corbett cut Ackerman and Leroy Nunery's inflated salaries (SRC included) instead of taking 10 unpaid furlough days??? Wow, Ackerman really cares about saving money. And, how about all of the controversy surrounding the mispent federal stimulus money on contractors and other little perks for Ackerman? We need to take a hard look at where this spending is going. It all starts at the top and from what I can see, they need an Account Manager who can oversee where this money is going.....but wait...that was the SRC job and they failed miserably.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 8:41 am

"Unions, again including PFT, have also agreed to changes in teacher evaluation and made it easier to remove ineffective teachers."

Check the contract. If a teacher is rated unsatisfactory, they have the whole next year to get it together, instead of the previous time period of 6 months. Plus, they get assistance from PAR. I have a few teachers at my school who were rated unsatisfactory last year, and they have coaches coming in to help them every week. These are teachers who are really doing a poor job, yet they are getting lots of "extra chances" for improvement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 7:57 pm

I think one thing to point out (and possibly one reason the PFT is a bit lacking in enthusiastic support from younger teachers) is that while seniority is great for job security for veteran teachers, it's actually incredibly disheartening for beginners. In short, the system says, "You can work as hard as you want, but the older teacher next door with keep their job over you, as long as they don't hit a student or show up late every day." In many respects, charters actually offer more job security for a young teacher, especially one who is particularly effective. They don't technically have a union rep, but most highly effective charter schools try to retain as many of their teachers as possible. And many other professions offer at least a modicum of hope that the last one in won't be the first one out in hard times.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 9:24 pm

Then teach in a Charter School!!! Fact is, most Charter Schools micromanage their teachers to a point of exhaustion. There is no union, no seniority, no due process rights (make no mistake if you look the wrong way you're chopped liver), the health benefits are not up to par as those traditional public school teachers have, and a lot of their pay is based on merit pay (which is controversial due to the fact that if you have a personality conflict with one of your superiors then you may not get that raise at all). Keep in mind that former teachers such as Jerry Jordan, current PFT President, Ted Kirsch now AFT PA President have labored hard over the years going back to the early 1980's. Back in a time when teachers were thrown in jail for striking and fighting for their rights and beliefs. Those teachers over the years helped pave the way for newly hired teachers to receive the best possible job benefits, salaries, and maintaining your due process rights. Most teachers love their job. All have put a lot of hard work and extended their educational degrees to succeed at what they do. Sorry, but if I was putting my child in a classroom, I would want the MOST EXPERIENCED teacher to teach my child. So, I would take the teacher with 20 years and a Masters or Doctorate Degree over someone who has a Bachelor Degree and 2 years teaching experience---It's a no brainer.....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2011 9:00 pm

Then teach in a Charter School!!! Fact is, most Charter Schools micromanage their teachers to a point of exhaustion. There is no union, no seniority, no due process rights (make no mistake if you look the wrong way you're chopped liver), the health benefits are not up to par as those traditional public school teachers have, and a lot of their pay is based on merit pay (which is controversial due to the fact that if you have a personality conflict with one of your superiors then you may not get that raise at all). Keep in mind that former teachers such as Jerry Jordan, current PFT President, Ted Kirsch now AFT PA President have labored hard over the years going back to the early 1980's. Back in a time when teachers were thrown in jail for striking and fighting for their rights and beliefs. Those teachers over the years helped pave the way for newly hired teachers to receive the best possible job benefits, salaries, and maintaining your due process rights. Most teachers love their job. All have put a lot of hard work and extended their educational degrees to succeed at what they do. Sorry, but if I was putting my child in a classroom, I would want the MOST EXPERIENCED teacher to teach my child. So, I would take the teacher with 20 years and a Masters or Doctorate Degree over someone who has a Bachelor Degree and 2 years teaching experience---It's a no brainer.....

Submitted by Gamal Sherif on February 15, 2011 10:13 pm

Whoa!

Why are we already talking about a retreat, i.e. layoffs? I know it's good to make plans, but we have to start imagining what we want before we start planning for what we don't want.

All across Philadelphia and the US, we've got to rally for full funding of public education. I'm sure that if school districts, unions, legislators and policy-makers actually asked teachers for more solutions, we'd come up with a boat-load. Here are a few:

ENSURE FULL FUNDING: We should tell the PFT that we want them to advocate for full funding of public education. Full funding of public education is a patriotic investment in a civil democracy. It is absolutely unacceptable that anyone would suggest that we undermine or destabilize our vital public education system. Consider sending a similar message to the District, policy groups, legislators, newspapers, bloggers, parent groups and activists.

