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Teachers' Seniority Rights Under Assault in Cleveland, Across the Nation
Cleveland Plain Dealer ^ | 5/31/2010 | Thomas Ott

Posted on 05/31/2010 6:39:51 PM PDT by nickcarraway

Teachers' seniority rights are under fire from public officials and policy experts who say experience and effectiveness don't always go hand in hand.

The grip seniority holds on schools has gained attention as money runs short and education leaders, including Cleveland's, slash jobs by the hundreds. Its effects also come into play as urban school districts wrestle with how to place the right teachers in schools serving low-income, or so-called "hard to serve," populations. Cleveland schools Chief Executive Eugene Sanders has acknowledged a desire to dismantle the district's seniority system as part of difficult contract negotiations going on now. Union leaders, wary of giving up seniority rights without a trustworthy alternative, do not deny that the issue could lead to a strike.

Barring an agreement on concessions, Cleveland is set to ax 546 teachers in June. The cuts will sweep out large blocs of staff in 10 popular "innovation schools," where side agreements with the teachers union allow principals to disregard seniority in hiring, reaching outside the system if they think it's necessary. Such newer teachers will be among the first to go. One of the innovation schools, Warner Girls Leadership Academy, a single-gender elementary school, will say goodbye to 11 of its 18 teachers. The vacancies will have to be filled from within the union.

Principal Lesley Jones Sessler puts a brave face on the situation, saying the school will persevere.

"We can still be successful," she said. "Nowhere was it written that my teachers would be protected from something like this."

But foundations that invested millions of dollars in the innovation schools are dismayed. The cuts also may disappoint corporate and state officials who have sunk money into the initiative.

Several states have scrapped or are considering scrapping the "last hired, first fired" philosophy that determines layoff order in most of the nation's largest school districts.

The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit that helps states and schools place high-quality teachers in urban districts, has called for alternatives to "quality-blind" layoffs.

A report the group issued in March claimed support from teachers, saying majorities surveyed in two large, unnamed urban districts ranked classroom management, teacher attendance and other considerations as more important than years on the job. The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research group, is proposing a blended set of layoff criteria that weakens seniority's sway. Recommendations include cutting first-year teachers while making exceptions for others based on performance.

Layoff by seniority remains the law in Ohio, with a 2005 amendment that prohibits districts and unions from agreeing to waive the restriction. Gov. Ted Strickland's 2008 budget bill proposed deleting the amendment. The House agreed, but the provision did not make the final legislation. Even if Cleveland teachers could waive seniority in layoffs, Van Keating, an official with the Ohio School Boards Association, does not think they would show much enthusiasm for the idea.

"You're talking about the main reason teachers unions are there -- to get more money and job security," said Keating, who assists school boards with labor negotiations. "It would take an awful lot of fiscal pressure and some political pressure to make the unions want to give that up."

Seniority-based layoffs have a disproportionate effect on schools with high poverty and minority enrollment, according to a new study of 15 California districts that was conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The center said less-experienced teachers tend to be assigned to such schools. A county court this month barred layoffs at three Los Angeles schools after civil-rights group said heavy cuts would violate the state's guarantee of an equal education.

Layoffs aside, concerns remain about filling positions based on seniority.

Strickland's original budget bill included a Cleveland-only section, later dropped, that would have allowed Sanders to assign teachers "to meet the needs of students and the district's mission."

Sanders claimed that would give him the right to bypass seniority. The governor's spokeswoman, Amanda Wurst, recently acknowledged that the wording was drafted after Strickland consulted with Sanders and Mayor Frank Jackson. But no decisions had been made on how that affected seniority, she said in an e-mail.

Control over staff appointments is key to turning around struggling urban schools, experts say. They argue for giving principals latitude so they can build a culture where kids learn and teachers, at any stage of their careers, want to work.

Daniel Weisberg formerly was chief labor executive for the New York City Department of Education and contributed to a policy that fills positions by "mutual consent" of schools and teachers.

