Good Teachers Need Not Apply


The Washington Post's Jay Matthews reports on a maddening study that details how urban school districts keep high quality teachers away from disadvantaged kids.

The researchers surveyed more than 300 applicants for inner-city teaching jobs who withdrew out of frustration with the hiring process. Those applicants, compared with others around the country, "had significantly higher undergraduate GPAs (grade-point averages), were 40 percent more likely to have a degree in their teaching field, and were significantly more likely to have completed educational course work," according to [the report].

…37 percent to 69 percent of those who withdrew applications out of frustration—percentages varied by districts—were candidates for "hard-to-fill positions."

In each city, [the researchers] encountered "poor design and execution by [school] district human resources offices, a cumbersome application process, too many layers of bureaucracy, inadequate customer service, poor data services, and an overall lack of urgency."

It was standard procedure to let impressive applications sit in file drawers for months, the researchers found, while the candidates, needing to get their lives in order, secured work elsewhere. One district, for example, received 4,000 applications for 200 slots but was slow to offer jobs and lost out on top candidates.

The study, published by the New Teacher Project, says the problem is largely due to: policies that allow retiring teachers to provide very late notice; teacher union transfer rights; and late budget timetables.

Here's the report.

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  1. “how much Corporate money does New Teacher Project get?

    you reasonites will post PR from corporations as long is it has a slight stink of libertarianism.

    Posted by 1977 at October 28, 2003 11:01 AM ”

    Yeah! All corporations and corporate money are evil. Just plain evil. We should be more like one of those countries where the state owns and runs everything and decides what is and isn’t working, like.. Cuba.

    That way, we’d be honest and not have to depend on those big bad corporations. The state would be more than capable of being fair and honest and efficient and..

    oh wait, This is reality..

  2. I don’t think it’s about bad or good people. I think it’s about middlin’ functioning people thjt only want to hire other middlin’s so the newcomers don’t make the old timers look bad.

    I’ve worked in NYC union jobs for years. I have heard “Don’t work so hard, you’re making the rest of us look bad” from a surprising amount of people in places ranging the Brooklyn DAs office to the Bronx Zoo.

  3. Ira spoke out agaist the Union! exercise your “workers rights” and key his car!

  4. I read the bulk of the attached study. The roadblock imposed by (union rule) right-of-transfer-first-refusal looks like a killer impediment that the studied districts appear to have a serious competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis *neighboring suburban school districts*. How does this come to be? Suburban teacher’s unions are no less aggressive at doing the union thing than urban ones… Why the discrepancy? Do other stakeholders, like agitating parents, have more influence in supposedly smaller or wealthier districts?

    Agitating for devolvement of some HR functions from central district admin to local principal control may also be a helpful solution, especially as a part of a school-choice platoform. It would almost certainly cost more in overhead, but would give the hiring managers (principals) far more ownership of the process.

  5. “the two posters I quoted, in their haste to smear anyone who draws a paycheck from the government, don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    Joe – thanks for the insult.

    Contrary to your misreading of my post, I do have not issue with nor any desire to smear “anyone who draws a government paycheck.” I have an issue with people who draw a government paycheck and do a shitty job.

    It is in the news today about a major lapse in effectiveness of child services in New Jersry. Nine DYFS employees from the case worker involved up through and including a regional supervisor were canned. This is the way it should be done.

  6. ‘Contrary to your misreading of my post, I do have not issue with nor any desire to smear “anyone who draws a government paycheck.”‘

    StMack, there are just so many ways one can read “they just don’t give a shit.” It’s an insult. The fact that you think that statement is an accurate depiction of any significant number of teachers, principals, and school boards demonstrats that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    As for the DYS example, the trail between a High School junior who can’t read, for example, and his second grade teacher is not nearly so direct or observable.

  7. Incompetence is incompetence, and it should be eliminated wherever found.

  8. Hear hear! That’s a sentiment I’ve often heard from teachers.

  9. Not the ones in PS98 on 212th street!

  10. Dammit, Grant Gould and Kevin Carson, I baited you into a union argument. Get back here!

  11. Lazy civil servants don’t want ambitious and bright youngsters to upset their apple carts of privilage and incompetance?

    I’m shocked, shocked!

  12. I’m sure I’m not the only Reason reader who can corroborate this story with the experiences of idealistic prospective teacher friends/siblings. Personally, I would love to teach, but I knew enough beforehand not to get stuck in the bureaucracy and got into the private sector.

  13. Hear, hear! My wife recently went through precisely this — the dozens of double-layers of bureaucracy, pointless tests scored on political criteria, union indoctrination, but above all the agonizing game of four-way chicken played between schools, budget committees, retiring teachers, and new applicants. Many applicants literally do not know they will have jobs for the school year until the first day of school — or later!

