Rethinking the seniority system

Annie Hatch, a first-year humanities teacher at Oakland’s Life Academy, offers her reflections about the last-in, first-out layoff system. Her pink slip has yet to be rescinded.

Annie Hatch, Life AcademyAs more and more layoffs are being rescinded, the fury that was driving a lot of healthy debate has seemed to subside. When the district initially announced that over 500 teachers in Oakland would be receiving pink slips, I heard a lot of people arguing that the district should rescind them all—that no teacher ever deserves a pink slip. But, the unavoidable reality is that some teachers will be laid off—this year, and in the future. And while this remains the case, we desperately need to rethink the seniority system.

Like a fine wine, I believe a good teacher gets better with age. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to the craft of teaching, and, I won’t lie, I am looking forward to not being a first-year teacher. Throughout the course of this first year, I have seen my classroom management skills improve exponentially. I can plan a lesson in half the time it took me in September. I am more efficient, more capable, more confident. I am better at prioritizing what matters, strategizing intervention, managing group work, and finding the essential question I’m hoping to teach through each lesson.

My more experienced colleagues are incredible and I feel so lucky to be able to draw on their professional expertise. I often consult them on issues I am having in the classroom and I am so thankful to be able to tap into their wisdom.

But to assume that ALL teachers improve with time is a dangerous fallacy. How will a bad teacher in a dysfunctional system that offers little in the way of encouragement or assistance ever improve? If this teacher is shuffled or bumped to a new placement after this initial challenging year, improving only gets harder. I would be willing to bet that in most districts, “bad” teachers, like bad wines, only get worse. The lack of support and constructive feedback they receive is taken as a sign of acceptance, and their bad habits become ingrained. Over time, if they stay in the profession, their lack of efficacy makes their teaching lazy, hopeless, or mean.

A couple years ago, I worked for a non-profit providing assistance for teachers in a big comprehensive Oakland public school. My first day on the job I walked into the classroom where I was assigned to assist and was told by Mr. C, as I’ll call him, “See those kids in the back? They’re special ed. Don’t even bother helping them. They can’t learn.” This heart-wrenching welcome was followed by problems riddled with errors that he brazenly put on the board. When I discreetly corrected him, Mr. C would retort, “It doesn’t matter, they don’t do their work anyway.” I heard Mr. C repeatedly make racist comments, and unfairly profile his black male students (a group OUSD is so concerned with, they now have an entire task force on African American male achievement).

Yet when students and I complained to the administration, we were told there were many complaints logged against Mr. C but all these complaints were simply not enough to cost him his job.

An LA Times investigation confirmed that firing bad teachers is nearly impossible. In the words of Joseph Walker, a former LAUSD principal, “You’re not going to fire someone who’s not doing their job. And if you have someone who’s done something really egregious, there’s only a 50-50 chance that you can fire them.” This sad truth is juxtaposed with a growing consensus that good teaching is the most important factor in student achievement (something teachers have known for a long time).

Multiple studies have confirmed that the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective teacher can mean a full level of achievement, or more, in one year. A University of Washington study investigating the seniority system recently found that, “student achievement after seniority-based layoffs would drop by an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning per student, when compared to laying off the least effective teachers.” While teachers may balk at using test scores to determine effectiveness, or even at trying to quantify what makes a good teacher “good”, most of us know one when we see one. Likewise, most of us can spot a “bad” teacher and are aware of how much damage they can cause.

Even if you argue that new and inexperienced teachers are more of a problem than the few grizzled ineffective teachers out there, the seniority system is still affecting our most vulnerable populations. Poor students, students of color, and English Language Learners are disproportionately taught by new or beginning teachers. In February of this year, the court in Reed v. State of California found that, “teachers’ economic interest in retaining their jobs through a seniority-based layoff … is subordinate to students’ fundamental right to receive an education.” In the Reed case, a school full of new, yet highly-regarded, teachers were replaced by a string of long-term subs. Even in cases less egregious than Reed, we must consider that teachers make up the fabric of schools and we cannot or should not be easily swapped out.

The OEA party line is that the seniority system helps us “avoid capricious firing.” Yet what is more capricious than laying off teachers who have found an excellent match in their school site, are committed to their craft, appreciated and respected by their colleagues and students, have proven success in the classroom, and are continuously working to improve? Is firing those teachers less capricious than retaining teachers like Mr. C?

Yes, we need to take steps to help teachers improve at their craft—programs like BTSA are scratching the surface of this issue. But, I fundamentally believe that teaching is not a profession for everyone. We don’t believe that any person with any given skill-set, disposition, intellect, or work ethic can be a doctor or a lawyer. These professions are so highly respected because we know that not everyone has what it takes. Why should teaching be any different?

