As Connecticut schools prepare to lay off hundreds of teachers, an education reform advocacy group Wednesday called on the legislature to end the "last in, first out" approach to teacher layoffs that targets the most recently hired teachers first.
The ConnCAN group plans to submit a last-minute amendment to end the policy, which favors teachers with the most seniority and experience.
Alex Johnston, ConnCAN's CEO, said 11 other states have passed or are considering legislation ending "last-in, first out" layoff policies, which he said targets some of the brightest and most promising teachers. In Connecticut, at least one local school district, Derby, has sent its teacher of the year a layoff notice.
"Making layoff decisions based on nothing except for the amount of time spent in a classroom really doesn't make sense," Johnston said at a press conference. "This is a really serious problem this year, as we are seeing hundreds of layoffs."
It is unclear whether ConnCAN's push will gain much traction with the session ending June 8, particularly since a similar bill never made it out of committee in February.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, opposes the policy change, saying the legislature shouldn't usurp local negotiations between teachers and management.
Mary Loftus Levine, the CEA's policy director, pointed out that local districts are capable of eliminating "last-in, first-out" layoff decisions every time they go to the bargaining table.
"Everyone has the opportunity to negotiate this locally," Levine said. "They never put this issue on the bargaining table."
CEA officials said only 18 percent of all teacher contracts in the state base layoff decisions solely on seniority.
Levine said teachers want a fair and equitable process that aims to keep and retain the best teachers.
She said there is no valid evidence that changing layoff rules will improve achievement and pointed out that research shows a link between experience and lower dropout rates and achievement. She also said teachers are concerned that changing the law might encourage superintendents to lay off more experienced, higher paid teachers to save money.
"We think that experience means something," she said.
Johnston agreed - to a point.
"Experience counts and it should be considered," Johnston said. "But achievement matters more. We should be doing everything possible to keep the best teachers in the classroom - this is what's right for students and for teachers."
In Derby, the local teacher of the year is among the teachers who got a layoff notice this year.
"We ought to have a layoff system that doesn't rely solely on how long you've been a teacher," Derby Superintendent Stephen Tracy said.
Hartford Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said the "last in, first out" policy has been highly destabilizing and an impediment to his efforts over the past five years to develop Hartford schools into highly specialized schools of choice. It has resulted in teachers who have undergone specialized training being "bumped" or displaced to another school by longer-serving teachers.
He said this approach worked years ago when teachers were "interchangeable parts" but no longer fits with teachers who have had specialized training.
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the education committee, said the ConnCAN group is well intentioned, but, he added, it is late in the legislative session. He also said the state should finish revamping the teacher evaluation procedure first.
"You have to have teachers and administrators having confidence in the effectiveness and accuracy of the evaluation system they will rely on for questions of hiring and firing," Fleischmann said.
An advisory council comprising teacher unions, state education officials and other education advocates has been meeting for months and plans to come out with teacher evaluation guidelines next month.
ConnCAN officials believe the evaluation is a good idea for the future but don't want to wait. They want to target teachers already ranked in the lowest category on evaluations by their supervisors.
"Why would we not begin layoffs with that pool of teachers?" Johnston said.
Currently eight states - Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah - along with Washington, D.C., have passed legislation that ends the last-in, first-out policy, ConnCAN said. Georgia and Illinois also have passed laws and are awaiting their governors' signatures.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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