Now Firing

One of my roommates brought home a copy of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" issue. Shockingly, when I looked over the list which included companies like Google, Zappos and the Mayo Clinic, there was no mention of the New York City Department of Education. How could this be? We might not have on-site wine bars like one of the companies listed, but we get to shape America's future. How does that opportunity not make the cut?

In all seriousness, I'd be curious to know how Fortune would assess the prospects of working for the NYC DOE. It would be ridiculous to knock teaching for a lack of flashy perks like life coaches, on-site gyms or paid sabbaticals. Still, the NYC DOE falls short in one very real and significant way. All of the companies on Fortune's list are hiring. Meanwhile, the NYC DOE and school districts across the country will be laying off thousands of teachers by the end of this year. At a time when we need the best and brightest to consider education an option, this doesn't make teaching very appealing.

Hiring and retaining quality teachers is one of the fundamental components to fixing our schools. Education as a profession may not be able to offer the same money or incentives as the companies on Fortune's list, but there is a lot schools and the DOE can do to attract and keep the best teachers possible. Here are a few ideas inspired by Fortune's list:
  • Better starting salary. This is a no-brainer.
  • Use the incoming 4-tier evaluation system to reward excellence in the classroom.
  • If layoffs are necessary, start with the teachers rated Unsatisfactory, instead of the teachers you just hired.
  • According to the blurb of, besides having a life coach on hand, one of the company's guiding tenets is "create fun and a little weirdness." Meaningful and productive creativity should be just as encouraged in teaching.
  • More diversity. Arne Duncan and Spike Lee called for it on Monday. Edward Jones, Fortune's #11 got a shout out for making diversity a priority through a recruitment program. Where's the DOE on this?
  • Wi-fi enabled shuttle service. Okay, it might be tough to copy this from Microsoft, but after the last few days of weather, I can dream, right?
What ideas would you add to the list?


A understanding in the area that teachers are not the most significant factor in a child's education.

Administrators who have classroom experience and can provide legitimate feedback to teachers to help them improve.

Metrics that are based on valid indicators of quality instruction and learning.

FAR more support for teachers in the roughest of environments. name a few.
Elena said…
10 year veteran of Title I schools (yes, I cleared the 5 yr burnout mark) most tired of the unions. Really, hate them. Most of the items on your list would be blocked primarily by unions at this point, not administration. And I was raised a commie pinko liberal. It's just sad. I explained it to my parents' friends this way when they couldn't figure out why their liberal radio station kept badmouthing Arne--We're at a crossroads--where to be liberal and a teacher now means making a choice between being pro-civil rights and advocating for kids of color to improve their education or being pro-labor and advocating for middle aged white women who own more than one house and vacation in Mexico. As you can tell--I've made my choice.
queenscook said…
Re: "If layoffs are necessary, start with the teachers rated Unsatisfactory" . . .

Do you mean you want teachers to be at the mercy of principals who have a vested interest in lowering their school budget by getting rid of higher paid employees? The same principals who are responsible for giving the Unsatisfactory ratings in the first place? Is your faith in these principals so strong that you trust that they won't simply use their power to first rate the higher paid teachers "Unsatisfactory," and then dump them to allow them to hire two newbies in their place? Because, of course, two brand new teachers have to be better and more effective than the one veteran. After all, don't statistics and research say that new teachers are far more effective than older, more experienced teachers? Oh, wait, they don't.

You, too, my friend, will someday be one of those veteran, higher paid teachers that principals will want to get rid of to balance their budgets. Well, that is, if you don't quit within the first five years . . . which studies say half of all new teachers do. So stick around for 10-15 more years, and then let's see if you are so inclined to put your faith in a young, ambitious principal--one who has never taught him/herself--who needs to save some salary money in their budget. Let's see if you really trust that principal to worry more about the kids' education or their bottom line. And I just hope you have some alternate way to make a living, because in your 30's or 40's, with a mortgage, family, your kids' college costs, etc., you will be in a pretty bad situation if you wind up being let go.
ruben_b said…
I don't understand how every U-rated teacher in the system is just someone who got screwed by a principal. All the teachers in NYC are great, and all of the principals are evil? I know this is not the case for EVERY principal, but this is my thinking on the argument that LIFO is the only thing protecting good teachers from evil principals...

