Monday, April 26, 2010

Rational Layoffs

For the first time in over 30 years, it's a pretty definite thing that New York is going to be laying off teachers. It's not a scare tactic or a negotiating plea. It's really happening. And suddenly, the city is realizing that the method in place for laying off teachers doesn't make any sense.

In New York, layoffs are done on a last in, first out basis. In other words, the newest teachers are the first to be let go. Ultimately, that's not a very good system.

Does it make any sense to not take quality into account at all when making these decisions? Yes, seniority is important because teachers tend to get better with experience. But is anyone really willing to say that every fifth year teacher is better than every fourth year teacher? Or even every first year teacher? That just defies logic and common sense.

The problem is (and this is why I haven't written about this before), I don't really know what's better. Given the way funding works in the city, during budget cuts there's an incentive to fire more experienced teachers because their salaries are higher. Also, leaving things solely in the hands of principals could lead to abuse. I don't buy the DOE's line that no principal would fire an effective teacher because of personal issues. That just seems a bit naive to me.

So what do we do? Well, this makes pretty clear that we need a better way to look at this issue and a better way to evaluate teachers - one that takes into account seniority, but also looks at effectiveness.

As the saying goes, the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. We've missed that opportunity and now these discussions - which would be highly charged during the best of times - are going to be even more fraught. But it's still a discussion worth having.

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