Missing the Point

We have a series of commercials running locally that advocate for getting rid of what is called the “Last In, First Out” (aka LIFO) excessing rules in public education.  The commercials are noteworthy, as they claim to present actual teachers (if we give them the benefit of the doubt that the people in the commercials are real teachers, the spots present maybe five people, out of tens of thousands of educators in the state) who feel that getting rid of people on a basis of seniority gets rid of quality young teachers while letting less-than-quality, older teachers hang around and keep collecting a paycheck.  The group who sponsors the spots has a webpage up at keepgreatteachers.org.  It is an offshoot of Education Reform Now, which, as far as I can tell, seems to be code for “Run Schools Like Businesses”.

There are many issues that one could debate about the merits, or lack thereof in LIFO hiring and excessing rules.  We can talk about why they were instituted, or how they protect every teacher, regardless of his or her ability to teach.  I’m not really interested in that discussion right now.  Instead, what strikes me most about something like “Keep Great Teachers”, is how the argument they make automatically cedes the high ground.  Rather than arguing about who should be excessed first due to budget cuts, anyone who is really interested in trying to help public education should be spending their attention trying to get the funding that precipitates such excessing restored.  That would be the logical thing to do.  

The major issue with education in this country is quite simply the lack of money being spent on it (or at least, the lack of money being spent well).  Critics of public education cite numbers on how per pupil spending has increased substantially in the last thirty or forty years, while achievement has remained steady.  This misses the larger point that the money that is being spent on education is being spent in largely the same way that it has been for the past thirty or forty years.  It is a 20th century educational system.  

None of this mentions the fact that teachers in the worst of circumstances (like those in much of NYC) are not compensated fairly, or paid a particularly competitive wage.  Somehow, we expect teachers to go to the areas where they are most needed, without paying them a living wage.  Can any teacher in a Manhattan public school afford to live in Manhattan?  I have my doubts.

You can take issue with what I have written in the past two paragraphs, but notice that the argument that I make is fundamentally different from the one being advanced by organizations like Education Reform Now.  Instead of arguing about who should be fired first, we should really be spending our efforts trying to keep funding cuts to education from ever being made in the first place.  I refuse to play that game.

Give me a country where no school district has to excess teachers due to budget cuts, and then we can talk about how to get rid of poor teachers.  Right now, we should probably be happy that we have a workforce of teachers in high needs districts who even show up every day.