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Teacher Effectiveness V Seniority

Tingley-021 color-1 First of all, the terms are not opposites. 

But as schools rethink their “last hired first fired” policies during budget cuts, two recent studies support lay-offs determined by teacher effectiveness.  Remember:  that category could include both rookies and veterans.

Using data from New York City and the state of Washington, the studies compare scenarios in which teachers are laid off according to the seniority system currently in place versus measures of their effectiveness.  The studies reach the same conclusion:  students in affected classes receive a better education when decisions are made based on effectiveness.  In addition, fewer positions are lost.

Both studies were sponsored by CALDER (National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research).  “Effectiveness” was determined by value added.  In the Washington study, researchers found that more than one-third of teachers who were let go were as effective or more effective than the average teacher who retained his or her job because of seniority.  In the affected classes, when less effective teachers retained their jobs at the expense of more effective, students lost about 3 months of learning per year.

In New York City researchers found that under the seniority system, 7% of teachers would be have to be laid off to reduce the budget by 5%.  Under an effectiveness system, about 5% would be laid off.  So we can conclude that not all effective teachers are veterans and not all veterans are effective teachers.

Despite the findings, both studies caution against using value added as the single factor in laying off teachers.  Teacher effectiveness, they say, is more than just test scores.

Fired teachers cartoon So what do we take away from studies like this?  Well, Douglas Harris, author of Value-Added Measures in Education:  What Every Educator Needs to Know, says that first of all we need to define what we mean by “value added.”  In an interview with CALDER, Harris, says, “Value added refers to how much people contribute to the output of an organization.  In education, it usually means how much teachers and schools contribute to the student learning measured by standardized tests.”

But, says Harris, the “cardinal rule” of accountability is “that you hold people accountable for what they can control.”  Teachers can’t control the child’s experiences before they enter the classroom, but “value-added measures try to [take into account] where students are when they come into the door.”  In other words, it’s about growth, not an “end of the year snapshot.”

This seems like a place to start.  Harris also notes that taking into account longitudinal data is essential because scores vary over time just like baseball players’ batting averages.  “Perhaps the biggest valued of value-added,” says Harris, “is that it’s generated serious thinking about what good teaching looks like.”That, I think, is the key.  Value added is just one tool in determining teacher effectiveness.  But it opens the conversation on developing the others.


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