He is now vice president of the New Teacher Project. The group's 2009 report, "The Widget Effect," criticized the treatment of teachers as interchangeable parts. "How do you make sure the kids who most desperately need effective teachers get them?" Weisberg said in an interview. "Every single hiring decision has to be made based on mutual consent. This is not an assembly line in which everyone can basically do the same job at the same level."

New York's policy, adopted in 2005, found strong support among teachers and did not lead to mass departures from high-poverty schools, as feared, according to a study published three years later by the New Teacher Project. Similar rules have recently been adopted or proposed in Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Colorado.

Cleveland Teachers Union leaders have budged on seniority in the past, and not just at the innovation schools. They dropped the requirement last summer at other buildings, allowing principals to interview candidates for job openings and pick the teachers they thought fit best. But union officers say they are reluctant to grant a blanket waiver. They fear giving too much authority to principals who might make unjust, arbitrary decisions, or tying their futures to test scores that urban districts struggle to raise.

Several Cleveland teachers contacted by email defended their seniority rights and said older teachers can be just as energetic and creative as younger peers. One said veteran teachers are more skilled at keeping order. But teachers also expressed impatience with incompetent or indifferent instructors and complained that administrators are unwilling to fire them or too bound by red tape to quickly remove them.

"I hope that you can make one thing clear -- no one dislikes or resents a bad teacher more than dedicated teachers!!!" wrote a teacher who asked for anonymity. Former Cleveland Teachers Union President Richard DeColibus says that of all the rights in the contract, seniority is the one he would fight hardest to preserve. He said it's a fundamental defense against random firing and places the primary burden for a school's operation where it belongs -- on the principal.

"The principal sets the tone," said DeColibus, who retired in 2004. "Your job is to take the same mix every other school has and make it better. That's leadership." Teachers who support seniority rights as a district's primary screening mechanism have an ally who used to sit on the management side of the bargaining table.

Thomas Ash, an executive with Ohio's Buckeye Association of School Administrators, served 21 years as superintendent of the East Liverpool district and the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center.

Standardized tests and potentially subjective appraisals are not the most reliable gauges of performance, Ash said. He prefers seniority.

"It's a nice, objective measure," he said.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: budget; education; educationfunding; techers

1 posted on 05/31/2010 6:39:52 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

Education is too important to be left in the hands of government.


2 posted on 05/31/2010 6:41:49 PM PDT by highlander_UW (Education is too important to leave in the hands of the government.)
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To: nickcarraway

“experts who say experience and effectiveness don’t always go hand in hand”

Can one say “teachers unions”. The unions make it harder to get rid of the goof balls early on.


3 posted on 05/31/2010 6:42:36 PM PDT by Parley Baer
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To: nickcarraway

>> seniority rights

Hmmm... I missed the enumeration of those “rights” in my cursory reading of the Constitution.

I guess they emanated (faintly) from some penumbra, and my eyesight *is* fading, I admit that...


4 posted on 05/31/2010 6:44:04 PM PDT by Nervous Tick (Eat more spinach! Make Green Jobs for America!)
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To: nickcarraway

Let me know when they grant Cleveland students Competency Rights (i.e. their right to have competent teachers teaching them).


5 posted on 05/31/2010 6:46:01 PM PDT by Hoodat (.For the weapons of our warfare are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.)
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To: Parley Baer
Until one is tenured, they can be fired for any reason. My husband is a teacher (a good one!) and is fed up with administrators who lack the guts to fire new teachers who are clearly incompetent or complete slime bags. Administrators have more power than people realize. Unions may be powerful, but administrators could do more...it would just take effort, and that is something that the well paid administrators don't seem to want to put forth. Administrators get paid 2 to 3 times what teachers make and they are responsible for what goes on in the school-it would be nice if people started holding them accountable as well.
6 posted on 05/31/2010 6:48:43 PM PDT by Spudx7
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To: Spudx7

Yes, it would be nice, but don’t look for it to happen until a few of them are fired by the School Boards to get the point across.


