Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Last In, First Out by Matt Bromme

Matt Bromme is a former NYC teacher, assistant principal, principal, district superintendent and high level official at Tweed. He has seen this issue from many angles, and his words are to be heeded:

Much has been stated and argued over the policy used to lay-off teachers by seniority (Last In First Out). Many new teachers to the school systems across America are enthusiastic and willing to bring new methodologies to the classroom. However, many senior teachers are extremely competent and their body of work makes them deserving of our respect, not deserving of being tainted as incompetent and unsatisfactory.

In 1975 I was terminated as a New York City teacher during that fiscal crisis. I had three years of experience as a teacher, and I was extremely upset about my situation. Were there senior teachers who possibly could have been let go if there was an objective criteria? Someone please define what an objective criteria is? Were some of these teachers not terminated deserving of an unsatisfactory rating? The answer is yes. That was management’s responsibility to rid the system of anyone who was incompetent.

However, I supported then and I support now the concept of a due process procedure to ensure that all staff have their rights protected and that good teachers have their seniority rights protected.

Just like senior staff in the police department, fire department and military, have a strong knowledge base, so do senior teachers and school leaders. There is a need for a professional to develop a reputation in the community that they serve. This takes time. Time is not an idea embraced by the new corporate mentality swarming over our schools.

In 1976-1977 I returned to the classroom. In 1984 I became a middle school assistant principal, in 1988 I became an elementary school principal and in 1991 I became a middle school principal. My last position was at the rank of school district superintendent in New York City, with the last six months of my career assigned to the Tweed Courthouse.

The Tweed Court House environment was fascinating from my point of view as a civil servant. It seemed that everyone hired by the Department of Education came from an Ivy League College, had not yet reached their twenty fifth birthday and looked at all of us “old” educators as failures because we stayed in our position for more than five years. What really disturbed me was that these young perky preppy staff members had no clue as to what needed to be done in the communities we served.

Fast forward to today’s argument that newer teachers are automatically better then senior teachers. This corporate mentality (Bloomberg, Black, Gates, etc.), has taken over from the the philosophy that teaching is an art and not a science. In their desire to use data (which too many times is incorrect), they are missing the point that teachers are like ministers preaching to a very difficult group and trying to convert them to accept a better life. Before the system went data crazy, in many of our most challenging schools, we used music, art, and drama to motivate our students to do better. Today, too many schools have had to give up their assembly programs and art programs because there is not enough time, since a child’s educational experience today is dominated by test prep.

The corporate mentality also does not understand that it takes time for school teachers and school leaders to develop and to gain the respect of the community they serve. In my experience, especially at the middle school and high school level, it takes at least three years for a reputation to develop and ergo for the educator to be respected. It is also my experience that for competent teachers and principals each year they improve in their skills, just as police fire and military personnel do. As educators mature they learn numerous different techniques to enhance their classroom performance.

Tenure has become an obscene word among politicians and the new educational corporate mentality. Tenure at the public school level (as opposed to the world of the university) only guarantees a due process procedure for those accused of egregious behavior. I rated teachers and school leaders unsatisfactory. I had numerous grievances on all levels, including arbitration hearings and court cases.

Where I and my staff did our homework, we won our cases. In some cases, staff was terminated, fined or chose to retire. Where supervisors, either at the school or district level, failed to meet their contractual obligations, we did not win. I would not have it any other way.

Due process protects teachers who speak out for their students. Due process protects school leaders who administer their buildings and often are subject to political pressures. It also protects school leaders who are brave enough to challenge their central district corporate leaders who know nothing about schools and the community the schools serve.

While Mayor Bloomberg and his “people” should have been focused on class size issues to enhance school performance, he caused this issue by creating numerous schools within schools. Many of them will be overcrowded when they reach their full maturity.

Mayor Bloomberg created this issue by allowing principals to automatically refuse to hire teachers of the schools being replaced by the new small schools. Mayor Bloomberg also created these problems by readjusting the budget process, so that “average” salary was replaced at the school level with “exact” salary. Therefore this motivated new principals not to hire from the ranks of teachers that were available, but to go out and hire “inexpensive” teachers.