CULTIVATE TEACHER LEADERSHIP: Tell legislators and policy folks that teaching can no longer be seen as separate from policy formation. Our ability to effectively teach is profoundly affected by policy, and we must have a seat at the table. Teacher leaders know their students well and can effectively advocate for policy that ensures students' well-being. Teacher leadership is the involvement of education experts who understand the importance of effective teaching conditions that foster student growth and engagement.

ENRICH PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Teachers need to co-plan professional development so that teachers have time to learn about and understand local, state and national policy -- alongside pedagogical issues. Imagine if teachers across the district were asked to study the district's budget and develop solutions over the last 6-18 months. The result would be a lot more transparency, an stronger cohort of teacher leaders, and reciprocal accountability. Imagine if schools could develop math classes that focus on budget development, short- and long-term planning and cost-benefit analysis.

CULTIVATE SITE-BASED DECISION-MAKING: We should cultivate the ability of teachers to make decisions about their site-based budgeting, professional development, hiring (via a committee), curriculum and assessment, and school culture.

In order to make the most informed site-based decisions, we will need to align professional development with students' needs, teachers' interests and school-wide priorities. Let's re-imagine our professional development so that we have the resources and knowledge to influence decision-making, policy and educational research.

Part of the challenge we face is one of volition and will. We have got to see ourselves as professional teacher leaders who are capable of taking care of students while influencing debate on public school policy. That balanced view our ourselves does not come overnight -- it will take a lot of work and imagination.

If we cannot imagine what we want, we will never succeed in creating more dynamic learning environments that we need. That imagination, and vociferous, informed and rigorous commitment, will help us create the wonderful learning environments that we, our students and our society deserve.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 16, 2011 2:56 pm

 Gamal, I agree with  the spirit of your response.

Certainly we must make the fight against the cuts our first priority and in that context combat the "Superman" narrative that drives much of the conversation about public schools at the moment.   

The deficit hawks and budget slashers try to make it appear as if there is no alternative  to cutting funding when clearly there are alternatives both in areas where spending can be reduced (defense spending nationally, the prison industrial complex etc.) and new sources of revenue (eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich, in our state tax the Marcellus Shale companies).   

However given the size of the projected deficit and the political climate it is necessary to be prepared for layoffs and that means facing the difficult issues associated with them.   The union has to be united to be able to effectively fight back and layoffs exacerbate divisions as the discussion on the blog indicates.      My intent in writing about this issue was to promote a constructive discussion and make the argument for the the historic position of the labor movement.

PFT has outlined a series of actions and steps to combat the cuts.   Teacher Action Group is organizing an initiative to promote a broad discussion about the cuts with both educators and the broader community.   I hope the people who have participated in this discussion will join in these efforts so we can minimize the extent and the impact of these cuts.

Submitted by Erika Owens on February 16, 2011 2:31 pm

A reader forwarded this Daily Kos piece that lists 10 myths about teachers and unions.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2011 2:56 pm

These public unions are a menace to the taxpayers. They should be outlawed. Instead of having layoffs, all Philadelphia teachers should be given a 20% reduction in salary, be required to fund their own retirement through a 401K type plan, and be required to pay half of their healthcare costs, just like everyone in private industry, whom they "serve", does. If the teachers don't like that deal, they are free to resign and seek employment in the private sector and see what they get.

As for tenure, that should be abolished as well. The whole point of tenure is to protect university professors who may be doing research and publishing papers that are politically unpopular. Elementary and high school teachers have absolutely no reason to have tenure. The taxpayers have had enough. The trough is empty.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 19, 2011 3:06 pm

THis person has no idea what reality is. I truly wish they posted with thier own name or at least their career path. My bet is they do not have one. With this lask of respect for teachers, I would bet they never finshed school or completed it with the help of private tutors without the enjoyment of a classroom.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2011 3:01 pm

Philadelphia public school teachers were promised what they are currently getting. You seem to skip over the point that Philadelphia public school teachers are amongst the lowest paid teachers in the state. How come you don't ask suburban teachers to give up their perks too? Or how about administrators including Ackerman who makes more than the PA governor and Philly mayor combined? If you weren't so brain-dead you'd realize that tenure goes beyond university professors. Teachers were often targeted in the past because they reached a certain pay level and the local powers would fire them, not because of their performance, but because they were not willing to work for peanuts. You and every other carpetbagger think people are going to flock into Philly. If you have trouble getting people in with what is currently being offered how many people do you think will come when you cut that offer? The turnover rate in Philly is astounding and some teaching positions are always hurting in Philly (spec. ed., ESL teachers, etc.) Philly's lack of support for its teacher is nationwide. I know people who have chosen to remain substitute teachers rather than go to Philly despite full time employment and benefits.

