Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Other Argument for Seniority

There's a nice piece in the Community section at Gotham Schools that lays out the case for seniority, especially in light of possible upcoming layoffs. I won't repeat any of the author's arguments here; you can read them for yourself and decide if they are compelling. I think they are.

I'd like to address an argument for seniority that I rarely hear, but it warrants discussion. I believe that ignoring seniority as it exists now would ruin education in the future, and here's why.

Klein's reasoning is simple to follow. He wants new, cheaper teachers who he can replace as soon as they show any signs of independent thinking. In that way, not only can he control how and what is taught, he can do it on the cheap. And he can forget about ever paying those expensive pensions, as no one would ever make it to the 27 years of service they'd need to retire. While this would certainly work to save money in the short term, it would be a disaster in the long term.

What is the lure of teaching? The opportunity of working with kids is a large part of it, but there are many other considerations that make teaching a worthwhile career. It offers job security, more time off than most jobs, and a chance to retire in a reasonable amount of time (7 more years than police and firemen, but less than the usual 30). In exchange for those perks, you must get a master's degree plus 30 credits, you spend a good amount of your personal income on supplies, you work in a less than ideal environment, and you get to be a highly educated bathroom porter five time a week. Most teachers--career teachers anyway--feel these things to be a trade-off we can live with, even if we don't always like it.

Now, let's take away seniority. Klein gets his way, and teachers can be laid off at any time, virtually guaranteeing that whenever there is a fiscal crisis, teachers who get paid the most get laid off first. Who would want to be a teacher under those circumstances?

You'd need to get an expensive bachelor's degree, and then devote a lot of time, energy, and money into getting that master's degree, all the while knowing that your own hard work is putting you ever higher on the salary scale and thus closer to the guillotine. No other school will hire you with those credentials and that salary, either, so in a few years, your career will be over. You'll have virtually no chance to ever make it to that 27 year retirement, even though you will pay 5% of your hard earned money into it as long as they keep you around. You'll never get very high on the salary scale because when you do, you'll be axed and you'll have to start at the bottom of some other profession.

Almost no new college graduate would want to start their working career in a job that will almost certainly be a dead end. With the security and the retirement gone, all you'll get as a teacher is far less money than in the private sector and some potty patrol, which is not a skill you'll need in your next career. Yes, you'll still get summers off, but like most new teachers you'll need to take a job in the summer just to make ends meet.

A lot of new teachers don't remember the bad old days when the DOE couldn't recruit anyone. They went to foreign countries to try to get bodies to stand in front of classrooms. That's where we'll be when seniority disappears and no one wants to be a teacher anymore.

But that's probably what BloomKlein wants. If they can make the public schools bad enough, they'll have a reason to ask for a boatload of new charter schools that they can bestow on their friends like Eva Moskowitz, who makes four times the top teacher salary.


Anonymous said...



As always, Klein's intention is to hire cheap labor that can be easily dismissed and not beholden to any union or labor movement. Eventually, the teaching profession disappears like Klein's hair.

Pissed Off said...

When the economy is good, no one wants to teach. A lot of they young teachers in my department are doing it as a way to earn a living until there is an improvement in the job market.

Muriel said...

I read on a blog somewhere about the company CompUsa that went under a few years ago. The company went under because they retained too few senior managers who actually knew how things worked or didn't work in that industry. The blog's author warned Klein about this management technique of not retaining senior workers after evaluating the demise of CompUsa.