In March, when I received my pink slip, I heard Mr. C would be continuing on. I was hoping he would have opted for Oakland’s early retirement system, but he did not. Mr. C, and others like him—some worse, some only slightly better—will continue widening the skill gaps for our poor, urban students of color. As President Obama asserted during a speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, “I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences. The stakes are too high. We can afford nothing but the best when it comes to our children’s teachers.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Harold


  • http://sites.google.com/site/abernethymath/home Rori Abernethy

    My 1st year of teaching I felt the same way. Now 9 years later I realize that I had a LOT to learn. So much I thought I had improved “exponentially” also in one whole year.

    I can’t knock her for feeling this way, a lot of us did. I now see math teachers who have been teaching 30 years and only HOPE I will be that good one day. I want to encourage Annie to stay in teaching! I would love to talk to her in 10 years :)

  • Harold

    Railing against the seniority system without offering a realistic alternative, is just a lot of venting.

    Interesting how this post pops up a week before OEA elections …

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    We should take this piece for what it is: The blatherings of someone suffering from 1st year teacheritis.

    This young woman has a lot to learn, and allowing such nonsense on an otherwise fair blog was a mistake.

  • Katy Murphy

    This piece seemed, to me, to be carefully composed. One can disagree with its premise, of course, or rebut the various arguments. But to dismiss the ideas of a fellow teacher as propaganda, “blatherings” or “nonsense,” without further explanation?

    I know it’s not a new topic, but I’d like to see a more thoughtful discussion, and to encourage people to use their full names when they post comments.

  • Respectfully Submitted

    Ms. Hatch – I appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful piece on a controversial subject. I think you make clear from statements such as “My more experienced colleagues are incredible and I feel so lucky to be able to draw on their professional expertise.” that this piece is not out not demonize experienced teachers. It is clear that you have a lot of respect for those teachers. I felt the same way when I taught and relied on my mentors and they certainly gave of themselves. I also knew a number of Mr. Cs – one of whom bribed his students with pizza parties if his evaluation days went well. They were relatively rare though.

    For the record, I am not an abolish all tenure and job protection rights –

    @Harold – I would love to hear your thoughts on where Ms. Hatch went wrong in her argument. What about it is fallacious? Her assertion that not all teachers are exactly equal? That there *could* be a better way to deal with layoffs? Ms. Hatch is not positioning herself as a policy expert. Raising awareness of an important and complicated issue without pretending to have the perfect solution is no disservice. Last I checked, there are a myriad of such issues without solutions – (otherwise we could all just go home and relax).

    @TFT – Perhaps you could offer something of substance rather than just attacking her as a source. At least she took the time to engage the issue.

  • http://www.mrpeabody.wordpress.com maestroevanowski

    I agree that there are Mr. C’s out there, but in 16 years of teaching in urban public schools, I have encountered just a few. I worry that it is a major distraction to true school reform to somehow point to these Mr. C’s as the reason we are in the mess we are in, rather than pointing to NCLB & testing, class size, prop. 13, and other huge, structural issues which affect far more students in a systematic, daily way. I feel that now more than ever we need to stay on point in steering the discourse towards the real issue: are we going to invest in education in this country or aren’t we? Show me a well funded and protected public education system and I’ll be ready to talk about bad apples.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    She talks about capriciousness, and goes on to claim that happy first year teachers who get laid off were laid off capriciously. Being happy is not the basis for retention. Nor are the capricious other suggestions she makes a reasonable basis for laying off teachers.

    She is against LIFO and she doesn’t know why, because she is a novice, therefore her article is blather and nonsense.

    Sorry, you won’t get my name.

  • Ms. J.

    While I do agree that the system needs to be restructured, and I have seen my share of less-than-adequate teachers, I feel that this well-written, heartfelt piece leaves out the most important part of the discussion;d namely, HOW? We are seeing money for schools decrease, not increase, and any system which would seriously evaluate teachers and make decisions for hiring and lay-offs based on that evaluation will take loads of time, effort, and MONEY to create and sustain.

    I have mentioned here before that Linda Darling-Hammond’s writings (notably her most recent, The Flat World and Education) offer detailed, specific plans as to how teachers can and should be prepared and supported to be effective. She bases her ideas on what other countries and what some successful states are doing. One of the points which she makes repeatedly is that teacher evaluations are not based on test scores.