Submitted by Gamal Sherif on February 19, 2011 3:40 pm

Public unions are not the cause of taxpayer's woes. Public unions are stewards of our civil democracy, as are engaged citizens and ethical legislators.

In order to preserve and enrich our democracy, we have to have a literate citizenry that can critically evaluate social and economic policies while creating new solutions, technologies and services. Public teachers, and the public unions, are dedicated to this cause.

It seems like the private, for profit sector has no obligation towards democratic stewardship. On the contrary, wealthy corporations make their money by over-charging consumers, creating false shortages, and exporting labor. As of Nov, 2010, corporate profits hit their highest on record: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/business/economy/24econ.html.

I agree that public funds are in short supply. So it is time for the very wealthy -- those who make over $250,000 -- to start paying MORE taxes into a progressive tax structure so that we can sustain our democracy. Higher taxes for the very wealthy is patriotic -- and one method to ensure that we have the resources to support a functional, civil and democratic infrastructure.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 19, 2011 5:41 pm

 Who has been feeding at the trough, my anonymous friend?   Not public workers who along with their private sector counterparts have seen a steady decline in their standard of living while Wall Street, large corporations, and the wealthy  have enjoyed deregulation, government subsidies, a very friendly tax code and bailouts.   The current budget crisis is being manipulated to pit one group of workers against another, bust unions and strengthen the rule of the plutocrats and their political entourage.   

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2011 11:33 am

I dare you to try to teach there. You would leave in tears.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2011 5:16 pm

No, I am reality. The public coffers are dry. The unions were made promises by corrupt politicians pandering for union votes. Those promises should not have been made and they WILL be broken. The Philadelphia School District will have to cut around $400 million in the next two years. There will be noone coming to the rescue. That is the reality of the situation. Ignore it at your own peril. Now would be a good time for the teachers union to start talking concessions in order to avoid layoffs. Not one teacher has to lose their job. They should make the concessions so that there are no layoffs and increased class sizes. They should do it "For the kids."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2011 6:28 pm

Pray tell, what have you ever done for the kids? We have been doing it for the kids for years. If you knew anything about teaching you would know this already. Who do you think spends the extra time teaching these kids things their parents should have taught them? Who do you think pays for instructional material the district either promises or claims they've bought, but somehow near materialize.

The layoffs have nothing to do with concessions. The money lost was through a crooked, racist administration that used public funds for their own agenda. The first concession that the administration would ask for would be more students per class so your scare tactic of concessions or bigger classes is pointless. The reality is that some teachers will be laid off and the district will try to fill in with jiffypop solutions like TFA. When things get worse in our schools, and they will, suddenly those awful unionized teachers won't look so bad. When the Ackermans of this world that pig credit for everyone else'e work fade to black America will wake up to the value of experienced teachers. It will cost you alot more than what you are currently paying now. Teachers in Philly made more than enough concessions with the last crap contract that the PFT rushed through in one night after more than a year and a half of haggling. If you're serious about cutting costs started with Ackerman and the bloated bureaucracy she has built with her soroity sisters. Why don't you whine, for a change, about vendors she uses?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2011 8:40 pm

The cuts are coming. That is an inescapable fact. You might not like it, but you will deal with it, either through concessions or mass layoffs. I am only pointing out the fact that not one teacher has to lose their job if the union makes concessions. They hide behind the "for the kids" mantra. Well let's see what they do for the kids here. The day of reckoning has arrived.

Going forward, we will see about abolishing this union, just like they effectively are in Wisconsin. Civil servants should not have any collective bargaining rights. they either accept what is offered by the taxpayers, or they leave and go work in private industry.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 8, 2011 6:41 pm

"Civil servants should not have any collective bargaining rights. they either accept what is offered by the taxpayers, or they leave and go work in private industry."