    In the end, she blinked first: She’s now teaching at a private prep school for the super-rich and loving every minute of it. And the public school that missed her is now running a teacher short and with vast class sizes as a result. (Naturally, they blame these class sizes on budget constraints.)

    While there are big theoretical problems with public education, by far the biggest problems are practical: It is run by political hacks and ass-coverers with the intelligence of spaniels, themselves in hock to the arbitrary and uncontested whims of schlerotic unions, and all of them laboring under a bewildering variety of dysfunctional and randomly fluctuating budget processes.

  14. The bottom line is they just don’t give a shit. They don’t because they don’t have to. The success or failure of students or entire school systems has no impact on them or their paychecks.

    Civil service regulations need a massive overhaul to permit widepread firing for incompetence. Anyone who allows something like this to happen should be out on their ass.

  15. When my father retired from the air force he went back to school to get his teaching degree. Now, he is a life long pro-union Democrat who thought things like school choice was a bad idea… until he went through the process of getting his education degree and student teaching. He loved the kids, loved the work, but couldn’t stand the Education Dept and the dumb bullshit you needed to take to “become a teacher,” nor did he have much love for the school administration or the teacher’s union where he ended up teaching. Now, it takes an awful lot to get on my dad’s bad side, he’s an eternal optimist, but that whole process spun him around 180 degrees over issues of vouchers and school choice.

    Now, at least, he’s teaching at a DoDDS school in the UK. Having grown up in DoDDS school I have to say they’re some of the best you can ever educated in: twice the education, half the bullshit.

  16. What are you guys, nuts? The public schools run flawlessly! The process is set up perfectly to make sure that all students have perfect access to a perfect education! All the time! All they need is an infinite amount of funding!

  17. What a shame, but to be expected. There was a time when unions were wholly necessary, but that time has passed as the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction — at least insofar as public employees are concerned anyway. Saving the jobs of current union members is more important than helping the community climb out of the hole its been put into. This can be seen over and over in urban areas in public works, schools, and even the police and fire departments. Unfortunately, the citizens accept it – even when they are the ones paying the price, in both the short and long terms. So sad.

  18. A friend of mine who teaches second grade went through this in New Haven. She has a BA from Ahrvard, but when she applied to work in the school system her file went to the bottom of the pile. All the previous year’s applicants had to be reinterviewed first, she was told.

    Meanwhile, she secured a job teaching in a well-to-do suburb for twice the money. Good news for her, bad news for the children of New Haven.

    The worst part is that she’s a do-gooder who really would have been happy to work in an underperforming urban school. Oops.

  19. DReed — It’s not just that the unions were once necessary and now aren’t. Unions are even more necessary, because the existing unions don’t do the things they’re needed to do.

    Ask real teachers what they want and you’ll hear things like training or mentorship, transferrable pensions (ie, retaining pension status when moving between districts), more opportunity to plan curriculum (ie, earlier notice of class assignments).

    What do the unions oppose? Training obligations for senior teachers. Private-sector-style trasferrable pensions. Early decisions about class assignments.

    To blame the existance of teachers’ unions misses the point: It is the particular unions that are the problem. The unions have captured the process to such an extent that they have little accountability to anyone, including their notional stakeholders. The union has no incentive to serve the needs of students, yes, but it has no incentive to serve the needs of teachers, either. It is simply a large institution that has captured the process, entirely unrelated to the actual needs of any actual stakeholder in the process.

    Teachers, in short, need to unionize against the “teacher’s” union.

  20. how much Corporate money does New Teacher Project get?

    you reasonites will post PR from corporations as long is it has a slight stink of libertarianism.

  21. Grant Gould,

    I think you’ve got it right. I’m all for collective bargaining in any workplace. I imagine school administrators are like any other bosses–if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Talk about making it easier to fire for incompetence sounds good, but if there isn’t an adversarial system in place to make the bosses PROVE incompetence, what will really happen is that all the “troublemakers” (i.e., non-ass kissers) will be labelled “incompetent,” with a forged paper trail to prove it.

    Although unions are indeed needed more than ever, D. Reed is right in that existing unions are concentrated where they’re needed the least, and concerned mainly with feathering the nests of those who already have jobs.

    Part of the problem is that Taft-Hartley limits sympathy strikes when one plant is closed down. But part of it is that the AFL-CIO bureaucrats will cheerfully watch union membership go down to 1%, so long as the dues of the rest pay their salaries.

    Under the National Endowment for Democracy, the AFL-CIO gets gazillions of tax dollars for participating. That means that, theoretically, union membership could decline to zero and the pie-cards could still draw salaries.