    If we attempt to overhaul seniority policies without spending the necessary time and money to replace them with truly substantial evaluations, it is likely that districts will base their decisions largely on test scores. (You allude to this in passing, Annie.) While it is likely that test scores reveal something about the efficacy of a teacher, it is certain that they do not tell very much, and if they become the reason a teacher is laid off or keeps her job, this will guarantee one thing: not that teachers are better, but that teachers teach the test better.

    Annie, you seem to have some idea of a matrix for evaluating teachers, taking into account if teachers are “committed to their craft, appreciated and respected by their colleagues and students, have proven success in the classroom, and are continuously working to improve.” I’d be interested to learn how you measure such intangibles, and how you suggest that principals and district managers do so when making decisions about lay-offs.

    The complacency we feel about the use of standardized tests is one of the most insidious aspects of the discussion over public school reform. Even though most people who write seriously about using test scores as evaluations of teacher proficiency add some caveat, too many actually do think that the tests are a good measure of what kids know and what teachers do.

  • Bones

    Absolutely agree with this post. Using teacher seniority as the system of evaluation is a horrible practice and should be eliminated.

    The dismissive nature of the responses above saddens me.

  • Bones

    Sorry had to keep going on this one: With all the hoopla surrounding standardized testing as a poor form of teacher evaluation, I just wanted to point out the following:

    Standardized tests are NOT being used to evaluate teaching. OUSD Seniority is.

    With miniscule exception, teacher seniority is the only metric that is used in deciding whether teachers are hired, fired, or given raises.

    Teachers could be teaching students nothing and they could be scoring far below basic on every one of their exams and nothing would happen to them. Alternatively, you could have one of the most amazing teachers in the district who is only teaching in Oakland for her second year teacher (maybe she’s a young teacher, or maybe she’s a highly experienced teacher who just moved to the Bay Area). This teacher will be laid of next year because she hasn’t taught in Oakland Unified long enough.

    If you want to talk about unfair teacher evaluation practices then seniority should be the focus, not test scores (which are a moot point).

  • Teacher Man

    This is a well written well thought out piece, I can’t believe how dismissive people are just because they disagree. I don’t know whether to feel sick about it or to feel sad that these are the reactions of teachers teaching Oakland’s students. Are these the same teachers who are telling us how standardized testing gets in the way of critical thinking?

    If anything the argument can be strengthened by mentioning the FACT that LIFO has a disproportionately negative impact on schools that serve low income students. I’ve heard all the counter arguments to this and yes there are systematic problems that create openings at these schools. However, I don’t see a huge number of hills teachers begging to teach in East and West Oakland. These counter arguments are not based in an reality.

    Yes great teachers do get better with age, but we don’t all start at the same place and we certainly aren’t all great to begin with.

  • Teacher too

    I believe the fallacy in this post is the idea that poorly performing teachers cannot be coached, supported, documented, and, when necessary, fired.

    Hold the administration accountable for doing what is arguably one of the more important parts of the job: creating an effective learning environment for kids. All professions require documentation and appropriate interventions before firing someone; that doesn’t make it impossible. Continued employment of teachers who don’t teach and will not do what it takes to improve is not a seniority issue, it’s a failure by administration to do the job.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Ms. Hatch talks about the rescinding of many of the lay-off letters leading to a subsiding of a healthy debate. I would disagree. No debate taking place with the threat of massive lay-offs can be healthy. No matter how those lay-offs were handled they would have weakened our schools to an unacceptable degree. The fear and anxiety generated by those potential lay-offs made a healthy debate impossible. Perhaps it would be truer to say that the revocation of those letters would make a healthy debate possible.

    Let us begin with a distinction that seems to have been lost in many postings, including Ms. Hatch’s, the difference between lay-offs and dismissals. A teacher who is laid-off is losing their job based strictly on financial cut-backs by the district. A laid-off teacher has rights under state law to return to their job (although perhaps at a different school) if the district can afford to restore positions. I don’t believe Ms. Hatch really wanted the teacher she described to be laid-off. Any teacher who matched the description she gave should be dismissed (lose their job with no right to return).

    All lay-offs should be avoided, and they generally have been in Oakland. Only this year’s extremely dire budget situation triggered the huge number of March 15 letters.

    Dismissals are another matter. Teachers who are clearly unable or unwilling to do their jobs should be dismissed, even in years when there are no lay-offs. Perhaps there should be modifications to current dismissal procedures to make this process somewhat more efficient, while still protecting the rights of the employees, but this does not require throwing out the use of seniority when budgetary lay-offs are required.

