Flagg: Student outcomes firstWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the third in a series about the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) levy. The first, “Tough choices,” was published July 26. The second, “TPS’ pig in a poke,” was published Oct. 19.
An obvious professional goal for any teacher is to assist students in meeting their academic potential. The primary objective for a teachers union is to represent and protect its dues-paying members. While these two objectives can be compatible, students rarely come first in this equation.
Albert Shanker, a past president of the American Federation of Teachers, is reputed to have said, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.” Toledo Public Schools’ unions appear to have taken this quote as gospel.
Over the past 40 years, TPS’ collective bargaining agreements have become longer and more complex, control of vital resources has been taken from the community’s elected representatives and the inflexibility of many work rules have raised costs.
While there are provisions in bargaining unit contracts besides the Toledo Federation of Teachers’ (TFT) that require change, it is the TFT contract that has provisions that most egregiously hamper improving student academic outcomes beyond the considerable improvement manifested with the change to K-8 elementary schools.
Seniority provisions in the TFT contract provide for five different types of seniority that control teacher classroom and school assignments, system-wide assignments for specialty teachers, transfers due to layoffs and department chair assignments. The process is complex and strips TPS administration of a key component in improving student outcomes: deployment of quality teachers.
I used information obtained from the Ohio Department of Education and TPS via open records requests to test my speculation that this process has put at-risk students in central city and underperforming schools at a disadvantage. Sure enough, something is going on and it’s impacting minority and poor students the most.
TPS has 40 K-8 elementary schools. The chart below compares the 10 best performing schools versus the 10 worst performing schools based on the performance index (PI) score from 2013 state report cards. The seven schools with a PI below 70 (D or worse letter grade) are further examined as well.
We can see a disturbing pattern. TPS’ underperforming schools have the most new teachers, the greatest vacancy and teacher turnover rates, and the lowest percentage of teachers with more than 15 years’ tenure compared to TPS’ highest performing schools.
This can only be due to seniority — the only criteria for teacher assignment — and the single salary schedule in the TFT contract. It seems that the contract has created a system where the highest paid, most senior teachers get the easiest positions without the challenges associated with lower performing schools. What effective organization survives and thrives under these conditions?
Besides the seniority and salary schedule, there are numerous other onerous provisions that impact student outcomes and increase operational costs, including the preference for long-term substitutes, hourly teachers, tutors and home instructors for full-time positions before an outside hire; placeholder substitutes for the 77 teachers on special assignment (some of the highest tenured TPS teachers); and professional development practices.
It’s not possible to comment on all of them in this column. But one point is clear: Changes are drastically needed now. The past 40 years of negotiations and most recently the lack of progress on performance audit recommendations demonstrate how difficult it will be to get the TFT and other union leadership to negotiate any changes without the appropriate leverage.
A yes vote on Issue 1 ensures the problems will never be negotiated. Voting no sends a message to the board and union leadership that this community wants student outcomes to be the first priority before a levy funding salary increase is passed.
Steven Flagg is a community activist with more than 20 years of experience in education advocacy. For more of his writings, visit tpsinfo.com.