Sunday, November 7, 2010

The problem with seniority

The debate over evaluation systems has turned into an "us vs. them."   It's the crazy politicians vs. the crazy unionites.   According to the crazy politicians, the crazy unionites obstruct reform to defend the worst teachers among us.   According to the crazy unionites, the crazy politicians have ill-concieved notions of effective teaching that will foster competition instead of collaboration, and narrow teacher focus to a set of poorly designed test questions that tell us nothing about what we really want to know.

The politicians, motivated by short-term goals and "I told you so" data points, want quick and instant reform before the next politician comes along with a new plan about how to save education.   The unionites, controlled by the activist and most often politically extreme that control their ranks, seek to protect the jobs and salaries of the existing employees, often at the expense of the creation of a superior and professionalized workforce.    They value the status quo.

And so the reform discussion devolves into debate, less about the public interest, more about  self-serving "talking points" each side hopes will allow them to "take the hill" a la Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.  Debates have victors.   Discussions do not.   Discussions involve compromise based on the strength of argument.   Debates involve rigid positions which define compromise as a sign of weakness.  A number of bloggers have now directed me to Don Sutton's post on the value of "Strong Opinions, Weakly Held" which highlights the importance of being able to both argue vehemently and concede graciously.  Crazy politicians and crazy unionites have mastered the first half of this equation.

Which brings me to a teacher's solution to the curent call for reform.   This group of expert teachers came from all over the country, and from both political parties.   They offer guidelines for education reform that should make any school district think twice about their current system of evaluation and compensation.   Chief among these reforms, in my mind, is a way to weaken the seniority system; a system that rewards longevity in place of leadership and responsibility.   From The Center for Teacher Quality report:

Reward leadership, not seniority. Qualified teachers who take on additional responsibilities — mentoring novices and peers and preparing new teachers, creating family- and community-outreach programs, serving on advisory councils and the like — should be paid for their time outside the classroom. The number of years on the job should not determine who gets tapped for these leadership opportunities; demonstrated ability should.

When the debating stops, and the discussion begins, it should begin here- with common sense reforms made by teachers who know the system, and understand how to fix them.   We need to reward teachers who lead.   We need to reward teachers who are experts in their craft.   We need to reward those who help other teachers become better at their craft.   And we need to reward those who take on added responsibilities, not fewer ones.

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