How do you feel about unions in the private sector?

Submitted by AnonyMouse (not verified) on March 8, 2011 5:59 pm

If Philly SD was smart, they would offer up incentives to older teachers to retire so that they could retain their cheaper, younger, and fresher teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 8, 2011 8:10 pm

I work at a "failing school" in Philadelphia and what I see is hard working dedicated teachers who give there time, compassion, and own money to support and raise up children. What I have never seen is a politician or reformer walk through the door. These people make the rules without being part of the game. Come not just for an hour or two for the show the admin would put on, but actual time. Let them teach for a week and then give their students a benchmark test and see how well they do. They can be told they are incompetent, not working hard enough, unknowledgable about their field, and threated with disciplinary action. They can experience first hand what it feels like to be called lazy and that they make too much money for the work they do. The only problem is these people don't have the guts to step foot in a school like mine and look into the faces of the children we care about and teach everyday and address the real problems. Cowards.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2011 8:34 pm

The summer school options which just opened indicate clearly that they plan to bring in hundreds of new TFA, even while laying off certified teachers who already work here.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2011 9:34 pm

The summer school lists 800 TFA recruits. (They are NOT certified teachers - they have no teaching experience - thus, the summer program to prepare them for teaching.) Even if the TFA teachers are for charter schools and Promise Academies - versus other SDP schools - NONE should be brought to Philadelphia (or any other district with cuts.) It is ridiculous to lay people off while bringing in un-certified recruits. Isn't this the same as bringing in "scabs?"

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on May 10, 2011 10:15 pm

I was shocked also when I saw this on the summer school website today! How can the district bring in TFA when fully certified and experienced teachers may be laid off? They certainly should not be working at Promise Academies (which are still district and PFT schools) unless every eligible district teacher has turned down all positions at every Promise Academy. I think this calls for an investigation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 11, 2011 12:22 am

There are not "hundreds" of TFA teachers coming to Philly next year.

Philadelphia is (and has been for several years) the training site for several TFA regions. Only a fraction of the TFA teachers who train in Philly actually teach in Philly during the regular year. So there is no plan to bring "hundreds" of TFA teachers to Philly, and the actual number coming next year gets smaller every time they update it. It may turn out to be nearly entirely in charter schools. Even the TFA teachers already in schools are scrambling to line things up in the event of layoffs, since they are the first to go since their seniority is low.

(And for the conspiracy theorists, Dr. Ackerman is known as being luke-warm, and at time outright hostile, to TFA. Earlier this year she told a giant auditorium full of TFA teachers that they could just leave Philly if they didn't like the bureaucracy).

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 11, 2011 5:25 am

If a charter school is not reputable enough to hire certified teachers versus relying on Teach for America, it is not a good charter school. (I know Universal relies on TFA). Why won't charter schools consider teachers being laid off - assuming they want to work at the charter? Since TFA is suppose to be a "stop gap" to fill teaching positions that go unfilled, I see no need for TFA during the current recession. Is the TFA so institutionalized that it can't be shut down?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 11, 2011 6:06 am

And that's exactly my point-- why should TFA teachers who have already put in a year of service be scrambling to figure out if they have a job, knowing they may be laid off.... so that brand new TFA members can come in??? We don't need a single NEW (and I do mean NEW, this isn't against TFA) teacher coming in with a guaranteed job next year. You have to understand that this would be prioritizing TFA over everyone else in the district. Why should people who have a Master's in Education and student taught in the district have no hope whatsoever of getting a job, while people with business degrees from other states get one guaranteed? In years where there is a shortage, TFA is a great thing. In years where certified, experienced teachers are laid off, it needs to adapt to the reality and shrink the program in those districts. Don't assume that people who are asking questions about this are anti-TFA in general.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 12:25 pm

TFA has a standing contract with the district, so unfortunately, even in layoff years, they are guaranteed a certain number of positions (in SDP, Charter and Promise Academy schools) for their recruits. That said, the district has broken this contract in the past, and I know for a fact that TFA is considering significantly scaling down the size of it's incoming corps because of the derth of jobs.

The larger point that I'd like to make is that, while seniority does protect experience, which is a good thing, it protects teachers who has coasted threw the last 15 years of teaching and are basically just collecting a paycheck. Seniority also makes even the most dedicated teacher more complacent - why would you work harder when you know you're going to make more money anyway? I agree that it's difficult to find a perfect system for merit-based teacher pay, but there needs to be an incentive to keep teachers motivated and focused on improving their practices.

