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Posted on Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:05 a.m.

Now is the time to end seniority-based teacher layoffs

By Guest Column

When I first received word that two of my teachers, widely regarded by fellow students as two of the finest teachers at Huron High School, were to be laid off while numerous other teachers known to be among the worst were to keep their jobs, I was, to say the least, perplexed.

My confusion turned to outrage when I discovered this was occurring merely because those two teachers - the exceptional ones - didn’t have seniority. The system didn’t care if they were fabulous teachers. If they were new to the district, even though they had teaching experience outside Ann Arbor, they had to go first.


Ray Batra is an incoming senior at Ann Arbor's Huron High School.

Thankfully, the district and the teachers union recently reached an agreement where all teachers will sacrifice their pay raises and some supplemental pay in order to prevent any layoffs for the next two years. This wise decision prevented an enormous upheaval in our district, and is to be applauded - but it isn’t nearly enough.

What will happen when budget cuts return and it once again becomes inevitable that teachers must be laid off? What if we hit another recession 10 years from now? Without structural reforms today, the same seniority-based layoff policy will translate into the needless departure of some of our best teachers. Such a glaring flaw in the system simply cannot wait another year to be fixed.

The teachers union would make the argument that seniority should continue to be the sole criteria for layoffs because it is completely objective, eliminating any potential bias or subjectivity from the equation. But to suggest that the layoff procedure must remain entirely objective implies that school administrators in charge of evaluations can’t be trusted at all. I disagree. While objectivity is important and, to a certain extent, should be kept, the negative consequences of such a policy far outweigh its benefits.

To help with the problem, I propose that our layoff procedure be remodeled after the one in Washington, D.C. Several weeks ago, Washington restructured its system to reward teaching quality rather than teacher seniority. Teaching quality is determined using a blend of objective student improvement data and subjective administrator evaluations. Many opposed to such reforms argue that measuring student improvement is complicated and nearly impossible. But if Washington, D.C., could do it, why can’t we?

Student opinions must also be given more consideration. If you were to walk down the hall at Huron High and ask any student which teachers should be let go, I would bet they could tell you at least five off the top of their head. I certainly can. Students interact with and observe their teachers every day, unlike the administrators who only are required to evaluate tenured teachers once every three years (Section 4.619.2 of AAPS Master Contract), and only with prior warning given to the teacher (Section 4.613.7).

But because some high school students may not take evaluations seriously, I do not believe student evaluations should be used directly in any layoff decision. I do believe, however, that an accumulation of negative student evaluations should be used to trigger strict scrutiny of a teacher. This may lead to an additional administrator evaluation of the teacher that, if the administrator agrees with the students, could result in a layoff. Furthermore, when parent complaints about a teacher reach a certain threshold, they, too, should be used to trigger strict scrutiny.

This year, Ann Arbor schools nearly kept many of its worst teachers at the expense of some of its best. Students just can’t afford this type of policy when it comes down to the quality of their education, and neither can taxpayers who expect their money to be used most effectively.

While we thankfully didn’t have to lay off any teachers this year, we must fix the problem now or else be faced with the same situation down the road. The school board and union leadership need to step up to the plate and make some real, structural reforms to the teacher layoff procedure. If they don’t, I urge all candidates vying for the five Board of Education seats up for election to publicly state their support for such reforms.

Union President Brit Stachwell recently claimed that the school board and teachers union are working together to “put students first.” But a seniority-based layoff policy doesn’t put students first. It puts teachers first.

Now is the time to end it.

Ray Batra lives in Ann Arbor and will be a senior at Huron High School this fall.



Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:33 p.m.

When Ray showed me his article before submitting it, I knew that it would stimulate both knowledgable and thoughtful reaction and knee jerk anti-teacher comments. It did. Criteria for retention of teachers? I know of 25 year veteran in a private academic high school who was fired [no tenure law or collective bargaining contracts] simply because "the customer is always right" and the parents were furious because the grades their son had received would hinder his application to the college his family wanted. Problem? He didn't bother to do his homework in his German class. The teacher is widely respected in her language teacher circles and most of her students sing her praises. I had a high failure rate as a community college teacher because many of my enrollees refused to read, or study. Conclusion -- Ray's excellent article is one more in a long line of discussions stretching over years among teachers themselves as to how best to protect and retain teachers who are doing good work in the circumstances they find themselves. He admits that there is no perfect system. The answer AAEA answer should be carefully analyzed before most of the off the top answers are posted.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

"We have a system in which teachers with abysmal teaching records are able to retain their jobs forever, while truly talented, but less experienced teachers get the boot. Where is the justice?" As soon as someone shows me actual proof of "abysmal teaching records" (whatever that means) and where they are kept, I'm sick of hearing all this whinning.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

We have a system in which teachers with abysmal teaching records are able to retain their jobs forever, while truly talented, but less experienced teachers get the boot. Where is the justice?

Half a Hippie

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2 p.m.

It seems to me that there is a continuing misunderstanding in these comments. In general, one side is arguing that seniority should not be the *only* factor in determining layoffs (and, as the comments have introduced, pay). Lisa, I'll address you, as one of the more frequent contributors to the "opposing" side (quotes because I know you agree on many points). When you claim that people want to reduce your pay as a teacher, I think (I hope) you and others are misunderstanding their argument to mean that seniority and experience should *never* be a factor in layoffs and pay. Naturally every person improves at a task over time, and it does make sense that first-year teachers with an advanced degree would often perform better, because they presumably come to the table with a better mastery of the subject. However, not every person improves at the same rate, not everyone has the drive to push themselves to their limits, and some people are smarter than others. If two science teachers are hired at the same time with the same degrees, they would likely start with the same pay and chance of getting laid off. After five years, if one has proven him/herself to be a more driven and capable teacher, should he/she not have more job security than the other? Overall experience and seniority in the district should be *part* of job security and pay. Apologies for the length, but one more thing. Please be careful when you single out students as omitting or exaggerating facts in order to color their accounts of events. *People* do this, such as when an AAPS teacher chooses to read "seniority should not be the only factor" as "experience should play no part and senior teachers should be payed the same as first-years." I look forward to a day when the salaries and jobs of effective, dedicated teachers are protected to an extent that no one will worry that a more open layoff structure will result in only high-payed educators leaving. It is obviously an important issue, but I, for one, am all for paying truly excellent teachers as much as the district can afford.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 3:12 a.m.

If parents that are writing here and bending the ears of friends would actually call the school, things would be a lot better in the schools. Every teacher reports to someone. If there is a serious problem, move right up the chain of command. There is someone in the administration building that oversees every area. Use them. Tell them. It is their job to address the problems in the schools. They need to hear from parents. It takes a lot of persistence and emotional energy. But it is absolutely necessary.

mike from saline

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 5:27 p.m.

