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New York Post

 

Worst System Ever

February 25, 2011

By Marcus A. Winters

No one buys firing by seniority

The United Federation of Teachers maintains that laying off teachers according to seniority is the only “fair” way to accommodate New York City budget cuts.

Fair for whom?

It’s certainly not fair to students, who lose the opportunity to learn from great young teachers. And seniority-based layoffs are particularly detrimental in New York City, which has invested heavily in recent years in hiring a corps of highly able young teachers.

But the simple fact is that “Last in, first out” is just about the worst of all of the bad alternatives for reducing the teaching staff.

No one honestly believes that releasing the most junior teachers is equivalent to removing the least effective teachers -- not teachers, not union leaders. And certainly not the thinking man on the street: The new Quinnipiac Poll shows that New Yorkers favor ending the LIFO rule by 85 to 12 percent.

“Last in, first out” is just a bureaucratic rule imposed in the name of “fairness” -- meaning only that it avoids the use of discretion, which, of course, can be imperfectly administered.

Here’s an idea for a fair layoff system: Put every city teacher’s name in a hat, and blindly pick them out.

Sound crazy? From the perspective of student achievement, it would actually be preferable to seniority-based layoffs.

Research shows that the average teacher improves in each of the first three to five years in the classroom. Proponents of LIFO point to these findings as clear evidence that if we must remove teachers, the youngest ones should go. But this is sleight of hand.

When considering layoffs, we need to compare teachers to each other, not to their future selves. That an individual teacher is at her worst in her first year doesn’t imply that she is less effective than a teacher with more years of service down the hall.

In fact, research shows that such factors as experience, certification level and the possession of advanced degrees explain less than 5 percent of the variation between one teacher and another. Indeed, most of whatever it is that makes one teacher better than another has nothing to do with longevity.

So if raising teacher quality across the system is the goal, then the practice of removing teachers based on seniority is a terrible way to go about it. Under “Last in, first out,” just as many lousy teachers as great ones will be let go. From the perspective of student proficiency, this is no better than pulling names from a hat. But by going about it randomly, we’d lose fewer teachers for the number of dollars saved, since some whose names are pulled would have relatively high salaries due to their years of experience and advanced degrees.

Of course, a better system would target the lowest-performing teachers for layoffs. While the unions pay lip service to this notion, they argue that statistical measures of teacher quality -- known as value-added -- are too imperfect to be trusted.

But waiting for a perfect evaluation system to replace seniority-based layoffs is absurd. We need only to require that a new layoff criterion use a better measure of teacher quality than the one it is replacing. Relying on value-added test-score analysis alone passes this test. Recent research by economists Dan Goldhaber and Michael Hansen shows that a teacher’s value-added score is a far better predictor of her future influence on student achievement than her number of years in the classroom.

An even better system would supplement those imperfect statistical measures with honest evaluations from principals -- who usually know when the numbers aren’t telling the whole story.

Kids will suffer needlessly if layoffs aren’t targeted to the worst teachers. We have the tools necessary to create a better system. It is time that we used them.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/worst_system_ever_el5IIYopZW7iLnNfJhBxIK

 

 
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