Teacher effectiveness must be part of lay-off process

Don Heinzman
ECM Editorial Writer

How teachers with tenure should be evaluated and laid off in a school system are hot topics at the Minnesota Legislature.

Republicans, who are in the majority in both houses, seem to favor a measure that would use test scores and teacher effectiveness along with seniority in terminating teachers.

Now, seniority (years of experience) is used as a major consideration in laying off teachers, or as is commonly known: last hired, first fired.

Education Minnesota, a union of 70,000 teachers,  responds that 40 percent of the school district contracts now enable administrators to use criteria along with seniority to terminate teachers. While teachers about to be dismissed are entitled to due process, it is false to say that principals do not have the power to get rid of bad teachers; they are reluctant to use it.

We have favored making it harder for teachers to get a license, which they must renew every five years. This idea, suggested by Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Brenda Cassellius apparently isn’t on the Republican legislators’ law-making agenda.

By toughening licensure requirements, teachers would be more qualified to teach for another five years.

Those who favor watering down the seniority process claim it will get rid of the “bad” teachers, which they say seniority protects.

The law now requires the definition of an effective teacher by which teachers must be measured. This is in addition to the demand that teachers must have a college degree, they have to survive three years of probation and be licensed regularly.

All this emphasis on ineffective teachers overlooks the good record Minnesota education has compared to other states, with its higher college entrance exams and high graduation rates.

Proponents of changing the seniority system claim that culling the bad teachers would narrow the educational achievement gap between minority and white students. It’s important to determine what the gap is and where it is.

The tenure law has served teachers and students well by recognizing that experienced teachers generally become better instructors and should be protected from arbitrarily being laid off.

The time has come, however, when as in any profession, a teacher’s effectiveness along with the seniority should be considered in any lay-off decision.