Teacher Transfer Rules Hurt Schools, Study Says

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Because of seniority rules in teachers union contracts, many principals in urban school systems are forced to hire teachers ill suited to their jobs, according to a study released yesterday.

The study of five school systems by the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit consulting group based in New York, found that 40 percent of the vacancies in those districts were filled by "voluntary transfers or excessed teachers over whom schools had either no choice at all or limited choice."

New Teacher Project officials and D.C. officials declined to say whether the District was part of the study, but D.C. school administrators said their transfer policy is similar to those described in the report.

One D.C. high school administrator said of the policy, "Sometimes it works fine, but sometimes you get somebody else's bad news." She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she had not received permission to speak to the media.

A D.C. schools spokeswoman said she would seek a response to the report but did not call back.

The report said that in the five systems studied, many teachers transfer because they had done poorly at their previous schools. Nevertheless, the teachers in many cases had enough seniority to be able to switch to any school with a vacancy, the study said.

The transfer rules, modeled after job security systems for factory workers, are hurting students by placing "hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of teachers in urban classrooms each year with little regard for the appropriateness of the match, the quality of the teacher, or the overall impact on schools," the report said.

Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the study "missed the mark" by not focusing on a more important problem: how to keep good teachers in inner-city schools. Cortese said that many districts have rules resembling those described in the study but that AFT leaders in several districts have agreed to give schools more choice regarding which transfers to accept.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said the report "is another smoke screen to blame so-called union rules for our society's lack of commitment to all children."

The study reported that 47 percent of principals in the San Diego school district said they tried to hide their vacancies from central staff in order to avoid hiring teachers who transferred voluntarily or needed jobs after being declared excess by other schools. Sixty-four percent of the principals who hired such teachers in the 2004-05 school year "said they did not wish to have one or more of them in their school," the report said.

Officials of the New Teacher Project said they promised not to identify the five districts in exchange for getting internal data. But San Diego and New York have since identified themselves as part of the study.

The report is available on the group's Web site, http://www.tntp.org/ . It includes statements by principals who, promised anonymity, were very candid about their practices.

One principal explained how he hid vacancies in order to hire a teacher he knew would perform well at his school: "You say to the HR staffing liaison, 'I don't anticipate that I will need another English teacher.' At the same time, you have already identified the teacher you want for the position. You say to the teacher, 'If you can hang in there and not start officially teaching until late September, but remain as a substitute until then, I will do everything to try to hire you.'

"Then, you call the liaison back when you know all of the excessed teachers have been placed someplace else, and say, 'Oh, I actually do need someone.' You say, 'I have some rsums' and pretend to just find someone for the slot even though I had them all along."

The researchers said they looked at the suburbs that surrounded the districts they studied and saw different rules. "None of them requires schools to hire voluntary transfers they do not want," the report said.

The report recommended that hiring decisions in the urban systems be "based on the mutual consent of the teacher and receiving school."


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