Friday, November 14, 2008

OT: Tackling teacher tenure

The hard-charging chancellor of the Washington, DC schools, Michelle Rhee (all of 38!), has proposed what teachers unions must believe is unthinkable. But the plan is nothing short of sheer genius.

What is it?

Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.
I considered being a teacher, but the salary structure just didn't work for me. It used to be that some or many of the best and brightest went into the profession. These days, fewer do, to the point that it is almost laughable.

This idea will not end tenure, meant originally to provide professors with academic freedom. But it is a great start.
Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal’s recommendation or face dismissal.

Teachers who choose the red plan would also get big pay increases but would lose seniority rights that allow them to bump more-junior teachers if their school closes or undergoes an overhaul. If they were not hired by another school, their only options would be early retirement, a buyout or eventual dismissal.

In an interview, Ms. Rhee said she considered tenure outmoded.

“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions,” she said, “but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.”

Hear, hear!

Most good teachers won't care. One teacher who went into the profession thanks to Teach for America (a great program, BTW -- two of my friends were in the inaugural class) said “Isn’t it funny? I don’t even know if I have tenure. To me, tenure is not a motivator; I motivate myself. It just doesn’t mean a lot to me.”

Good teachers that do care just don't get it. Another award winning-teacher said she was afraid of being critical of the district: “Don’t ask me to give up tenure, not even for a moment.” But dig -- if you are that good a teacher and get fired for criticizing your decrepit schools (i.e., telling the truth), you'll find another job in about five seconds, and probably one that pays really well, too.


Anonymous said...

Two points from a DC resident:
1. Funding for salary increases "to come from foundations" is currently iffy and unsustainable over the long-term. DC's per-pupil expenditures are already high. If this goes through, no telling where the money comes from long term to pay for the big raises. The Office of Property Management is having a hard time unloading the schools that Rhee has closed this year; there isn't going to be a lot of revenue from that source.
2. This kind of proposal works only if there is some trust that teachers can be fairly evaluated. That doesn't exist. Would you bet your future as a teacher on: a) the fact that next year's principal like you, or b) that you'll draw a classroom that can really pump up the test scores?
I appreciate the fact that the Mayor and the Chancellor really do want to cut out the deadwood and build a good school system. But I'm not confident that having two tiers of teachers working side by side in the same building is the best way to do it. We already have the Crips and the Bloods. Do we really want the Red Tier Teachers and the Green Tier Teachers working side by side? In such a scenario, can both groups keep the kids best interests at heart?

David Stejkowski said...

1. Good point, but I think you can sustain fairly long-term contributions for this type of system. My friends in DC say the system is broken. I know it is in Chicago. The salary hikes must necessarily be contingent on funding.

2. Yes, I would bet my future on the proposal, because if I am a good teacher I will be in demand anyway and anywhere. There is way too much dead weight in the system, as you acknowledge. I want multiple tiers of teachers competing against one another, each trying to excel, and those with tenure can keep that privilege in exchange for lousy pay. I'm also not sure, in this day and age, whether the kids best interests are at heart anyway, but then, I am a cynical lawyer.

David Stejkowski said...

Thanks, by the way, for the excellent insights!