Which teachers should be let go?

Feb 14, 2011, 2:32 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

If teacher layoffs are needed as school districts around the state balance budgets, who should go first?

Under the current system, teachers with the most seniority are protected from cuts. Some lawmakers are trying to change that with a bill that would allow districts to cut those who aren’t effective, regardless of how long they’ve been on the job. Teachers “with a track record of closing the achievement gap” would be safe.

Sonya Langford, a seventh grade teacher in the University Place School District, wrote an interesting “letter to the editor” for the Tacoma News Tribune . She says the proposed House legislation would “send our public schools back years.”

Here is part of her commentary, posted with Ms. Langford’s permission:

We cannot allow national groups, with little knowledge of what works in Washington, to derail our good work and promote their own agenda. School staffing decisions and policies should be determined at the local level, since every community has different needs. HB 1609 forces a top-down approach on school staffing decisions.

Teacher evaluation systems are designed to help teachers improve and strengthen their skills so they are more effective. Instead, HB 1609 misuses teacher evaluations to lay off teachers. Separately from that provision, HB 1609 changes local teacher transfer policies so that even teachers with solid track records could lose their jobs. This bill would establish Washington’s version of the infamous “rubber rooms” of New York and could terminate good teachers with strong evaluations.

[Rubber rooms are reassignment centers where hundreds of suspended teachers go each school day instead of the classroom while their cases are pending. The teachers can sit for years and do nothing while still getting paid.]

If anything, we should be training more eager, motivated educators to teach in classrooms where our children can receive the individualized attention they need and deserve. This bill discourages people from entering the teaching profession, because instead of encouraging them to grow and improve their teaching skills, it pits one teacher against another.

This bill does not improve class size or prevent teacher layoffs, and it doesn’t protect new teachers from layoffs. It does not help teachers improve their skills. This bill does not resolve funding issues and does not allow for local decision-making. It absolutely does not encourage collaboration in professional learning communities that we know improves teacher effectiveness.

Our students deserve better than this misguided legislation. That’s why the statewide professional associations representing teachers, principals, superintendents, classified staff and school boards all oppose this bill. I urge our local legislators to respect the concerns educators have raised and oppose HB 1609.

The issue – lay off teachers who have the least seniority? Or cut those who are the least effective?

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Which teachers should be let go?