Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mutual Matching - Response to Jill Tucker’s article in the SF Chronicle

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by OEA President Betty Olson-Jones

Jill Tucker’s article in the Sunday, January 22, 2012 San Francisco Chronicle, “Matching teachers to jobs,” misses the mark in some key areas. Since the leadership of OEA was not interviewed for this story, we would like clarify some misstatements and shed light on some confusion.

We agreed to a “mini-pilot” of the “mutual matching” process in the fall when five first and second year teachers were “consolidated” from their teaching assignments due to budgetary reasons and class size increases, but only on the condition that if the affected teachers could not be “mutually matched,” they would be placed according to seniority. As Marian Marx, one of these teachers, states in the article, “she didn’t give high praise to mutual matching. ‘It’s pitting colleagues against each other,’ she said, adding she sees value in seniority. ‘I think experience makes you good in many ways.’ She also worried about potential bias in a selection process and that displaced veteran teachers would have to compete for a job late in their careers.”

This is precisely why we have continued to resist changing our current transfer language, while at the same time looking for ways to improve the process. We agree that the current system needs changes, and have argued for specific reforms for years. It is positive that some of these have been incorporated in the “mutual matching” conversation, including:

1. Use average instead of actual teachers’ salaries in the transfer process. (Under Oakland’s current “Results Based Budgeting” system, experienced teachers are often considered less desirable because they cost more than new ones.)

2. Provide a clear, thorough profile of every school to teachers so they are fully aware of expectations, climate, schedule, etc. before making a selection.

3. Encourage teachers to visit schools and meet with staffs so they can determine where they feel most comfortable and so that receiving staffs have a role in the process.

4. Give incentives to teachers who provide early notice of their plans to separate from the district so more vacancies are known before the end of the school year.

It is our belief that changes like these will go a long way towards helping teachers find a “good fit” without being seen as a financial burden.

So why no mention of this in the article? What’s behind the district’s push to eliminate seniority as a factor in assignments? By not acknowledging that we have been open to making needed changes and have contributed the above elements to the discussion, the district is trying to sway public opinion in its favor by misrepresenting the facts, belittling the role of experience as outlined in our mutually-binding contract, and failing to even mention the areas that have contributed to the status quo and which make it so hard for teachers to move within the district. The underlying narrative follows the current push of “corporate reformers” like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and Michelle Rhee: get rid of seniority in the transfer process and replace it with a “business model” – let the marketplace rule, let competition reign. That is the antithesis of what is good for our students and our teachers.

The article starts with:

“In the world outside public education, people apply for a job they want, interview with their potential boss, compete against other applicants and are ultimately selected if they look like a good fit for the position. It doesn’t work that way in public education.”

What supposedly happens:

“In schools, teachers do all the normal things to get hired, but when it comes to placement, seniority is what counts, not the perfect fit. The teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school, with the principal – the school’s boss – getting little or no input.”

What really happens in Oakland Unified School District:

Prospective teachers apply, including candidates enrolled in the “Teach Tomorrow in Oakland” program, which asks for a 5-year commitment to teaching and recruits primarily local candidates of color. Others come from local credential programs at colleges such as Holy Names, Mills, Patten, San Francisco State, CSU East Bay. Many have already done student teaching. They have to compete with candidates from alternative programs such as Teach for America and Oakland Teaching Fellows, where The New Teacher Project charges $2-5,000 each to place inexperienced recruits (5-6 weeks of “teaching experience”) in the “hardest to fill vacancies,” such as Special Education, math and science.

Fact: Over the past five years, Oakland has hired 2-300 new teachers each year. Contrary to the allegation that “The teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school, with the principal – the school’s boss – getting little or no input,” these new teachers were placed in vacancies that were not filled by any of the 2600 teachers in Oakland, even though a number of current employees applied for a “voluntary” transfer. So what happened? Teachers who want to transfer are rarely granted their requests, since it’s ultimately up to the principals at those sites. All the site administrators have to do is acknowledge that they “considered” the transfer applicant; they are under NO obligation to accept them! It’s a well-known secret that principals often “hold onto” vacancies, denying current teachers the opportunity to transfer and saving vacancies for new, inexperienced teachers. And yet not a single principal has been disciplined for “hiding vacancies.” OEA has long been a proponent of allowing teachers to transfer if they wish to, both so they can seek a “good fit” and so that schools can achieve a better mix of new and experienced teachers.

When it comes to placement, seniority outweighs other considerations for some specific situations only – teachers who are being displaced because of school closures, teachers who’ve been “consolidated” from their positions due to decrease in enrollment or lack of funds, teachers who are returning from leave. Teachers from these categories (also called “priority placements”) select from a vacancy list and are placed according to credentials, qualifications, and seniority (and by the way, teachers don’t have “tenure,” but “permanent status” and due process rights). They are the only ones who doget first dibs on any available job at a school.” This includes teachers who want to follow their students to a new school (as long as vacancies are created). OEA believes strongly that experience is important, and that some stability for students faced with losing their school and their teachers trumps the search for a “perfect fit.”

Final fact: According to the district’s own data, 72.8% of new teachers who began in Oakland in 2003 had left by 2008. Apparently it wasn’t a “good fit” for them. We would do well to ruminate on these sorry statistics and figure out a way to change them, rather than go after our veteran, experienced teachers. Some ideas: pair new teachers with veterans, mentor and support them, stop relying on alternative certification programs and support residencies (as in medical school) as a way of helping to prepare teachers for this incredibly challenging, rewarding, important work. There are many things we can do to change the current conditions. Let’s not look to business for the answers; let’s look within our profession and our community.