Latest posts by Heather Kays (see all)
- Heartland Daily Podcast – Heather Kays: Education Issues Around the Country - December 29, 2015
- Heartland Daily Podcast – Michael Bindas: Defending School Choice in Colorado - December 9, 2015
- Washington State Justices’ Ruling Ignores Election - November 25, 2015
There is a bill under consideration in the Minnesota Legislature that, unfortunately, is not likely to become law. The bill would change teacher tenure in the state and replace “last in, first out” practices regarding teacher layoffs. If passed, the legislation would effectively force school boards to judge teachers based on performance when layoffs occur, rather than seniority alone.
It’s unfortunate commonsense policies such as these have to be written into law in the first place, and it’s downright depressing to know the measure will probably not pass because legislators find teachers unions too intimidating.
Although the bill passed in the Minnesota House, the Senate is dominated by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and is unlikely to pass as a result. A similar bill was defeated in 2012.
Award-winning teachers in many states, including Minnesota, have lost their jobs only because they did not have seniority. Meanwhile, ineffective teachers remain in their jobs because the process of removing them is too costly and time-consuming.
A 2010 Star-Tribune analysis revealed there have been very few teachers fired for ineffectiveness in Minnesota in recent years. The analysis stated, “In Wayzata, a teacher kept his job despite extensive allegations that he spent most of his class time surfing the Internet. In Minneapolis, the district paid a teacher $35,000 to resign, rather than try to fire her. In the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the state’s largest, officials can’t remember the last time they fired a veteran teacher for incompetence.”
This situation is not unique to Minnesota. It’s happening all across the country. It can take months or even years, along with tens of thousands of dollars, to remove an ineffective teacher. The process is so difficult teachers need not ever fear being removed for mere incompetence. They have to worry only when they break the law or behave so egregiously officials simply can’t look the other way, but even then it can be a struggle to remove a teacher.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Unified School District paid off former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who had been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, including spoon-feeding his semen to children, rather than dismissing him in a way nearly any other employer would be legally empowered to do. Berndt was instead given $40,000 to resign. The school board had originally decided to fire him, but when he appealed the decision, it realized it would be cheaper to pay him to leave rather than go through the lengthy termination process.
That’s an extreme example, but if a teacher can do such unspeakable things and still walk away with a big check from taxpayers, there is clearly something wrong with the process.
At the other end of the spectrum are numerous examples of wonderful teachers being laid off. For instance, teacher Michelle Apperson was laid off after being named “Teacher of the Year” in the Sacramento City Unified School District in 2012 because she did not have seniority.
Two surveys show a large majority of Minnesotans think seniority-only layoffs should end. In 2012, almost 80 percent of Minnesotans agreed teacher effectiveness warranted consideration in layoff decisions, according to the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now. In February 2015, a KSTP/Survey USA poll showed 80 percent of state residents think teacher layoffs should be based on performance and only 11 percent thought seniority should be the only factor.
There is momentum building to move away from “last in, first out” practices and antiquated teacher tenure laws.
In 2014, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled traditional job protections for teachers were inhibiting educational development, especially among low-income children.
“The evidence is compelling,” Treu said. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
As Treu noted, ending teacher tenure and “last in, first out” policies is an important step in extending educational opportunity to all children.
Since Treu’s ruling, parents in New York State have brought a similar lawsuit
One solution to solving the United States’ lackluster-teacher problem is easy to achieve and would raise the quality of education in Minnesota. Laying off young, effective teachers capable of innovating and improving outcomes for students is wrong and foolish, especially when it means giving their jobs to less-effective teachers simply because they have seniority.
Minnesota parents, taxpayers, students, and teachers all deserve better than that.