The idea behind the concept of “mutual matching” is to find the best fit between a teacher and the school community in which they work. That concept is on the bargaining table now in discussions between the officials from the Oakland Unified School District and Oakland Education Association, as they discuss a proposal that would change the way teachers are assigned to schools in the district.
While OEA president Betty Olson-Jones said the idea of mutual matching “sounds great” she also said the district’s proposal is riddled with problems. The main stumbling block between the two sides is the issue of seniority, and how much importance it should be given when a teacher wants to switch schools.
Under the district’s current policy, if there is an opening at a school, a teacher with the most seniority would have the first opportunity at the job. Mutual matching would change that, placing less of an emphasis on seniority. Instead teachers would visit with school communities, hold a mutual interview process, and then have both parties list their top five choices in order to find a match.
The district and OEA are currently negotiating implementing mutual matching for this spring, and using it to assign displaced teachers from the five elementary schools slated to close after this school year. The current proposal on the district’s web site calls for the process to begin March 12, when teachers would begin going around to prospective schools to try to find the best match.
Oakland Unified School District spokesperson Troy Flint said mutual matching is important because “good relationships involve mutual attraction.” Flint said that mutual matching “would occur by involving the school community in greater extent in teacher selection, not just the principal but also other staff members. Teaching colleagues, parents, and perhaps a student representative would take part in ensuring that teachers assigned or placed at a site would mesh with the culture or the priorities, the atmosphere of the school.” Recently, OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith wrote an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune supporting the mutual matching proposal.
Olson-Jones said there is a lot about the proposal that the OEA supports, such as eliminating teachers’ salaries from the process so a school couldn’t pass on a veteran teacher because they had a higher salary than a new teacher.
However, she said, there are many problems with the district’s proposal, and most of the issues center around getting rid of seniority as the main benchmark for school selection. “We’re concerned that if you take seniority out of that equation, you open it up to all kinds of bias—age, union activity,” Olson-Jones said. “So that’s a real problem.”
Teachers being displaced by the five elementary schools scheduled to close at the end of this school year currently have first preference for any open jobs in the district based on seniority. According to Olson-Jones, many of the displaced teachers are veteran teachers who would lose the right of first choice if this new policy is implemented. “This mutual matching proposal would basically gut that,” she said.
“Closing schools, telling those teachers ‘You’re out of here but you’re not going to have the rights to choose where you go, even though you’re being displaced from your site,’” Olson-Jones said. “We have a real issue with that.”
Olson-Jones said the union wants to keep contract language the same for the displaced teachers—meaning the teachers from the closing schools with the most experience would have the first chance at any open job. “We don’t agree with having displaced teachers have to re-interview for their jobs, basically, and fight for their jobs,” she said.
Flint said that while a teacher’s years of experience should be an important factor in deciding the right school for a teacher, “by itself, it’s insufficient.” Flint said it’s important to recognize other factors: “Is this person going to be able to work well with our staff? Are they going to be able to get along with the members of our community? Do they share our priorities?”
“In the context of education, it seems like it’s revolutionary,” he said of allowing a mutual selection process. “But in any other setting it would be completely fundamental.”
Olson-Jones said her membership agrees that teachers should visit schools to understand the campus community’s expectations and vision. But, she said, the ultimate decision should be left up to the teacher, not the school. “We think most teachers will find the best fit for themselves and figure out where they feel the most comfortable, where they feel they can really grow as professionals,” she said. “So we agree with that.”
The mutual matching proposal is supported by Great Oakland Public Schools, a nonprofit concerned with improving public schools in the city, said Marc Tafolla, the policy director for the organization.
Tafolla said mutual matching would help schools address specific needs by targeting teachers they feel would contribute the most to the school site. He cited Urban Promises Academy, a middle school in the Fruitvale district, as an example of a school with heavy parent involvement. Tafolla said that if the school was to hire a teacher who “didn’t want to involve parents, or invite them into the classroom or school community, [it] would be a tough situation for the school.”
Tafolla said some teachers and principals support mutual matching, noting a December school board meeting where the idea was explained to the board by Briggette Marshall, OUSD’s associate superintendant. Among those to speak in favor of the proposal was Nima Tahai, principal at Garfield Elementary, in the San Antonio district, which participated in a pilot mutual matching program last fall. Tahai said four teachers were interviewed, and that it was beneficial that the teachers were able to learn about Garfield, and the school community had the chance to see if the prospective teacher would be able to mesh with the teachers already there.
“The consensus, both from the incoming new teachers as well as the teachers at Garfield,” Tahai said at the December board meeting, “is that they really felt empowered by the process of really being allowed to speak with all of the candidates, and also really have a say in who would be joining their team.”
Tafolla said mutual matching programs similar to the one the OUSD is considering have worked well in cities like Baltimore and New York. He said it’s important for the district, OEA and community members continue to have a discussion around the proposal, saying it was “an important opportunity to advance the conversation.”
Great Oakland Public Schools supports mutual matching, he said, because teachers should be in a school environment where their vision is supported. “Teachers aren’t interchangeable,” he said. “It’s really important that you get a good fit.”