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The Question of Seniority

With school districts insisting they are facing the possibility of wholesale layoffs, it seems likely that the youngest, least experienced teachers will lose their jobs.  The most senior teachers will, in all likelihood, remain entrenched. 

New York City schools may see as many as 8500 layoffs, prompting Chancellor Joel Klein to face off with the head of the union over seniority rights, which have been in place for years.  “Nobody I’ve talked to thinks seniority is a rational way to go, “ Mr. Klein observes.   Mr. Klein probably doesn’t talk to veteran classroom teachers.

The seniority issue isn’t particular to New York; California and Arizona are currently trying to get their respective state legislatures to allow schools to ignore seniority when furloughing staff. Teaching  

But while it is clearly in students’ best interests to keep the best teachers, who are they? What are the criteria for judging?  Who’s got the rubric?

A New York Times analysis of the city’s own information indicates what other research has shown – that teachers with five to ten years’ experience seem to be most effective.  After that teachers tend to plateau.  Some plateau at a high degree of effectiveness; others at a more modest level.  Some, of course, continue to grow. 

While new teachers bring enthusiasm and excitement to the classroom, they often lack good classroom management skills.  While veteran teachers can control the class, they no longer teach like their hair’s on fire (if they ever did).

Two Democrats are sponsoring a bill in the state legislature to give principals the power to choose who goes and who stays.  Klein says that experience is important, but the “individual’s track record of success” should be considered.

The problem is this:  Most districts do not have a clear and viable manner to assess teacher effectiveness.  Some don’t even have a regular supervision and evaluation process in place.  Unions continue to fight against using test scores and other data to evaluate teacher effectiveness and then complain that without seniority they are at the mercy of a principal’s whims. 

It’s not about seniority.  It’s about evaluation.  Until that issue is settled, we’ll continue to sacrifice the youngsters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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