Teacher Layoffs Schools Should Have The Power To Retain Their Best Teachers
The Hartford Courant
March 06, 2011
One of the strongest cards Connecticut is able to play as it competes in the global economy is an educated workforce. This is a direct result of investment in quality public schools. This year many of those schools will be severely challenged by teacher layoffs. Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has laudably vowed to keep the state's education cost-sharing funding at the current level, loss of federal funds and increased costs could as much as double the 1,500 teachers laid off in the state last year.
Barring legislative intervention, those layoffs will be determined by which teachers have been on the job the longest, not which are doing the best job in the classroom. A "last in, first out" policy is a disservice to the state's children as well as an affront to common sense. Most good organizations, when faced with downsizing, try to keep their best people, regardless of how long they've been on the job. Schools should be allowed to keep their best teachers.
In many cases, older professionals who have honed their pedagogic skills and deepened their learning and understanding of how children learn are the best teachers; they are worth their weight in gold. But so are some of the energetic young teachers coming out of programs such as Teach For America or moving via alternative certification from the private sector.
If our focus were on the children, and not outmoded tenure rules, principals and school boards could separate the wheat from the chaff and keep the wheat. Tenure needs to be rethought. Teachers shouldn't be fired because a parent is angry about assigning "Huckleberry Finn" or because one political party ousted the other on the board of education. But when tenure makes it nearly impossible to fire a poor teacher, or requires a good young teacher to be laid off ahead of a longtime seat-warmer, it's not working for the best interest of children or the interests of the state.
Tenure — if it exists at all — should be part of a comprehensive statewide evaluation system. Unfortunately there is no such system, although one is being developed with a 2013 deadline.
In the meantime, the General Assembly can and should do what Rhode Island did last year and the New York state Senate did last week, and that is to pass legislation allowing school districts to consider factors other than seniority when making layoff decisions.
New Haven, in a groundbreaking collaboration between the school board and the teachers union, has developed a teacher performance assessment system that uses student achievement as its primary criterion. Teacher ratings under this system will be used to guide staffing decisions. So it can be done. With a nudge from the legislature, the rest of the state can get on board.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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