The Unintentional (or Intentional) Downsourcing of Teaching

02/18/2014 12:17 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

Sadly, the current trend toward dismantling teacher rights is ultimately going to cause unintended (intended by some who wish to disassemble public education) consequences.

The consequences will have a negative effect on the quality of education for all students. The reason is that it will eventually lead to the "downsourcing" (the replacement of higher qualified employees with less qualified employees at lower wages) of teachers. Instead of improving education, it will have the opposite effect.

It is not difficult to see what is downstream from this strategy. This change will not only impact ineffective teachers, it will eventually lead to effective, qualified teachers being driven from the field. Why? The reason relates to how the financial forces in the free market operate. Or in the case of public education, only partially operate.

Why do we need due process (tenure) and contractual protections (seniority and salary schedules) in public education? The best way to answer the question is to compare the teaching profession with the private sector.

Why do companies like Apple, FedEx, etc. pay their employees well? Do they just want to give their money away? Of course not, the reason they pay well is because their employees' outputs are connected to profits. Companies in revenue generating endeavors have a financial interest in having the best employees, thus they pay competitive wages or they risk losing this talent (maybe to a competitor) which ultimately affects the bottom line. As a result, in the private sector, there are both upward (ability to enhance profits) and downward (desire to lower costs) forces impacting wages.

There is no such connection in education. A teacher's outputs (no matter how good) have no impact on the bottom line. Thus, school districts have no financial incentive to pay teachers well. For example, if the "Teacher of the Universe" has the best year ever related to academic achievement, it does not increase revenue one cent. There is no corresponding "upward" pressure to balance the downward pressures on wages. Currently, this imbalance is offset by having due process (tenure) and salary schedules. These checks and balances are the only measures that prevent the "downsourcing" of teaching.

For example, if the lawsuit against due process and contractual rights prevails in California it will give administrators free reign when choosing whom they lay off. Who do you think will get laid off when the choice is between a teacher who makes $80,000 and one who make $50,000? Even if the former is more qualified and more effective, administrators will be compelled to keep the latter. Why, because there is not a financial incentive to have the most qualified, effective teachers. There is actually a financial incentive to get rid of them for the lower cost option and that is exactly what will happen (downsourcing).

This will ultimately affect students because it will lead to a less qualified teachers and a less stable teaching force. This will lead to greater turnover because administrators will have financial incentives to replace experienced teachers with less experienced teachers.

If completely throwing our teacher rights is not the answer, then what needs to be done?
First, it is imperative that we have public discourse about what teacher rights (tenure, etc.) are and what they are not. There is a lot of misinformation floating around regarding this issue. Everyone needs to understand the process. The teachers' union should be leading this discussion. If teachers continue to do nothing, then we will be at the mercy of lawsuits or agenda-based and/or misinformed legislation. The teachers should be leading, not reacting. Second, the process should be examined to make sure it is valid and efficient ("Justice delayed is justice denied").

The strategy of pitting stakeholders against one another is not the answer. We have to move away from the "false choice" being presented by many to a solution that is beneficial for all stakeholders.

As a parent and teacher, I hope to see an efficient and valid process when dealing with teacher performance concerns. Instead dismantling the whole system, we should focus on intervening where the actual problems exist.

I think it is important we put this into perspective. In a recent survey, 82 percent of parents rated their child's teacher as "Good" or "Excellent" (Assoc. Press NORC Center for Public Affairs June 2013). Keep in mind; these are parents with children actually in school who are working closely with teachers every day in the real world. Maybe some of the "reformers" should actually spend some time in schools beyond quick tours and photo ops.

This is not to dismiss the real problems that we face in our educational system, especially in urban communities. But we have to move away from this agenda-driven approach to focus on all the core issues, (including improving teacher effectiveness) no matter how daunting they may seem.

One final thought, all the data suggestions the biggest factors related to achievement are socio/economic status and primary language. Until we focus on those challenges and how to lessen their impact on achievement, (there are successful models that demonstrate it can be done) we are never going to significantly and permanently close the achievement gap.

Sadly, if this lawsuit prevails, it will not only fail to reduce the achievement gap, it will eventually have a negative impact on all schools, all teachers, and all students.