Principals have or should have only one vested interest: the progress of their students. There are already several measures of accountability and incentives to promote this thinking. With this in mind, it makes no sense for a principal to hire a good teacher, regardless of their salary. The truth is, teacher salaries are averaged out as part of a school's budget anyway, so firing a veteran teacher will not save a school a significant amount of money anyway.

Lastly, but most importantly, education policy should never be designed to protect someone's mortgage. It should be designed to protect the future of children. I want to remind you that I'm not arguing to give principals total free reign over who to hire and fire. I'm saying let's fire the U-rated teachers before anyone else. If you are an adult who is not doing your job, you should be fired. The education of 25-150 kids shouldn't be jeopardized to protect the mortgage of someone who isn't doing their job.
queenscook said…
Re: "Principals have or should have only one vested interest: the progress of their students."
--SHOULD being the key word here.

Re: "With this in mind, it makes no sense for a principal to hire a good teacher, regardless of their salary."

Stick around a while, Ruben. If you don't see it now, you will. Especially if your rating goes back to "below average," as you were so honest about in the NY Post.

And maybe brush up on some history, too . . . specifically the history of the union movement, and how unions were created to combat cronyism, patronage, nepotism, unfair hiring and firing practices, etc. That's what tenure is all about after all. It doesn't guarantee a 'Job for life," as the media would portray it; it merely guarantees due process. You don't think there are principals who would fire teachers in the blink of an eye because they said the wrong thing or had the nerve to disagree with them, if they had the power? In what fantasy land are you living?

Cronyism, of course, is exactly what people like Bloomberg are starting to use again. Even you, with a mere four years in the classroom and only an "average" rating--AT YOUR BEST-- are far more qualified than Cathie Black, Bloomberg's cocktail party buddy, now leading the largest school system in the country. These are the people you put your faith in, and really think have the students' education and futures in mind?! You have a lot to learn about this system you have found yourself in.
ruben_b said…
Queenscook, sorry about that typo, I meant to say it makes no sense for a principal to FIRE a good teacher regardless of their salary. Hope that makes more sense.

As for issues with cronyism, nepotism and overall corruption, I don't think the LIFO system is dealing with that. In any case, the history of the union system doesn't serve as a good argument for what we need TODAY. There have been numerous changes in state and federal laws to provide protection against discrimination in hiring and firing. I still believe the union is vital to providing certain protections, especially the due process you talked about. I don't think the current practice of LIFO is a policy we need the union to protect.
jonathan said…

when you write "I just don't understand..." - that's a comment on your career to this point, having been only a few years, and in one school.

Had you been around longer, or even if you'd had the opportunity to interact with a more diverse group of teachers, you would have learned,
1) yes, tenure does protect many of us from arbitrary discipline (by giving us a hearing), and
2) yes, seniority will protect many of us from principals capriciously or arbitrarily laying off teachers who are expensive or for frivolous reasons, in the event that layoffs occur.

Instead, you are welcome to join me on a tour of a few schools within walking distance of our schools, where teachers will tell you directly, standing right there, tales of nepotism, despotism and corruption that would spin your head.

If you choose not to look, that is your choice, but you really are not allowed to argue based on what you don't want to look at.

ruben_b said…
Just a reminder Jonathan, this is my second school. A lot of my views were formed by the dysfunctional leadership at my first school, contrasted with my current school. Semantics aside, my question still remains: Is every U-rated teacher just an unfairly persecuted teacher? Is every teacher out there doing a good job and every principal not to be trusted? In my experience, I can say that's not the case.
jonathan said…
There are U-rated teachers who got screwed by nasty principals, yes. It doesn't matter if it is 40% or 60%, we should not allow people who've done a fine job and had the misfortune of working for a bad principal to pay a second time, with their job.

Do you want to meet people who have been stuck in this position?

Elena said…
Hi to folks in other states--in CA we are so hamstrung by NCLB a principal would never have the luxury of laying someone off for cheaper salary reasons. NCLB (which overall I hate) has done one single thing it was meant to do--make EVERYONE really care what happens to poor disenfranchised children. Principals here are under so much pressure they would always keep their most effective teachers (which I, bleeding heart commie pinko liberal, have come to accept means test scores...until the day my students can go to Harvard with low SAT scores, standardized testing remains the gatekeeper to opportunity in this country)--but I wanted to know--does NCLB not exert as much power in the other states?

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