If unionism was a tree, senority would be the trunk. Be careful here. rule #1. "do no harm".

Mr. Tibbs

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 3:41 p.m.

now is the time to end seniority based anything. now is the time to vote out all the incumbents as well. time for performance based wages and incentives. but then again who is going to administer this testing? the feds....? I see now why the militias are starting to look good to people these days. well done boy, well done. the unionism has to end.


Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 1:29 p.m.

I believe senority should play a part. But I also dont think it should be left up to the student body to decide who should get layed off. There is alot of great teachers and some not so great at any school and that should be dealt with now and not when or if there is a layoff due to budget issues.

thinking outside the michigan box

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

Ray, You are very wise to be looking to the future and you are right,the senority-based layoff policy needs to be reformed. You are clearly an intelligent, courageous young man of conviction. A natural leader. Perhaps, you could join together with other like-minded students and begin obtaining signatures for a petition to end senority-based teacher layoffs in Ann Arbor. You could obtain the signatures this summer, and with the help of your parents get this issue on the school board agenda, then inform the community(via Mlive) when this issue will be discussed at the board meeting. I believe you would have overwhelming support to end senority-based teacher layoffs by the entire community, including many teachers. The only people benefiting from this current policy are the teachers who don't want to be teaching. Maybe they're burned out,maybe not. It doesn't matter, if they don't want to teach they shouldn't be. And most importantly they shouldn't be protected due to senority. Funny.. but you never hear any outrage about the students subjected to educational negligence from these teachers who don't want to teach. Again, Who is advocating for the students left in those classrooms? All students do not have parents willing or able to advocate for them. Aren't we as a community being negligent by not dealing with this issue?


Mon, Jul 19, 2010 : 9:11 p.m.

Well said Ray!

Rork Kuick

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

1) Starfield's link for this quote didn't work well for me, so I suggesting just searching with this sentence: "Teachers who have earned advanced degrees have a positive impact on high school mathematics and science achievement when degrees earned are in those subjects". It'll lead to a bunch of articles about what credentials have evidence for mattering, and which don't. Science and math teachers knowing what they are talking about it my pet issue, I admit. 2) As a former union member myself, I've often wished for the utopia where the membership hold power over the relative pay and firing of it's members. I am not saying I could design a good system, just that I'm curious if something could be done to balance administrator's possibly capricious powers (with member's capricious powers I suppose).

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 : 8:13 a.m.

Several weeks ago, Washington restructured its system to reward teaching quality rather than teacher seniority.Do we really want to revamp our system based on one on that has not been proven to succeed? And do you really think the Ann Arbor school system will retain excellent teachers if years of experience are not relevant to their job security, and we let students have a sanctioned role in determining the future of the people who give them their grades?


Mon, Jul 19, 2010 : 6:14 a.m.

Academic careers are then sorely beset by chance. When a young scientist or scholar comes to seek advice about habilitation the responsibility which one assumes in advising him is heavy indeed. If he is a Jew, one naturally tells him: lasciate ogni speranza [Canto III, line 9 of Dantes Inferno, sometimes translated as "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."]. But the others, too, must be asked with the utmost seriousness: "Do you think that, year after year, you will be able to stand to see one mediocrity after another promoted over you, and still not become embittered and dejected?" Of course, the answer is always: "Naturally, I live only for my calling." But only in a very few cases have I found them able to undergo it without suffering spiritual damage. These things have to be said about the external conditions of the academic career. Max Weber, "Science as a Vocation" Science as a Vocation a lecture given in 1918 at Munich University by Max Weber, a German economist and sociologist. Amazing how absolutely nothing has changed in 100 years!


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:43 p.m.

if i was the teacher with a lot of seniority and some new teachers were going to possibly take my job. there would not be any reason to help the new teachers out. sounds like teachers will not be working together but working against each other

Jimmy Olsen

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:30 p.m.

@Lisa "What criteria other than experience and education would justify paying one new hire more than another?" Maybe how the potential new hires personality meshes with the rest of the employees, maybe their track record - 2 jobs in 4 years for example - is that good or bad. Get references from from others about their work ethic, etc. Those would be standard HR practices. "(Odd.. no one I know has lost pay due to bad performance nor is their good performance always rewarded with increased pay)." True enough for good performance, but under performers usually get no raises, but when the private sector has issuing making a profit and balancing the budget - across the board pay cuts and benefit cuts happen that have nothing to do with performance - so that is also "the real world". To be cliche - start to think "out of the box" - there is a fair and equitable way to determine teacher performance - it just needs some work from all sides - admin, board and teachers - because teachers KNOW who is good and who isn't - and peer review should be part of the equation also.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:16 p.m.

Alphaalpha, Seriously, I've never heard of anyone actually having their pay cut for performance. People have lost bonuses or didn't get the raises they wanted but never actually had their pay cut like you are suggesting happen to us. And no, we are not in the 94 percentile; you've been called on this mistake before. You are comparing our total compensation with others salaries. My salary matches the median in the U.S. for my education.. well, it did until all those pay cuts hit me. Now, since less than 12% of this nation earns doctoral, professional or masters degrees, doesn't it seem reasonable that my salary should be in the 88 percentile or better? Our payscale for those with master's degrees tops out at about that level.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:10 p.m.

Wow. Many passionate posts on this subject. I have a couple of things about which I'd like to chime in: 1) Great job on your opinion piece, Ray. I think that you've raised many good points. I generally accept the seniority-based system that exists in the schools because of the significant challenges that exist if we deviate from it. However, your points were presented well and give excellent food for thought. Well done. 2) Can we please drop the pay discussion from the comments? This topic has been beaten to death. Most all who frequent have formed an opinion on this already. Let's not delve into a discussion about national pay levels versus the wages of a (hand-picked) group of salaried teachers. 3) I would like to see an evaluation process be a factor in determining which teachers are laid off. I'm not opposed to the type of scenario proposed by Ray. I think that the biggest fault in this situation is actually the administrators. As Lisa has suggested, there is a process in place that can be followed to get rid of poorly perfoming teachers; unfortunately, this process is generally not followed either because it is too hard or requires too much initiative. (Or perhaps because it involves too much risk on the part of the administrator.) 4) Those trying to argue that experience doesn't matter should just drop this argument. Throughout the public and private sector, more experience = more competence = better performance. Think of it this way, any given employee is more skilled and competent after 5 years on the job than they were during their first year on the job. A stronger skill set is rewarded throughout industry with higher pay. Trying to judge the value of experience between two different individuals is apples and oranges; it must be looked at within the same employee. When we start bringing in the consideration of enthusiasm, effort, energy, etc., we are really using additional criteria. It is certainly possible that a highly motivated and intelligent first year teacher may be better at their job than a 5th year teacher who has a bad attitude and has lost their enthusiasm for the job. These situations aren't relevant to experience. They are, however, relevant with regard to who should be considered for lay-offs and/or dismissal. This is where the administrators, once again, need to follow the process and take action to get their workforce where it needs to be. 5) Lastly, please remember that we have to consider the legal ramifications of our actions. Many businesses use seniority for lay-offs because it is unlikely that they will be sued. When subjective evaluations of performance are used, it is much more likley that lawsuits will be brought for age, gender, (name your type here) discrimination. The documentation required to avoid losing lawsuits is expensive and time consuming. Please note that I'm not saying that performance shouldn't be a criteria, but please remember that the AAPS may have to legally defend each decision. This can be expensive.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

