LIFO reform should pass

/ 3 April 2012 / jennifer

Pioneer Press Editorial, April 3, 2012 –

Gov. Mark Dayton’s objection that a new teacher-evaluation system isn’t yet ready is not a good reason to sidetrack one of Minnesota’s education reforms.

The reform would end the so-called “last in, first out” practice of laying off teachers based on seniority, rather than performance. Dayton has indicated he’ll veto the measure.

Versions of it passed both houses of the Legislature. The reconciled version now goes back for a vote. Rep. Pat Garofalo, chair of the House Education Finance Committee, told us that might happen before the Easter/Passover recess. He’s hopeful the governor might reconsider. So are we.

As reforms go, “this one’s pretty easy,” Garofalo said. A recent poll by MinnCAN, the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, said that teacher-tenure reform has 90-plus-percent, bipartisan support among Minnesotans.

Proponents argue that seniority-based layoffs can hurt students by removing effective teachers. They also say that automatically letting the least-expensive teachers go forces more to lose their jobs when layoffs are necessary.

Opponents say that experience matters, and they call the proposal another assault on the profession. The measure “has the potential of radically changing the teaching culture of Minnesota schools from collaboration to competition,” says Education Minnesota spokesman Chris Williams.

The governor has said he’s concerned that the bill is tied to a new teacher-evaluation system that won’t be developed until 2014. Nicholas Banovetz, MinnCan public affairs manager, counters that “kids can’t wait.”

Legislators passed a new teacher evaluation law in 2011. Work continues on its details, including how much of the evaluation should be tied to student performance.

“The meat of teacher evaluation exists in law,” says Banovetz. Addressing tenure helps to better define the teacher evaluation system, which “falls short when it’s not attached to critical staffing decisions.”

It’s noteworthy that St. Paul’s new contract with its teachers opens its educator-driven evaluation program – available previously to those new to the district – to tenured teachers. The contract also exempts from seniority-based layoffs teachers in language immersion and other specialized programs.

As the debate continues, it’s possible to both support our teachers and yet argue that performance, including a measure of student results, should be a component of evaluations and staffing decisions. There is nothing “anti-teacher” about finding a better way to ensure that the best teachers, regardless of seniority, end up teaching the coming generation.

The Pioneer Press reported earlier this year that Minnesota is one of 11 states that require districts to use seniority as the deciding factor in layoff decisions. We hope there soon will be one fewer.