Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I support teacher seniority rights

Without them, testing madness rules

Jimmy Kilpatrick's post today on, highlights the ongoing attack on teacher seniority rights in Cleveland and in other mainly urban school districts. This has become a centerpiece in Arne Ducan's Race To The Top and his so-called "turnaround" strategy.

I favor protecting teacher seniority rights for several reasons. One is that they signify the respect due to professionals in most fields. Secondly, they are the product of democratically negotiated collective bargaining agreements between school boards and teacher unions and should be honored as such. The current three or four-years probation period, during which teachers can be fired at the discretion of the principal, provides plenty of time for any school leader worth their salt, to weed out incompetent teachers.

But maybe even more importantly, without the protection of seniority, teachers and principals, confronted with potential bonuses on the one hand, and job loss and school closure on the other, become totally dependent on standardized test scores for their survival as educators. The pressure to produce or show test score increases in a brief time period is putting the entire public education system in a state of academic free fall.

It's not just about protecting teachers' jobs, although that's important, especially in the midst of this recession. It's also about making teaching/learning authentic and moving beyond the narrow confines of standardized testing.


  1. Great piece and a new perspective. I posted it here- hope you don't mind.

  2. Chicago principalJune 1, 2010 at 9:41 PM

    That is a great piece Mike. Thanks. Jerry Bracey made the same point a few years back when principals had their seniority right taken away. At least then, the power to hire and fire principals was handed over to elected school councils. Now the power to hire and fire teachers is being handed over to non-accountable charter school management companies.

  3. Mike, I disagree. What if teachers decline in ability or burns out after five, ten or twenty years, do we just shrug and say we owe it to them? And what about the kids, aren't they somewhat important? Do our children not deserve a teacher that is giving their absolute best? The status quo is not working, and hasn't been for decades.

  4. Anon,

    Your "what if" question is important, not just for teachers, but for all working people in this economy. Yes, what happens when workers age, decline in ability, burn out? It seems you would throw them out like an old coat. Put them out on the street? Claim you're doing it "for the kids"?

    That's exactly what's wrong with this ownership-society reform model. It degrades teachers. It leaves a system intact which burns up teachers, young and old. Leaves especially low income kids with uncertified and inexperienced teachers or TFAers who last 2 years and have no experienced mentors to guide them.

    No, I prefer respecting the work of teachers, putting in place efforts to renew, inspire and revitalize them. And fire veteran teachers only as a last resort and only with due process.

    That's what's good for the kids.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.