Response to E.D.:
I’ve felt for a while that the pendulum was starting to swing and that cracking the teachers unions would soon become an issue that lacked ideological definition (I compare it to the debate on gun control from last decade). Personally, I’m ambivalent on teachers unions, but I’m also not convinced that there is a way to measure desirable standards, and therefore, rewarding the best teachers is a difficult task left to intangibles like “enthusiasm” and “new ideas.” Absent that, the only available measurements are extremely limited: test scores, graduation rates, college acceptance rates, etc…
All of these assume that the main point of the educational system is to get students through the educational system. If education is meant to have civilizing effects and not just careerist effects, then one would have to consider outcomes such as regularity of voting among graduates, divorce rates, charitable contributions, and similar non-career symbols of success. After all, education is meant to prepare students for productive lives, not just lucrative and autonomous professions. Of course, this is completely impractical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the amount of years it would take to evaluate this kind of success (an amount of time that would automatically handicap new teachers). My point isn’t that we should start measuring on other factors, just a recognition that the factors we do use in evaluation are incomplete and lead to a fantastically limited definition of success and scope of education.
That’s not actually my main issue though. I was struck by this quote from E.D.:
“One impulse common among school reformers is to do away with seniority considerations altogether… Seniority should play a part in determining everything from pay to parking, and probably a pretty large part at that.”
I couldn’t agree more, and as E.D. noted, this goes far beyond the educational system. Over the past week, I’ve posited the following concept to four of my friends and have not had one person agree: With rare exceptions, promotions should be granted based on length of service and not merit.
The arguments are simple – rewarding positions based on merit 1) leads to constant competition among colleagues, jeopardizing cooperative efforts; 2) is biased against people with family obligations who can’t put in the extra hours of a younger, unattached employee; 3) causes constant status anxiety; and 4) gives employees no incentive to stay with a particular organization long-term.
Now it’s true that the people I asked were all smart, relatively young, and except for one, single with no children – the precise demographic that would naturally prefer advancement by merit over seniority. So, what I’m wondering is, did I tap into a group naturally unfavorable to the concept, or is support for promotion by seniority losing steam in a larger sense unrelated to my wildly unscientific focus group?