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Letter: Hire or Dismiss Teachers Based on Evaluation, Not Seniority

A Boston College student writes in support of House Bill H3883, which calls for hiring, dismissal, and transfer decisions to be based on teacher evaluations, rather than on seniority.

As an aspiring educator, I am passionate about the influence a teacher can have on students. In January I began student teaching at a Boston Public School, where I have witnessed a great teacher at work.  This teacher has taught in other schools before, but it is her first year at this school.  Many of her students misbehave, which could reduce learning time. But despite such challenges, she has created an effective learning environment through good management skills and student-teacher relationships.  She has one of the highest homework completion rates in the school, her students recently outperformed the district on the ANETs (tests aligned with the standards of the MCAS), and her students are regularly engaged during class.  Her presence in this school has undoubtedly increased sixth grade math achievement, and it would be detrimental for the school to lose her.

However, if the school had to reduce spending and needed to cut teachers, it is likely she would be dismissed.  Why?  For one simple reason: it is her first year at the school.  Due to the common practice of Last In, First Out (LIFO), dismissal decisions are based on a teacher’s seniority. Her transformative effects on student learning would be irrelevant.

Recognizing this oversimplified practice, the non-profit organization Stand for Children launched a campaign called Great Teachers, Great Schools.  This campaign has proposed a ballot initiative (H3883) that calls for hiring, dismissal, and transfer decisions to be based on teacher evaluations, rather than on seniority.

Stand for Children’s initiative is not an attack against LIFO in regards to a teacher’s experience. It understands that more experienced teachers often are more effective; however it aims to also acknowledge the potential effectiveness of new educators.  In the current system, these new teachers are dismissed for their lack of seniority, despite their effectiveness.  Instead, educators should be dismissed for lack of effectiveness, regardless of experience.  Amongst various studies including the Widget Effect, a good teacher is the most important in-class factor for high student achievement.  For this reason, effective educators, not senior educators, need to fill schools.

So how do we measure teacher effectiveness?  Through teacher evaluations that consider many factors of effectiveness. In the past, evaluations have been condemned for producing skewed results.  There have been complaints such as test scores being unreliable or observations being held on a “bad day.”  The inconsistencies of past evaluations have been sifted out due to the new MA Race to the Top evaluations.  The creation of the new system was a result of collaboration between many parties including teacher unions, school administrations, curriculum developers, and the staff of MA Department of Elementary and Secondary education.  Through collaboration, these stakeholders critiqued past systems and proposed new ideas.  In the end, a comprehensive evaluation system was developed to encompass the many factors surrounding teacher effectiveness.  It considers test scores, announced and unannounced observations, as well as student and staff feedback; all of these factors provid!
 e a teacher with an opportunity to fully demonstrate his or her effectiveness.  Many variables are considered in the new system, which was only possible through the collaboration of the many stakeholders.

If Massachusetts has initiated this comprehensive evaluation reform, and if a teacher is the most important factor in the classroom, then why not fuse the ideas to achieve weighted evaluations?  There are two options to achieve this:
    1) Stand for Children’s initiative can appear as a question on the November 2012 ballot.   Its thirty pages of text will be condensed into a few, complicated lines aside a yes/no checkbox.  If passed, the language of the question will not be amendable, and collaboration will be prevented.
    2) The legislature and other stakeholders can support Stand for Children’s initiative and draft a bill.  A bill would permit collaboration between all parties involved.  It could be discussed and revised to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  Most importantly, it would be amendable.

The second option is the best solution that I can see.  Collaboration amongst stakeholders and the drafting of a bill is imperative for implementing comprehensive, weighted evaluations.  It could be worked on and improved through a process, much like the collaborative establishment of the Race to the Top evaluations.  The complicated, underlying issues in Stand for Children’s initiative could be teased out and weighted evaluations would be the ultimate goal.  In a recent talk with Students for Education Reform members at Harvard University, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Paul Toner, personally indicated the benefits of attaching weight to evaluations.  He has expressed union beliefs about this initiative.  Now, both he and the legislature must support the initiative and draft a bill by July 2.  Otherwise, the misleading question will appear on the November 2012 ballot.

It is imperative that weighted evaluations are considered.  We are close to securing an improved system that ensures that the best educators are teaching America’s children.  But before we can see real improvement, all of the stakeholders must recognize their responsibility in providing children with great educational opportunities by working together to amend and support this bill.

-Kathleen Stack
Sophomore, Boston College 

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Do you have an opinion or thought to share with Newton Patch readers? Submit your letters to Editor Melanie Graham at Melanie.Graham@patch.com or . 

Mark Golden May 10, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Evaluations are great. But, it all depends on who is doing the evaluation and is that the final determination. No teacher should be fired on the last in, first out basis. Nor should they keep their job simply because they have had it a long time. Teachers must keep teaching if they are good. If they are not, it does more harm to the students than having no teacher at all. Teachers Unions, while a must have, have become in some cases, a must put up with. In too many cases they are protecting the teachers who are the ones who should not be protected at all. They seem to place mire value on the teacher than the students. Teachers, good, even great teachers are too few and far between. Teachers must be cultivated and rewarded for their good work. Why is it that a college level professor, one who is certainly not doing anything to form and teach a young mind, paid so much better than those who do so. When we reevaluate our priorities, and pay public school teachers (actually all teachers of children up through high school graduation, what they are worth and what they are worth to our children, we will all be better off.
Sue Doherty May 11, 2012 at 09:36 AM
Mark, you are right about one thing, and that is that evaluations depend on who is doing the evaluation. That is why seniority, although imperfect, is the fairest and best way of determining who should be laid off. In general, teachers who have taught longer are better at it than are newer teachers. Overall, we lose about 50% of new teachers in the first five years, not because they are laid off but because they quit. The job is much more complex and difficult than most people realize until they actually stand in front of a classroom. Teachers who have lasted longer have found methods and lessons that work. I would argue also that teacher unions help students when they fight for better working conditions and pay for teachers. In states that are unionized like Massachusetts, students achieve at far higher levels than in states like Georgia, where teachers are not unionized. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/how-states-with-no-teacher-uni.html.
Lily May 12, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Please sign AGAINST "Stand for Children"'s ballot initiative! Tell "Stand" to respect our communities and withdraw our petition! Protect our public education and our community voices! Sign here: https://afl.salsalabs.com/o/4023/c/195/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4298
Paul Toner May 14, 2012 at 11:50 AM
As President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association I was happy to meet with Ms. Stack and her colleagues from Students for Education Reform. We had a great discussion about the importance of teachers unions and the importance of teacher evaluations to help teachers improve at their work. We also talked about the need for administrators to conduct fair and objective evaluations while providing teachers with honest feedback about their work and to support them in improving as educators. We also want teachers who are doing exemplary work to be more involved in taking on leadership roles in their schools and among their peers. Finally, the MTA supports the new evaluation framework and our local associations are working very hard with their administrations to tailor these frameworks to their local districts needs. We supported adding student learning outcomes as part of an overall evaluation process but we did not support making student outcomes a percentage of the teachers evalauations as has been done in some states. The reason we oppose the Stand ballot initiative is because we believe it will have a very negative impact on the collaboration we have been building with district and state leaders, it has many unintended consequences and has created a great deal of division and mistrust among educators. We continue to hope Stand will withdraw it's ballot initiative.

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