Saturday, April 17, 2010

Competance vs. Length of service

We have a budget crisis in our school district -- SURPRISE! Actually, we always have a budget crisis with our schools, but this time we have to make some big changes to stay solvent. One of those changes is to get rid of "class size reduction" which maintains class sizes at 20 students in kindergarten through third grade. Because of this, we're losing a lot of teachers, and unfortunately, a lot of good ones.

And here's the rub: teachers are being laid off purely on the basis of their hire date with the district. The newest teachers are the ones to go and no distinction is being made as to competence. Again, no real surprise because the teachers are part of a union. I've worked in a union and my husband works in a union. They can be great for many reasons, but they are terrible for this ONE reason: unions have not figured out a way to reward merit. And unfortunately in teaching, competence matters enormously. I am constantly reading about studies and plans for improving education and student learning, but almost all of them ignore teacher ability. I even read an article in the New Yorker that said teacher competence is more important than class size for improving learning. I've listened to a lot of rhetoric about putting the students first, and keeping the cuts out of the classroom, and I think these speakers are very well meaning (administrators and teachers union reps alike). However, it seems to me the best thing they could do for our district is to involve themselves in the very difficult and messy task grading teachers. (I'll write more about the difficulties of this later -- I've been asking teachers about it).

Why do I feel so strongly about this? I was sitting next to a principal at the meeting where this all got announced. She said to me, "I feel sick about the teachers I have to let go, but I feel even more sick about the teachers I have to keep."

Friday, April 16, 2010

The best blank

Once, when I had gone to church on Sunday morning very early and found myself with an hour to kill, I walked up boulevard to Starbucks. On my way out I passed by three men who lived on the street. "Are you going to that church across from the library?" one asked.
"Why?" replied his friend.
"They have the best..." and with that I was out of earshot. I wanted to turn back, but instead I kept walking all the way back to church with a smile on my lips, happy to know we had the best _____.