Mutual Consent, Priorities, and Nonsense

This is not a post about policy.  It’s about priorities

Over the summer a chief selling points by the various advocacy groups was the idea of “mutual consent”.  In any hiring, the Teacher and Principal would agree on the final decision.   This would replace the current system of Seniority and transfers.

According to groups like PennCan, The Philadelphia School Partnership, and the Coaltion for Effective Teaching [sic], mutual consent should be the major change in the next teacher’s contract.  You can read there logic here, here, and here.

From “A Way Forward for the District”

Ensuring mutual consent – meaning both principal and teacher must agree in all hiring and transfer decisions – while not a silver bullet, is the best way to recruit and keep great leaders, and to ensure that teachers work in jobs where each can have the greatest impact.

OK, I follow.  Clearly, we need some sort of new hiring process that allows Principals a greater ability to choose their staff.  This must be something brand new, right?  Innovative enough to propel our schools to success?

For your consideration:  Here’s the text from page 72 of the “current” PFT/SDP contract:

1)
The Principal, in consultation with the Staff Selection Committee, shall
establish appropriate, objective criteria and procedures to identify candidates
for filling vacancies.
(2)
The Staff Selection Committee will follow the established procedures
to screen candidates. The Principal and the Staff Selection Committee will reach
consensus on the most qualified candidate for each available position. In the
event that the Committee fails to reach consensus, the Principal shall make the
selection from among the three (3) most qualified applicants as ranked by the
Committee

So the teacher must consent to meet with the committee and the Principal, advised but not terribly constrained by a committee of stakeholders, must consent.  It’s almost as if we already have a system where parties must mutually consent to hiring of teachers.  On paper.  From 2009.

There has to be more right?  In a district where kids are being tear gassed and left in the cold, there’s no way this many people would focus on a “mutual consent” process that appears identical to the current “site selection” process.  From the aforementioned letter:

We also need to acknowledge that part of the reason for the principal churn is that current “site selection” policies don’t give principals enough input into hiring staff. Far too many teachers are assigned to principals through seniority, whether or not their skills are a good fit for a particular school

Visualize a district in which older teachers are shuffled around in the antiquated seniority morass.  Our kids can’t be helped by site selection because not enough schools have it.

Educator Tim Boyle1 and I examined which schools do and do not have access to site selection.  Via the Vacancy List, we found that of the 230 district run schools, 48 are listed as Half Site Select (HSS).  The rest are considered Full Site Select (FSS).

79% of the public schools in Philadelphia have FSS.  And the other 21% – the ones that don’t have FSS – their schools select half of their teachers through the site select process.  The process that is nearly identical to the “mutual consent”.  Despite what people who are paid to say things have said, there are currently zero public schools in Philadelphia whose staff is selected through seniority.  When advocates say “Far too many teachers are assigned to principals through seniority“, they are talking about a fraction of a fraction of the teachers.

Even more important, those 21% that select a measly half of their teachers through the process?  They have an option to change.  Each school may vote to become FSS or keep their HSS status.2  But for the majority of schools, site selection is already a requirement – one that the teachers agreed to in negotiations3.

But what about student achievement?

For our purposes, we can use the PA School Performance Profile (PASPP).  I’m on the record saying these measures are extremely rough and unreliable4, but they’ll do fine for now.  For reference, the median in Philadelphia is 56.7, while the average is 57.5; in PA, the median is 78.6 while the average is 76.3

For schools that are HSS (half of the staff selected through the traditional, seniority based approach), the median score is 68.45.  The average is 68.52.

For schools that FSS by vote (voted to select all of their staff through site select), the median PASPP was 64.6, the average is 66.54

(I cannot compare comprehensive/neighborhood schools via the site selection process because all of them are 100% FSS.  There’s no reasonable control group.)

Just to review:  Philadelphia schools have a process for mutual consent called “site selection”.  79% of all public schools are entirely staffed through this process.   21% of the schools are halfway staffed through this process.  And according to the almighty test numbers, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Every day I go to my school and, along with thousands of great teachers, try to mold a high quality education our of the chaos we are given.  But our leaders, political and otherwise, seem to believe that our biggest priorities are “mutual consent” and more charter schools – as if they lived on a planet where Philadelphia was actually missing mutual consent and charter schools.

The authors of “A Way Forward” admitted that mutual consent “is not a silver bullet”.  Their understatement speaks volumes.  Priorities matter..

I have no problem with mutual consent.  So long as the teachers, parents, and students have significant input in the process5, this is a fine idea. I have a problem with people lying to the public about how schools are staffed.  Mostly, I have a problem with the priorities of people who swear up and down that their only interest is making schools great.

“Mutual consent” is, by every empirical measure, a small, low leverage issue. We have other, much more pressing priorities.  How about 4,000 kids leaving the district?  Or the remaining ones dealing with a shortage of nurses, teachers, and caring adults.  Or programs being the cut or the libraries being shuttered or the utter bedlam in the school receiving students from schools that were closed.  The there’s about some schools putting up barriers to keep “those” kids out and others keeping the down payment of a center city condominium in their office safe.  It’s really cold in some buildings.  If kids were our priority, that would be the focus.

We have systemic dysfunction that keeps our schools poor, drives good teachers out, and builds conditions for bad ones.  Mutual consent, a policy that would only affect a fraction of a fraction of the teachers, is no cure.  It will upset labor unions.  It won’t help kids.

If big donors or political interests6 were a priority, then focusing on “mutual consent” makes a whole lot of sense.  But that’s nonsense.  And if powerful people are going to spout nonsense, I’m going to do my part to push back.

This is not about policy, it’s about priorities.  Let’s set the right ones

(Here‘s my data.  Be sure to follow Tim Boyle on Twitter and read his thoughts at The Notebook.)


  1. pictured here 

  2. And this is a really good way to look at a school. If a school trusts their Principal, they have a lot of reasons to vote for this. If not, they won’t. I would prefer every school allowed this issue – if there isn’t that level of trust, nothing else is going to work 

  3. the current contract requires any schools designated as a Promise Academy or High Needs is automatically designated FSS 

  4. “So it’s perfect for your blog”.  Ouch, dude 

  5. the current process involves the Principal selecting from a 3 candidates chosen by the committee, which seems fair 

  6. Oops, I meant “progressive benefactors“ 

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