Teachers need actual say in the hiring process

Over the years, I’ve worked with scores of principals and assistant principals who have had remarkably different management styles. While I firmly believe that teachers are overmanaged even in many positive working environments, I’ll be the first to admit that I have nothing but respect for good administrators. Luckily, the lion’s share of DOE administrators are decent. More than a few, however, are utterly incompetent and abusive (characteristics that seem to go hand in hand). My experience has led me to a basic truism: bad principals will have a very difficult time making long-term positive changes to a teacher’s instruction (or a student’s learning environment), but they can completely destroy a school or department in no time at all. This is why it’s so important that teachers, parents, and students have a real say in how principals and assistant principals are hired. Right now, as it stands, they have none. 

So, what is the C30 Process and how is it abused?

Sure – ostensibly, UFT and community members get a say in who leads their school. There’s a whole process set up–the C30 process–whereby representatives from parent, pedagogue, student, and administrative groups evaluate candidates for principal or assistant principal. However, that process comes with some serious limitations. Retirees and more experienced Tier 4 teachers may remember a time when member input sort of mattered on these C30 committees.Tier 6 teachers, on the other hand, have only seen it in its current state–a Potemkin Village to school democracy masking an authoritarian reality: whoever the superintendent or principal originally hired to get the interim acting (IA) position will get the full position.

First of all, superintendents and principals choose the candidates. Outside hires without much experience are becoming the rule in many districts (I imagine because superintendents find them easier to control). Thus, before C30 committees even meet at all, beloved in-house candidates are often knocked out of the running. From the outset, it is clear that the hiring administrator has all the power over who comes in. Once the short list of top candidates is presented – often a cherry picked list of win-win possibilities for the superintendent or principal (or alternately, a list of candidates so bad that the intended candidate looks good), the voting begins. Very little deliberation is involved in meetings. There is no discussion, only submission of scores for pre-selected questions. In any of these scenarios, the house always wins. 

Despite this, principals and superintendents prefer when a C30 committee meeting looks democratic. It’s better optics when the IA gets the top average score.  Many of the suspected tactics used by our CSA colleagues to inflate/deflate scores so the IA looks like they are the choice candidate have come to light in the age of Covid (now votes often take place via Zoom chats!). CSA members have been witnessed giving arbitrarily low scores to non-IA candidates and arbitrarily high scores to the IA. Coaching–sometimes subtle, sometimes not–has also been a concern. One New Action member saw the respected CSA member of a committee announce deflated and inflated scores before everyone else voted, thus signaling how everyone else should vote. Teachers, students, and parents sometimes nevertheless vote against the IA, but more often than not, they also give the winning scores to the IA – even when they prefer another candidate. Most teachers have been through enough of these to realize that C30s are a farce. Therefore, the prudent move becomes going on record to support the person who will almost certainly be signing one’s observation reports. This is because C30 committees are only advisory. Principals and superintendents can always overturn committee scores. And routinely, if they have to do so to get the IA hired, they do. 

So what’s the point of even sitting on a C30? After all, the C30 process happens after the contractual workday and teachers aren’t even paid to sit on the committee. At schools where principals or superintendents listen, I think it’s a beautiful thing that teachers participate. However, in schools or districts where we know from experience that the C30 process will be a ruse, I’d suggest that teachers’, students’, and parents’ time is too valuable; we shouldn’t be throwing it away to help the DOE pretend we have a say. Of course, the answer isn’t to just sit it out. The answer is reforming the C30 process, so that we do have a say. As part of its platform, United For Change–the coalition of caucuses (including New Action) running in the UFT election against the incumentent Unity caucus this year–supports dramatic reforms to restore/expand democracy in the C30 process. Here are a few reform ideas that could help:

  • Allowing hiring committees to have a greater say in the selection of ‘top’ candidates. 
  • Giving hiring committees the power to exclude lowest-scoring candidates, including the IA, from final selection. 
  • Auditing scores by C30 members, especially members from CSA, to prevent them from routinely inflating/deflating scores to select the IA. 
  • Respecting highly rare votes of no confidence by teachers (or parents/students) in the period before a principal gains tenure. 

I’m not naive. Making even one of these changes would certainly take work. I don’t see any of these reforms being something that a DOE Chancellor would make on their own. But, our students deserve environments where teachers aren’t being incompetently micromanaged or abused. With enough teacher, student, and parent buy-in & advocacy, we can fight to make the types of changes we need to prevent schools from getting abusive and incompetent administrators in the first place.

Have your own ideas of how to reform the C30 process? Drop them in the comments below or shoot an email to one of our chairs

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