Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tenure Tit-for-Tat

CapitolFax reports on the back-and-forth between reporter Scott Reeder and the Illinois Federation of Teachers today. I think its useful to cut through all of the tit-for-tat about bias and get down to the central facts and arguments being advanced by Reeder.

On that point, I've got to agree with Comerford on what seems to be the central fact of Reeder's story, as opposed to all of the he said, she said stuff.

If Reeder is only counting the number of firings that are appealed, but is reporting that as the number of firings, he's gotten the central fact in his story wrong.
Reeder could set the record straight be redoing his census and asking the school districts how many tenured teachers they fired who did not appeal, and that seems to be in order.

However, I have to say that even then Reeder's story misses the big picture. Whether tenured teachers in-and-of themselves are getting fired proves nothing. In fact, it might prove that waiting four years to give teacher tenure weeds out teachers who aren't up to the task. In order to complete the picture, Reeder should report how many non-tenured teachers leave their school before reaching tenure.

Another big hole in Reeder's argument as I see it is the underlying assumption that tenure -- and tenure alone -- is the problem. After all, the University of Illinois, University of Chicago, DePaul, Northwestern ALL have teacher tenure, and they're considered flagship educational institutions. Even though we're talking about higher education here, I still think its highly relevant, and the bias here in Reeder's reporting is that he focuses in only on evidence that supports his hypothesis and ignores evidence that completely discounts it.

In fact, "tenure", whether de jure or de facto, is all pervasive in American society. There was plenty of incompetence in Enron, but how many people were fired there? Every week we hear of lead toys finding their way onto Wal-Mart's shelves, but I certainly haven't heard of any firings. One could even argue that incumbent elected officials are the beneficiaries of tenure. If tenure is broken, all of America is broken, and I think you can have a great discussion on that issue. However, it does beg the question of why Reeder is so narrowly focused on teachers.

Finally, and perhaps this is the most important point. Even if you think that the tenure system is broken and is protecting thousands of bad teachers who need to be fired, Reeder never answers the "What then?" question. Illinois, like every other state in the nation, is facing a labor shortage when it comes to hiring teachers, just to fill the vacancies created by retirement and teachers moving to other professions or other states. If we fire thousands of teachers, who does Reeder propose we replace them with? Will he drop out of journalism, invest his time and money in getting his certification so that he can dedicate himself to teaching the hardest-to-reach kids in our urban centers and struggling rural communities? The question I always ask of those who are so quick to criticize teachers is "Why are you standing here on the sidelines throwing stones instead of putting yourself in the game?" I still haven't gotten a straight answer.

5 comments:

Pat Collins 4:02 PM  

There is so much wrong with your analysis it is hard to know where to begin.

1) Teachers who leave before tenure may not be fired - they may leave on their own. Can you find "fired" from "left" numbers?


2) if you think there is tenure in industry these days you are soooo mistaken. In fact, one of the reasons places like GE can FIRE 10% of their workforce yearly is that your man Obama (among others) brings in more each year via H1-B and other means.

3) There IS no teacher shortage. There is a shortage of people willing to be teachers in bad districts. do you know how many people apply for EACH opening at "ok" places like D300 in Carpentersville? Not to mention "good" places like Barrington/Libertyville.

Yellow Dog Democrat 5:02 PM  

1) I think you can find out how many teachers are let go v. quit, but more importantly, I don't think you can completely ignore the numbers as Reeder does.

2) Really? No tenure in the private sector? Then how do you explain American Airlines handing out bonuses to over a thousand executives after the company had lost $7 billion, instead of handing them all pink slips?

3) Bad districts? Are you kidding?

Here's what Margaret Spellings (U.S. Dept. of Education) said:
"Teachers are widely recognized as the single most influential factor in students' academic success. Yet, urban, rural, disadvantaged and other high-need schools face challenges in recruiting highly qualified teachers, particularly in math and science. These grants enable high-need districts to tap the pool of talented professionals from noneducation backgrounds to help meet their teaching needs as well as the needs of their students." Did you catch that? There aren't enough teachers, so George Bush spent $12 million trying to train new ones.

In case you're wondering, that money went to 12 states and Illinois wasn't one of them. Bush's home state of Texas got $2.5 million.

By the way, some facts about Carpentersville D300.

In their low-poverty schools, teachers have an average of 11 years experience, two-thirds have a Master's degree or better, and 99.8 percent of classes are taught by teachers who are rated highly qualified.

But, in their high-poverty schools, teachers have an average of only 8 years experience, only half have advanced degrees, and 1 in 20 classrooms have teachers who aren't highly qualified.

Please tell me how you blame teacher tenure for that glaring discrepancy WITHIN a school district.

Pat Collins 5:39 PM  

If by tenure in industry you mean VP tenure, even they get whacked, but usually after LOTS of others get whacked. A closer analogy would be tenure for adminisrators only.

I don't blame it on tenure. Its one reason I support lower immigration. We don't need to import poverty.

I said that they get replacements easily.

I know someone who had a daughter DROP from that district. Tenure had nothing to do with it, but they replaced her very quickly.

So, you now believe the Bush Admin?:)

Yellow Dog Democrat 6:09 PM  

Pat -

You better believe there's tenure in management, but you don't hear Republicans calling for the CEO's of failing companies to get fired, do you?

I blame the fact that some school districts have a harder time attracting teachers on the fact that they have poorer students and fewer resources too. That's why i support education funding reform and merit pay for teachers who are willing to take on the challenge of teaching in struggling communities, and to help us compete with the rest of the economy to fill shortages in math, science, special education and computer sciences.

But if you honestly believe that immigration is the cause of all poverty in America, you're deluded. The majority of poor people in America are white, and a majority don't live in the inner cities that Republicans love to demonize, they live outside of them. And there are far more poor people in the Republican-controlled South than any other region of the state. All according to the most recent report from the U.S. Census.

I don't necessarily believe George Bush, but thought you would. There is tons of independent research that confirms it. But you know the old saying, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

Extreme Wisdom 7:14 PM  

If we fire thousands of teachers, who does Reeder propose we replace them with?

Get rid of certification and union clout, and 10s of 1000s of people will enter the field to teach.

Teaching need not be a 25-30 year career to convey content. As a matter of fact, a class of people self-selecting for job security, pensions and benefits are exactly the WRONG type of people to be in that position.

Do you need a great deal of talent to teach AP physics? Almost certainly.

But if a $30 DVD can teach a kid to read (and it probably can), then why are we paying a tenured pensioneer over $40K to do so?
_____

Teachers are widely recognized as the single most influential factor in students' academic success.

What a frightening thought, and on 2 fronts. First, the quality of people teaching are "self-selected" to be less interested in their avocation than in the "job-security."

Second, if true, it shows a shocking decline in the quality of parenting.
___

All the focus on teachers is somewhat valuable, IF you think in terms of 100s of different styles, curricula, and school structures.

In this environment, 100% protection/insulation from the consumer, zero accountability for results, and a bureaucratic maze that pushes around billions of dollars and tons of paper in a game of politics for adults, it is no wonder that the only place you can find a good education is in the ritzy suburbs, and even there, at too high a price.

In a rational world, even the concept of tenure in K-12 would be absurd.

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