Friday, January 20, 2012

Mutual Matching and the “Four Autonomies”

Where did it come from? What’s the good, the bad, and the ugly?

NB: This is not a simple issue that can be argued in a sound bite, as we have been forced to do at recent Board of Education meetings. It is critical that we understand the underlying issues and assumptions, and that we act in the overall interests of our members and our students. Teaching is about collaboration, finding ways to work together despite our differences, and trying to build community and relationships with all students and teachers at our sites. It shouldn’t be about competition!

Oakland teachers are being treated to a full court press on “mutual matching,” beginning with Brigitte Marshall’s presentation to the Board of Education on December 14, 2011, Tony Smith’s editorial to the Tribune on January 10, 2012 (“Students thrive when teachers paired with right school”), site administrators forwarding glowing descriptions of mutual matching to staffs and urging them to take the (very misleading) survey. GO Public Schools is right in the mix, sending letters and videos urging our members to get on the train.

Despite the glowing rhetoric, the devil is in the details. Why the big push by the district, GO Public Schools, and even some of our teachers? At a time when we still have comprehensive high schools with class size overages and schools without basic staff support and resources, why is the district spending an inordinate amount of staff time, resources, and money to push their proposal and paint OEA as the obstacle? Simply put – we have something they want, and they’re mounting a campaign to get it through community pressure, doing an end run around the bargaining process.

Don’t be fooled – scratch the surface and it’s an attempt to get rid of seniority in our contractual transfer rights, under the guise of “abandon(ing) our nostalgia for practices unsuited to the current challenge” (Tribune editorial). In doing so, the district is following the national education “deform” line that it’s “bad teachers” to blame for the problems in public education -- not lack of funding, resources, institutional racism, or respect for our profession – and that this can be resolved through letting teachers compete in the marketplace for their assignments.

There are aspects of “mutual matching” that are worthy of consideration, including a number of ideas first proposed by OEA in our conversations with the district (see Background at the end) – in particular removing actual teachers’ salaries from the equation. So what’s wrong with the statement that “a system that seeks to pair teachers with the right school must be a collaborative one where each party chooses the other”? Don’t we all want to “strengthen school communities by involving them in the process of building a faculty”?

Put yourself in the shoes of one of the 66 teachers in the five schools up for closure this year, many of them experienced educators who have worked in Oakland Unified for years. Or consider teachers in the two schools seeking to convert to charters (although denied by the Board of Education, the schools will go to the County Office of Education to pursue this) who aren’t interested in becoming “at will” employees?

Article 12 of the contract between OEA/OUSD gives all of these teachers the right to choose a position from among vacancies according to credentials, qualifications, and seniority.

This is not popular with many principals, who want to have complete control over who they hire and go to great lengths to hide vacancies every year. Under Results-Based Budgeting, there has been a huge disincentive to seek out experienced teachers because they cost too much.

What “mutual matching” would do is to toss all of these displaced teachers into a “Talent Pool” with teachers seeking a voluntary transfer. In this plan, all would have the opportunity to visit schools and staffs so they could make a selection of 5-10 choices. (Where would all this money come from to make this happen??) Sites would do the same. Then they would be “matched” according to “best fit.” In short, the existing priority placement process would be turned into a competition among teachers, with newer teachers competing with more experienced, teachers from closing schools competing with voluntary transfers. Somehow all of this would shake out in the free marketplace of what constitutes a “good fit.” But on what basis is a “good fit” determined? Do you know someone will be a “good fit” without working with them? How can anyone be sure that factors such as test scores, age and experience, cost to the school/district, race, ethnicity, union activism, gender, sexual preference, size, etc. don’t bias decisions?

And what about teachers who aren’t a “match” in this variation of “speed dating”? They would go into another round of “mutual matching,” and if they still didn’t find a match, they’d be “counseled” – possibly into retirement or some other position in the district. How can anyone be sure this isn’t a way to push veteran teachers out of the district?

Background to the current debate

For the past few years we’ve been having conversations with the district aimed at finding a better process for doing “priority placements.” Here’s how the process usually goes: teachers displaced (through school closures, consolidations, involuntary transfers) select up to five schools where there are vacancies, and then HR and OEA sit in a room and place them according to credentials, qualifications, and seniority. We agree it needs to be more transparent, and especially want displaced teachers to have more information before making their selections. But in our discussions with the district, OEA has been clear that in the absence of any other objective criterion for placement, we will not give up seniority rights when making assignments. Allowing teachers and school sites to search for a “good fit” is very subjective, and could easily lead to discrimination based on age, race, union activity, gender, sexual preference, etc. Who could prove otherwise?

Where we agree

There are aspects of the “mutual matching” idea that OEA would agree with, some of them ideas that we have been pushing for years. These include:

1. Taking actual teachers’ salaries out of the equation so experienced teachers aren’t seen as less desirable than new, less expensive teachers;

2. Having every school be entirely transparent about its expectations and vision so displaced teachers have full information when selecting a school, and therefore more opportunity to find their own “best fit;”

3. Giving teachers time to visit schools so they aren’t making uninformed decisions when selecting a school;

4. Having consequences for principals who “hide vacancies;”

5. Encouraging teachers who plan to separate from the district to indicate their intentions early so that the pool of vacancies is greater;

6. Use a form of “mutual matching” with voluntary transfers and new hires so school staffs (not just principals) are involved in staff selection.


Get educated and get involved!

OEA Members – Attend the Open Forum on Mutual Matching and the “Four Autonomies” on January 26th, 4:30-6:30pm, at the OEA Center (or a larger venue as needed)! These are complex issues, and they’re being raised in various guises throughout the country. We can’t respond if we aren’t fully informed and educated.