Building a better state

/ 5 March 2012 / jennifer

David C. Olson, Commentary, Star Tribune, March 5, 2012 –

Gov. Mark Dayton repeatedly pledges to build a better Minnesota. That is a good thing. He has an opportunity to put his words into action by signing legislation that ensures that teacher layoffs will be based on performance as well as seniority.

Keeping the best teachers in the classroom is a priority for Minnesota employers and students. Employers demand quality employees, and students deserve a solid K-12 foundation. The governor asks, “Why now?”

He should ask those kids mired in an underperforming system. Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country — persisting among racial groups as well as across socioeconomic levels.

Less publicized, but equally distressing, is that Minnesota minorities fare worse on standardized testing than their peers in other states. So “why now”?

Because kids deserve the best, most effective teachers.

It’s time for the governor to distance himself from Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher and align with the broad-based coalition that supports eliminating “last in, first out.”

Dayton should take a cue from the rank-and-file teachers who stand up to the union bureaucracy and support the merits in enabling school districts to recruit and retain the most effective teachers.

To that point, here’s what the bill does and does not do:

• It identifies and protects the best teachers and, when layoffs are needed, removes the least effective teachers — regardless of their years in the classroom.

• It is not an end-around for administrators to give senior, more “expensive” teachers bad evaluations so they can fire them and hire “cheaper” teachers. This practice would be illegal, unprofessional and unethical, and it would do nothing to improve student achievement.

• It is not a means to oppose additional funding for schools. Education funding will always be on the table, but the answer to increasing student academic progress is not always more money or lower class sizes.

Education Minnesota keeps saying that many districts already negotiate layoffs. Let’s be clear: They negotiate layoffs based on teacher specialties but not on teacher performance.

We acknowledge that many factors shape our kids’ education. But after policymakers analyze all sorts of data, one red flag stands out: The quality of student outcomes will not exceed the quality of their teachers.


David C. Olson is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.