About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Bruno: Pros And Cons Of "Mutual Matching"

Despite it being on my home turf, John beat me to the punch writing on the Oakland Unified School District's new "mutual matching" proposal for reassigning teachers so this is going to come across more as a counterpoint than I'd intended. I actually think he's right that it's basically an open secret in Oakland that the district is trying to undermine contractual seniority privileges in a way that should make teachers nervous.  I also agree with John that seniority rights are a way of recognizing real value in veteran teachers and that mutual matching may do too much to push those veterans out of the classroom altogether. At the same time, though, I think it's easy to underestimate the disadvantages of the seniority status quo in OUSD.  

There's a real double-edged quality to seniority rights, especially in urban education where retention of new teachers is a huge problem.  More than three-quarters of new teachers in OUSD leave the district before their 7th year, so attracting and retaining new talent in the classroom is clearly a challenge for the district.  And while seniority-based reassignments may help retain veterans, the flip side of that coin is that newer teachers are likely to be encouraged to change careers by even the possibility of their own displacement.  Accumulating the experience and institutional memory of veteran teachers is important, but it's not at all obvious to me that the equilibrium shouldn't be shifted more in the direction of attracting newcomers and encouraging them to stay in the profession.

Additionally, though the Jill Tucker article doesn't mention this, the district has also indicated that it is willing to begin averaging teacher costs across schools under a "mutual matching" scheme. Since OUSD currently has each school pay teacher salaries directly out of its site budget, this may be a valuable opportunity to remove some of the institutional biases against more-expensive veteran teachers that already exist in Oakland.

It's also worth considering that the existing research literature gives some reason to be optimistic that matching teachers more carefully with schools can improve teacher effectiveness and reduce turnover, in part because schools seem to be able to engage in the matching process in an informed way. The literature is too thin to draw firm conclusions, and community involvement is a particularly interesting wrinkle, but it's not obvious to me that "mutual matching" is more flawed, on balance, than the status quo.

For what it's worth, in Oakland's case my sense is that the union isn't interested in playing ball with the district on "mutual matching" so this is all moot. With traditional teacher contracts under attack all across the country, though, we're probably going to see many more proposals like this in the future. - PB (@MrPABruno)


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I don't deny the benefits of mutual consent, and I want my union to continue to be oollaborative in making compromises. In fact, we would be better off under the more traditional system where both sides try to get half or more of what they want and they don't try to destroy the others, As you say, "with traditional teacher contracts under attack all across the country," that makes deals harder.

Seniority is our First Amendment, our civil service protections against cronyism and litmus tests, and a much better defense against age discrimination. Many, though not all, "reformers" are trying to drive Baby Boomers from the profession. And don't forget, when NYC ignored the advice of its most knowledgable parter (the UFT)when creating small schools at scale, they created the Rubber Room fiasco, and then blamed the union!

So, we should mend, not end, seniority, negotiate mutual consent on a case by case basis, and be wary about scaling up to quickly.

Here's what rubs me the wrong way, when the TNTP is bashing unions, it promotes mutual consent and references effective teachers in effective schools that go home crying after being transfered to high-poverty schools. Duh! I doubt many teachers would even consider going to or going back to the inner city. But then the TNTP claims that value-added is not unfair to inner city teachers. Which one is it?

The best way to get good deals on seniority and mutual consent is to not get distracted by scorched earth politics. Negotiate fair and efficient ways of firing ineffective teachers, preferably by using peer review. Invest in socio-emotional interventions and alternative slots so that attendance and disciplinary policies can be enforced so that teachers don't get burned out.

In fact, this would be a win win deal. Listen to teachers so inner city schools don't chew up and spit out adults, as well as students, in return for mutual consent agreements. But that gets back to the reason why so many "reformers" want to run Baby Boomers out. They think our reality-based wisdom is "culture killing."

I don't know that we really disagree on most of those things. I'm not sure what the practical implications of most of that are, though. Yes, a lot of "reform" consists of thinly-veiled union bashing and ageism, and yes we need more fair and efficient ways to fire teachers. At the end of the day, however, districts that over-invested in the small schools movement or that are making big budget cuts are going to have to close schools and downsize teachers and its doubtful that traditional seniority placement schemes are the best way to shuffle the teachers around. But once we agree that seniority is in need of reform, then it seems like the thing to do is evaluate various seniority reform proposals - like mutual consent - on the merits.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.