In teaching, seniority trumps quality

  • Article by: MADALINE EDISON, JAMES KINDLE, ALICIA L A CROIX and SARAH SCHULTES
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 6:54 PM

But that should change, starting now.

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A heavy burden rests on our shoulders as teachers: Alleviate Minnesota's large achievement gaps, accelerate learning gains, and get all children college- and career-ready. We're up to the challenge.

Teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor affecting student success. Research says a highly effective teacher can help students achieve as much as an additional year's worth of academic gains over one school year compared with a less effective teacher.

That's why it is so disheartening to see great teachers let go without regard to their performance.

Consider what happened late last month, when nearly 50 teachers in Eden Prairie received layoff notices.

These particular teachers were not laid off because they were bad teachers, because they had failed their students, or because parents, students or administrators wanted them to go. They were laid off because of a simple number: their number of years teaching in the district.

It's become a common scene across the state, and it will repeat itself in the coming weeks and months because of the "last in, first out" teacher layoff policy, or LIFO. The policy requires school districts to look solely at the length of time a teacher has worked in the district when making layoff decisions, without any consideration of performance.

For some teachers, it can come down to the day, or the minute, they signed their contracts. Under this policy, Minnesota has seen educators lauded as "Teacher of the Year" one month and presented with a pink slip the next.

As teachers, we believe this policy must end. Minnesota has the chance to join a growing number of states that have replaced LIFO with quality-based evaluation systems. The Legislature has approved bills that would implement this system, and the decision will soon rest with Gov. Mark Dayton.

In support of retaining excellent teachers for the benefit of Minnesota's children, we urge him to approve this measure.

Research shows that there are both outstanding teachers and ineffective teachers across all levels of experience. According to two recent studies, the vast majority of seniority-based layoffs result in better teachers leaving classrooms and less-effective teachers staying.

LIFO undermines efforts to create a diverse teacher workforce, because teachers of color have less seniority on average. Additionally, children in high-poverty neighborhoods suffer most from quality-blind layoffs, since they have the largest concentration of new teachers. Such layoffs undermine stability for kids who need it most.

We have heard the arguments in favor of LIFO. One is that it might prevent principals facing tight budgets from laying off senior teachers simply to save some extra money. Thankfully, under the Senate version of the bill, compensation is explicitly prohibited from being a factor in layoff decisions.

We have also heard that now is not the right time for change, and that identifying great teachers would be too challenging a task. Critics of the legislation argue that using LIFO is "more orderly" because decisions simply come down to that hiring number.

But we feel that it is our moral obligation to face these challenges now and develop a system that is more than just orderly: one that adequately addresses the needs of all Minnesota children.

Minnesota cannot wait any longer. We have an evaluation system in development for identifying great teachers. Since the new system would go into effect after the evaluation system is enacted, we can learn from the dozens of other states that already use evaluation results in staffing decisions.

It will take time to refine this system, but the stakes are too high not to make the effort.

We cannot wait any longer to replace an antiquated layoff system that research and common sense confirm is ineffective. We cannot afford to let any more children languish in schools where great teachers are removed while less-effective teachers are retained.

Gov. Dayton, we urge you to help give Minnesota kids the highest-quality teachers. Sign this bill.

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Madaline Edison, James Kindle, Alicia LaCroix and Sarah Schultes are public school teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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