The Merits of LIFO

Lately we hear a lot about teacher merit. Mayor Bloomberg, for example, wishes to end LIFO, the system of last-in first-out layoffs (LIFO). This makes sense to a lot of people. Why shouldn't we keep the best? Is there anyone who doesn't want the best possible teachers for our children?

The theory behind LIFO is that it precludes various forms of favoritism. Perhaps teachers shouldn't be spending their time fighting over who gets to wash the principal's car, build an extension on his house, or spend Tuesday afternoons with him in some secluded rendezvous. If LIFO were removed, would all decisions be merit-based?

Recent history suggests otherwise. For example, when Mayor Bloomberg had a chance to pick anyone to be chancellor, he chose Cathie Black. I'm sure Ms. Black is fun at parties, but the fact is neither she nor her children have ever attended a public school. She doesn't hold a Master's degree, and she's not even certified to teach in a classroom. It's tough to find merit in Ms. Black's selection; thus, it's hard to believe that merit is really Mayor Bloomberg's top priority.

Mayor Bloomberg says she's the best person for the job, but a recent poll of New Yorkers suggests only 21 percent of city residents approve of her. There are reasons for that, of course.

Working in a trailer behind a chronically overcrowded school, I'm a little angry my kids have to slog through the rain, snow and ice to see me. It's frustrating when the trailers are closed due to icy conditions or flooding and we have to make do in the auditorium.  We need help. Ms. Black's flip comment about reducing overcrowding via birth control did not bring a smile to my face.

If a teacher had said that to students, that teacher would be facing Chancellor's Regulation A-421, verbal abuse. There are few things more offensive than suggesting parents are having too many inconvenient children. Next came a remark about "Sophie's Choices" we faced in education. It's been a long time since I read that book, but Sophie's decision (which of her children was to be killed by the Nazis) was plainly something no parent should have to face, ever. Having learned nothing from these gaffes, Ms. Black quickly followed by mimicking concerned parents with the tone of a recalcitrant 14-year-old. Where was the merit in that?

Mayor Bloomberg appoints eight of the 13 Panel for Educational Policy members. He fires those who dare disagree with him, perceiving merit only in absolute obedience. I've been to many hearings at the PEP and schools slated for closure. I've seen parents, students, teachers, politicians, clergy, and community members from all walks of life give impassioned and moving speeches. I've seen presentations that refuted DOE contentions about so-called failing schools, and I've yet to see anyone from the DOE give a viable response to any such presentation. I've watched DOE officials play with their Blackberries and utterly ignore the communities they were ostensibly there to hear.

Blanche DuBois famously trusted in the kindness of strangers. Personally, I'm not willing to take that leap of faith. Nor are 80,000 working UFT teachers. Nor is anyone familiar with the blatantly undemocratic tactics of this administration.

When Mayor Bloomberg selects an utterly unqualified socialite to run the largest school system in the country, it demonstrates he values cronyism, not merit.  That, along with nepotism, ageism, racism, and sexism, is precisely what LIFO is designed to avoid.