Teacher retention should be based on effectiveness, not seniority
Hiring and retaining teachers based on performance is the right thing to do for children and the right thing to do for teachers, writes Seattle Public Schools parent Andrew Kwatinetz.
Special to The Times
WITH the leadership of Seattle Public Schools right in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the teachers union, the events of last week signaled loud and clear that it is time for change.
At my daughter's elementary school, two popular, highly effective teachers were told they won't have a job next year. Across the city, students and parents have been shocked and dismayed at the news of their favorite new teachers being shown the door. The promise to replace them with more-senior teachers — regardless of performance — offers little solace.
Layoffs come as no surprise — with budget shortfalls and school closures, we are all making sacrifices. But what we struggle to comprehend is the rationale behind the current contractual agreement with the union, which is laid out clearly on the Seattle Education Association Web site under article XII, section A.5: "The performance ratings (evaluation) of employees shall not be a factor in determining the order of layoff."
This policy defies common sense. What other business, given a choice, would fire their best new hires? Would the Mariners cut their "rookie of the year" to meet a roster limit? The education of our children is the most important business we are in. The future health of our city — innovative businesses, talented work force, vibrant arts, low crime rate — depends on the quality of education we give the 46,000 kids in our public schools.
Many studies have shown what we parents already know to be true: The most significant determination of a student's success is the quality of his or her teacher. Researchers have shown a huge gap between what a student will learn with an effective teacher compared with an ineffective teacher. We should be doing everything possible to hire, develop, and retain the best teachers.
The current "last-in, first out" policy is a disservice to the teachers it purports to serve. Teaching is a team activity, akin to a relay race (handing off students from one to another). Strong teachers deserve effective peers.
Furthermore, to cultivate the future crop of great teachers, we need to send a clear message that teaching is an attractive profession to pursue. What kind of person wants a job where they may be fired regardless of how they performed relative to their peers?
And sadly, this is not the first time we've lost great new teachers to this policy. No doubt this has contributed to the record numbers applying to Seattle private schools despite the difficult economy. Returning the focus to effective teachers is a key to winning parents back to public schools, which would, in turn, result in more available teaching positions.
Hiring and retaining teachers based on performance is the right thing to do for children and the right thing to do for teachers. The current superintendent and School Board did not negotiate the current contract, but they are negotiating the new one right now, behind closed doors.
It's time we demand a teachers' contract that reflects the goals of the education system we hope to achieve.Andrew Kwatinetz is a Seattle Public Schools parent and vice-president of Community & Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) of Seattle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to learn more go to www.cppsofseattle.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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