Teacher Seniority Watch – Senate Edition

/ 1 March 2012 / jennifer

Michael Diedrich, Minnesota 2020, March 1, 2012 –

The Minnesota Senate passed its anti-teacher-seniority bill on Monday. It will now go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the state House’s bill, and the new bill must be approved again by both houses. After that, it will be sent to Governor Dayton, who should think long and hard before signing it.

The bill claims to replace seniority with teacher performance as the metric for determining the order in which teachers get laid off when there isn’t enough money in the budget. In fact, the bill substitutes seniority with an as-yet-unfinished evaluation system. This is not a responsible approach to budgeting or teacher quality.

One of the few things we know for sure about the statewide evaluation system is that it requires 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on “value-added” measurements. I put that in scare quotes because the test scores that will be used for these measurements don’t actually gauge the value a teacher brings to the classroom. Too many other factors affect scores – student socioeconomic levels chief among them – for these scores to measure what conservatives claim they measure.

What’s more, to debut this new approach to layoffs in the same year that the new evaluation system launches is foolhardy. The first year of the system should be a low-consequence time for studying and improving it, not using it to affect teacher’s careers. People complain about the unfairness of seniority, but until we see this evaluation system in action and refine, it could prove more unfair than seniority.

This rush to ditch seniority also opens districts up for a massive increase in litigation costs. Despite a provision in the Senate bill requiring districts not to take teachers’ current salaries into account when laying them off, any district that does lay off a significantly higher-paid teacher in favor of cheaper, less experienced teachers based on this brand new system opens itself up to a justifiable lawsuit.

We should be talking about other ways to address the fairness issues in seniority or at the very least giving ourselves time to get the new evaluation system designed and working before we toss seniority out the window.