The TFA alumni organization has been recently calling to get the opinion from different alums about the recent debate in New York City, and elsewhere, about ending LIFO (Last In First Out).
At a first glance, it probably seems crazy to be against abolishing LIFO. I mean, why should eager, brilliant, and relentless teachers be fired when there’s a budget cut while old, lazy, and fat (most likely) teachers get to keep their jobs so they can continue harming our kids? Politicians seem pretty eager to get rid of LIFO, and the poster child for education reform Michelle Rhee has made it the top priority of her new organization.
I’m against abolishing LIFO for a bunch of reasons, none of them that I’m scared to lose my own job to some hungry novice.
First of all, I don’t like anything that contributes to the current fad to vilify teachers and teacher’s unions. The premise is that the education system would be fixed if all teachers were really trying hard. They don’t try hard because they are protected by ‘tenure’ (said with a sneer, as if it was ‘diplomatic immunity’ or ‘double jeopardy’) so they are lazy and don’t do their jobs and the innocent kids are the ones who suffer. Supporting the abolishing of LIFO supports this very narrow minded view. I don’t think that abolishing LIFO would actually improve educational outcomes because I don’t think the problem is the old, lazy teachers.
Keeping teachers by their ‘merit’ sounds good until you realize that there’s not a good way to accurately measure this ‘merit.’ A teacher can have a bad year, a year where the chemistry just made it difficult for his or her class to perform on those standardized tests. The next year the same teacher can have a good year. It’s hard to compare two teachers since they are teaching different groups of kids. Yes, if you have a teachers who is horrible for five years in a row then that teacher isn’t very good and is in need of some kind of support at first. But you need to have about five years to really see how good or bad a teacher is. A brand new teacher, by definition, hasn’t had enough years to establish his or her self as an effective teacher. (Also, a lot of first year teachers — most, I’d say — are not very effective, so they’d probably deserve to be the first to go.)
Another thing I think should be considered is why LIFO was implemented to begin with. It was so teachers couldn’t be fired indiscriminately. If it’s gone and a principal wants to get rid of a veteran teacher with her fat, uh, paycheck, there are ways to artificially lessen her ‘merit.’ The principal can give that teacher the toughest-to-educate kids, the charter rejects, and then watch the stats go down and rack up those ‘U’ ratings until the teacher can be fired.
And we should also look at what could be the real — political — reason that they’re trying to abolish LIFO. Firing veteran teachers saves money. So is it about the kids or about the budget?
I’ve taught at a lot of schools, and I haven’t seen that many teachers that deserve to be fired. There have been some that were in need of support and supervision and didn’t quite get that. I do think that after a bunch of interventions if a teacher refuses to take steps to improve, that teacher can be eventually fired. I believe that that’s the rule already. Contrary to what ‘Waiting For Superman’ says, tenure does not mean job security for life.
Finally, I don’t like the idea that a teacher teaches for twenty years in the same district. Has some ups and downs as anyone would have in a career and then, just as they are finally making a decent living wage, after making hardly anything for the first ten or fifteen years, being threatened and called lazy and then finally fired by some arbitrary statistically invalid metric.
We don’t need to abolish LIFO. We need high level administrators who understand education with a valid plan not based on the ‘free market’ principles. “We don’t need our leaders to understand education. They just have to be good managers.” “Charter schools will bring up public schools since they’ll have to fight to keep their kids from transferring out.” “Scare those lazy teachers into teaching.”
P.S. Diane Ravitch is the guest on The Daily Show this Thursday March 4th.