Forcing the issue: Cincinnati's finest given no choice in where they teach

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Here's something of a conundrum: Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Mary Ronan, backed by her board of ed, wants to fix the district's lowest-performing schools, in part, by staffing them with the highest-performing teachers. Only she doesn't want to give the teachers any choice in the matter. So the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers has filed a grievance, claiming that the new policy violates the teachers' contract.

Boosting teacher quality, by spreading the wealth district-wide, is certainly a laudable goal--especially if, like Cincinnati, you have a program in place that trains faculty to become "lead teachers." But is the way in which the district does this too draconian?

More than 10 years ago, Cincinnati created a program training volunteer teachers to become lead teachers. Such teachers, now numbering over 200, work for the district as a roving evaluator for three years, earning a stipend of $6,500 before returning to the original school.

But the district, trying to trim its budget and boost student performance, plans to revamp the program next year, when lead teachers will have to go wherever the district assigns them after they complete their rotations.

While the union and the district squabble over whether the contract allows for the change, the bigger issue for us is the wisdom of force-placing teachers--even great ones. As one lead teacher told The Cincinnati Enquirer, "I'm not saying I wouldn't want to work at a (lower-performing) school, but I feel I would want to have a choice to work there. If you just place them, they could be unsatisfied and it could affect their performance."

It could also discourage them from pursuing the lead-teacher job. In contrast, a recruitment program in Massachusetts openly challenges exceptional teachers to join a team of peers, as well as a like-minded principal, to boost student achievement at an officially designated "turnaround" school. So they volunteer knowing exactly what they're getting into.

At the very least, Cincinnati could allow for interviews between lead teachers and principals, to help ensure a good fit. And perhaps the revamp can include a new incentive arrangement, one that shifts funds, primarily, to those willing to work in high-needs schools. That way, you have choice and save money.