I love how both sides think that endless slews of studies can justify their sides. Though evaluations alone cannot prove the worth of a teacher, relying on seniority alone harms the students. There are abysmal old teachers and there are abysmal young teachers. There are fantastic old teachers and there are fantastic young teachers. So why keep the abysmal old teachers afloat at the expense of the fantastic young teachers? Ray, excellent excellent excellent article. Amen to your closing paragraph. For those who are out of touch with the gravity of the situation, refocus your energy on real life instead of statistics. Kids aren't numbers.

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9 p.m.

I think Lisa Starrfield is correct in that using seniority to determine layoffs would be a non-issue if bad teachers were dealt with properly and in a timely manner. The issue of pay for performance is different and I don't believe this article has anything to do with that topic, even though the opinions seem to be heading off in their own direction.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

Sandy, You said it yourself... the administration determined there was a problem and acted. The teacher in question was given a different assignment. We don't know the outcome of that change; I wish we did. But we do know there was a change and that's how it should be. And I am certain that any administrator who has had to move a teacher will be watching that teacher's performance in their new assignment closely. I will tell you that Geometry always seems to be the class that kids struggle with if they are going to struggle with high school math. If I recall correctly, the first semester of Geometry has almost all of the proofs and some kids really have a hard time with that. I know of one student who had A+'s for me in 8th grade who had to retake Geometry. Maybe this teacher is a very effective Algebra, Statistics or Physics teacher and were placed inappropriately; I don't know. If so, hopefully they are were they will be effective now.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:52 p.m.

"I believe that this is simply another attempt to lower our pay. " Well Lisa, you folks are in the 94th percentile of pay. Over $100,000 per year in total compensation puts you ahead of all but a few of your clients. Many believe that pay is a bit high...

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:46 p.m.

@Lisa, I'm sure you're right in many cases. I've experienced that with my children myself. Sometimes they conflict with the teacher and they complain. I refuse to involve myself in those matters. Part of the educational process, I believe, is learning to get along with all kinds of different people, whether you like them or not. That's a life lesson. I keep a close watch on homework and grades, and I do not hesitate to discuss these things with my kids or the teachers. I only contact the teacher, though, after I feel my kids have done as much as they can to resolve the issue themselves. And usually they are able to work through the issue and I don't get involved. I have probably had to talk to teachers about an issue just a handful of times through all the years my kids have been in school. We have enjoyed the vast majority of teachers that my kids have had and have found them to be very competent at their jobs and usually the issue was something my kids had done that needed to be dealt with. When my all A student, who is very responsible and very good at seeking help herself, started bringing home C's and D's in Geometry, we had her stay after to work with the teacher, but that didn't help at all. So we had her work with a student tutor and she grasped the concepts. This indicated to us that it was the teaching that was the issue. Unfortunately, she's also an athlete and the tutoring conflicted with her sport, so we didn't feel it was fair to keep her in class with this teacher, have her do tutoring and give up her sport since she couldn't do both. We attempted to work this out with the teacher, but he didn't feel this was his problem. This teacher believed the problem was that the middle school wasn't preparing the students adequately. He did not believe it was his inability to teach the subject. We ended up going through the process to have her transferred to another class. What we found out during that process was that the average grade in this teacher's class was a C-, yet the other freshmen geometry teachers averages were higher and administration was being inundated with transfer requests from parents concerned that their kids weren't learning the material and would have trouble moving on in math. My daughter was transferred and she did much better in the new class (B+). It seemed obvious that this person wasn't able to do what they were hired to do, which was to teach the subject of geometry to freshmen students. In fact, he was removed from teaching freshman geometry the very next semester. I wish I could tell you how kids did in his other classes, but my daughter started the Early College Alliance program at EMU her sophomore year and we didn't hear anymore about the teacher, although he is still employed by the school. Now, this could just as easily have been a case where just my child didn't do well with this teacher, but it seems to me that an intelligent administration has the ability to disseminate the information and make that determination. Other employers are able to do this, in the public and private sector, and to say it can't be done by the public school system seems to indicate a certain level of incompetence of said system.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:44 p.m.

"(Odd.. no one I know has lost pay due to bad performance nor is their good performance [...] rewarded with increased pay)." Are you serious? It is common. You can't be serious. To funny...


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

"...any reliance of subjective criteria to make evaluations and layoff decisions can far too easily devolve into a political weapon used to arbitrarily punish staff for not sufficiently sucking up to the bureaucracy." Wow. What a classic line. From an educator? Either an outright deception, or out of touch with the world. Thousands of schools successfully use such criteria every day.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:35 p.m.

Rossianroulette, Let's talk about standard practices. It is standard HR practices to have professionals negotiate their salaries, benefits and time off once offered a position. What criteria other than experience and education would justify paying one new hire more than another? Currently, new hires are evaluated according to a system of standards; they must show mastery of each standard by the fourth year or they will be removed. Mastery earns tenure. We are evaluated on a rotating basis once tenure has been earned; state law requires that this change and the school district and union are working together to test a process that meets the new requirements. What many here have proposed in the past is that our evaluations (and in their ideal world, our pay) be based upon test scores and student/parent evaluations. That our pay be lowered when our performance is poor and our pay be raised when it is good. They claim this is how it is in the 'real world' (Odd.. no one I know has lost pay due to bad performance nor is their good performance always rewarded with increased pay). Of course, to reward us.. they must lower our base pay first so they can reward the good teachers. Yet no one promises we will make more. Further, no one has described a equitable system for evaluation. Test scores are inequitable as students are only evaluated in reading and math for grades 3-8. Middle school science is tested once... who gets the bonus? who gets the pay cut? Is it reasonable to hold a teacher accountable for something taught 3 years prior? At the high school, they take the Merit exam in the 11th grade and it covers 3 years of work. Seniors aren't tested. Music isn't tested. Art and foreign languages aren't tested. Electives aren't tested. PE isn't tested. How does one equitably give out merit pay in such a situation? Further, this idea fails to acknowledge that teachers are only one part of the equation. I can't control what students do or don't do outside of the classroom. I can't control what parents do or don't do. Am I to be held accountable because this year I got a group of students who didn't do their homework or parents who were unable/unwilling to help their kids? If you want to change teacher evaluation, it can't be for some fad; it has to be a system that works. I have yet to see a viable alternative put forth here on these boards. I believe that this is simply another attempt to lower our pay.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:01 p.m.