    The studies Ms. Hatch cites are deeply flawed and exaggerate the supposed benefits of dismissing teachers based on test scores. Chapter 9 of Diane Ravitch’s excellent book The Life and Death of the Great American School System discusses those flaws in great detail. Most of those producing those studies are economists working for conservation think-tanks that are dedicated to cutting the amount of money spent on public schools as a whole. These studies are generally not produced by educational researchers.

    While there are stringent requirements that must be followed to dismiss a teacher after they have successfully completed their two year probationary period, such dismissals are not impossible. The statistics about these dismissals are misleading because a teacher rarely insists on going through the entire process. Most teachers who see that the administration has a good case for their dismissal resign, so they are never listed as dismissed.

    I hope Ms. Hatch’s March 15 letter is rescinded. I hope that the district receives enough funds in this year’s state budget to restore all the temporary teachers, adult ed teachers, and classified personnel as well.

    I also think the California Teachers Association should formulate its own plans for improving the teacher dismissal process as some American Federation of Teachers state affiliates have done. But when discussing this issue we always need to keep the distinction between lay-offs and dismissals in mind.

  • J.R.

    The fact is the majority of people know the difference between reasoned debate(point-counterpoint) and propaganda and Annie Hatch put forth well reasoned points. People know the difference between good teachers who should stay and ineffective teachers who are in the wrong line of work and should thus be gone(no matter how long they have persisted). Circumstances (layoffs or dismissal)are not really relevant because the reality is there is indeed less money to go around. People these days are less apt to fall for misdirection and chicanery where blame is concerned. Education was half of the budget at one time so naturally it had to be downsized. Lay-offs or dismissals it doesn’t really matter what you choose to call it, the main objective should be for those teachers that are most effective should stay. There are objective means to gauge effectiveness, verifying the syllabus,lesson plan book and amount and scope of homework given and graded against state standards. Progression of each child against his own previous performance. Parent input would be important here because a parent(even one who has cursory involvement can tell whether their child has made academic gains from previous year. There are many more ways to objectively rate teachers and all of them are fair to kids. Kids are after all are the focus and purpose of the education system(so we are told)it’s not a jobs bank.

  • Harold

    Doctors and Lawyers are able to focus on their clients and patients because they are not worrying about paying the bills. OUSD does not pay enough money to its Teachers (the pay is great if you’re a consultant or Superintendent).

    Why/How can every other district in Alameda Co. pay more than OUSD? They get the same amount per pupil.

    I support the OEA. Mr. Weinberg makes a good point above. CTA and OEA, need to initiate, and formulate a plan that will close the divide between veteran and new Teachers.

  • J.R.
  • Oakland USD teacher

    There is a big divide between new teachers and the union. I witnessed this several times at the Effective Teaching Conference -whenever a young teacher would mention the problem of ineffective teachers that were protected by seniority, union supporters would immediately dismiss the speaker as inexperienced and naive. Everything is being addressed in black or white terms. You’re either 100% in favor of union beliefs or you are labeled and, in some cases, ridiculed (see above).

    The pink slips have radicalized a lot of new teachers and union supporters would do well to listen to and respect the views of teachers like Ms. Hatch. I have chosen to not use my name because union members are quite intimidating at my school. You’re either with them or against them and there is no dialogue allowed. The union needs to seriously rethink how it addresses the issues that teachers are raising. Ms. Hatch obviously cares deeply about the profession and yet she is belittled and called names. This is immature behavior and it divides us rather than unites us.

  • Bones

    Steven Weinberg – my pal!

    You skirt around the issue in your post yet again!

    You just posted that there is a difference between a dismissal and a lay-off – I don’t think the young teachers with pink slips would really agree. Come the end of this school year, whether they are laid off or dismissed, teachers will be without pay, uninsured, and unemployed.

    Calling an action that leads to unemployment anything else is dishonest.

    At the end of the day, NO teachers get fired because of test scores, and ALL teachers get fired because of seniority. NO teachers get raises or docked pay because of test scores, and ALL teachers get fired because of seniority. Seniority is the only metric by which teachers are evaluated in OUSD today.

  • J.R.

    Just keep sayin’ it and it just might click in their minds. Union rhetoric has a life all it’s own, check this out:


    We will have to force educrats to understand that the educational welfare of children supersedes the union wishes. This educational system was in disarray decades before any reforms. Of course this takes into account that there are many districts that are in good shape academically.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Most of the people who endorse using test scores to evaluate teachers have never had the opportunity to examine test score data for individuals. I was able to do so for several middle schools over a 10 year period. I never saw a consistent pattern of excellent teachers producing higher test scores or greater gains than poor teachers. Sometimes a great teacher had great results, but not always. Sometimes a poor teacher had poor results, but sometimes they did not. There are too many other factors that effect test scores for them to be very useful in identifying good and bad teachers.

