To get Hartford's schools moving again, Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski and his staff have worked for five years to create "schools of choice," with different themes or modes of learning, where parents can send their children.
Most of these schools require special skills - up to four years of specialized teacher training. Most of these schools are doing well, some exceptionally well.
So it is a shame to waste this training and disrupt the schools because of an anachronistic and pointless union rule. But unless the state Board of Education steps in, that is what will happen.
The rule in question concerns layoffs by seniority. If Hartford has to lay off teachers, as is expected, the newest teachers, citywide, will be the first to go. They will be bumped by longer-serving teachers in their certified specialty from any school in the district.
System-wide seniority may have made sense when the schools were pretty much the same, but now they are different. Teachers need a particular set of skills for the Asian studies schools, just as they do for the environmental science one, for the Montessori and International Baccalaureate schools and so on.
What Mr. Adamowski has proposed is school-based seniority, so that layoffs happen within a school building. This way teachers trained in the school's pedagogy won't be bumped by teachers who aren't. That should minimalize the effects of layoffs on student progress.
If we can agree that schools should be run to educate children, and not to provide job security for senior union members, this is a better option.
It's also a better option for most teachers: No one wants to go into a classroom unprepared.
And - although we think performance should trump seniority in determining which teachers are retained - this still uses seniority.
Mr. Adamowski proposed this to the union last year. The union didn't agree to it, and it went to arbitration. In February, an arbitration panel sided with the union, saying school-based seniority would give principals too much power. Than whom, the union?
The state Board of Education has the authority to override a contract or bargaining agreement in low-achieving school districts to improve student achievement. The Hartford school board voted last year to ask the state board to intervene, but the state board asked the administration to try to work it out with the union.
That having failed, the board should now take action. School officials in Rhode Island and a few other states have taken similar action to help urban schools. Connecticut has to as well. Youngsters are entitled to the best teacher available, not the one who has been on the payroll the longest.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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