Dear Speechless -- everyone wants every evaluation system to be as fair as possible, using multiple criteria and multiple evaluators and safeguards to avoid bias. However to think that you must at all costs fight an evaluation system that necessarily requires some decision-makers making criteria-based performance appraisals ("subjectivity") -- and that therefore you can only have "objective" seniority-based compensation (and layoff protections based only on years served) -- is, frankly (with all due respect), totally contrary to well accepted, standard, HR principles in use everywhere. Indeed I would argue that a system that ignores performance and merit, in favor of nothing but years on the job, is in fact much more anti-social, anti-democratic, and "deeply reactionary" than one that does. Nothing personal...Think about it.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:46 p.m.

Alphaalpha, I personally know five teachers who have been removed in the last 6 years. Mind you, that is just those I personally knew and was personally aware of.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

Sandy, Actually, the process does work when it is used. It simply requires the building administrator to follow the process. Some administrators don't use it. Those who do tend to have a very good staff. I will also tell you that students complain about teachers good and bad; sometimes their complaints are valid, sometimes they aren't. You have to be very careful when listening to a student complain about a teacher... so many times they leave out details that make the situation more reasonable and less dramatic or leave out details that describe their mistakes as if the teacher in question is acting unreasonably. Part of the problem is that they don't always realize that they don't have all the information. To them, it looks like one thing is happening when in reality something else entirely is happening.

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:13 p.m.

@Lisa, Now THAT adds a something to this conversation and I agree with that 100%. What is it that stops that process from working? Because we know it isn't working or we wouldn't be having THIS discussion.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:09 p.m.

Quoted from further above: "... And most of us report to a boss who judges us, subjectivity and all. That's life, get used to it...." That's a deeply, deeply reactionary sentiment — fundamentally in opposition to all past social movements for democracy and social equality. Here's how such sentiment plays out when applied to American history: To Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson: "And all of us report to a king who judges us, as his loyal subjects and all. That's life, get used to it." To Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass: "And all of us here report to a slave owner who judges us, as his personal property and all. That's life, get used to it." To Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton: "And all of us report to our husbands, who judge us and vote for us and all. That's life, get used to it." Unions, including teacher organizations, came about as an organized effort to positively impact the long, nasty history of the workplace. These were groups of people who, like the historical figures named above, affirmatively declared, "No, we are not going to get used to it. Things will change." As for the AAPS, any changes in rules for teacher evaluation or future layoffs must — as a starting point — maintain built-in safeguards to protect teachers who do their job and have invested years of their lives into the school system. Otherwise, any reliance of subjective criteria to make evaluations and layoff decisions can far too easily devolve into a political weapon used to arbitrarily punish staff for not sufficiently sucking up to the bureaucracy.

Jinwoo Lee

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

Nice Job on this article Ray, it was very well thought out and supported with lots of information. You rock!


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:58 p.m.

"No one wants the 'bad' teachers to stick around. However, the process for removing 'bad' teachers exists and should be used by administrators when necessary." When have any bad teachers been removed?


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:56 p.m.

"Changing the pay will not by itself hurt or improve instruction." On the contrary; it is a key step to help reintroduce the concept of competition to the profession. A concept so sorely lacking that some claim we don't even have "an evaluation system" "Isn't what we need is a fair and honest evaluation system?" Of course we do; and examples abound nation wide. The fact that we do not have one at AAPS is a symptom of the lack of competition. Yes, many at AAPS are understandably afraid of competition; but with a little counseling, they can grow into it, much like the rest of society.

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:51 p.m.

@Lisa, Now THAT adds a something to this conversation and I agree with that 100%. What is it that stops that process from working? Because we know it isn't working or we wouldn't be having THIS discussion.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:48 p.m.

AlphaAlpha - wouldn't lowering the AA teachers pay to the national average also lower the national average? What then? Seriously, what does the national average have to do with anything? Seems to me the problem is not the pay; it's that many people feel there are several teachers earning top pay doing inferior (or perhaps less than the national average) work. Changing the pay will not by itself hurt or improve instruction. Isn't what we need is a fair and honest evaluation system? Mr. Batra has thrown his idea into the ring, maybe some others could do the same. Skip the blaming, let's find something that works!

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:44 p.m.

Sandy, You are right. No one wants the 'bad' teachers to stick around. However, the process for removing 'bad' teachers exists and should be used by administrators when necessary. That has nothing to do with layoffs.

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:32 p.m.

@Lisa Starrfield - If there are two teachers side-by-side and they are equal in everything, I would rather have the one with experience teach my children. However, what this article is aimed at is the teachers out there who are skating by on their seniority, rather than talent at performing their job. These are the teachers who make us suspect even good teachers because of our bad experiences with them. I'm sure you know teachers like that and I can't believe that you would want them to stick around just for the sake of seniority. Nobody here is talking about qualified teachers who do their job. And the author of the article is correct...most students and parents know who these bad teachers are. At our school, administration received so many transfer requests on this one person that they were removed from teaching the class. A teachers' job is to teach and when they become ineffective at doing their job, then it's time for them to go, whether they have been doing it for one year or thirty years.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

Kathryn - "Replacing an objective system (date of hire) with a subjective system (evaluation) requires the development of a workable evaluation system. Apparently, this has not been figured out yet." With all due respect, you seem to be repeating a fallacy spread by certain special interest groups, mostly highly paid public teachers, who are trying desperately to maintain a fairly elite occupational status. In fact, excellent, time tested, workable evaluation systems have been in place at thousands of schools nation- and world-wide, for many decades. Even in A2, there are many non public schools where evaluations are made fairly and easily. It's not rocket science. At all.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 5:43 p.m.