    I have seen fully credentialed long-term teachers dismissed from OUSD for poor performance, and all teachers in their first two years are supposed to be evaluated based on their performance. Over the years far more teachers have left the district because of poor performance than because of seniority based lay-offs.

    The real problem is the inability of Oakland to retain excellent teachers, new and experienced, even when there are no lay-offs at all.

  • J.R.

    A little more on where your tax money goes:


    More of this taxpayer money should be funneled into the classroom where it belongs.

  • Hills Parent

    Teachers who don’t perform should be OUT whether they have been teaching for one year, ten years or thirty years. To those who defend the system, are you scared you can’t compete? Why defend the deadweight and the incompetent? You may work hard and do a good job, but you know not every teacher does. You know some shouldn’t in the classroom, right?

    Nearly every other profession doesn’t have seniority and staff or employees in those situations must be effective or risk being fired for poor performance. Why should teaching be any different?

    There is NO excuse for allowing bad teachers to stay on year after year. Yes, they may be a small minority (maybe it is 5%) but truly poor performers must go. We have an incompentent teacher at my child’s school and every year parents are horrified at the thought that their child may get this teacher. If they do, they can expect that their child will fall behind that year and the test scores also bear this out every year.

    The welfare of the children must come first. If schools are to be reformed in a meaningful way, tenure must be abolished. Ms Hatch, I hope you stick around long enough to see that happen!

  • J.R.

    No one would be so foolish as to use solely just test scores to evaluate teachers. Evaluations are always discussed as having multiple metrics, why would anyone want anything less?


    Is it possible to fact-check the following assertions(redacted for clarity).

    “I have seen fully credentialed long-term teachers dismissed from OUSD for poor performance”.

    “Over the years far more teachers have left the district because of poor performance than because of seniority based lay-offs”.

  • J.R.

    I am question these assertions because state-wide thousands of junior teachers are being dismissed on the sole metric of seniority. Statewide, the evidence of teachers being dismissed(and not just shuffled)for incompetence are slim and none. Can you dig up some numbers?

  • Harold

    “Nearly every other profession doesn’t have seniority and staff or employees in those situations must be effective or risk being fired for poor performance. Why should teaching be any different?”

    The BIG difference is the pay. Lawyers and Doctors don’t have to sweat their bills. They can put their clients and patients first, because they are paid and treated like highly-educated professionals.

  • J.R.

    Doctors and lawyers(who are private sector) are paid like that because:

    Highly specialized and difficult professions, and if they are good they create wealth when people voluntarily pay for their expertise.

    Teachers although most are highly educated(some have degrees in demanding,real world applicable fields such as higher mathematics,science,language while other teachers have degrees in lesser fields that are not so easily transferable to the job market(music,art,sociology,cultural studies). There is also another factor, teachers cannot decide whether to be equivalent to trade unionist(UAWand so on) who depend on numbers and intimidation for success, or true educated professionals who depend on their own merits for success.

  • J.R.

    Frankly, without the taxpayer funded education system to provide jobs, a good many of these teachers and administrators with degrees might find themselves working at Walmart.

  • Ms. J.

    I agree that the dismissive tone of some of the posts on this thread are unhelpful and disrespectful. I wish that people would reflect on their writing before posting it. There have been myriad times when I have felt that posters whose views were opposed to my own were extremely dismissive, sarcastic, and disrespectful; on occasion these posters have been directly rude to me. It is hard on such occasions not to feel offended and it certainly doesn’t help people discuss complex issues.

    That said, I will repeat what I wrote earlier regarding this post. It is clear that Annie spent quite some time and thought on it, and she was careful to be respectful of her senior colleagues and to separate the ineffective veteran teacher whose career she deplores from the experienced, expert teachers she knows.

    However, I too attended the Teaching Conference and I was really put off by the attitudes of many first or second year teachers–not all, many–who really seemed to think they had all the answers, to assume that older teachers were less effective, to take for granted that scores on benchmark tests told the whole story, and to feel that the pink slips were a personal slight.

    Although, as I posted above, I agree that the seniority system needs to be overhauled, I am surprised that teachers find the pink slips so insulting, and seem to take them so personally. If anything, it is their impersonal, nonspecific nature which is offensive. I do understand that teachers can find our overall situation demoralizing, and I have certainly never felt that the work I have done and continue to do is being acknowledged (or even seen) by anyone. This can be frustrating.