There is a crisis today regarding LIFO that was not caused by unions and or senior staff members. If you look deep enough into the corporate mentality,you will find that this is more of a budget issue than an educational issue. If the principals had hired the senior staff that was assigned to ATR status, none of their schools would be looking at draconian cuts. However, under a false sense of security the Mayor rolled the dice and decided to ignore these career ATR teachers, many of them competent and capable. Instead they went for the young and the restless, most of whom will leave the system within five years.

-- Matt


Anonymous said...

It is so good to read a reasonable and intelligent discussion of the madness that is taking place right now. I worked as a banking executive for 32 years before becoming a teacher three years ago. From my point of view, if Bloomberg spent the last eight years focusing on management practices, specifically HR resource management as well as performance management of administrators, we would not be in the mess we are in right now. Managers should be well trained in influence skills and not in passive agressive tactics because they feel powerless and blame the union. Thank you for a wonderful and thoughtful article

Anonymous said...

It bothers me that so many people think that newer teachers are better because they are coming in with 'fresher methodologies'.
First of all, its a load of crap. Most of these methodologies have been around for decades (John Dewey-My Pedagogic Creed, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Reggio Emilia) but it is what people choose to believe. Second, the newer methodologies that seem to be a myth for better and fresher with newer teachers is already showing to be ineffective for students education. For example, the elementary math program TERC does not help students comprehend and scaffold on their math skills. It just focuses on higher level inquiry and totally misses the notion that lower level knowledge comes first (hence, Bloom's Taxonomy which is something that all teachers, new or more experience should know).

If newer teachers are NOT learning Bloom's Taxonomy and the skill of building onto higher level knowledge, then we are all in trouble.

Anonymous said...

My god an administrator who talks from the heart and not one who makes excuses.I am proud that the system produced someone who has the experience and walks the walk. You put your time in and it shows.

Anonymous said...

This is honesty and we need more like hime to speak up.

Renee said...

After 11 years at my current school, I have parents asking for their kids to be in my English class because they know they can trust me to prepare their children for what comes next in their academic careers. They don't trust the rookies yet.

Anonymous said...

This is a man who has worked the ENTIRE system, and knows exactly what he's talking about. If you put him and Ms. Bloomberg(I mean Ms. Black) in the same room she would be in a daze.

Anonymous said...

Seniority "rights?" No one has "seniority rights." Unless you mean union protection. And yes, industry more than understand objective performance critera -- there is a rich literature on this. BTW, it is the assessment against measurable standards.
No, we shouldn't can teachers because of sevice, or retain only new teachers, but we should have a meritocracy and promote those who perform -- and train or move out those who don't.
Teachers as Preachers?" Please, just teach the curriculum -- that would be a big step forward.
Tenure & due process for teachers that "speak out for their students?" Gee, those of us in industry don't get that. Must be nice. The firing rate among teacher is nearly zero -- are they ALL that good? So why the miserable performance stats?
Certainly the "LIFO crisis" was caused by unions. It's the only place it exists.
We do need accountability, on five levels: students, parents, teachers, administration, and school boards/legislators (funding). Teachers have major influences upon student performance, but without the other players in support it's a hopeless battle.
How long can we just push students through, failing all the way? We need major structural reform. Most parents don't understand the school system, and all too many just don't care. Maybe if their kids started failing grades, or did summer school, or more hours, then they'd pay attention? Hey, you're the experts, but all I see is low skill jobs leaving the country, and fewer skilled workers enteringing the workforce. And prisons filling up. When will this explode?

Anonymous said...

Matt- Finally, a smile after reading your article.I am so happy to hear from true educators and not wanna be business people. I have been an educator for 18 years. Today I am NOT the teacher I was even eight years ago. Practice makes perfect and so does experience. I can honestly say, I felt confident in my practice after a solid 7-8 years. The first few years as an educator, I was trying to keep my head above water. After on 3 plus years, I learned enough to keep my head above water. THEN, 7/8 years into my career I was able to sit comfortably in the boat as the captain and start to steer in the right direction on my own with confidence. Now, 18 years in, I feel like the cruise director. Keeping it fresh and fun for my students, using what works best to keep them engaged at all times. So, if LIFO would take place... The Titanic would be crashing all over. Don't do this to our innocent children who deserve the best.After all ...they are our future!!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed and agreed with Mr. Bromme's comments.

