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"For the Children" Education Project

The Boston Globe
Monday, March 27, 2000

Education foundation criticizes city hiring
New teachers pushed out by veterans, report says

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff

Deviating from its usually diplomatic stance in Boston's quest to overhaul its troubled schools, a well-respected education group is releasing a report today that condemns the way new teachers are hired.

Under the terms of the current teachers contract, new teachers are often pushed out of their jobs by veteran teachers, according to the report from the Boston Plan for Excellence, a 16-year-old private education foundation that has been heavily involved in the city's schools. This year, as many as 417 first-year teachers will have their positions offered to veteran teachers, even veterans who were pushed out of another school for poor performance.

The complex process of hiring teachers can take so long, nontenured teachers may not find out if they have a job until late August, the report notes. Many promising candidates often choose instead to go to suburban districts where jobs are filled earlier. In August 1999, Boston schools still had 105 vacancies, while most suburban districts had finished their hiring.

With the city in the middle of tense negotiations for a new teachers contract, the Boston Plan for Excellence report calls for an open hiring process that would allow schools to simply choose the best candidate for a job as quickly as possible.

"The current contract and district policies make seniority, rather than expertise and commitment, the first consideration in filling positions," according to the report, written by Boston Plan policy director John K. DiPaolo. "It's a major roadblock," he added in an interview Friday.

The end result: teachers in positions they don't want, and schools with teachers they don't want. In a school system whose new mantra is team effort, "being forced to hire a teacher who is not willing or able to (support a school's strategies) is a serious blow," the report reads.

Boston Teachers Union president Ed Doherty declined to comment on the report because of current contract negotiations.

The report concluded with two key recommendations to replace the hiring process that takes a four-page flow chart to explain:

Allow all teacher candidates, regardless of their seniority, to compete equally for jobs.

Allow principals to refuse to hire tenured teachers who have lost jobs at other schools. Those teachers still would have the right to their full salaries but would be placed in substitute teaching positions or administrative jobs.

Boston school officials, even though they were criticized in the report, largely agreed with DiPaolo's findings.

"The transfer process is at best cumbersome and at worst idiotic," said Michael Contompasis, chief operating officer for Boston schools.

Although the city hailed the current teachers contract, negotiated three years ago, as ground-breaking in allowing schools to hire the most qualified candidate, the report bluntly states that the changes have not worked.

Some highly praised overhauls require following procedures that "are so demanding it is often unusable," the report notes. In one instance, a principal would need the approval of 60 percent of the faculty to even post a job.

"The entire hiring process is so, so frustrating and it happens all the time," said Jane O'Leary, assistant headmaster for East Boston High School. Every year, O'Leary can lose one, two, or three promising teachers because of complex rules.

The report comes as the nation's teachers unions are facing mounting pressure from school districts to hold their members more accountable for what goes on in the classroom. In Texas, for example, teachers are now partly evaluated based on student test scores.

In the Northeast, however, strong unions have resisted any attempt to link teacher evaluations to student performance. Instead, entire new districts -- charter schools -- have been created in part to override teachers union rules. In Boston, which expects to hire 3,500 new teachers in the next decade, ensuring schools keep valuable new teachers is vital, the report notes.

The report documents a true teacher hiring case, although the names of the school and staff have been changed.

First, an English teacher announced she would leave her job. "Mrs. Smith," a veteran teacher in another school, eventually became the only in-house candidate with seniority. During the interview with the principal, Smith expressed indifference to the school's mission. She had a history of conflicts with the staff at her previous schools.

The principal asked for a follow-up interview, but Smith refused, telling the principal "she would be at his school in September whether he liked it or not. She did come ... had a number of conflicts with other staff ... and has refused to participate in school meetings," the report notes.

The report also criticizes Boston public schools for not pushing hard enough in contract negotiations to be able to fire bad teachers. Now, many poorly performing teachers strike deals with principals to simply transfer to another school instead of going through the long process of being fired.

"It's time we had a change," said Patricia O'Brien, assistant headmaster at English High School in Jamaica Plain. "Sometimes, we can't keep passionate teachers ... and we need them."

The report is posted on the Boston Plan for Excellence's Web site.

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