So far Republican leaders have only talked about allowing charter schools to be established in a limited number of areas where the public schools are failing, to allow parents a choice of schools for their children. Actually, they’re avoiding the use of the word “charter,” instead calling for the “establishment of innovative schools and school systems.”
The AEA is right to be alarmed.
The introduction of these “innovative schools” may be just the first step in privatization of public schools. That could drive down the cost of public education, but it doesn’t guarantee improvement. In studies of charter schools in other states, some perform better, and some worse than public schools. Teacher turnover is also markedly higher in charter schools. In most cases, teachers can be hired or fired at will by the principal for any reason, or no reason.
The AEA’s Alabama School Journal claims “flexibility” was added to the bill to get superintendents on board supporting the bill. The flexibility could give them innovative ways to operate schools, and it could also give them the ability to hire and fire at will, for any reason or none. And while most of us have heard stories of poorly performing teachers and principals that remained employed because it was too much trouble to fire them, removal of tenure for school employees places even the best ones at risk.
The School Journal cites as possible scenarios, the firing of employees who do not support someone’s campaign for re-election, or to make room for a friend or family member.
Those are precisely the reasons tenure laws were passed in the first place – to provide a fair system of job security for those who educate the state’s children.
Flexibility could also allow superintendents to deviate from the state’s salary matrix for teachers to arbitrarily reward or penalize teachers for any reason or no reason. Flexibility might also allow superintendents to determine whether public school employees can participate in the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan.
Most superintendents would continue to work fairly with their employees in the best interests of the students they serve, but we can’t discount human nature. As surely as there are some bad teachers coasting into retirement on their tenure protection, there will also be some administrators who would fire or cut benefits for good teachers as they pursue their personal agendas, whatever they may be.
After last year’s legislative session in which tenure protection was already watered down and educators were required to start paying a higher percentage of their income into their retirement plans, it’s not surprising they are wary of what the legislature will do this year.
True innovation can be a boon for Alabama’s students, but AEA leaders see this year’s initiative as a plan to strip away union gains of the past half-century under the umbrella of innovation and flexibility.
It’s not hard to see their point.