Lisa - We have AAPS teachers costing customers over $100,000 each per year, approximately 80% over the national average. All AAPS teacher pay should be lowered to national levels.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

Jimmy Olsen wrote: "My point is that there has to be a combination of criteria that can ascertain the ability of an educator to teach. An evaluation by an over-worked administrator every 3 years is a joke." This is, I think, the crux of the problem. Replacing an objective system (date of hire) with a subjective system (evaluation) requires the development of a workable evaluation system. Apparently, this has not been figured out yet. Many of the problems have been outlined: Principals alone do not have enough time to observe teachers at work, but do know what they want to see achieved. The "customers" (parents and students) may not always know what's the "best" teaching (e.g., tough standards vs. easy A's), though they do have much more day-to-day contact with the teachers. Personality conflicts can mess things up. Testing still does not fully capture good teaching. But it seems that there is agreement that it's time to start working on a system...and that is being done in some districts around the country. Best of luck to them.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 4:34 p.m.

For all those making a case here for experience and seniority trumping evaluations and performance, maybe you need to remember that in almost every other profession and organization in this country (certainly in the private sector), everything depends on performance evaluations; younger but higher-performing employees can quickly rise above those with more experience but poorer performance. And most of us report to a boss who judges us, subjectivity and all. That's life, get used to it. And as for the impossibility or impracticality of student teaching evaluations being a major part of performance assessment for teachers, you should know that here in the University of Michigan (e.g. in the Business School) this has been the case for decades. Older students are quite capable of providing usable and valid input for performance evaluation. The AAPS teachers union and School Board just need to do what has been done for decades in other such settings.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 4:30 p.m.

@Lisa, I read the links. It appears that certification in mathematics helps math teachers offer effective instruction. It also appears that science and math teachers do better with more education in math and science. The Calder study shows weakly that experience is helpful in teaching elementary math and reading. As for the other links, they are more than a decade old, and there's been more and better research since that more carefully analyzes the very weak relationship of experience to effective teaching.

Jimmy Olsen

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

@Lisa "I am astounded that so many people believe that inexperience is better than experience. Would you really prefer to have a first year resident treat your child or an experienced, veteran doctor? Why would you make a different choice for their education?" Again, your assumption of inexperience over a veteran doctor is still not telling me a thing. Maybe a first year resident did a research paper on a new treatment that the veteran doctor never heard of that has a good success rate. Just like the interaction between a teacher and a student with a new teaching methods and/or assignment have a better success rate. My kids have had 1st year teachers who brought a great deal more to their classrooms than those who continue to pass out the same rag tag handouts they created 20 years ago. Yes, some of it is mandated by the state, but, seriously 4 kids through the 4th grade with a gap of 8 years and the same handouts for certain projects. If it is a proven high success rate learning experience, so be it, but come on - there has to be a balance somewhere - and tenure, automatic step raises, etc. aren't holding their weight anymore. My point is that there has to be a combination of criteria that can ascertain the ability of an educator to teach. An evaluation by an over-worked administrator every 3 years is a joke. I will read your links to the data. Thank-you.

Stephen Landes

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 4:21 p.m.

I agree with the author's perspective and think that merit based measures are needed in hiring, pay, and layoff considerations. However, the big stumbling block is unionization. Unions used to perform a valuable service in our economy, but today they are more obstacles in the road than providing a voice to match that of employers. An awful lot more could be done for students (remember that they are their education is the purpose of this exercise) if management and unions would get out of the way.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

Lisa Starrfield: You make several points, but the most obvious one you ignore is that not all experienced teachers are significantly better for their experience and some newbies walk in and do an outstanding job from day 1. Seniority for layoffs protects those who have been around the longest - that's it. If we want to change this system, it's going to take a lot of work by administrators, teachers, students and parents. We will probably never come up with a perfect system. Personally, I'm going to do a little research on the Washington D.C. system and see how it is being received.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 3:24 p.m.

Education unions aren't about what teachers you like, kiddo. They're about pay, benefits and terms of employment between the teachers and the boards of education. Who the students like or don't like really doesn't enter into the picture at all. The school boards around here will likely never be able to get reverse seniority lay-offs included into a contract.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

Very well thought out article! If there is a good objective way to accomplish this, I believe most people would go for it.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

Dr. Bob, Are you proposing to raise the salaries of first year teachers who by state law require mentoring and close evaluation to those of experienced teachers who have already passed those hurdles? Or are you proposing to drop the master teachers' salaries down to the levels of a first year? Because frankly, I suspect the later is the intention of all those screaming about how new teachers should be paid like experienced teachers... I think they really mean experienced teachers should be paid like new teachers.

Brit Satchwell

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 2:36 p.m.

