The National Council on Teacher Quality, an Ed Reform organization posing as a think tank, has issued another report on Seattle. This one explores the proposals discussed in the negotiations over the teachers' contract.
I have reviewed their report and found it to be a mixed bag.
I agree with the District and the NCTQ regarding teacher assignment.
I, too, would like to see principals have more authority to determine who works in their schools. I support the District proposal to eliminate super-seniority privileges and the forced placement of any teacher in any school. I also support mutual consent hiring for all teachers regardless of the reason a teacher is transferring schools or when the position is being filled. Under such a system, excessed teachers would be able to remain in the displaced pool for a limited amount of time while they search for a new position: 12 months for teachers on a continuing contract; 6 months for teachers on a provisional contract. After this period, they would be subject to layoffs. If teachers cannot find a principal in the District willing to hire them, then they don't work here anymore.
I question the career-ladder positions proposed by the District.
I don't oppose them or approve them. I just wonder if the teachers want them. I think it strange to create incentives for people without knowing if the people are interested in the incentives you're offering or if the incentives are enough to change anyone's behavior. I also wonder why the unrelated proposal about career-ladder positions is lumped in with the teacher assignment proposal.
The NCTQ's analysis of these proposals is both good and bad. I agree with them when they write: "Giving principals full autonomy to select who works in their buildings, as Seattle Public Schools proposes to do, is a critical first step towards school accountability." However, their belief that a mutual consent policy would reduce turnover and the concentration of inexperienced teachers and that senior teachers would be less likely to cluster into a few favored schools is dead wrong. Instead, the turnover and concentration of inexperienced teachers would occur at schools with principals who mishandle their teaching staff, and all-star principals will be able to assemble all-star teams of teachers at their schools. The clustering will still happen - at both ends of the spectrum - but the cluster points will be based on the principal's favor with teachers instead of school affluence and the movement will be divided by teacher quality instead of teacher seniority.
Look, the teachers know who the good principals are and that's who they will want to work with. The principals know who the good teachers are and that's who they will want to work with. So the good principals will be able to hire the good teachers and the bad principals and the new (or bad) teachers will have to settle for working with each other. If the pay were the same, would you rather work for an angel or an asshole? If you had free pick, would you choose to work with those who have proven themselves to be the best, those who have proven mediocre, or the unproven?
We can guess what it means when a teacher can't find a principal who will hire them. What will it mean when a principal can't find an experienced teacher who will work for them? Where is the market-driven force that will hold principals accountable?
The NCTQ shows an equal ignorance of human behavior when they presume, without evidence, that financial incentives will attract highly effective teachers to the neediest schools, and that top teachers would be motivated to seek assignments district-wide. There is scant evidence to show that small financial incentives will motivate teachers to accept less attractive working conditions. Has anyone asked the teachers? The union is characterized as silent on the issue.
I have qualified agreement with the NCTQ and the District that layoffs should be based on a combination of seriority and performance. I just need a lot more detail about how the District proposes to assess teacher performance. I can't give the proposal my support until I see that the details are good.
The NCTQ has no question about how the District will assess teacher quality. That makes the NCTQ questionable.
The union's position is not stated.
Like the SEA, I support the District's proposal to expand the teacher mentor program.
I'm a little discouraged that the number of mentor teachers is going to increase from 6 to 11. That seems a very low number.
I'm curious about how the District is going to create additional planning time for teachers without reducing instructional time for students. That doesn't seem possible. I would really like someone to walk me through the math on that.
The union appears to accept the additional planning and collaboration time, but wants more of the sessions to be teacher-directed instead of District- or principal-directed. Surely the District can bend on this.
The NCTQ says that the SEA opposes the proposal "because it will result in 12 additional minutes of teaching time on the days when there are not the collaborative planning blocks." I'm always very careful about assigning motivations to others. How does the NCTQ know that this is the reason why the SEA opposes this proposal? I'd like to see where the SEA gives this as the reason. If this is, in fact, the reason, then maybe the District should walk them through the math on how the additional planning time doesn't impact the instructional time.
The NCTQ is also concerned that Seattle students have some of the shortest instructional days and years in the country. This goes to the debate between the value of instructional time and the blithe dismissal of "seat time". The District itself is ambivalent over it.
I am deeply troubled by the NCTQ's review of the proposals on teacher evaluations.
The NCTQ describes SERVE as the District's proposal and then writes "SEA proposes to keep the current evaluation instrument as it is" I believe this is not true. I believe that the SEA has proposed the adoption of the P G and E teacher evaluation. What is the truth here?
For what it is worth, most of the teacher evaluation elements of SERVE are the same as P G and E. The primary difference is the use of student test scores. Since there has been no detailed description of what student test scores would be used or how they would be used, there really isn't a proposal to review here. SERVE has other provisions, such as the superintendent's right to over-ride any evaluation without appeal, that are simply unacceptable. The NCTQ didn't seem to notice that little feature of SERVE because they don't mention it.
I take the union's side regarding the teacher compensation proposals.
The District is offerring a 1 percent pay raise for the teachers who opt in to SERVE. This strikes me as little incentive and a very small compensation for accepting a mystery bag. Here also is a repeat of the career-ladder positions that the District proposes. Given that the SEA rejects the proposal, it appears to me that the teachers don't want this incentive. And what is the use of an incentive that people don't want? I like the fact that the SEA is rejecting offers of more money.
The NCTQ likes the idea of recognizing and rewarding great teachers, but even they agree that the District's offer is punk.
In their final thoughts, the NCTQ makes reference to teacher quality. I will understand this paragraph better when I know how the NCTQ defines that term and how the NCTQ believes that contract provisions can impact it.