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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 08/19/2010

Russo: The willy-nilly nature of teacher layoffs

By Valerie Strauss

This piece was written by Alexander Russo, a former Democratic Senate aide who writes the widely read "This Week In Education" blog.

By Alexander Russo
It's not just newbies and burnouts who are getting laid off -- even with the "edujobs" money on its way.

One of those who doesn't fit the conventional view of who is getting laid off is Sunny Neater-DuBow, a highly certified and tenured Chicago art teacher who was recently laid off from her job at Little Village High School, along with many others.

She's got seven years on the job, National Board Certification, all the bells and whistles. She is, according to the research, at the prime of her teaching career.

But she and roughly half of the faculty who worked at one of the small schools created in response to a hunger strike by Latino mothers protesting the lack of quality education opportunities in the area have been laid off. Her layoff is mentioned in this Substance article, and is the subject of this post from Mike Klonsky.

How's this happening? Well, Arne Duncan's successor as Chicago public schools chief, Ron Huberman, apparently under some sort of emergency spending loophole, is allowing principals to cut tenured positions and then hire newer, less expensive teachers to do much the same job.

In Neater-DuBow's case, she saw that her school had posted a call for a new visual-arts teacher earlier this summer -- her old job -- but added that applicants would also need to have a "dance endorsement." Dance has never been offered at the school in the past, though Neater-Dubow could theoretically teach one or two dance classes out of field.

[There's also the possibility that the dismissals are payback for a group of teachers who came together to stand up to new principal Patty Gonzalez over the school's performance pay program.]

Not surprisingly, the union is getting involved on behalf of these teachers and others, and the teacher and others are doing their best to get the word out about what's really happening.

There are, of course, lots of people losing their jobs -- including more than a few teachers. The Little Village schools haven't lived up to their promise and the new principal should be allowed to make changes to make things better. No one's advocating for going back to the old centralized, seniority based system here.

What makes this situation notable is how it illustrates the ad hoc, willy-nilly nature of the layoff process, the questionable uses to which principals and administrators are putting the current budget crisis, and the sad state of affairs in Chicago schools, which not too long ago were being heralded as making good progress.

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By Valerie Strauss  | August 19, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Teachers  | Tags:  alexander russo, chicago schools, little village high school, teachers and layoffs  
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Comments

Education on the cheap. That's just fine for some people. Not mine or yours, of course, but definitely others. Preferably those who lack power or voice traditionally in our society and whose concerns are ignored for as long as possible. It sounds like those Latina moms need to dust off their hunger strike again and demand quality for their kids too.

I'm so disgusted by what this school is doing to their community and I hope the message gets out loud and clear to Chicago. What many educators have feared is coming true. This whole battle over tenure is turning into a means to rid schools of expereinced, talented but more expensive teachers. All of this nattering on about achievement and effectiveness clearly doesn't mean a thing when you get rid of top talent for the bottom of the pay scale. Is this really what a professional teaching force is supposed to be about? Is this going to help our children compete in the global economy?

Posted by: Nikki1231 | August 19, 2010 6:37 AM | Report abuse

online education can provide especially for people who are already in the workforce and want to retrain the chance to upgrade their skills without having to quit their job http://bit.ly/a45y6d

Posted by: dalejohn19 | August 19, 2010 6:46 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan would be so proud if he knew of what happened to Ms. Neater-DuBow. This is exactly what he was working for when he was CEO of CPS, and what he is looking for as Secretary of Education.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 19, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan would be so proud if he knew of what happened to Ms. Neater-DuBow. This is exactly what he was working for when he was CEO of CPS, and what he is looking for as Secretary of Education.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 19, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan would be so proud if he knew Ms. Neater-DuBow was fired. This is exactly what he was working for when he was CEO of CPS, and what he is looking for as Secretary of Education.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 19, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Little Village, where Ms. Neater-DuBow worked is a lower income neighborhood in which a lot of the adults don't speak English. There are also gangs there.

If we chase all our experienced teachers out of the poor gang ridden neighborhoods, who is going to take their place? Inexperienced teachers who don't understand the complexity of the neighborhood?