As a public school teacher, it does my heart good to see one of our AAPS students put thoughts together and then express them eloquently as Mr. Batra has. Kudos to him, his parents, and Ann Arbor's schools. Excellent delivery! However, I want to gently help with some of his content that many commenters have mistakenly taken as rote facts. From section 4.612.4 of the AAPS/AAEA contract: "Evaluation is an ongoing process. Informal observations may be conducted at any time and included as part of the evaluation." Mr. Batra's contractual reference is to the formal observation schedule, the baseline minimum, not the restrictive maximum, for evaluations. Full-blown formal observations cycles are by no means the entirety of the evaluation process. Michigan law (MCL 380.1249) as of January 14, 2010 mandates annual evaluations for all teachers and administrators. In anticipation of this and other growing trends within public edu-world, AAPS and AAEA have been working for two years to revamp our evaluation process. One cannot step up to a plate that one has been standing on for two years. has expressed an interest in doing an article on this subject, one which I look forward to. In the meantime, AAEA is on record as favoring objective evaluation measures that correlate to student achievement and research-based best teaching practices. In this regard, I invite readers to google the evaluation model of Charlotte Danielson which will be tested district-wide beginning in 2010/11. Our goal is to develop an evaluation process that everybody can trust and buy into, and that will let teachers rise or fall on their own merits rather than on subjective comments that too often reflect staffing changes rather than actual pedagogy. Mr. Batra and the public need to know that seniority is just ONE of several criteria used when selecting teachers to be placed on layoff. I refer anybody who is interested in learning more about layoff criteria to section 4.800. Other criteria that others may be glad to learn about: personal academic achievement, highly qualified status, and state certification. These factors are used in conjunction with years of teaching experience and in many cases take precedence over experience. The insider phrase for trumping seniority as a criteria for layoffs, recalls, or for job placements in general is "building and programmatic needs" (eg, students first). I hope that a central administrator or building principal will chime in to verify that the comments of teachers and/or parents immediately initiate scrutiny of a teacher, sometimes up to the level of a formal observation cycle. That Mr. Batra or the public is unaware of the evaluative discussions that take place between a teacher and a principal in response to feedback from students and parents - whether they are randomly anecdotal or more firmly rooted in actual events - does not justify the assumption that they do not take place. Students and parents should never underestimate their significant influence in the evaluative process. When anybody questions my sincerity or the sincerity of other teachers who claim to have the best interest of students at heart, I usually start with "What other possible reason would a person have for choosing this profession?" I personally made the decision to reduce my own income by 2/3 in order to become a teacher at age 40, and I certainly wasn't in search of fame, fortune, or the universally generous opinions of others. Given the knee-jerk vitriol and misinformation-as-facts that is out there, one sometimes wonders why a teacher would stay. I want to challenge Mr. Batra's casual assertion that my members gave up raises (???!!!) in order to help prevent layoffs. There never were any raises on the table to discuss. AAEA members together DECREASED their EXISTING compensation by nearly $4 million. Every AAEA member gave up about $3,300 out of her/his pocket. This is certainly not to be so casually dismissed as "passing on a raise". Passing on a raise = 0, not negative 4 million. However, our concessions do serve as overwhelming objective proof in the most concrete terms possible - hard earned dollars - that AAEA members do indeed put programs and students first. It also stands as stark evidence that "the system" does indeed care about new teachers entering the profession. AAEA's stated goals in negotiations were to prevent layoffs, prevent further cuts to programs, and to maintain adequate compensation for staff. We accomplished 2.5 out of three, certainly the first two, and it would behoove the doubters out there to trim the righteous cynicism enough to take yes for an answer. If anybody wants to step up and put their own money where the teachers put theirs, the bar is currently set at $3,300/each. In the absence of that, AAEA members deserve to have their concessions and the reasons for their concessions recognized... maybe even appreciated for what they were? Please stay tuned to announcements by AAEA and AAPS regarding our evaluation process in the year ahead, and please also participate in the forthcoming discussions if writes it up. But until then, it's always best to ask a teacher first when in doubt. Mr. Batra, I am a fellow River Rat, class of '71, and I wish you all success in your senior year. If you would like to discuss this or any other educational issue and want to incorporate an "insider's" perspective, I can be reached via the AAEA website at

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 2:34 p.m.

Jimmy asked, "Show me the data that "teacher quality improves with experience.". Show me the data that a teacher with a Master's Degree is a better teacher. Show me the data that a teacher who gets an automatic step-raise based on seniority and other factors is a better teacher." I am astounded that so many people believe that inexperience is better than experience. Would you really prefer to have a first year resident treat your child or an experienced, veteran doctor? Why would you make a different choice for their education? "Second, more experienced teachers appear more effective in teaching elementary math and reading and middle school math. " "Overall, several studies find a positive effect of experience on teacher effectiveness. The selectivity/prestige of the institution attended by a teacher has a positive effect on student achievement. Teachers who have earned advanced degrees have a positive impact on high school mathematics and science achievement when degrees earned are in those subjects. Research demonstrates a positive effect of certified teachers on high school mathematics achievement when the certification is in mathematics. Studies show little impact of emergency or alternative route certification on student achievement in mathematics or science compared to standard certification. Teacher coursework in both subject area taught and pedagogy contributes to positive education outcomes. Pedagogical coursework seems to contribute to teacher effectiveness at all grade levels. Tests that assess teachers' literacy levels or verbal abilities are associated with higher levels of student achievement." "On average, in the 1992 and 1994 assessments, 4th grade students of teachers who were fully certified, who had masters degrees, and who had had professional coursework in literature-based instruction did better than other students on reading assessments (NCES, 1994; NCES, n.d.)..... Other studies have found that students achieve at higher levels and are less likely to drop out when they are taught by teachers with certification in their teaching field, by those with masters degrees, and by those enrolled in graduate studies (Council for School Performance, 1997; Knoblock, 1986; Sanders, Skonie-Hardin, & Phelps, 1994)"


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 2:03 p.m.

Edward and Lisa- Thank you for not posting any links and references when asked. Ray - Perhaps you would consider contributing to regularly? Your work here is nothing short of excellent. It is a great example of how age and seniority do not equate to ability.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 1:37 p.m.

As has been said, seniority policies exist because management and the board have a clear economic self-interest in retaining lower-paid teachers and staff, while eliminating those employed at higher salaries and wages. Well, there's an easy answer for that, isn't there? Equal pay for equal work. Eliminate seniority-based pay along with seniority-based retention. Instead, offer pay based on education, continuing professional development and (heaven forbid!) merit. Why shouldn't a young, energetic teacher with 5 years experience who is developing new curriculum, taking additional professional development to improve, meeting student needs, putting in extra time coaching, etc. be paid at least as much as an older colleague who is doing less? @RayBatra's well-written essay didn't go far enough in addressing the real inequities of the seniority system.

Me Next

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 12:40 p.m.

Reason hijacked. Who defines "best", "worst" teachers? Who decides "quality"? What are the factors "measured"? It is the teachers union & politicians that has usurped private property owners & the relative parents rights to maintain or relieve "teachers" from their children's place of Learning Life Skills for Individual Citizens. Right to work & control by locals is Freedom & benefits the relative children. "students" learn representative governing by informing their parents, who informs locals, who present the complaint to Administration or up the chain to "district SB" or "MI SBE". "Students" welcomed into the meeting, allowed orderly participation, is a lesson in Constitutional Inclusion & individual self- worth. By US Const. DC is controlled by Congress, not Constitutional State School Boards that are by Rule of Law "where the buck stops" concerning Public Funding of Education. The buck starts with local control "the more perfect" judges.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

This is classic union busting and teacher bashing. It works by trying to singularly focus on alleged "selfish" motivations of unionized teachers which supposedly conflict with the best interests of the larger community. Those who make such claims pointedly do not wish to acknowledge the leadership role, or at times even the existence, of high-paid administrators and the school board. We get this received fiction that managers and board members are hapless foils at the mercy of the teachers' union, who use seniority as a club to beat any useful evaluation process into submission. As has been said, seniority policies exist because management and the board have a clear economic self-interest in retaining lower-paid teachers and staff, while eliminating those employed at higher salaries and wages. At budget time, they are not terribly interested in the quality of teaching at Ann Arbor schools, only in reducing annual costs by any means possible. When seniority holds the key to pay raises, management and anti-union ideologues always seek ways to undercut this arrangement. They search around for arguments to put forth to the community to damage its credibility. They will, so to speak, throw different things at the wall to see what sticks. in contrast to many comments above, Murrow's Ghost quite rationally suggests that the union, administration and school board hold discussions and collaborate on the teacher evaluation process. All three should work together respectfully, as partners, to identify any potential improvements. Of course, the ongoing school funding crisis ultimately won't get fixed until we completely overhaul Michigan's failed system of taxation — you can contact Alma Wheeler Smith and Rebekah Warren for more details on that. ------------- Back in the years when the UAW was a major force, the quality problems with American-built vehicles were routinely blamed on well-paid assembly workers and their union-enforced workplace protections. Right-wing critics liked to pretend that the high-paid Big Three management either didn't exist or else was somehow powerless to set company direction. In time, the better quality found at highly unionized auto factories in places like West Germany and Sweden demonstrated that poor U.S. management was really at fault.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

