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Update: The Politics Of Ending LIFO

ScreenHunter_15 Jun. 08 08.03Thanks to Whitney Tilson for the below response to my post criticizing the reform focus on ending LIFO, in which he argues:

"Ending LIFO is a critical first step to getting to what’s really necessary: that every principal has the full power to hire and fire every adult (not just teachers) in the school and he/she sees fit, just as managers in 99% of all businesses/organizations in America do (of course with protections for age, race, gender, etc. discrimination), including KIPP and most other successful schools I’ve seen."

I'd argue that tenure reform is a much broader and more appealing thing to do than the narrow focus on ending LIFO. Then again, the Nichols case isn't actually about seniority based layoffs but rather tenure -- I was hijacking the story to talk about the sympathetic senior stories that ending LIFO would certainly generate, complete with pictures of dignified veteran teachers like Nichols.

Though he seems to be in full Romney mode (describing how he can fire people), at least Tilson seems to agree with me about the politics that are involved.  That's all I am really getting at, but it's not a small matter and Tilson doesn't name any real solutions to the political problem. Read the full Tilson response below.

From Tilson:

You’re missing the big picture here. Ending LIFO is a critical first step to getting to what’s really necessary: that every principal has the full power to hire and fire every adult (not just teachers) in the school and he/she sees fit, just as managers in 99% of all businesses/organizations in America do (of course with protections for age, race, gender, etc. discrimination), including KIPP and most other successful schools I’ve seen.

Violet Nichols’s case highlights the Alice in Wonderland/Mad Hatter’s Tea party nature of the current system, in which all teachers (after 98% get tenure after 2-3 years) have a guaranteed job for life unless they convicted (not just indicted) for a major felony. In Nichols’s case, you seem to buy into the unwritten assumption that in order to let her go, there has to be an airtight, extremely well documented case against her – in other words, the burden of proof is on the principal/district to PROVE beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’s grossly incompetent.

This is ridiculous. It’s a privilege, not a right, to work in a school and teach children. If you want to guarantee mediocrity (or worse) across any organization, then set up a system in which everybody keeps their jobs, year in and year out, despite being mediocre (or worse). The key, of course, is to make sure that at the same time you give principals greater power to hire and fire, you also have to hold THEM accountable. I’m fully aware of how terrible some principals are and how some might abuse this new power, but it’s hard to see how a tyrannical principal who unfairly drives out great teachers, plays favorites, hires buddies and family members, etc. could ever have a successful school – so if you have a good system of accountability for the principals, then bad principals can be identified and removed, just like teachers.

You also seem to be buying into the unwritten assumption that schools exist primarily to create good middle-class jobs for adults when you write “No one wants to see middle-aged teachers moving in with their 20-something children, or going on welfare.” If your point is that we have to be cognizant that these issues are important from a public opinion and political standpoint, then I agree with you, but I’d hope we can agree that we should be hiring, evaluating, promoting, and, if necessary, firing teachers based on their performance, not how tough their life might be if they lose their job.

The people who work for me understand that their continued employment depends on me being happy with them. If they fail to add value, have a bad attitude, aren’t team players, or just irritate me, then I can let them go AT ANY TIME AT MY DISCRETION. This may sound like a harsh system and I acknowledge that some employees are treated very poorly by tyrannical bosses, but that’s the way it is in the U.S. job market. If you are squeamish about it, consider the alternative: the sclerotic labor markets in Europe…

Comments

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If this is the argument reformers are making, it is perfectly reasonable to refer to their program as "corporate reform," since clearly the goal is making public schools operate more like private corporations.

His last sentence says it all: "I acknowledge that some employees are treated very poorly by tyrannical bosses, but that’s the way it is in the U.S. job market. If you are squeamish about it, consider the alternative: the sclerotic labor markets in Europe…"

Lets ignore for a moment that a large reason why Europe is the way it is (currently) is because folks like Tilson (the banker/corporate guy, not the so-called ed reformer) wrecked the economy for their own gain. But the under-lying message is, "unions bad, tyrannical bosses good." Which is, frankly, ridiculous, especially when we're talking about teaching. Second (third) Tilson is missing the fact that a lot of principals in urban systems (which is where all the LIFO-reform action is) don't have hiring and firing capacity - and not because of unions, but because of centralized HR systems.

Tilson's entire argument rests not on what is best in education (seeing as he clings to the oh-so-reformy KIPP, etc.), but what's best for the money-changers. He's stuck in the corporate rut that dictates that unions are bad for profits. Which is demonstrably false.

This is again the argument that continues to irk me which posits that unions are to blame for everything. Which removes any responsibility from any other vested interest: school boards, district management, elected officials (local, state and federal levels), and, dare I say it, parents. And let's not forget the corporate raiders who continue to try and con us into believing that for-profit charters are the only solution.

The bottom line is that Tilson and his ilk are only happy when they (or someone they know) are making money - they don't really care about kids getting educated. If they did, they wouldn't maintain such a myopic and destructive view of education.

"sclerotic labor markets in Europe" are a weird right-wing bogey monster. In 2011 15 countries in the European Union had lower unemployment rates than the U.S. In 2008 9 of them did.

I needed to add my 2 cents in my own special way about Whitney's diatribe.

http://www.southbronxschool.com/2012/06/whitney-tilson-makes-fool-of-himself.html

Even though countries like Greece, and most recently Italy, make the news, right-wing thought is generally incorrect when it points out nations that support Socialist parties aren’t doing well economically. Scandinavian countries and, in particular, Germany, were affected little by recent economic crises because of the legislation keeping finances in check.

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