7 posted on 05/31/2010 6:57:13 PM PDT by WHBates
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To: nickcarraway

We’re insolvent. Where do we get the money? Raise taxes? That’s a joke.


8 posted on 05/31/2010 7:06:11 PM PDT by griswold3 (Barack Obama’s First Law of Leadership: “I just work here.”)
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To: nickcarraway
My students have consistently scored in the 90% range on state testing and I am not afraid to put my expertise up against any other teachers.

I do worry however that since I have been teaching for 28 yeas, they would not hesitate to get rid of me in a NY minute because of budget constraints.

9 posted on 05/31/2010 7:11:47 PM PDT by mware (F-R-E-E, that spells free, Free Republic.com baby.)
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To: nickcarraway
"teacher's seniority rights"

How ridiculous! What sort of a "right" is this?

10 posted on 05/31/2010 7:13:31 PM PDT by Jim Noble (If the answer is "Republican", it must be a stupid question)
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To: nickcarraway
Seniority has always been a pet peeve of mine. It was intended to protect against favoritism (you know like rewarding the hardest worker by promoting him/her). Most labor contracts read “senior qualified” but you can forget the qualified caveat. Disqualifying the senior man is like a criminal trial — beyond the shadow of a doubt.
11 posted on 05/31/2010 7:16:28 PM PDT by JimSEA
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To: WHBates

The Enemies Within Our Education system


Education Unions (the N.E.A.), School Administrators and Yes - Even Some Teachers

Worm in the Apple

What is to be Done?

Leave No Teachers Behind!

Lefty Teachers Meet the MP3 Player/REcorder



12 posted on 05/31/2010 7:24:49 PM PDT by B-Cause (Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: nickcarraway
Thomas Ash, an executive with Ohio's Buckeye Association of School Administrators, served 21 years as superintendent of the East Liverpool district

That's something I wouldn't want on my resume.

13 posted on 05/31/2010 7:27:47 PM PDT by buccaneer81 (ECOMCON)
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To: mware
My students have consistently scored in the 90% range on state testing

My complaint (and that of my son,13) is that the curriculum is all about teaching to the test.

14 posted on 05/31/2010 7:30:29 PM PDT by buccaneer81 (ECOMCON)
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To: Spudx7

Most education administrators were originally teachers who were Peter Principled into administration.

Shut down the administration buildings of the school systems, and make sure not one of those things inside ever gets inside a classroom again.


15 posted on 05/31/2010 7:39:04 PM PDT by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon freedom, it is essential to examine principles,)
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To: buccaneer81
I teach Life Science. The state test in Science covers Earth Science which we teach in 6th grade, Life Science 7th grade, and Physical Science 8th grade.

Since we do not have a spiral curriculum we do a one week review of material covered from past years.

I wouldn't call that teaching to the test, just refreshing their memory.

16 posted on 05/31/2010 7:40:18 PM PDT by mware (F-R-E-E, that spells free, Free Republic.com baby.)
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To: buccaneer81

If the test is a good measure of what the student should master for the year, what’s wrong with “teaching to the test”? You cannot have content-free or structure-free education in a school setting. That is axiomatic. So, “teaching to the test” is a good thing.


17 posted on 05/31/2010 8:27:31 PM PDT by the808bass
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To: ADemocratNoMore; Akron Al; arbee4bush; agrace; ATOMIC_PUNK; AdvisorB; Badeye; Bikers4Bush; ...

Ohio Pings!

To be added to the Ohio Ping List, please freepmail (works best)
both TonyRo76 and LasVegasDave.

18 posted on 06/01/2010 2:06:52 AM PDT by Las Vegas Dave (To anger a Conservative, tell him a lie. To anger a Liberal, tell him the truth.)
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To: the808bass

“If the test is a good measure of what the student should master for the year, what’s wrong with “teaching to the test”? You cannot have content-free or structure-free education in a school setting. That is axiomatic. So, “teaching to the test” is a good thing.”

