2011-02-04 / Editorial/Opinion

Firing Experienced Teachers Not The Answer

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that he may have to cut as many as 20,000 teachers from the public school system due to the financial crisis faced by the city and the proposed state education cuts. That would push class size in elementary schools to more than 30 and in high schools more than 40 students in a class. In addition, he says, he will have to “part company with some of our best teachers.” Bloomberg was not talking about the pool of experienced and dedicated teachers that have served our children for 10, 15, 20 or 25 years. He was talking about those teachers who have been in the system for less than five years. In a bluntly worded speech at an influential black church, Bloomberg demanded that the governor and the state legislature do away with all seniority rules for teachers. “Right now, I will have to fire all of the teachers who have started in the last five years,” Bloomberg said. “I say enough with Albany rules. You cannot fire those young dedicated teachers. If the governor’s budget contains education cuts then it must also contain changes in the law so that we can take merit into account when making these difficult decisions.” While most parents want merit to play a part in layoffs, it seems clear that Bloomberg believes that there is merit in being a new teacher and something rotten with veterans. Perhaps that’s because they cost much more and have some loyalty to the union he has been trying to destroy for seven years. Bloomberg has often shown his disdain for what he portrays as archaic, union-backed rules that impinge on his total control of the school system. If he can somehow destroy the seniority system, it will be the final step in making the union redundant. But new teachers are not inherently better than experienced teachers. In fact, it’s the other way around. Statistics show that it takes at least four years to become a competent teacher. More than a quarter of new school hires leave the system prior to year five. We can’t think of any other profession where the “new=better” is used in hiring and firing. Why should it be so with teachers? On Monday, there were published reports that the legislature was working on a plan that would allow the mayor to fire those teachers who have been excessed from their closed schools as well as those sent to the “rubber room” by their principals. There is a fairness component of this argument. Experienced teachers should not be fired just because their school was closed by a bureaucracy that used discredited test scores to decide on which schools to close. That the excessed teachers can’t find new jobs has more to do with the fact that they cost a principal twice as much as a new teacher, than it has to do with their competency. Bloomberg wants to end the civil service system and destroy the city unions. The state legislature should not become his partner in that pursuit.

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