What’s next for effective teachers?

Rated “highly effective” in the Los Angeles Timesanalysis of value-added scores, fifth-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar faced jealousy from other teachers. Now he’s sharing his teaching techniques with his colleagues — and facing a layoff in the fall, reports the Times.

Many of Aguilar’s students — mostly low-income and Latino — started in the bottom 30% but scored well above average at the end of the year. By contrast, the teacher in the next classroom, John Smith,  ranked among the district’s least effective teachers. Aguilar, who has eight years seniority, received a pink slip warning he may be laid off; Smith, with 15 years’ seniority, will keep his job, even if cuts are severe.

Aguilar said he “went through hell” when the article came out, he told the Times.

“There’s a lot of jealousy and hate out there…. People said things like, ‘There’s this guy who thinks he’s all good just because he’s Latino and he’s friends with the kids. How do you know he’s not cheating?’”

However, teachers — including Smith — began coming to Aguilar for help. The principal and teachers say there’s “a new openness to talking about what works, an urgent desire to improve.”

Top teachers will be head-hunted for jobs as teaching coaches, predicts Michael Goldstein on Starting an Ed School. Teachers like Aguilar with high value-added scores should be recruited as coaches, leaders, higher-paid teachers or teachers who get “curriculum freedom, assistance with certain tasks, flexible funds for student projects or trips’ or whatever else they want, he writes.

High-scoring schools now get hundreds of visitors. The same should apply to unusually effective teachers, writes Goldstein, who founded Boston’s MATCH school.

LIFO is out

Last-in, first-out layoffs are out in Georgia, reports Teacher Beat. It’s a trend.

The bill, SB 184, prohibits local boards of education from using seniority as the “primary or sole” determining factor when implementing a reduction in force. Boards that don’t comply can have some of their state education funds withheld.

Georgia’s action follows that of Utah, where a similar bill was recently signed into law. Other states that have recently ended LIFO through legislation include Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, in addition to the District of Columbia through its recent teachers’ contract.

Illinois teachers’ unions have agreed to an anti-LIFO bill that allows both performance and seniority to be taken into account in deciding who get laid off.

Dennis Walcott, New York City’s new schools chancellor, wants a LIFO exemption from the state, but the teachers’ unions and Democrats in the legislature are opposed.

Not surprisingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a no-LIFO plan as part of his education reform bill.

Detroit Public Schools is sending layoff notices to all teachers and administrators. Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager who’s running the troubled district, said he’ll use a new law that lets him  modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements.

Detroit is losing enrollment. By pink-slipping everyone, Bobb opens the door to non-LIFO layoffs. He can  retain the teachers and administrators he thinks are best and lay off the rest.

LIFO threatens high-need schools

A 5 percent budget cut for Tacoma Public Schools could trigger layoffs for one quarter to one half the teachers at “turnaround” schools, concludes a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

“Last in, first out” policies disproportionately affect Washington state schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs). intended to transform chronically low-performing schools.

Many teachers in these schools are newly hired, chosen on the basis of high ability and commitment to education of disadvantaged children.

In Washington’s SIG schools, about 23% of teachers are in their first three years of teaching. That’s nearly twice the proportion of new teachers in other schools in the same districts.

LIFO layoffs could destabilize schools and undermine turnaround efforts, the study warns.

Under a court-ordered settlement, Los Angeles schools with high-need students and young teachers will be protected from layoffs.

Education Experts are discussing how to measure teacher effectiveness on National Journal.

Study: Seniority rights widen achievement gap

Is collective bargaining good for students, asks Tom Jacobs on Miller-McCune Online

When New Mexico teachers regained collective bargaining rights after four years without them, SAT scores rose while graduation rates fell, according to a study published in the Yale Law Journal.

Disadvantaged students lost ground, concluded author Benjamin Lindy, a Yale law student and a former middle-school teacher.

“Between 1993 and 1999, New Mexico required collective bargaining with teachers’ unions. The law expired in 1999 and wasn’t renewed till 2003, creating a window in which districts could refuse to bargain with unions.

He found no impact on spending per student.  But student achievement patterns did change.

That’s because teachers lost transfer rights in the no-bargaining interim, Lindy theorizes. Before 1999 and after 2003, senior teachers could  ”concentrate themselves in a district’s higher-income, higher-performing schools,” which are easier places to teach.  The least-experienced teachers were concentrated in high-poverty schools.

“This change in transfer rights is especially significant, because it helps explain not only why low-performing students began to improve (when the teachers lost collective bargaining rights), but also why the achievement of high-performing students began to fall,” Lindy writes. “If districts were able to shift high-quality teachers away from concentrated areas of high performance to areas of high-need, one would expect to see the performance of high-achieving students fall.”

So when contracts are negotiated that give teachers with seniority a major say in where they’ll teach, the result is already-advantaged students get yet another advantage: more experienced instructors. This helps them raise their test scores even higher. Meanwhile, the poorer kids get less-experienced teachers, leaving them still further behind and more likely to drop out.

Not all union contracts give senior teachers the right to choose their school, but it’s very common.

Note that Lindy’s analysis suggests that experienced teachers are more effective teachers.

Hiring, retaining talented teachers

Teachers reject quality-blind layoffs, reports The New Teacher Project, which advocates A Smarter Teacher Layoff System.

Fully 40 percent of the nation’s teachers (1.25 million) work in one of 14 states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin — where it’s currently illegal for schools to consider job performance in making layoff decisions. Ten of these states are facing budget deficits greater than 10 percent, meaning that layoffs are a real possibility.

Under quality-blind policies — sometimes called “last-in, first-out” — schools are mandated to lay off the least senior teachers first. This hurts students by depriving them of excellent teachers who are forced to leave simply because they have not taught as long as others.