    But what strikes me as sad is the fact that younger teachers seemed so ready to feel anger at having received a pink slip, and resentment at their colleagues who had not.

  • J.R.

    Talk about frustrating, it has been posted over and over again by different people that any and ALL ineffective teachers must be dismissed. No one ever posted(in my recollection) that only older teachers were less effective that’s just fabrication. If I were fired(let go,released,non-reelected)based solely on my date of hire(seniority) and not on my objective performance(which could be measured) I would be very angry and justifiably so.

  • Hills Parent

    @Harold. I’m sorry but I don’t find “lower pay” to be a justification for seniority based tenure. If I was a great teacher, even a decent teacher, I would be mad as hell that colleagues of mine were retained regardless of performance. It would feel unfair, unjust and demoralizing.

    Even with the low pay, there are still people willing to work as teachers. The system is what it is. Without seniority, most of the teachers would be safe in their job because they would meet the basic standards of performance. Only the bottom sliver would have to worry. I’m saying that it is not worth defending the deadweight and the incompetent.

    I also see seniority it as a disincentive to working hard. Why should one give 150% when those who give 50% are just as well paid and just as secure in their position? Hey, I can do a poor job and yet I know the job is still mine. Rally? I’ll even have the union fighting tooth and nail for me to keep it. Sounds like an inefficient, ineffective and badly run system to me (much like communism in a way… there aren’t incentives to be a top performer or a top producer when you know you won’t be rewarded for extra effort; nor will you be fired for doing poorly).

    I’m sad for the newer teachers, many of whom are enthusiastic, creative, dynamic with all the latest training and education. Some of these individuals are already awesome teachers and will only get better with more experience. Two of the worst teachers I’ve come across weren’t newbies but veterans who should not be anywhere near a classroom.

  • Hills Parent

    PS My posting above isn’t meant to imply that good teachers don’t deserve more! They certainly do! I would support a system where the best were paid more than the average or the low performers. This would be the real world at work. Pop the seniority bubble once and for all.

  • J.R.

    Amen to that Hills Parent!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Harold

    @JR – Teachers went the trade-union route because of the low pay.

    @HP – “is what it is” doesn’t pay the mortgage or the electric bill. I know too many good Teachers who have left Oakland not because of the working conditions, but because of the low pay.

    Pay us like professionals and I truly believe we would be more inclined to reform the seniority-based system.

  • Bones

    From Governor Christie’s Speech to the Harvard Graduate School of Education:

    First, we have to examine tenure. In New Jersey, despite whatever the union will tell you, tenure is a job for life after three years and one day. It is a job for life. Here’s the evidence of it. We have about 150,000 public school teachers in New Jersey. In the last ten years how many teachers do you believe were dismissed for incompetence who were tenured teachers? Now keep it in context. Ten years at 150,000, 1.5M opportunities to do this in the last ten years. The answer is seventeen. Seventeen in ten years. Now do really believe that we don’t have seventeen underperforming teachers in Newark alone? In one year? Seventeen underperforming teachers dismissed and losing tenure in ten years. There are really only two professions left in America where there are no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure. The first one of course is obvious. It’s weathermen. You all know this. You’ve seen it. They tell you it is going to rain tomorrow, you get your umbrella, you get your raincoat, you go out and it looks like today, you go home that night and turn on the TV and the same dope is still standing there on TV saying well the high pressure system is moving that way, that’s why we missed the rain, that’s what you’re paid for. How the high pressure system is going to move. How the low pressure system is going to move. That’s what you’re paid for. How could you mess this up? Now most of the time this is an inconvenience and a little aggravation.

    The second profession of course is teacher. That leads to a lot more than inconvenience and aggravation…

    You want to talk layoffs vs. dismissals? Look at the numbers, man.

  • Catherine

    I have been doing a great deal of reading and research on the elasticity of the brain and IQ. Things we know through literally decades of research:

    1. Children born into poverty do not do as well in school as children who are not born into poverty.

    2. Teen parents have a chance in excess of 90% of living in poverty for their entire lives and their children live in poverty for their entire k-12 educational experience.

    3. There is a 30 million word gap when they start kindergarten between children who have middle class parents and parents on welfare who do not work. Children of poor working class parents have a significant gap, just not 30 million words.

    4. Children who are given language before age five that focuses on what they are doing wrong – rather than asking and answering questions have over a 90% chance that they will enter high school reading five grade levels below their current grade in school.

    5. All children born to a mother who had her first child before age 19 have a nearly 90% chance of being labeled “learning disabled” or having some learning issue that requires resource and remediation.