SOME inexperienced teachers will turn out to be very good. But we will never know as long as we don't give them a chance to work with good experienced teachers. There needs to be some turnover each year to give new teachers a chance, and the administration must decide which of these teachers to keep. We won't have the best schools unless we keep the best teachers. Unfortunately for some, that also means we must do some continuous pruning of dead branches.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 11 a.m.

Very interesting article. This topic has come up MANY TIMES in the past whenever there has to be staff reduction in any organization. It also helps explain one of reasons why --- "Unions did not start because there was nothing better to do that day" The premise of creating an "objective decision process" is a BIG DEAL and has evolved over time. I also brings up the "perception" that decisions like staff reductions are done in a completely "unbiased" manner by administrators - bosses. ( NOT TRUE in many if not most cases) AND.... most bosses/ administrators prefer to have-- "completely objective, eliminating any potential bias or subjectivity from the equation".... it makes their job much easier (because a lot of people were involved with the seniority decision).... It lowers the stress for everyone. One may wish explore why many, many organizations use the seniority process for making decisions about staff issues. I would submit employees are much happier working in organizations and more accepting of decisions when they are based on true objective criteria. ------- "The teachers union would make the argument that seniority should continue to be the sole criteria for layoffs because it is completely objective, eliminating any potential bias or subjectivity from the equation." "But to suggest that the layoff procedure must remain entirely objective implies that school administrators in charge of evaluations cant be trusted at all. I disagree. While objectivity is important and, to a certain extent, should be kept, the negative consequences of such a policy far outweigh its benefits."

Alisa Lee

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:51 a.m.

Great job Ray!


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

I commend Mr. Batra for a well thought out and articulate article. Very nice. Tenure, is once again at the heart of the problem. The concept that after a probabionary period, an employee cannot be terminated except for extraordinary circumstances, is common in union negotiated contracts. Wages are prenegotiated and only depend on factors such as education, years of service and job description, not performance. Hence the problem outlined by Mr. Batra. The solution of course is what every other business does in America and that is performance based compensation. Performance must be sustained year after year and compensation (raises, bonuses, promotions, etc.) is determined by performance in each successive year. This is what needs to happen in all school systems. Testing helps evaluate teacher performance, so does student and parent feedback. However, it is the job of administrators (aka managers) to evaluate teacher performance every year. They should have flexibility to award bonuses to over achievers, set raises and terminate poor performers. Plain and simple.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

Ghost Nice swing and a miss. Answering questions is so much fun; you should try it sometime. The burden is on you to give us the data, as other posters have pointed out. So, what is your brilliant solution to Ray's conundrum? Old ways die hard, and the seniority way must go away. Lisa points out that experience leads to better teaching, which may be true in some cases. But it also leads to burnout, complacency, sloppiness etc. Students deserve the best teachers in front of them, and seniority based systems have proven to be a dismal yardstick to use to that end.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

@Ray Batra, Excellent piece of writing, you show wisdom and knowledge beyond your years. You had best keep an eye open at school this coming fall though, you are now a "marked man".


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 10:09 a.m.

@Murrow Whats really fun is doing Google search without preconcieved outcomes like just search "Student evaluations of teacher studies" you get results like this one...with references that might be a new concept too!


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

Well-written, well-said. There are many professions that evaluate and reward professionals based on performance rather than experience. Think about musicians, architects, some psychologists, salespeople, and so on. The evaluations are, in general, not popularity contests but related to effectiveness. And people pay more for effective professionals. The seniority/salary issue raised by Lisa is only a concern if highly paid professionals are not effective. Then they need to protect themselves from layoffs.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:37 a.m.

Maybe it should be like Survivor and the teachers, students, administrators and parents should vote the most threatening teachers off the "island." Like with the show, sometimes the ones voted off are not the worst, but the ones they don't want around because they have what someone else wants. Now, it seems the "immunity" is whether a teacher can survive the test of teaching a number of years given various difficult situations that must be overcome, including new preparations, multiple preparations, poorly behaved students, moving from room to room every hour, grading papers while preparing for classes and taking care of a family and fulfilling advanced degree requirements. Perhaps the current system takes that into consideration. People do run out of steam from time to time, but we don't do euthanasia because someone is having difficulty; we have a system of rehabilitation. I know when I have spoken to principals about various teachers they tell me the ways in which they are working with them to improve. They say the new state standards have put a stress on the system as everyone has to learn new material very quickly so teachers are pooling their resources to implement new curricula with common assessments. The brand new teachers often have great energy, but the system will demand they function in ways that were not part of their idealization of the profession. Perhaps the state board of education is to blame for some of the problems with education and educators. Perhaps that almost anyone can get certified to be a teacher is to blame. If getting into education school were like getting into law school, requiring an undergraduate degree with a viable major, then we might get stronger teachers from the start.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

I'm just woundering how are teachers susposet to teach when the parents and/or the student doesnt' care? Remember that old leading a horse to water thing?


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

"If you want to travel fast-travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together." I want our students to travel far!! Wow well said Ray Batra. Your article is spot on! I do believe even the MEA agrees this is a problem. @ Murrow's Ghost (whom I often agree with this exception) "The vast literature on student evaluations of teachers shows that those evals are overwhelmingly based on the grade the student expects to receive in the class" This is a pseudo science factoid. While exaggerating the conclusions of studies done, Murrow's Ghost implies that students and parents aren't good judges of teachers. This is patently absurd. Customers are always the BEST judges of competency. The studies that establish these basic tenants are overwhelming and vast compared to the studies Ghost references, and education is not and exception. Jays suggestion that this be a trigger is a perfect solution and there are no "studies" on systems like that. Obviously this is not a simple issue. There are no black and white solutions. But having the customers provide feedback to help administrators focus on underperforming assets is a TERRIFIC start to enhancing parent/student involvement and inclusive solutions are usually great solutions. Systems that involve stakeholders produce exponentially better results. Another idea for a source for good feedback-poll former students 4 years past High School. They might be in the best position to say what Educators actually helped them. If you want to travel far, travel together.