    The only hope for the labor movement is unionizing the people who need it most, in service industries. One of the most promising things I’ve heard recently was a project by an AFL-CIO organizer in the Bay area. She’s working with nurses who are currently hired through staffing agencies. Such agencies generally charge significantly more than the average daily wage for a nurse, and then pay their nurses about a third of that. This lady is trying to organize nurse-owned staffing agencies, as sort of a modern cross between the old union hiring halls and a workers’ co-op. Cut out the middleman, you know. They can charge lower rates to the hospitals, while paying themselves higher wages.

  22. “The bottom line is they just don’t give a shit. They don’t because they don’t have to. The success or failure of students or entire school systems has no impact on them or their paychecks.”

    “Saving the jobs of current union members is more important than helping the community climb out of the hole its been put into.”

    You people are never going to come up with workable solutions to the problems facing school systems until you get over your adolescent insistence that the problem is Bad People, defined as Those Who Don’t Agree With Me. Public school teachers and administrators are among the most decent, committed, knowledgeable people in America, and they put up with low pay and bad conditions because they’re fighting for a cause they believe in – the well being and future success of children.

    If you think these people are making their decisions based on chasing money, you don’t really have an opinion, so much as a prejudice.

  23. Anon at 11:19,
    You miss the point. No one is claiming that teachers are in it for the money; instead, the claim is that school organizations (the combination of administration and union rule enforcement) are organizationally broken such that they leave qualified, motivated applicants out of the teaching profession.

  24. Anon 11:19,

    There’s a number of reasons for opinion that some of these paople are simply chasing money. Here’s one, Barbara Bullock, DC teacher’s union. Look her up if you would like to know were such an unfounded, prejudicial opinion comes from.

  25. That was me at 11:19. Sorry.

    Keith, I get that point. The article does a very good job explaining the systemic problems. And the teachers and administrators I know can explain those problems even better – which just goes to show that the two posters I quoted, in their haste to smear anyone who draws a paycheck from the government, don’t know what they’re talking about. Perhaps teachers could make more headway in achieving necessary reforms, if they didn’t have to spend so much of their political capital defending themselves from those offended by their existence. Or perhaps they wouldn’t feel so much solidarity with their sclerotic union leadership, if they weren’t constantly having to band together to prevent their schools from being pillaged by bitter ideologues.

    chthus – perhaps I should generalize from Ken Lay in forming my opinion of private sector executives? Or David Duke, in my opinion of Republicans?

  26. If you did it with Ken Lay, you’d be in the company of millions. As for Duke, his affect on the republican party has been akin to the old crazy physics teacher who rambles on about how one day he’s going to take the union for millions of dollars.

    Bullock, on the other hand, did take the DC teachers union for millions, over 5 years, with no one noticing. Her and three others have now plead guilty to various and sundry charges, but aside from some wining and dining and new clothes, no one knows where the money went. Or how it went. Or if it could go again sometime. Meanwhile the teachers and students in DC suffer.

    But you are right, that’s only four bad apples. An okay example, but not enough to indicate there’s a problem.

    But then there’s Pat Tornillo in Miami.

  27. So to sum up, the problem is, there are Bad People in power. We need to take away their power, and give it to Good People.


  28. Or, perhaps adjust a system that lets a few bad people take advantage of a bunch of good people.

  29. Grant Gould and Kevin Carson,

    This board is the last place I’d expect to see people pushing for unionism. Mandated collective bargaining is antithetical to any concept of liberty. It strips away rights and corrodes freedom.

    That’s not to say people shouldn’t be able to “organize” if they want to. Of course they should; that’s inherent in the right of association. But also inherent in the right of association is the right to NOT associate with someone. And under current labor laws, employers have been stripped of this right.

    Just because some arbitrary group of people band together and call themselves a “union” doesn’t mean Joe Employer should be forced to negotiate with them. That’s ridiculous.

  30. I’m not so sure Joe’s right that teachers “feel so much solidarity with their sclerotic union leadership.” My experience with my public school teachers is that they joined and stayed in the union because the union was too powerful to let districts hire/promote non-union teachers or fire union teachers. I imagine a good amount of teacher union membership is borne not of “constantly having to band together to prevent their schools from being pillaged by bitter ideologues,” but rather of simple pragmatic necessity.

  31. To sum up, without competition, or with competition severly limited by government fiat, people get lazy. We need to increase choice, and thereby competition, in schooling.

  32. Unions and the labor movement can drop dead for all I care. Both are based inherently on violence, on intimidating fellow workers from not seeking their own deals. They are anti-libertarian in practice, if not theory.

    Like all unions, the teachers union is putting itself out of business. If I was a teacher I would quit and start a consulting business for home schoolers.

  33. Most of the people I know with children in New Haven send them to private schools, rather than the public schools in the city. Catholic schools are still very big there.

  34. Teachers, in short, need to unionize against the “teacher’s” union.

    Cato did a policy analysis on teacher union choice last year.

  35. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 12:18:10
    We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.

  36. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 12:29:32
    The words of truth are always paradoxical.

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