Roz Fitzgerald

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed and agreed with Mr. Bromme's comments.

Roz Fitzgerald

Anonymous said...

As a career changer in the classroom, the subtle differences between the corporate industry and education have been fascinating. However, the argument of LIFO is being addressed with simple black & white solutions when it's not that simple. We all know there are senior teachers who are master teachers, who are invested in their students' success, and who treat every child as if they are their own. However, we also know there are many senior teachers who hate the population of children they serve, don't really "teach", and manage children out of their classes with verbal abuse. Likewise, there are new teachers who never should be given a class but are pushed through the system by use of nepotism or any number of failures or incompetencies on the part of administrators. We must get out of the habit of evaluating teachers based upon test scores, and assess the quality of pedagogy in the classroom, not just classroom management.

Roz Fitzgerald said...

No system of lay-offs or excessing is a panacea. However, good teachers and supervisors need their seniority rights protected. Furthermore, nepotisim and other incompetencies on the part of managers or any 'boss' will never be eliminated in education or in a corporation. As Mr. Bromme stated, it is the job of the supervisor to fire ineffective employees. Tenure is not a panacea and there are problems with it. Most often, good teachers and administrators become better with experience. Furthermore, academic freedom is crucial in any educational system. I believe Matt Bromme made all of these points and more in his commentary. As a parent, I believe education in New York city was better before Mayoral control. As an educator, I think people who have spent years in a classroom know much more than those who have not.

Anonymous said...

A few questions for Mr. Bromme and the other dedicated, sincere, and disheartened teachers:

What will it take to expose the corruption, waste and stupidity at DOE? Does the public even care? Is the depth and seriousness of the corruption and fraud not understood?

I do not think the young people at Tweed realize how much damage they are causing. They are just following orders. Yes, they are responsible and will eventually have to answer for their role in Bloomberg's DOE fraud and corruption but Bloomberg and Company are the ones ultimately responsible for the millions of students who are and will be ill-prepared academically to be successful and prosper. I think Bloomberg's morality meter broke a long time ago, if he ever had one.

Has this been Bloomberg's goal all along? Uneducated people are a lot easier to manipulate than educated

The entire situation is just so disheartening.

Lauded disgusted retired HS teacher said...

At long last, a voice of reason, from someone who has seen it from all sides. The politicians who need a scape goat for their failed educational policies and the media who are looking for a story have CONNED the public into thinking that experienced dedicated teachers are the enemy of their children? If anything these teachers are the last hope that many of our children have for a brighter successful future.

Anonymous said...

I (fortunately) retired in 2009 from an incredible school in Manhattan, the New York City Lab School where I came on board one year after its inception.I had previously taught at the United Nations International School. My principal tried to fire me after the first year. My strong union leader helped me contest her totally bogus rating. I went on to win one of the biggest awards in New York State, the Christa McAuliffe Award in mathematics in 1996 New York City Impact 2 award in 1993 and then the new Blackboard Award in 2007. I was a presenter at the NCTM in hands-on mathematics. I taught middle school and high school and sent a large percentage of students to Stuyvesant High School and Bronx Science every year that I taught. Two of my former students (one of whom was my student teacher) went on to become excellent math teachers in my school.
Bloomberg's attempts to crash the ego of the New York City teacher is undermining and totally unconstructive. His unacademic and corporate strategies belittle teachers, students and parents by unilaterally redefining education using a business model. My students were much more than statistical numbers; they had names and were contributors to their class and school community. Mr. Bloomberg does not understand how true education occurs and is attempting to use a system, LIFO to match the Wisconsin attempts to bust the unions and restore order in the Wild West. Our education system needs overhauling; we are 19 or 20th in world standings, but this is madness to think he can single handedly solve this dilemma. He NEEDS US!