Jimmy Olsen

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

@Lisa Spoken like a true mouth-piece for the MEA. Show me the data that "teacher quality improves with experience.". Show me the data that a teacher with a Master's Degree is a better teacher. Show me the data that a teacher who gets an automatic step-raise based on seniority and other factors is a better teacher. Structural change is needed and the MEA would be better served if they realized and promoted it from within, instead of concepts (and contracts) from the 1970's UAW style. Great opinon article from a local student - he gets it - as do many more.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

Ghost Could you point us to some of the more relevant "vast literature" you allude to? I find it telling that other school districts are already doing this. They must be horribly misinformed about popularity contests. You will note that students' opinions are but one element in the evaluation process. Administrators also have a say. But, to hold your feet to the fire for a moment, what would you propose as an alternative? Ray makes a salient point: rotten teachers who have seniority remain, and great teachers with no seniority get the heave. We all know this. Ray, very well written article. Your english teacher should be proud. Some teacher out there is challenging their students to reach for excellence! And, isn't it true that one of the marks of a great teacher is that, even though they are tough and demanding, students invariably rise to the challenge because they admire and honor that teacher. Conversely, some of the poorest teachers expect little from their charges, and suffer the consequent poor esteem that goes hand-in-hand.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:02 a.m.

Lisa, how did the whole seniority thing work out for the Detroit Public Schools? The worst peforming.. highest cost schools in the state.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

For a junior of Huron High School to do this level of research and write so well, says many good things about the quality of the education in the school. Thank you Mr. Batra for this fine essay. If you goal is writing for a living, this is a fine start. I have read in detail what Washington DC is doing, and I would like to think that they have hit on something. I would suggest that it might make a model for the US in a couple of decades. After all the education establishment will need time to study the results of the changes and do longitudinal studies. Changing the established system takes time.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

One of the reason the seniority rules were put in place was because more senior teachers are more expensive and typically, despite your anecdotes, teacher quality improves with experience. Experienced teachers would be let go and replaced with inexperienced teachers because they are cheaper. Do you really think it reasonable to replace experienced, high quality teachers with inexpensive inexperienced teachers to save money at the expense of quality?


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:49 a.m.

He isn't talking about replacing quality experianced teachers with bad ones. The point of this disscussion is about not cutting quality teachers over poor-quality teachers. Just because someone has experiance doesn't automatically make him/her a better teacher. As a huron student I can say with honesty that my best teacher were some of the youngest while my worst was also the oldest. I am not saying old teachers are worse, but saying they are better because they have experiance isn't right either.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

Agreed: seniority alone is not a great way to determine layoffs. But the solutions put forth are reminders of the troubles in crafting an alternative system. Use of student achievement data? You then reward teachers who 'teach to the test,' not those who take do things differently, take risks, or try to challenge students in deeper ways. Use of administrator evaluations? You then reward those who suck up to their bosses. As with any other type of job, the suck-up-to-the-bossers aren't usually the finest employees. Finally, while I trust Ray that the two very good and very bad teachers he discusses are genuinely good and bad, let's remember that not all students are able to make an objective judgment. There are many situations where good really means popular which really means easy.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

Let's refocus. The article indicated administrators would make professional decisions on teacher's ability...not popularity.

Elizabeth Nelson

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

Another thought: to counteract the 'squeaky wheel' phenomenon, it would be relatively easy to implement a review system that included everyone. In college, we were given scan-tron sheets to review the course/teachers at the end of every semester. Fair enough if the odd person had a strong negative opinion, but putting that extreme opinion in a big pile of otherwise positive reviews puts it in context. I would add, also: including parent opinion is very helpful because parents have a different perspective about this stuff, even when we see our own child struggle. I've talked to other parents who will describe a horrendously bad situation with a specific teacher, but are also able to see that the issue is isolated, related to personality, or otherwise just a fluke thing with their own child. I think that happens more than people realize. You can either jump up and down and imagine the wild and crazy students/parents organizing a mob scene against a teacher, or you can give us credit for being sensible and intelligent about it. Parents, especially, are more likely to acknowledge, "We had a bad experience, but it doesn't mean that the teacher is bad for EVERYONE..."


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

Ray, you really hit the spot with this, this is *exactly* what many students I've talked to at Huron think about the current situation. One thing, though. Objectivity/Subjectivity still remains an issue in any student evaluations. Take a look at Sometimes, even the best teachers get many negative reviews, due to homework load or teaching style. In fact, RateMyTeachers and other teacher evaluation techniques can become very skewed because, at times, the only students who want to evaluate a teacher are the ones with negative opinions about them. While this issue of subjectivity can be resolved, as you said, with strict scrutiny that's applied *based* on these accumulations of negative reviews, it's still an issue to think about. Great job on this essay, Ray :) I was nodding with agreement all throughout

Elizabeth Nelson

Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:26 a.m.

It's always so frustrating when someone intentionally misunderstands/oversimplifies because they don't have a valid argument against an idea... The thoughtful writer of this article clearly did not intend that teachers be judged on a straight-up popularity contest, his suggestion of 'triggers' for scrutiny acknowledged that the decision would remain with administrators. Now, I suppose if we presume NO professionalism on the part of administrators (seriously?) you could argue that it's a different kind of 'popularity' contest, but certainly no different than any other job where one is held accountable to a boss. I think it is outrageous that students and (for the lower grades) parents are written off so casually as having no credibility. Whenever an idea like this comes up, people tell stories about the sad, innocent teacher who is persecuted for something petty because those CRAZY parents are out to get him. I don't buy this argument. It's insulting and offensive. Bravo to a student for taking the time to write about this. I remember the useless teachers in my high school, they do exist. Like the writer explains, it is OBVIOUS when a teacher is coasting, obvious to the students more than anyone. If, twenty years ago, my classmates and I had to watch something similar to what happened this spring with the potential layoffs, I would feel this kind of frustration, too.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:22 a.m.

yes, if popularity = competency


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7:03 a.m.

So I suppose the one's kept are the one's that win the popularity contest?


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 7 a.m.

Young man, I applaud your effort. As you are the person(and indirectly your parents) receiving the services, you and your fellow students now understand the damage that the MEA might have done to your education. Thankfully a last minute re-shuffle of $$$ save some of the great young teachers. I look forward to the day when such entitlements (seniority) disappear in favor of performance.


Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 6:38 a.m.

Amen. Well-thought-out and well-written. Why did we ever let the needs of our students take a back seat to these contracts? And what will we do to change things? Perhaps this letter will make more people aware, and that's a start.