Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Part 4: What is happening to teaching jobs

Layoffs are incredibly difficult for any organization. During a recession it takes true leadership for an organization to make it through to better times and come out stronger. Organizations with weak leadership do not survive, and if they do, aren't able to take advantage of the upcoming economic recovery.

Layoffs damage morale and if they are done wrong, can irreversibly impact your talent pool. The problem for our education system is that performance never appears to have an impact on who gets the pink slip.

On one end you have districts trying to save money by pushing for early retirement of the most expensive employees and on the other end you have layoffs strictly by seniority meaning the most junior will suffer. Unfortunately, neither option does anything to strengthen the performance of our education system because they don't focus on keeping the most talented teachers in front of our students.

The McKinsey Quarterly has a great article on how organizations can come out of a recession stronger by focusing on building the absolute best team.

First, “head count reductions provide a powerful incentive to use existing resources better”. Job redesign can increase job satisfaction and save money. Look for efficiencies in the system and look for ways to reduce overhead to improve customer focus. School districts have the opportunity to reduce overhead now and also try to find efficiencies through technology and innovative staffing models. Unfortunately – they are mainly just cutting overhead to the bone so not much is being done to improve performance.

Second, is to implement better training. There is a growing understanding in education that professional development is neither. And there certainly isn't any money to send teachers to so called "professional development". One idea that education can implement is to use your most talented teachers to help develop other teachers. This is a great time to tap into your most successful teachers and increase the performance of all your classrooms.

The third idea offered up by McKinsey is to conduct thorough performance assessments of all staff. “Companies that conduct disciplined, meritocratic assessments of performance and potential are well placed to make good personnel decisions.” Education cannot comply with this recommendation for three huge reasons. One, we don’t have great performance assessments of teachers that have been shown to directly impact student achievement. Two, we don’t have principals who are thoroughly trained in performance assessment and three, it wouldn’t matter anyway because you can’t layoff by performance because of most teacher contracts.

The fourth recommendation is to grab talent now while it is available. This is something that some school districts will be able to do to make themselves a stronger organization. The recession will not last and when things turn around, school enrollments begin to increase and the tsunami of boomer teacher retirements begins, there will be a severe shortage of talent – especially in math science. Job stability has replaced huge bonuses and pay as the organizational brand that people are searching for in a career today. Throw in retirement pay, summers off and helping students, and your pitch suddenly tops most careers out there. Recruiting career changers and displaced younger teachers now will ensure that your district is ready two years from now.

In every recession some organizations die while others come out so well positioned that their long term success is guaranteed. Charter schools are the best position to take the McKinsey recommendations and come out of this recession as some of the best schools in our country. Unfortunately, most schools will not and will lose a great opportunity to excel.

Series on What is Happening to Teaching
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 5

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