Saturday, February 19, 2011
“White Paper” on a Roll: How Ed Deformers Distort the Record on Seniority Layoffs
On February 14, 2011 Educators 4 Excellence, a mouthpiece for the current movement attempting to reverse the current law on seniority based layoffs issued a press release announcing what they termed a "first research-based proposal" contained in a "white paper" entitled, "Keeping Our Best Teachers: An Alternative to Seniority-Based Layoffs."
As our Union remains conspicuously silent on this issue, preferring to argue against the need for layoffs rather than the method, it is time to take this piece of alleged research apart to see what supports their recommendations and whether these recommendations truly support their main thesis; that seniority-based layoffs hurt students and cause some of the "best teachers" to be terminated.
The format of the "white paper" is fairly straight-forward containing an introduction, an explanation of the current system and recommendations.
The law on seniority-based layoffs requires all layoff decisions to be based on total seniority including substitute and paraprofessional service within license. The literature dealing with layoff scenarios misses this point. Not surprisingly so does the "white paper"." When a layoff decision is made the DOE can layoff certain licensed teachers and hold back on other licenses. Thus hard to staff licenses like special ed or ESL might be totally spared layoff or high school teachers might be laid off before junior high or elementary school teachers. Education Law Section 2588 already gives the DOE the discretion to choose which license and how many teachers to lay off.
The impact of this discretion is nowhere assessed or even discussed. Yet the "white paper" concludes in its introduction that the impact of a layoff would be greatest felt in schools with a large percentage of newly hired teachers which they conclude are more often concentrated in the lowest income communities.
The "white paper's" Introduction
In order to save our schools from being torn apart (their words, not mine) the E4E deformers recommend that layoffs be based on Chronic Teacher Absentees, Principal Evaluations and being assigned to the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool.
"These categories are clear indicators of teacher performance and student achievement," the paper claims. Yet the next paragraph cautions, "In the absence of a more comprehensive system, our framework is a better way to conduct layoffs because it protects great teachers."
This tautological expression undergirds the thesis of the paper. We can't really know who the best teachers are but somehow by laying off by measuring teacher absence, principal evaluations and the fact that you are an ATR will avoid terminating "great teachers."
The introduction continues by asserting that based on a study done last year by the Calder Urban Institute demonstrates that "most of the teachers who would be laid off in a seniority-based system would be substantially more effective than even the best teacher laid off using a value-added system, or a system that includes teacher effectiveness." Does this mean that value-added systems don't measure teacher effectiveness?
Despite the inartful wording of the "white paper's" introduction the Calder Urban Institute (a collaboration of mostly southern university ed researchers who defend Waiting for Superman and most of the ed deformer agenda) claims, as the E4E paper does that seniority-based layoffs will cause effective teachers to be laid off. But how did they determine effectiveness?
The Calder study used 4th and 5th graders from New York City and the "value-added" model that has been demonstrated to be inaccurate and misleading to determine teacher effectiveness. A bit more academically responsible than the E4E crowd Calder states its assumption right up front, "assuming readily available measures of teacher effectiveness actually measure true teacher effectiveness, an assumption to which we return below, the differences between seniority and effectiveness based layoffs are larger and more persistent than we anticipated."
The distortions and inaccuracies continue as the "white paper" claims that the diversity of the teacher ranks would be adversely affected by seniority-based layoffs. The paper claims, without support, that "over the last decade, New York has hired many more African-American and Latino teachers to better reflect the population of city students." Seniority-based layoffs will, they claim, cause these newer, minority teachers to be laid off disproportionally. The fact is that minority hiring has dwindled in New York City and other areas served by programs such as Teach for America. No analysis is offered to support this proposition.
What is cited is the recent Los Angeles school system case as evidence of adverse racial impact. Again inaccurate and misleading. The case has been settled in which racial impact, by law, is permissible to be taken into account in protecting certain parts of the school district from layoff. The settlement is a creature of a completely incomparable set of circumstances. The types of abuses cited by the plaintiffs have not been documented in New York City.
