Posted: 01/16/15 04:31
by Dave Mindeman
State Senator Terri Bonoff is a Democrat in the Minnesota Senate, but when it comes to education, she might as well have an R emblazoned on her desk.
Bonoff has introduced a bill that would end the Last In - First Out aspect for determining layoffs in a school district.
Sen. Terri Bonoff said Thursday that "It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept. I believe especially in a profession where our teachers play such an important role in shaping the lives of our young people that we want to make sure the very best teachers are in every classroom."
I don't think any of us would disagree with the idea of wanting the"very best" teachers in every classroom. But Sen. Bonoff seems to have the mistaken belief that LIFO keeps "bad" teachers in these positions.
If school district personnel were hired and retained strictly on aspects of professional merit, then maybe Bonoff would have an argument. But that is not the case. Too often, hiring and firing is strictly a budgetary decision based on cost - and, as we all know, experienced teachers are going to cost more.
LIFO has been one method of protecting teachers who have served their district for more than three years and have passed a probationary period. The teacher's union supports it and therefore, the MN GOP is against it. Because Education Minnesota supports Democrats too darn often.
Teachers have a very difficult job. And they obviously don't do it for the pay, because the work load and compensation are not commensurate. Teachers work long hours and have to combine professional education with social work, counseling, and supply management. But since they are the most visible and direct correlation to student achievement, they are the target of education critics at every level.
The legislature has been pushing for teacher evaluation as a method of deciding who stays and who goes in the school districts. This evaluation has one thing at it core....
Under the state evaluation law, 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation must gauge student achievement as measured by tests.
There are a few problems with that.
First, testing is a flawed evaluation process. We keep changing that process and it is often a political football. One of the criticisms of No Child Left Behind is that if forces teachers to "teach to the test" and give them little time to broaden a student's understanding of any one subject.
Secondly, teachers begin each year with a different group of students. How can we evaluate a teacher's performance from year to year without comparing apples to apples? A completely different group of students can offer completely different challenges - and most importantly, different results.
And, in addition, teachers can have different resources to work with from year to year. Class sizes can change. Curriculum can have different goals. Parental involvement can vary widely. Supplies can be cut short. And support staff can be lowered.
There are just too many variables that are not accounted for in the evaluation processes.
Yet, it is the teachers we continuously focus on when it comes to student achievement.
Well, I would contend that the only tool in the education arsenal that can work through all those variables and still meet achievement goals is the experience of the teaching staff. And there is really only one thing that can truly protect that valuable education experience tool - and that is LIFO.
When a school district is facing deep cuts, what is the most tempting target to get the knife? High salary personnel. And what hurts students the most when it comes to their ability to succeed? The loss of experienced teachers.
Sen. Terri Bonoff means well. She apparently makes the assumption that education problems stem from too many "bad" teachers coasting along on tenure. And maybe there are even a few of those bad apples around. But they are damn few - and if LIFO goes, some of the best teachers in the state will go as well.
As I have pointed out before, teachers are NOT the problem. We have too many other issues in education to be singling out teachers as some kind of root problem.
I would suggest that legislators let teachers explain what they believe the solutions should be.
After all, they are the professional educators. Let them teach.