    What does all of this have to do with the topic at hand? Our current education “crises” is about children having children. At my middle school we have several pregnant sixth, seventh and eight grade students. One boy has two girls pregnant at the same time. These young people are not equipped to raise children. They do not have enough education to even talk to them enough to give them an adequate start.

    We have teachers who are new to the profession, they figure out how to engage students, keep them in school, and keep them coming back to school. We have teachers who do not. As Ms. Hatch said, we know the teachers in our schools who are not doing their jobs. We need to have a peer and administrative team giving reviews to teachers. It is the peer teachers in a school who must pick up the slack for those who will not teach.

    For those above who lament Prop 13 – the amount of money we spend educating children who should not have been conceived as their parents were not in a position, financially, emotionally, physiologically, psychologically, or sociologically to become parents. Until we are willing to deal with this issue and make very, very difficult societal decisions, we will spend OUSD district money on all of the support systems that could be provided at home. Currently, in the school in which Ms. Hatch teaches it costs nearly twice as much to educate a child as it does from a school in which the children are middle class (yes, that is after calculating the PTA funds, health insurance and food).

    This is not an assault on the poor. I am not advocating that poor people do not have children – that is cruel and wrong. I am advocating that we find a way to keep children and teens from having babies. We can no longer afford it as a society.

  • J.R.

    At the core of all the problems is the fact that we as a society have enabled people who cannot take care of themselves to reproduce more people who cannot care for themselves. Having children when you cannot even care for yourself is cruel and wrong. We cannot lift people out of poverty, in order for us to help they must first have the desire and fortitude to do that for themselves. Welfare, section 8, and all these other social programs have made a bad situation orders of magnitude worse.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Katy, please fact check away. I believe I am correct that more teachers have been non-relected (the term for probationary teachers who the district decides they do not want back based on their performance) than seniority based lay-offs in Oakland.

  • Gordon Danning

    Catherine: 30 million words? That’s obviously a mistake, right?

    And, “[t]een parents have a chance in excess of 90% of living in poverty for their entire lives and their children live in poverty for their entire k-12 educational experience” ? This says the numbers are far less grim: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/why-it-matters/pdf/poverty.pdf

    Clearly, poverty is a problem. Clearly, teen pregnancy is a problem. But, just as clearly, a lot of teachers can to a lot more than they do now to teach the students that we have. So, too, administrators do a lot more than they do now to support teachers. So, we need to stop making excuses and start holding ourselves and others accountable for doing the best we can, despite obstacles.

  • Catherine


    The Hart-Risley 30 Million Word Gap Study – 1995
    After decades of collaborating to increase child language vocabulary, Betty Hart and Todd Risley spent 2 1/2 years intensely observing the language of 42 families throughout Kansas City. Specifically, they looked at household language use in three different settings: 1) professional families; 2) working class; 3) welfare families. Hart and Risley gathered an enormous amount of data during the study and subsequent longitudinal follow-ups to come up with an often cited 30 million word gap between the vocabularies of welfare and professional families by age three. This number came from the data that showed welfare children heard, on average, 616 words per hour, while children from professional families (essentially children with college educated parents) heard 2153 words per hour. The longitudinal research in the following years demonstrated a high correlation between vocabulary size at age three and language test scores at ages nine and ten in areas of vocabulary, listening, syntax, and reading comprehension.

    If you read the study you will find that the average four year old in a family with professional parents has a larger working vocabulary than that of the average welfare mother.

    I am working on locating the poverty studies.

  • Rachel T.

    “The proportion of new teachers who leave the profession has hovered around 50 percent for decades, said Barry A. Farber, a professor of education and psychology at Columbia University in New York.”


    I love teaching, but after pouring my heart and soul into being a trying to be a good teacher, working long hours and receiving excellent evaluations from my administration, I felt cheated by my pink slip.

    What was the point of all my hard work? I hope my students benefitted, but this is my job, I have a family to support and student loans to repay. If my job cannot offer me security, what is my motivation to remain in this profession? The hope that I might, someday, get tenure? That hope will not pay my bills come this July.

    If parents, teachers and community leaders want to see good teachers like Ms. Hatch stay in the profession, something has to be done to protect new teachers and give them something akin to job security while they are learning their craft.

    One of the commentors said that they would like to speak to Annie when she had matured as a teacher in 10 years. I cannot speak for Annie, but if there isn’t a change how new teachers are treated, I won’t be able to stay in teaching long enough to make it to 10 years in the profession.

    Corporate America has its faults, but in my experinece hard work, thoughtful perfomance and excellent evaluations usually resulted in pay raises and promotions, not pink slips.

