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The reality about that flier in your mailbox

Maybe it turned up in your mailbox — the glossy brochure comes from Education Reform Now, an organization that has spared no expense in publicizing its point of view in TV ads and now a new brochure blanketing the city. Let’s take a look at what it’s saying ... and provide some real analysis and perspective on the issues.

War on Truth logo nyt20100603-5a.jpg Maybe it turned up in your mailbox — the glossy brochure comes from Education Reform Now, an organization that has spared no expense in publicizing its point of view in TV ads and now a new brochure blanketing the city. Let’s take a look at what it’s saying ... and provide some real analysis and perspective on the issues.

The other side’s spin:
“New York City is facing tough fiscal times. Sadly, this means difficult budget cuts and teacher layoffs. That’s why it’s critical that the city has the power to keep the best teachers in our classrooms, regardless of how long they’ve been teaching.”

Complex reality:
The brochure begins with the defeatist premise that layoffs are necessary and focuses on who gets laid off.

We are in the middle of a massive budget battle in Albany over school funding. The UFT is fighting tooth and nail to block a proposed $500 million cut to New York City. Albany has yet to pass a budget, so the fight is far from over.

Chancellor Joel Klein and Education Reform Now and its hedge fund backers have been AWOL in this battle. As far back as February, Klein passed up a golden opportunity to fight for our students, devoting his testimony at the budget hearing in Albany instead to the need to get rid of seniority-based layoffs.

Why pick this battle now? Klein is trying to pit new teachers against veteran teachers. What better way to try to weaken our union and ram through his anti-teacher agenda?

Just think if these education reformers had used the money they spent on TV ads and brochures attacking teachers and the UFT on lobbying Albany to fund our schools.

Teaching, as a profession, benefits from the energy and innovation of newer teachers and the experience and wisdom of veteran teachers. That’s why the UFT is fighting all layoffs.

The other side’s spin:
“The teachers union contract and state law require that the decision of who stays and who goes must be based on seniority — not merit. That’s simply wrong for our kids.”

Complex reality:
This glosses over the real question of how layoffs — if they become necessary — would be implemented.

Three years ago, Klein changed the school funding formula to give schools the same per-teacher amount of money regardless of the actual cost of their teachers. Overnight, career teachers, who can earn up to $100,000, became a financial burden. In cash-starved schools, whom do you suppose principals would lay off first? Rest assured that their decisions would not be based on “effectiveness.” Those who have dedicated their lives to teaching would be shown the door. It would be the “rational” economic choice. Nothing to do with “merit.”

The other side’s spin:
“We must put our children first. This means standing up to the teachers’ union and demanding that our kids get the best teachers, not simply those who have been in the classroom the longest.”

Complex reality:
Seniority, like democracy, is not a perfect system, but it’s better than any of the alternatives.

Research shows that teachers don't really hit their stride until about their fifth or sixth year and they continue to grow (i.e. become more effective) thereafter, albeit at a slower pace. So targeting veteran teachers would deprive students of excellent teachers.

Everybody wants the most effective and best-skilled teachers in the classroom. We can all agree on that — teachers, too. The problem and difficulty (glossed over in the glossy) is in finding a fair and accurate way of determining who is most effective. The brochure doesn’t even address that issue.

While the mayor and the chancellor would like the decision on layoffs to be 100 percent at the discretion of each school’s principal, there are very compelling reasons why this would backfire.

The very reason that civil service, with its rules and laws — including seniority — evolved was to prevent the cronyism, corruption and nepotism that were part of the patronage system that preceeded it. No one wants to go back to those bad old days.

Putting all power in the hands of one person can be a recipe for disaster. We’d be seeing more cases like that of a private school headmaster in New York who was finally fired after requiring teachers to work on renovations to his house over the weekends.

Without a system of checks and balances that includes time-honored civil service regulations (no matter how unsexy that sounds), that’s where we could end up.

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