Among the many debates surrounding teacher hiring practices, mutual consent, the practice of requiring both principal and teacher to agree to the latter’s school assignment, especially in cases of transfers, is among the most contentious. EdWeek tackled the issue in an article earlier this month.
Administrators like it because it gives schools the power and flexibility to directly address their specialized needs. For example, if a school is guided according to a certain vision, then its really important that all members of the team
buy into that vision, according to Tom Boasberg, superintendent of the Denver school district. If the principal is the leader behind such a vision, then who better to identify the right team members?
The message from unions appears to be mixed. Randy Weil, Director of Field Programs at the American Federation of Teachers remarked in the EdWeek article that mutual consent is not supported as a matter of general policy by the AFT. However, the school districts of the 3 largest cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago), all AFT school districts, have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with mutual consent provisions within the last 4 years.
On reason parent unions are less-than-ecstatic about mutual consent is that it does not guarantee job placement for veteran teachers who have been excessed from their current schools. In DC, for example, if an excessed teacher cannot find a school that will hire him or her within 1 year, he or she can be rightfully terminated. There is a pertinent question here of justice to teachers.
This shouldnt be separated, however, from the question of equal educational opportunity.
Common practice allows senior teachers to bump junior teachers in their preference of transfer assignments, often regardless of a principals wishes. These senior teachers usually choose suburban schools serving high-achievement students over urban schools, according to a study done by Frank Papa Jr. and Iris Baxter. The reasons include the perception of difficult working conditions, unfavorable environmental factors, ineffective or unsupportive administrations, and a dearth of like-minded colleagues. Because of this, schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students end up disproportionately staffed by inexperienced and uncertified teachers.
We know that teaching is the most important school-based factor to a childs performance. One prominent study noted that teachers near the top of the quality distribution can get an entire years worth of additional learning out of their students compared to those near the bottom. If thats the case, then serious consideration should be given to what tools principals are given to close achievement gaps.
Pay-for-performance (PFP) addresses the supply side of the equation. While research is mixed, there is evidence that at a certain salary level, talented teachers who would otherwise avoid a disadvantaged school may be induced to apply or transfer there. Of course, ineffective teachers are just as apt to supply their labor in such cases. From the demand side, then, having no way for principals to choose between teachers of differing labor quality seriously diminishes the benefits of a higher quality applicant pool. PFP could thus be rendered ineffective if seniority bumping rights remain too dominant within PFP frameworks.
It might be no coincidence, then, that mutual consent clauses correlate with incentive pay in its various forms in the teacher contracts of the cities mentioned above. Los Angeles, New York and DC all reward teachers for either teaching hard-to-staff subjects, working in needy schools, or exceptional performance, and Chicago is piloting a standardized-test score-driven bonus pay system.
Mutual consent isnt a panacea for optimally distributing teachers within school districts. But it may give principals an effective tool for closing achievement gaps, especially when in used in combination with pay-for-performance measures. David English