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 19, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

In Neater-DuBow's case, she saw that her school had posted a call for a new visual-arts teacher earlier this summer -- her old job -- but added that applicants would also need to have a "dance endorsement."
___________________________
Dance as an endorsement to Art?!? While both areas fall under the umbrella of the arts, the substance and practice of the two are so far apart, that there are few chances of finding someone who can do both, at least competently. Dance is closer to the Music field or P.E. if you want a realistic extra endorsement.

This is the sort of nasty games-playing that administrators who do the hiring as well as the firing can do, usually because they want to give the job to someone they know as a favor. I know this for a fact because it happened in an art department I worked in. The art department suffered, the dance person, who had little training or experience in art turned out to be a disaster, and it was all due to an administrator who was committed to hiring the dancer. ?!?

Much more onus needs to be placed on administrators, who do the screening and hiring of teachers.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | August 19, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I find this story to be absolutely terrifying. DC teachers were foolish to vote away their tenure for the sake of a pay raise that most of them will never see. I hope other public school systems learn from this.

Posted by: musiclady | August 19, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for standing up for her. The Chicago Tribune won't as they support the firing of experienced teachers to make way for new ones. Early this summer they had a big article on the importance of getting rid of teacher tenure.

The Chicago Tribune is in the pocket of Mayor Dailey, who is in the pocket of the corporate interests.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 19, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Corporatism at its worst - fire by any means neccesary the expensive employees to replace them with cheap, inexperienced ones.

Public education cannot be run with a business model; it is not a for-profit organisation. It is designed to provide a huge and necessary service to society, not reap quick loads of cash for stock-holders and their CEO's.

Valerie, it would be worth some coverage in your columns on this. Refer to the Education Week edition of Aug. 11, pg.4.
Our own DC area corporation, America's Choice, has been bought by a British company. America's Choice has been providing services to help teachers AND be involved in writing new standards for language arts and math for the District and other states.
This may be nothing new but it is another example of the foxes running the chicken coop. They are really in it for the money, not so much the teachers and children.

Out-sourcing and privatizing these educational services is not in the nominal beneficiaries' best interests.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | August 19, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

In the computer field experienced people are constantly being fired and replaced by inexperienced people. All's that does is to de-stabilze computer support. Yet corporations keep doing it because there is no one to stop them.

I saw the destruction that was done to computer support by this practice and soon I will the destruction done to public education by this process.

Posted by: aby1 | August 19, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

What's happening now is directly related to the recession. Cash-strapped
districts realize they can dismiss someone like Ms. Neater-DuBow and hire a less expensive person instead. Because this isn't legal, schools engage in fraudulent labor practices.

Hopefully this will just strengthen unions and tenure laws because now people can understand why they are needed.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 19, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

A teacher's length of experience is no guarantee that he or she is an effective teacher. The long tenures of DC public school teachers, with other major variables, are associated with overall quality of the schools.

Both mayoral candidates believe this principle.

Posted by: axolotl | August 20, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Thank you axolotl for those words of wisdom that have little bearing on the topic at hand.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | August 21, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

You're back, axolotl.
I guess Rhee just took the tape off your lips(fingers).
Ouch!

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | August 21, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

"A teacher's length of experience is no guarantee that he or she is an effective teacher."
__________________________
This is true. However it doesn't mean that they are a burn out either. Good grades from a top college with little or no training in education is no guarantee that he or she will be an effective teacher either.

It does seem that many personnel decisions are being made strictly from an economic standpoint, however. New teacher=cheap, Experienced teachers=expensive. One can argue whether or not teachers should be paid this way, however I'm reading a lot of stereotyping of experienced teachers as "burnouts" and "dead weight" yet my experience has proven otherwise. The biggest burnouts I've worked with have been teachers with 3 - 5 years experience who came to realize that they were in the wrong line of work. The older ones who burn out typically retire at the end of that school year.

Posted by: musiclady | August 21, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

If you don't have tenure, and you don't have seniority - you better make sure you teach exactly what the principal whats or he will fire you.

If you teach biology, and he doesn't believe in evolution - you better not teach it.

Principals do fire people for unfair reasons, not just economic reasons.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 21, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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