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Involuntary attrition of .03% is not high performing

Posted by Meg Bear on March 20, 2009


union I’m  no Norma Rae, but I do have a general appreciation for unions.   I think unions are an excellent way to promote rights for workers.  Rights to safe work environment, fair pay, benefits, etc.  I do not, however, think that unions should be in the business of protecting workers who do not perform. 

Why?  Simple, if you cannot fire non-performers you are hurting the rest of the employees.  Frankly, the poor performer, if not cut loose, will drag the whole group down.

This is my first year participating in the California public school system (well since I left it myself), and so far my experience has been great.    Of course, I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is very committed to the schools and puts an overwhelming amount of time and energy into their success.   My daughter is also lucky to have an excellent teacher.

So, you can imagine that I was blown away to learn that  once given tenure (after 2 years of service) teachers cannot be fired.  At least those that are merely incompetent cannot, I guess you could fire the Humbert Humbert types.

In 2003, one Los Angeles union representative said: “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.”

This sounds to me, like the tenure system is a racket.    Look at the stats for Los Angeles for 1995-2005

Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination — eleven per year — out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district whose 2003 graduation rate was just 51 percent.

Wow!  What can that possibly be doing for the engagement levels of the awesome teachers ?  Where are the non-fired bad teachers going?  I’m guessing there are more than a few employee hot potato situations. 

I’m all for paying teachers more, a lot more, but I cannot see how we get better schools for everyone, until we start requiring performance for that pay.   In my experience, numbers like these do not reflect reality.   

I’m not suggesting we need to go Jack Welch, but I do think that some level of workforce trimming is necessary for a healthy organization to grow.

Hit me with your comments readers, tell me what is being done to fix this?  How do I get involved?

8 Responses to “Involuntary attrition of .03% is not high performing”

  1. Noons said

    OK, here is a little food for thought.

    Do we also fire the students that do not perform?

    As in: make them leave school and lose them forever from the workforce?

    Rmemeber: it’s the workforce that consumes the vast majority of production.
    Without it, there is no economy.

    So, do we fire non-performing students as well?

    What, no good for the gander but it’s good for the goose?

    Like I said: food for thought.

    • Branden Hoopes said

      I think you are using the wrong analogy. We don’t fire students because students aren’t employed. They are required to be in school by law in most cases.

      So what is analogous to teachers being rewarded with lifetime employment in spite of poor performance? The answer would be rewarding students with good grades for poor performance.

      The highest paid teachers in a system like this is often those who have put in the most years of service. Students, however, never become valedictorian by simply managing to stay in high school longer than anyone else.

      Rewarding all performance and achievement (or lack thereof) equally is a good recipie for lowering the overall performance of the organization. Certainly when it comes to education we should aspire to better outcomes.

  2. I have seen some similarities at the college level as well. Tenure usually equates to absolute job security, but the requirements for gaining tenure often are not related to teaching excellence. Publishing, presenting, and earning grant funding are many times more important than teaching, and that sometimes serves as a detriment for the customer, the student. Really interesting and thought provoking post.

  3. Mike Teer said

    The original purpose of tenure was to give teachers (usually at the post-seconday level, but now at all levels) academic freedom. That is, they could teach pretty much what they wanted (with some limitations) and not fear reprisals from an administration that did not hold the same political, religious or other beliefs as the faculty member. Now it’s seen more (at least in the primary and secondary education systems) as a job security tool. Union leaders are required to protect their members, even the non-performing ones, according to the contracts they negotiate with school districts. This means non-performers must be protected, no matter how distasteful that may be for a union leadership, and no matter how much the policy drags down the rest of the faculty.

    I’ll also agree that not all the fault lies with the teachers. Students seem to have a sense of entitlement, perhaps fostered by parents, to good grades no matter how much work (or how porrly) they actually do. Parents aren’t involved enough – in ensuring their children do the work, and are raised to respect their teachers (and, for that matter, others in authority), and understand that education is important. Parents also need to support their teachers, to not always jump to the conclusion that “my child would never do a thing like that.” I know I sound like an old curmudgeon when I say this, but if I ever got in trouble in school, I had to accept the punishment doled out at school AND got an ever stronger dose at home. I understand from people I know in the education field that it doesn’t usually work out that way today.

    I just had a conversation about some of these very topics with a good friend (who happens to be a high school teacher) over dinner the other night. She’s burned out because of many of these issues – no support from parents, no involvement from parents, students who don’t respect teachers in particular and authorities in general.

    The president has begun talking about how parents need to have involvement and I hope he continues to raise the issues. I also hope the very strong teachers unions come to agree that by not weeding out the low performers, the whole system is suffering. You know, the weakest link.

  4. […] Involuntary attrition of .03% is not high performing […]

  5. David K said

    The sad thing about this statistic is that for the most part, it’s easy to determine a teachers’ performance, even accounting for variability in students. You simply test the kids before and after each semester (or ideally, once a semester, mixing in questions on the next semesters’ subject, so as to reduce costs and cheating). Teachers that improve kids’ scores by the highest amount are the best teachers … and then there will be cases (much more than .03%) where kids will perform worse.

    While there are certainly problems with standardized tests; the complaint that teacher’s will simply “teach to the test” is a red herring. For subjects like math, science, and reading comprehension, you simply can’t ‘teach’ kids to memorize every combination of multiplication up to 1000 x 1000, or to memorize reading comprehension. Tests should be continually improved, but until there is a superior biological or neurological scan that can assess the level of learning achieved, we need to continue using tests for this purpose.

    Bottom line: teachers (thru their unions) are acting like most people do, when confronted with the prospect of using hard and fast numbers to determine their performance … they resist. Of course, if you were willing to pay the top 10% of performers a 50% bonus (I’m certain you could prove a positive ROI on that), then at least you’d get the top performers backing you … at present, it looks like only downside; let’s get rid of bad performers.

  6. […] by Meg Bear on December 16, 2009 Those of you with long memories know that I had my innocence taken from me about the California public school system.  Ever since,  I’ve been wondering about what I […]

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