That said, seniority is currently the law of the land, and I think it's ridiculous that Promise Academies are receiving an exemption. Seniority is a bad system, but it is the system for the time being, which means that everyone - even the district's darlings - must be subject to the same rules.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:03 pm

I'm one of those two decade teachers that you appear to assume can not be motivated beyond cash. Cash can not buy me integrity. I'm motivated because I'm committed not only to my students but my colleague and myself. This summer, for example, I'm paying nearly $800 for a week long seminar because it will help me teach a course that I've only taught for a year. I will continue to purchase journals so I have access to research related to my field. I spend the weekend crafting lesson plans because I want to respect myself. I realize some teachers are very complacent - they frustrate me as much as anyone else. But, I don't want merit pay because I don't want people to assume I'm doing what I'm doing for the money. I'm committed to teaching and my students for the long haul (at least another 10 -12 years).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:18 pm

I appreciate the dedication to your job that your comment reflects, and I think every teacher who is committed to what they do makes similar sacrifices for their kids. But in every other field I can think of, good work is rewarded by incentives - usually either money, benefits, or both. While it would be great if every person who went into teaching felt the way that you do, that is simply not the case. Providing incentives - not even necessarily merit pay, but some means of rewarding excellent work - helps motivate teachers who might be given to complacency, and provides additional rewards for those who are already deeply invested and giving it their all.

The downside of this system is that, of course, it can be abused. But again, the majority of other fields have made merit-based systems work. I'm a union remember and respect a lot of the work the union does, but I think refusing to consider alternatives on this issue is boxing teachers into a corner and deepening the rift between union and local school government.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:30 pm

I appreciate the dedication to your job that your comment reflects, and I think every teacher who is committed to what they do makes similar sacrifices for their kids. But in every other field I can think of, good work is rewarded by incentives - usually either money, benefits, or both. While it would be great if every person who went into teaching felt the way that you do, that is simply not the case. Providing incentives - not even necessarily merit pay, but some means of rewarding excellent work - helps motivate teachers who might be given to complacency, and provides additional rewards for those who are already deeply invested and giving it their all.

The downside of this system is that, of course, it can be abused. But again, the majority of other fields have made merit-based systems work. I'm a union remember and respect a lot of the work the union does, but I think refusing to consider alternatives on this issue is boxing teachers into a corner and deepening the rift between union and local school government.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:54 pm

I appreciate the dedication to your job that your comment reflects, and I think every teacher who is committed to what they do makes similar sacrifices for their kids. But in every other field I can think of, good work is rewarded by incentives - usually either money, benefits, or both. While it would be great if every person who went into teaching felt the way that you do, that is simply not the case. Providing incentives - not even necessarily merit pay, but some means of rewarding excellent work - helps motivate teachers who might be given to complacency, and provides additional rewards for those who are already deeply invested and giving it their all.

The downside of this system is that, of course, it can be abused. But again, the majority of other fields have made merit-based systems work. I'm a union remember and respect a lot of the work the union does, but I think refusing to consider alternatives on this issue is boxing teachers into a corner and deepening the rift between union and local school government.

Submitted by Anonymous #576 (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:17 pm

He or she is not making assumptions about you. We all know bad and mediocre teachers--sometimes they have 15 years of experience and sometimes they're new. Being in the District for so long you've seen them. Seniority is a flawed system and I'm sure you know it. The question is can we find a system that works better than seniority to deal with layoffs. I'm not so sure about our ability to do that. I think our time would be better spent having well trained principals who try to get rid of bad teachers year in and year out rather than all of a sudden worrying about bad teachers when it's time for layoffs. Principals rarely use the tools they have to deal with persistently problematic teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2011 1:14 pm

Woops, sorry for the spam!

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2011 10:11 am

Truth is the corporations have ALWAYS tried to get rid of unions so they can make more profits. America is NOT broke and Wall Street which started the recent and large recession, is now richer than ever before. If we let these Tea Party crazies who are being backed by the extremely rich corporate types have their way, we the citizens are dead meat. All workers, both union and non union, need to stand together and don't let them divide and conquer us which is their strategy, of course. Don't be fooled by their speeches about patriotism and religion. There is NOTHING patriotic nor religious about pushing us back 75 years when citizens had no rights. Be careful, America !!!

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