Teachers want their job performance considered, according to a TNTP survey.

Putting talented teachers in every school will require a coordinated strategy concludes a new Carnegie report.

The report outlines a number of strategies for preparing teachers better. They include holding teaching colleges accountable for their graduates’ performance and encouraging them to implement urban residency programs and alternative certification processes; hiring top-level graduates; and offering incentives for such graduates to work in schools where they are needed most. The report also recommends supporting teachers and principals with ongoing, on-the-job professional development; using data to assess teacher effectiveness more accurately; and, based on comprehensive, performance-based evaluations, retaining only the best teachers.

“The least effective teachers and principals are all too often found in high-poverty, high-minority, and high-immigrant schools,” said report author Talia Milgrom-Elcott.

Why do we treat newer teachers so badly? asks Sara Mead.

RIF tiff: Who gets fired?

The boss doesn’t know best, writes Samuel Culbert in a New York Times op-ed. Performance reviews are “subjective evaluations that measure how ‘comfortable’ a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results.”

So how should teachers be laid off when districts are forced to reduce staff? Flypaper asks.

. . . until stronger teacher evaluation systems are in place, it seems that our education system faces two stark choices: make lay-off decisions based on seniority, or trust administrators to pick and choose the teachers to fire. Which option do you think carries greater risks?

Fordham staffers weigh in and others leave their opinions in the comments. I’d like to trust principals to choose their teaching staffs, but I worry about the strong incentives to dump the top-scale teachers, including those who are competent, in favor of young teachers who may not be quite as good but are much, much cheaper.

AFT: Reform teacher evaluation, firing

It’s time to change how teachers are evaluated and dismissed, says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. The union chief’s plan would give    tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one school year to improve, reports the New York Times.

Weingarten proposed evaluating teachers based on classroom visits, appraisal of lesson plans and student improvement on tests.

Teachers rated unsatisfactory would be given a detailed “improvement plan” jointly devised by school administrators and experienced master teachers.

Some improvement plans — like maintaining better classroom order — could last a month. Others would take a full school year. The results would be considered separately by administrators and the peer experts, whose judgments would be sent to a neutral arbitrator.

The arbitrator would be required to decide within 100 days whether to keep or fire the teacher.

Compared to the current system, this is lightning fast, though Fordham’s Michael Petrilli isn’t impressed. “In any other field, this would be considered completely nuts that a manager would not have rights and responsibilities to evaluate their employees and take action,”  he told the Times.

Reform doesn’t require dumping collective bargaining, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. But some things have to change, including: restrictions on teacher evaluations; “last in, first out” lay-offs; forced transfers and “bumping” by senior teachers; tenure and due-process rules, and inflexible salary schedules that reward teachers only for length of service and academic credits.

In tough times, who do you lay off?

Teacher effectiveness is the theme of this week’s National Journal experts discussion. At the labor-management conference, Education Arne Duncan warned that there are tough decisions ahead in many districts about which teachers are retained and which are laid off. 

 ”If you have to make tough calls, you have to figure out for the most disadvantaged communities how you keep your best talent,” he said.

. . . Are there ways to evaluate teachers such that in lean times, the best ones stay on the job? Or are those kinds of assessments so fraught with peril that it makes more sense to make a clean cut from the bottom or the top?

Make sure you’re defining and measuring what you really care about, writes University of Colorado Professor Kevin Welner.  Then, “make sure you’re creating the right incentives.”

In the abstract, making personnel decisions based on effectiveness is a no-brainer. But the approach needs to be balanced, bringing in multiple measures that capture a full picture of teaching quality.

Welner thinks value-added scores should be used for only 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation because of reliability issues.

LA settlement limits layoffs by seniority

Up to 45 Los Angeles schools will be protected from teacher layoffs under a settlement approved last week of a lawsuit that charged seniority-based layoffs disproportionately hurt high-poverty schools, which tend to be staffed by young teachers. In addition, “layoffs in the district’s other 750 schools must be spread more equitably,” even if that means some senior teachers could lose their jobs, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The teachers’ union will appeal the order.

Seniority-based layoffs are under attack across the country.

“This year, if we are forced to lay off teachers, we will be forced to lay off some of the most effective, and keep some of the least effective,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a speech this week. “It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it’s not something we can allow to happen.”

Some hard-hit districts may have to lay off 15 to 20 percent of teachers, writes Michelle Rhee, founder of Students First,  in a New York Times op-ed. They should keep the best teachers, regardless of seniority, she writes. Twelve of the 50 states now “allow school administrators to consider teacher effectiveness in making layoff decisions.”

Ending last-in, first-out layoff policies is the priority of former NYC schools chief Joel Klein, who’s joined Education Reform Now as board chairman.

State leaders vow to dump tenure

Teacher tenure is under attack from New Jersey to Idaho, reports Teacher Beat.

Tough-talking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has finally gone ahead and said that he wants to end teacher tenure in favor of five-year renewable teacher contracts, the Wall Street Journal reports. And In Idaho, state Superintendent Tom Luna has also advocated eliminating tenure and basing part of a teacher’s salary on performance, the Idaho Statesman reveals.

In doing so, both men join officials in Florida and Wyoming (along with former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee) who also want to do away with tenure as it’s currently conceived.

Following the lead of Colorado and Delaware, Illinois officials propose linking tenure to student achievement and Utah leaders “hope to make it easier to dismiss teachers with several years of poor student growth,” Teacher Beat adds.

Budget cuts are the key factor, I think. Schools are laying off lots of teachers with no regard for their skills. Two eager, young teachers may have to be cut to pay for Mrs. Burnout’s salary? In a time of austerity, we can’t afford to keep ineffective teachers on the payroll.