The Minnesota House and Senate recently passed separate legislation ending last in, first out rules for teacher layoffs.
“It is going to help districts keep their more effective teachers,” said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Once the two legislative bodies reconcile their bills, the proposal will go to Gov. Mark Dayton (D), who has promised a veto.
Rep. Branden Petersen (R-Andover), author of House File 1870, said the legislation logically followed from a teacher evaluation law the state passed last year. The three-year evaluation process that law instituted, which factors in individual student performance and requires principals to rank teachers as “ineffective,” “effective,” or “highly effective,” would not influence layoff decisions until 2017.
That law is the first of its kind in Minnesota, he added. HF 1870 would allow principals to make hiring and firing decisions based on teacher evaluations using the new system. Minnesota is currently one of only approximately a dozen states that make seniority the sole determinant in teacher layoffs.
“We were hoping this wouldn’t be a hugely controversial idea, but unfortunately it has [been],” Bartholomew said. Even so, the bill moved quickly through the legislature, he said, and it received support from many and diverse organizations.
Petersen said opponents fear the bill will allow administrators to play favorites in layoffs or let teachers go based on the size of their salary.
“Both of those are already illegal forms of discrimination,” he said. “They kind of paint this bogeyman administrator who’s going to do bad things.”
The final protest Petersen said he has heard is that the evaluation tool hasn’t been developed yet.
“It’s not preempting the evaluation. It’s simply saying that when it’s in place, we ought to make an informed decision,” he said.
Jury of Peers
The bill requires school districts to use its guidelines on teacher layoffs only if they have not developed their own methods of negotiating with staff.
“If they can’t negotiate something, they’ll have to use the state model,” Bartholomew said. “This is built on what’s hopefully a very local input.”
The state-level task force developing the teacher evaluation method consists of 35 members, only four of which aren’t in education. Bartholomew said eight members are local union heads, and the others are teachers, superintendents, and the like.
As for any claims the existing local negotiations render the bill unnecessary, Bartholomew produced evidence to the contrary: three Minnesota teachers of the year were recently laid off, as was one district teacher of the year.
Invasion of Privacy?
Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch, expressed concerns the tests used to evaluate teachers would be poor or federally imposed.
“That’s very dangerous to constitutional sovereignty, and state and local control of education, as well as to academic quality,” she said. “While I think the concept is a good thing, I am not sure it’s going to be as good as its proponents hope.”
The data required for such a program, which Effrem compared to that of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, violates the privacy of student and teacher alike, she said.
“The longitudinal data systems are absolutely Orwellian,” she said. “Nothing seems worth it to us to have the government be creating a dossier on children from cradle to grave that includes health and education and financial information.”
Her opposition to longitudinal data systems aligns her with the teachers unions, which she called “very strange bedfellows.”
Using the Tools Available
Of all the objections he’s heard, Petersen said he had never heard Effrem’s and it was a bit of a surprise.
“That’s a separate issue entirely,” he said of longitudinal data. “Whatever your tool is in a district, those things that are attached to the quality of instruction ought to be used.”
Teachers can’t be evaluated objectively without using data, which would end transparency of education funds, which are the largest “public investment,” he explained.
“Shouldn’t we have an understanding of how we’re educating?” he asked. “To me that’s a conservative idea.”
Image by Aaron Knox.