Friday, February 25, 2011

Trying to Think a Few Steps Ahead

So, how might this "everybody's fired" thing going to play out? There are a few scenarios I can think of. These may play out in parallel, particularly as the elementary, middle and high school scenarios are different. I, of course, am most familiar with the high school angle.

First is everyone is unfired except closed schools and eliminated positions. If you understand that value-added research indicates that variation of teacher quality within schools is at least as high as that between them, then you know that this would have a weak effect on overall teacher quality. It would minimize disruption to the schools not closed. However it would create a powerful additional incentive to get out of lower performing schools or schools likely to be closed in the future, or to leave the district entirely.

It is also worth noting that, to my knowledge, simply firing outright the teachers who happen to be in schools that need to be closed or whose positions need to be eliminated for cost savings or performance is not considered an effective reform strategy by, well, anyone. If the teachers whose positions are not being eliminated are simply un-fired, this doesn't create any additional flexibility.

Another possibility is the big shuffle. This will probably happen to some degree because of the number of turnaround schools, maybe particularly at the high school level. In this case, you have several schools which are not being closed but in which most or all of the positions will be open because the teachers were terminated. We've spent the past two years developing and implementing "Criterion Based Hiring" where teachers are interviewed at each school by a panel of teachers and the principal. So now we're going to... what? Have the fired teachers be re-interviewed by other teachers? That's your reform strategy?

OK, maybe they will just be interviewed by the principals to... re-staff Mount Pleasant, PAIS, Cooley and probably a few others? We're not talking about starting a little charter school one year at a time, this could be re-staffing the entire school. As far as I can tell, PPSD has a pretty thin administrative bench, and weak starting lineup, for that matter. Yes, this is a chance to get rid of some sociopaths, troublemakers and hopeless cases, but the cost in disruption is likely to be high.

Maybe they'll just fire, say, all the high school math teachers, which might not be a bad idea if there were a lot of excellent urban high school math teachers looking to work in a district that has a propensity to fire all its teachers and probably zero possibility of meeting its high school match achievement targets due to the difficulty of its assessment vehicle (if you analyze the numbers).

The thing is, it is almost March already, and we don't have some kind of scary/sexy reform leader with a recruiting angle to balance her penchant for dismissal. I'm a little worried that in a panic the whole operation will just be turned over to the New Teacher Project. That could happen.

But, the whole Criterion Based Hiring thing is still being litigated and/or in mediation slash contract negotiation. I don't even know. But for the district to bail out of that would introduce yet another layer of complexity.

I guess another possibility is that they'll simply make a list of people they want to keep and get rid of, and only un-fire the ones they want. Then they can also pick up the good teachers from closed schools when the fired people's positions open. That sounds like a good way to lose a big lawsuit though, as just happened in DCPS. I don't think they can pull it off. On the other hand, it feels like the obvious thing that I'm missing by over-thinking. I dunno.

Of course, it also could very well be the case that the city will just lose a lawsuit outright over the validity of these firings. This is way out of my league, but frankly, if PPSD wins this, it isn't only seniority out the window, but due process. You might as well just give teachers individual annual contracts at that point.

If the city loses the lawsuit and then can't even lay anybody off (since the deadline for layoff notices will have passed), who knows what kind of fiscal crisis will result?

Whatever actually happens, I don't think the PPSD will ever recover from this. By the end of the decade, the majority of students in Providence will be attending charter schools. I never thought that before, but I do now. Not because charter schools have become more awesome, but because the fabric of the school district is being destroyed by Taveras's myopia and inexperience.

1 comment:

Stephen Downes said...

They're privatizing the school system by creating a crisis in the public system. It doesn't matter how it plays out - from Taveras's perspective, the worse it plays out the better. If teachers and students flee from the system, great. If they can't hire teachers any more, wonderful. If the quality of learning drops, no problem. The primary objective is to privatize the system. Even if it means an end to Taveras's political career he will no doubt have a prosperous future in the new system being created.

I might add, as an afterthought, that I don't think the system itself is the primary target. Privatizing it is a bonus. But what the kleptocrats really have their eyes on is the teachers' (and public servants') pension funds. They are the last significant assert in the markets not owned by them. Seizing the pension funds by hook or by crook gives them free reign in the markets.

I can't prove any of this, but if I were them, and lived by their values, that's what I'd be doing.