During the last fifteen years, the teaching profession in the United States has undergone a massive upheaval. The average length of a teaching career has declined to 5 years; many veteran teachers have left the profession, either voluntarily of through forced termination, and the percentage of teacher of color, especially African American Teachers, has declined precipitously in many American cities. There are many reasons for these changes- among them a sharp rise in testing, the imposition of test based teacher evaluations; school closings and charter school preference mandated by Race to the Top- but one little examined factor has been union approved protocols for removing allegedly “bad “ or incompetent teachers” which has led to tens of thousands of teachers, often those at the highest end of the salary scale, being pushed out of the profession, or in the case of NY, Los Angeles and Chicago, being pushed into a teacher limbo where they represent a surplus labor pool.
One of the most publicized and highly praised of such protocols has been the PAR ( Peer Assistance and Review Program) which has been widely implemented in the state of California. PAR is a program which gives teachers, appointed by their union, input into the evaluation and rehabilitation of teachers given a “U” rating by their administrators. The program sounds great on paper. It has been praised as a model program by AFT President Randi Weingarten, and has been strongly supported by critics of dominant education reform policies such as Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. However, thanks to research done by Brian Crowell, a highly rated African American teacher from Berkeley California who was given a “U” rating when he became a thorn in the side of administrators and union leaders in his city, PAR in California has been exposed as an abettor, if not an actual collaborator, in destructive and discriminatory policies.. What Crowell discovered, when he asked for PAR Data from major California cities, is that a large and statistically improbable proportion of teachers referred to PAR were veteran teachers at the highest
end of the salary scale, that most were women and that a disproportionate number were teachers of color. Worse yet, the pattern of teachers terminated at the end of PAR resembled those initially referred to the program. To quote Brian Crowell “,
I found it was over 80% women over 55 years old, masters degrees, tops on the pay scale and disproportionately minority. This was the data I uncovered in Berkeley, CA with the same trends following in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Diego California. A massive austerity and discriminatory program signed off on by the union at the pleasure and delight of school districts. Oakland was so laser like in its data that literally the most expensive teacher (with very few exceptions) at each of the school sites was referred for remediation and possible termination. I can’ tell you how many teachers have gone through this ordeal getting no support or representation from their union.
Crowell came to his devastating conclusion: that PAR actually ended up aiding and abetting California school districts efforts to cut costs by removing the highest salaried teachers, and in the process, undermining resistance to the very controversial “reforms” they were implementing, ranging from VAM, to Common Core, to intrusive teacher observations. Worse yet, instead of mobilizing resistance to these top down policies, teacher union leaders were signing off on them and implying they were teacher approved- participating in what amounted to a campaign of intimidation of rank and file teachers in which the union and school administrators were allied. In Brian Crowell’s words:
. “The outspoken teacher, the active union representative, the highly paid teacher are now arbitrary discipline targets of school districts. Couple that with CCSS and Common Core removing academic freedom no wonder the demoralization of teachers unions and the inability to fight back.”
It is time that teacher advocates, teacher union leaders, and all those who care about the future of public education stop endorsing the narrative that “Bad Teachers” are the main threat to the quality of our public schools, and to withdraw support from all measures which make it easier to remove veteran teachers until those measure are proven not to discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender and position on the salary scale.
PAR, and programs like it, have let to a cruel, and massive assault on veteran teachers all over the United States, documented brilliantly in Laurel Sturt’s brilliant book Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years inside the New York City Public School Gulag, as well as Brian Crowell’s important research. They have also contributed to a shocking whitening of the teaching profession in major urban areas, even though may city’s are reluctant to reveal that date. In Chicago, the percentage of Black teachers has fallen from 44% in 1995 to 18% today, and most major California cities have seen the percentage of Black teachers go down precipitously in the last ten years. In California as a whole, there are 4,000 fewer Black teachers than there were in the year 2000.
There is something badly wrong when teachers unions have become collaborators in brutal cost cutting, in age race and gender discrimination, and in the removal of teachers most likely to lead resistance to the destructive policies imposed on public schools by the last two Administrations in Washington.
It is time for rank and file teachers union activists to stand up and call for a suspension of PAR and an immediate review of all protocols for evaluating and terminating teachers that have shown themselves to reinforce age race or gender discrimination. And the time to do this is now
Thank you Brian Crowell and Laurel Sturt for sounding the alarm. Enough is enough