    I love teaching enough that I am going to stick with it for another year and hope things improve. But I am not hopeful, in my department there is an excellent teacher who has been at the schoold for three years, but he is not tenured and he was pink slipped, just like the rest of us. If I am going to have to deal with that sort of insecurity, maybe I should go back to corporate America, where at least I receive decent compensation for my degree, my work ethic, and my dedication.

  • J.R.

    Thanks for the post about New Jersey, I’ve found the detailed explanation here:


    Very interesting, thank you!

  • J.R.

    I am so very sorry that we have such a messed up backwards system that caters to adults instead of children. We need good and dedicated hard working teachers, and Stanford studies have shown that after five years experience the benefits of experience from that point on are minimal at best.


    It makes sense, teaching is hard because of the myriad tasks one must juggle, but after a while you learn how to prioritize effectively. Even some of the poor teachers learn that they can skip over things and even have room moms do correcting and other things to lighten their workload even further. Some teachers have taught year one twenty separate years in a row.

  • J.R.

    One very dear friend of mine is a career changer(corporate world to teaching with multiple degrees) and she has a hard time with the lack of work ethic by some protected teachers. She is taken aback by the minimalism and coasting that she sees on a daily basis, and a typical bit of sarcasm from her is “WOW, those degrees really helps them stay at the top of their game doesn’t it?”, and I would respond “it’s probably not a math or science degree.

  • J.R.

    oops! That would be Help

  • Steven Weinberg

    JR’s link in post #42 had one interesting suggestion: “5) As long as we’re dreaming about salary schedules, end the practice of back-loading significant salary increases to late in a teacher’s career. Shouldn’t big jumps in compensation come when a teacher earns tenure after those three consecutive years of effective teaching? Wouldn’t that encourage great young teachers to hang around longer?” That is an excellent idea. Teacher unions have been working to achieve something similar for a long time. But the major factor stopping such a plan from being implemented is cost. Delaying top salaries for 12 or 15 years save districts a lot of money. States would be wise to increase their education funding to promote such a change.

  • Gordon Danning


    There seems to be a persistent confusion about tenure, and about “pink slips”. You say you have a colleague who is “not tenured and who was pink slipped.” The two really are not related. Tenure is not a protection against being laid off; rather, it is a guarantee that a teacher cannot be dismissed without “cause.” “Cause” includes, of course, declining enrollment or lack of funding that makes a teacher’s position superfluous or unaffordable. It could also mean, some day, “your students keep doing poorly on standardized tests.” Thus, we can have both tenure and accountability.

    Finally, a word of advice if you stay in teaching: You can’t look for validation from the administration. I have taught for 15 years, and I doubt that any administrator really knows what I do in my classroom. And, certainly, the computer that generates pink slips is not judging you, and will never give you validation. It is silly to feel insulted by a pink slip.

    Nor can legitimate validation come from within; almost every teacher considers himself or herself a good teacher, who works hard, blah, blah, blah. The only people who will ever give you legitimate validation are students, or, more likely, former students. And, that might come infrequently, at best. That is part of the job description.

  • Gordon Danning

    One more point:

    There are definitely lots of teachers who get away with pretty shoddy work. Why? Well, at the high school level, it is because it is impossible for a principal to stay on top of things, because principals have too much on their plates. A principal should have one job, and one job only: Supervising and supporting academics. Not dealing with discipline. Not dealing with the prom. Not dealing with athletics. Not dealing with rallies. Not dealing with supplies. I could go on and on. Until the principal’s job is redefined, many teachers will continue to do a substandard job.

  • J.R.

    Rachel feels cheated because pinks slips are based on ONE measure, the date of hire. She is insulted because this system is not geared for people to strive, and want to be the best. All you need to do in this system is exist for a longer length of time. The line between success and failure has been purposely muddled because everyone MUST be treated the same relative to time of service. This system was created so that even mediocrity would look good.

  • Ms. J.

    Okay, not the main point, but since we’re talking about being dismissive–and since some of the most sarcastic posters are the ones most self-righteously deploring it–I have to comment.

    J.R., what do you mean when you state in post 44, “It’s probably not a math or science degree”? Is there a point I’m not understanding or am I right in thinking that this is yet another gibe at people with humanities degrees? The last time I asked such a question of you you never responded. I took that as confirmation that your comment was merely a throw-away insult, not one at which you wanted to hammer away. But so long as you’re calling people with humanities degrees lazy, I wonder if you could look in the mirror and decide if you’re being as thoughtful or analytical as you clearly pride yourself on being.