Laying off the least effective teachers

Seniority determines teacner layoffs in most school districts. Laying off the least-effective teachers, instead of the newest hires, would let districts retain more and better teachers for the same budgetary savings, write University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald  in Education Next.

 Only 16 percent of Washington state teachers who received lay-off notices were in the least-effective category, the study concluded, comparing teachers for whom value-added scores could be generated.  Because the least-effective teachers are more senior and therefore earn higher pay, laying off 132 would save as much money as laying off 145 junior teachers.   

Furthermore, the least-effective group was 20 percent of a standard deviation lower in students’ math and reading achieve­ment then the least-senior group.

The magnitude of the difference is strik­ing, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.

Black students are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers who are the first to be laid off, the study found.  Effectiveness-based layoffs spread the disruption more evenly.

Some districts protect teachers in high-need specialties: Math and science teachers are less vulnerable to layoffs than P.E. and health teachers, for example. But in 70 percent of the nation’ s largest school districts, seniority alone determines the order of layoffs, the study concluded.

 That’s just crazy.

Automatically AP

All Federal Way students in grades 6-12 who meet Washington’s state standards are automatically enrolled in accelerated classes, including demanding Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge classes, reports the Huffington Post.

Some 80 percent of the district’s students pass state exams, which suggests it’s not a high bar. Only 30 percent were signing up for advanced programs, which include pre-AP and pre-IB courses for middle-school students.

Enrollment in advanced courses increased by 70 percent this year.  The most demanding classes no longer are primarily white and Asian-American.

Students can opt out of advanced classes with parental permission.  Michael Scuderi, father of a senior at Thomas Jefferson High, which offers IB, says many students aren’t prepared.

“We’ve heard stories of kids that have dropped out of the program, and they’re crushed,” said Scuderi. “Students weren’t told ahead of time everything they were getting themselves into.”

Of 274 11th graders at Thomas Jefferson High automatically enrolled in IB, 43 have dropped at least one course. However,  94 percent of students in advanced classes are passing with a C or better, the district says. Results from AP, IB and Cambridge exams aren’t known yet.

Bonus doesn’t lure best teachers to worst schools

A $5,000 bonus hasn’t attracted board-certified teachers to high-poverty schools in Washington state, concludes a Center on Reinventing Public Education study. Washington gives every board-certified teacher an extra $5,000; those who teach in “challenging” schools get $10,000. However, fewer than 1 percent of Washington’s certified teachers move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year.

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s 2011–13 budget proposal calls for suspending the bonuses, which is projected to save nearly $100 million over two years.

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.

Students aren't ready

Washington state students aren’t ready for new graduation requirements in math, science, speaking, and writing, argues state Superintendent Randy Dorn in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.  The class of ’13 will be required to pass all four state exams, but the new math standards won’t be tested until they’re in 10th grade; science won’t kick in till 11th grade. That’s not enough time to prepare.

I will propose that the 2010 Legislature continue our current math requirement through the class of 2014, and that we have two tiers – “basic” and “proficient” – at which students in the class of 2015 can meet the graduation requirement. . . . Students who achieve proficient complete the requirement, but those who pass at the basic level will have to earn a fourth math credit, which is one more than the state requires.

. . . In science, I will ask that the graduation requirement be delayed until the class of 2017, which is today’s seventh-graders. That will give them time to learn the new standards, and hopefully give our educators time to encourage more science instruction.

The same issue is arising in many states, points out Curriculum Matters.

Calculators? Don’t answer

At a training session for teachers in Bellevue, Washington, an elementary teacher asks a reform math consultant what to tell parents who ask whether use of calculators will hinder children’s computational skills. Here’s a video of Phil Daro, co-director of Berkeley’s Tools for Change, telling teachers to dodge the question.  (He’s preceded by Uri Treisman of the Dana Center at the University of Texas.)  Cal State-LA Math Professor Wayne Bishop, writing on Math Forum, provides a transcript of Daro’s answer:

. . .  it’s part of the math wars. The best advice is, Don’t answer that question. You are being asked to fight a battle on a hill that has been custom made to turn you into a fool. And there’s no way to win. So basically, the general advice I give in the math wars is Advice 1. You have to realize that their strategy is to attack you, not your ideas and
they’re going to fool you by making you think they are attacking your ideas.

The first thing you do is you stand up and identify yourself to this
audience of worried and frightened parents. Tell them who you are and say I believe that all students should be able to add, subtract,
multiply, and divide without calculators. That’s the first thing you
say when the calculator issue comes up. And everything after that
when they say “calculators”, you say “technology”. If they ask about
calculators, you say, “Well, technology is important but it’s no
substitute for mathematics.”

In my experience, many parents and teachers believe introducing calculators in early elementary school hinders students’ mastery of computation, weakens their “math sense” and makes them permanently dependent.  Others think there are ways to introduce calculators without letting them become a crutch. This really is about ideas, not personalities. The question deserves an honest and complete answer.