It depends on how you teach to a test. If your class is nothing but preparation to fill out bubble sheets and never teaches you thinking skills or how to connect the dots between different bits of content then it is a problem. If students are able to learn the content in an environment that also teaches them to process it then it works.


19 posted on 06/01/2010 5:47:40 AM PDT by DemonDeac
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To: nickcarraway

I don’t anyone wants to discount seniority completely.

Teachers with experience are a good thing, and experience is a difficult quality to measure. Seniority isn’t necessarily the same thing, but it probably has enough correlation that it should be considered.

Plus, I can sympathize with those who are in the high income brackets of their careers not wanting to be fired purely so new hires at lower income levels can replace them for less money.

But, unions have for decades operated under the banner of “seniority uber alles”. That is the problem. Seniority trumps everything, including common sense.


20 posted on 06/01/2010 6:02:43 AM PDT by chrisser (Starve the Monkeys!)
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To: chrisser
Sorry. Should be I don't think anyone wants to discount seniority completely.
21 posted on 06/01/2010 6:03:36 AM PDT by chrisser (Starve the Monkeys!)
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To: mware

Exactly. They can hire two new teachers for the price of an experienced teacher. I think the schools do need to get rid of bad teachers, but experience is very important when it comes to teaching, especially in the inner city.


22 posted on 06/01/2010 6:58:20 AM PDT by Paved Paradise
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To: buccaneer81

My brother, who has been teaching in Cleveland for 27 years, told me he teaches less content now than ever, primarily because of the stupid tests. The kids just learn how to answer the test questions and spend tons of time learning how to take a “test,” so quality goes way out the door.


23 posted on 06/01/2010 6:59:49 AM PDT by Paved Paradise
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To: the808bass

Not every kid can test well. There is a lot of stuff that goes into doing well on a test. For example, supposed I take a course on Middle Eastern History (which I have done). Maybe I remember 500 good and relevant pieces of information. You, the teacher, taught me 600 pieces of information. There is a test of 100 questions and just coincidentally 75 of the questions are on the 100 pieces I do not recall. I may have learned a lot of good stuff but that doesn’t matter. That is so completely idiotic to me. I have always thought this, even way before the tests became sacrosanct to some. I can’t tell you how many times, I was asked a question and I knew every single thing on a topic but that one darn question. And for whatever it’s worth (so you don’t think I am a bad student), until two semesters ago, I was pulling a 4.0. Now it’s a 3.9. Got a B- in Biology, but I did get an A in my chemistry and physics classes. Woo Hoo.


24 posted on 06/01/2010 7:05:56 AM PDT by Paved Paradise
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To: chrisser

Excellent points.


25 posted on 06/01/2010 7:07:29 AM PDT by Paved Paradise
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To: nickcarraway
"Strickland's original budget bill included a Cleveland-only section, later dropped, that would have allowed Sanders to assign teachers "to meet the needs of students and the district's mission." "
Go Sanders, GO! It sounds like he has some sway in Columbus. As a Clevelander, I take a lot of hope in the job Dr. Sanders is doing. Our property value is impacted by his success.
26 posted on 06/01/2010 7:38:04 AM PDT by neefer (Big city turn me loose and set me free.)
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To: Parley Baer

Actually, our experience is that it is the newer teachers, recently out of the teaching colleges, who are the least productive. They have this “let them teach themselves” philosophy that pretends kids learn when they teach. (In the meantime the teacher sits at the computer playing solitaire.)

The worst performing kids on the Ohio state grad test have the newest teachers.

The older teachers are more likely to use the old fashioned (tried and true) teaching methods. They expect the work to get done. They expect homework. And their kids pass the graduation tests.

Seniority, in this case, is not bad at all.


27 posted on 06/01/2010 9:08:07 AM PDT by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and proud of it. Those who truly support our troops pray for their victory!)
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