The first recommendation is based on teacher attendance. The "white paper" suggests that absent teachers be divided into 3 tiers in which teachers absent 15 percent or higher (as measured over the previous and current school year) would be in the first round of layoffs. Tier 2 would be at 10 percent and Tier 3 at 8 percent. They exclude absences with doctor's notes and calculate that at Tier 1 for the last 15 months year you would have to absent 41 days to meet the threshold. At an average of 3 days per month it is unimaginable that a teacher, without a doctor's note, would not have been brought up on charges, placed on disciplinary probation under our new time and attendance contract provisions or otherwise separated from employment.
The "white paper" again confuses teacher effectiveness and student affect by citing a New Teacher Project paper that supports their thesis. (The New Teacher Project was founded by ed deformer poster child Michelle Rhee who recently was caught in her own teacher effectiveness misrepresentation when she admitted that her resume could have been written clearer when it suggested she magically caused her own students to increase their test performance from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile).
The study cited as well as this "white paper" mysteriously neglect to mention a New York City Department of Education study, written just prior to Bloom/Klein in which absenteeism did not correlate with student performance. Other studies have demonstrated that there are more effective ways of dealing with teacher absenteeism including disincentives (termination, fine and other discipline) and incentives (buying back unused sick time).
The next recommendation involves using U ratings in layoff decisions. They support this proposed layoff criteria on the broken U rating system claiming that only 2% of the teachers get U ratings. While 2% is still 1600 there is reason to believe that this number is understated. However sine UFT and DOE statistics don't include terminated employees (both tenured and probationer) and teachers who voluntary resigned with U ratings the number is probably much greater.
The broken U rating system, however, in impeccable logic, supports the decision to layoff because, according to the "white paper," when principals give U ratings they must really mean it since they give it so infrequently. Then they take the next illogical step; if they really mean it then the teachers must really be bad. This is absurd and the very reason that seniority-based layoffs were codified into law.
U ratings are given for a variety of reasons many of which do not involve teacher quality. Political, economic, personality differences and age discrimination reasons are just a few.
U ratings rarely lead to teacher termination for tenured teachers due to the subjective nature of the teacher assessment by the principal and the incompetence of DOE administrators and attorneys. Just like students poor teachers can be taught and with the right mentoring an incompetent teacher can be taught to be competent. A U rating has nothing to do with teacher competence. Seniority based layoffs ensure that illegal and inappropriate discriminatory practices are not perpetrated in a layoff situation.
The last recommendation and my personal favorite is the layoff of ATRs who have not found a permanent job in 6 months. The chauvinism and condescension toward ATRs is evidence of the "white paper's" true mission; the destruction of the collective bargaining system as we know it.
While the ICE/TJC members of the Executive Board when the 2005 contract came up for a vote were the only ones to vote against the contract on the Board and tried to warn the membership of the dangers of this provision (just skim this blog's early entries) the fact is the membership approved of the contract after listening to the lies of union officials who promises this would do away with bumping and the open market was a much fairer way than seniority in determining teacher placement.
In the aftermath of the creation of the ATR pool we have seen overt age discrimination in the attempt to cause more experienced teachers to quit or retire. ATRs fill full teacher programs and are not hired due to the heavier financial burden they place on shrunken school budgets.
When a contract creates an economic disincentive to hire a teacher it is outrageous to insinuate that the teacher's failure to obtain a permanent position is due to incompetence. As schools close ATRs are created. While there was an agreement at one point that recognized the economic disincentive to hire experienced teachers this agreement was never fully funded and totally expired last December.
Additionally the ATR system was established as a result of collective bargaining, where teachers and the DOE traded economic and non-economic demands. What did we give up for the ATR system? Should we permit the DOE to circumvent the collective bargaining process by an end run through the legislature?
And who says ATRs are incompetent?
The "white paper" is replete with inaccuracies and misstatements. It is sad that a group of teachers, who they themselves might, in the future, be U rated, excessed or be absent buy into the ed deformer argument that old is bad, young is good.