DougCo Teacher Exodus

DougCo, exhibit 1 on how a district can posture to alienate the local union and have little to show for it, is seeing a teacher exodus with the Onion-esque delicious detail of teachers named Hire who decide to quit:

Brian Hire and his wife, Jill, said they have left the Douglas County School District to teach English in Jordan because they felt they were working in a climate where teachers were not valued and their careers were uncertain. […]

The Hires are among 304 teachers who have left in the past year — a 42 percent increase from the previous year, according to the district.

Jill Hire, who taught English at Douglas County High School for seven years, said what helped make the decision was the ongoing bickering between the school board and the community.

It is often said by reform advocates that an inherent problem with the current system is that adults put their needs above kids.  But I think the DougCo board has broken new ground here, for they are putting their ideology before the needs of kids. It’s not clear who is really served by their high-stakes gambit. It’s an odd play when pretty much everyone loses.

That said, I can’t help but think the union has a lot at risk.  If hundreds of teachers leave DougCo (and despite the number cited above, this is not remarkably high attrition for most urban districts) — and student academic outcomes do anything but nosedive, the partisan fire will have enough oxygen to burn on and on. So the district has succeeded is creating an environment where the best professional option for teachers may be to have the district get worse, not better.

A critical problem here is the lack of a viable alternative for schools.  Would that some DougCo teachers in a school would band together and say: “enough of this foolishness, we would like to apply for innovation status and be part of some other district.” As a large part of the DougCo board’s ideology is based on competition, why not allow for competition between districts?  Teachers are leaving DougCo — it seems at least partly — because they don’t have an alternative for their schools. Should a district arguing for increased competition have a monopoly?

For the hard truth here is that the competitive ideology that the DougCo board espouses is unlikely to be one they would similarly embrace.

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7 Responses to DougCo Teacher Exodus

  1. Pingback: DougCo: Sound and Fury Signifying Something? | Ooms With A View

  2. Ben DeGrow says:

    Alex O., I think your assessment is premature at best, and largely misguided. The problem here is that union leaders have shrouded facts with fear. Alex C. makes some salient points. But there are additional questions to be addressed:

    Whence the assumption that monopoly bargaining is “the best professional option” for teachers, especially when such a tiny share of DCFT/AFT dues goes to professional development? The Board took a bold position, but DCFT/AFT (with its heavy financing of state and national union political projects) wanted to be the only show in town or none at all. Instead of coming to the table in a more open and competitive environment for teacher support, they walked away. When union officials ran to the state to ask for intervention, they closed the door on a CBA for the immediate future. At that point, it was difficult to go back to the negotiating table with established union leadership. What prevents an independent teachers association not affiliated with the NEA or AFT baggage from coming forward to provide teachers a voice at the table and collaborate on some of the major initiatives going forward? For the vast majority (if not all) of the current DCSD teachers, it would be their first chance to choose from a set of practical alternatives an organization to serve as a representative voice.

    Yes, there is a lot of ambitious and innovative work going on in Douglas County toward 21st-century assessment, evaluation and performance pay systems. No one I know would argue “that simply eliminating a CBA will somehow magically improve student achievement.” But by the same token, why argue that AFT or NEA has to have collective bargaining power regardless of student academic outcomes to avoid the spread of a “partisan fire”? This implicit case comes dangerously close to breaching your own standard of putting ideology ahead of kids. What if instead the changes in Dougco simply helped to expose the fear and deception in union rhetoric, and laid the ground work for an empowering professional teaching paradigm that didn’t depend on the ancient dictates of an industrial labor model? What about the 137 non-union Colorado school districts? Are we primarily concerned about the implications for politics

    Your argument for giving schools the power to earn innovation status and secede from a district is an intriguing one. Given the existing funding system, I don’t see how it would accomplish much good. But in a system where money flows directly to the student in the form of “backpack funding” or something similar, and school boards serve in the role of true competitive portfolio managers, why not? As a parent, I would not be alone in wanting my child to go to a school where excellent teachers have much more room for professional advancement on their merits than working in the environment of collective compensation and tenure. But in all these spheres I’m comfortable with more choices rather than fewer.

    • axooms says:

      Ben,

      I don’t mind your claim that I am “misguided” but let’s at least be clear on the accuracy of my argument.

      1. “Whence the assumption that monopoly bargaining is ‘the best professional option'” – I sure don’t know, since I make no such assumption.
      2. “Why argue that AFT or NEA has to have collective bargaining power regardless of student academic outcomes to avoid the spread of a “partisan fire’ ” – well, I don’t know that either; you might try asking someone who is making that argument.

      My point in the above is pretty simple: Should we preserve district monopolies at the same time these districts are breaking monopoly bargaining? I’m happy to continue the conversation there — the other questions seem to have their origins elsewhere.

  3. Dan Carroll says:

    I’m intrigued by this idea – a “competitive market for authorizers” – where schools can elect to change districts. But my hunch is that this would result in a race to the bottom when it comes to accountability (something we’ve already seen with charter authorization in states like Ohio). Any thoughts on how to balance this?

    • axooms says:

      I think we are learning a lot about authorizers and their influence on charter schools, and I think State Boards of Ed might be able to provide a construct where a authorizer would have to meet some standard, and if so, could then accept other schools into their portfolio. But no, we can’t simply throw open the gates.

  4. Alex Cranberg says:

    Not clear to me why you accuse the Dougco board of putting ideology ahead of kids. Is it not conceivable that the Douglas County union was undermining the ability of the district to serve kids? Is it impossible to believe that a major distinct could be given the chance to show what may be possible in the absence of unions without being accused of only being concerned about ideology? And what does “ideology” represent anyway? Ideas? What’s wrong with ideas?

    • axooms says:

      it’s a fair question, but I think that DougCo is pursuing an agenda whose primary intention is to further a set of ideas, and less about improved outcomes for kids. I would cite: the proposed voucher program which (unlike, say, Washington DC) is not aimed at underperforming schools, but at all schools and which will disproportionally benefit religious schools; the lack of recognition not just for the union representation, but for teachers overall (such as the claim that responses to a written survey — of a type which virtually always will have a low response rate — were somehow “invalid”); and a proposed ballot measure to prohibit collective bargaining entirely. There are many union policies I would like to see changed (and many district policies as well), but I’m hard pressed to believe that simply eliminating a CBA will somehow magically improve student achievement.

      The set of ideas that DougCo is espousing are based primarily on competition and market forces. All well and good. But my point here is not that there is anything wrong with ideas, but the logical extension of this set of ideas would be to permit some competition for the district as well, so that schools could choose to be under the oversight of the current DougCo board, or some alternative body. Would you be opposed to that (in theory at least)?

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