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Support schools, end LIFO policies

Unions and administrators should be ensuring all effort is made to keep the best and brightest to educate our future leaders.

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

In what we hope will be a break in the logjam, DFL Sen. Terri Bonoff last week introduced a measure aimed at ending job seniority as top consideration during layoffs among teachers, or “last-in, first out” — known as LIFO.

Such a change has been opposed by the teachers union Education Minnesota, which has found great support from their allies among DFLers.

This is not the first attempt at changing this practice. Republicans have pushed the elimination of LIFO, saying it hurts retention of young, recently trained teachers and curbs potential achievement of students. The teachers union has argued it ensures that experienced teachers stay in the system and that without LIFO the decisions by administrators could be arbitrary.

In 2012, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a GOP bill repealing LIFO, saying, “While the bill would replace the most prevalent system for determining teacher layoffs, it would replace it with only vaguely formulated ideas.”

However, the situation in Minnesota has been altered with the introduction of an evaluation system statewide, collecting data on the effectiveness of teachers giving administrators the tools for a fairer system of evaluation.

And Bonoff’s bill comes after a court ruling last year in California that found seniority systems hurt students. The plaintiffs there argued that with tenure as chief consideration, schools were losing younger teachers in favor of weaker teachers. They also successfully argued that it was low-income and minority students who were often stuck with weaker teachers, a distinct disadvantage against more affluent school districts.

The Minnesota teachers union, predictably, has resisted changing LIFO policies and, as reported by the Star Tribune, instead is urging lawmakers bent on improving education to designate more money beyond the $75 million already committed to fund the evaluation process.

Union President Denise Specht said in a statement: “With so many issues facing our schools, it’s disappointing that some lawmakers want to spend their time micromanaging personnel policies in Minnesota schools.”

Bonoff defended her move, reportedly saying, “It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept.”

And that’s something all sides should get behind. Unions and administrators should be ensuring all effort is made to keep the best and brightest to educate our future leaders. With an evaluation process that is fairly designed, the union should be behind preserving and enhancing the credibility and integrity of the teaching profession, one of the most important jobs today.

Reprinted with permission.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/21/2015 - 08:52 am.

    In evaluating the response from the teachers union, one must always remember they are advocates for teachers, not students.

    That being said, one cannot ignore the callousness it requires to defend the status quo. Vigorous, knee jerk defense of the lowest common denominator has helped no one but the union bosses.

    Smart leadership would seize the day and replace the current labor union model with a 21st century professional association that protects the financial prosperity of members by ensuring the highest standards are maintained and that the expectations of the stakeholders (parents and students), are met and exceeded.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/21/2015 - 09:10 am.

    Problems and solutions

    One of the things I do as an activist, and an editor of activists, whenever I see a bit of advocacy is ask whether the problems match up with the solutions. In reading a lot of stuff, what you often find is that when you strip a lot of the rhetoric, what you find is that the advocate hasn’t identified a problem, and hasn’t identified a solution to whatever problems might be raised.

    What is the problem with our schools? I see a lot of numbers, but what are the real problems which result in those numbers? Once we identify the problem or problems, then let’s proceed to find solutions which respond to those problems.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/21/2015 - 10:29 am.

    In evaluating the response from the teachers union, one must always remember they are advocates for teachers, not students.

    And in fairness, it’s important to understand that the focus of a lot of critics here is anti unionism, not support for education.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/21/2015 - 10:36 am.

    Instability

    I operate from a place of blissful ignorance. I leave substance to others. But just for a moment let’s engage is some unsupported speculation and say one of the problems our schools, particularly low performing schools, face is instability. We might very well see revolving doors for students, teachers and administration. That’s going to hurt performance significantly I would argue. Where teachers are concerned, you might have a lot of new teachers shuffled in and out, without much chance for mentoring, since they aren’t around long enough to get mentored, and because potential mentors have either transferred to better school situations, or who don’t want to help the competition. Is eliminating tenure a positive response to this situation?

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/21/2015 - 01:34 pm.

    Thank you Mr. Foster

    for pointing out that the focus for many critics of education here is anti-unionism rather than support for education.

    As readers who have followed recent education controversies recently are well aware, one of the best elementary and secondary education systems in the world is that of Finland and it is unionized.

    It would be helpful if union bashing not be used in such discussions, where it is clearly inappropriate. Doing so seems to be an attempt to dodge real issues that may help to solve our problems.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/21/2015 - 05:34 pm.

      I always get a chuckle when ever a supporter trots out Finland as an example of how wonderful unions are. The country of Finland has a culturally and ethnically homogenous population that is smaller than New York City. It’s also telling that despite their stellar reputation among union supporters, Finland’s economic situation also rivals that of their Socialist fellow traveler, Greece.

      http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/eurocrisispress/2013/08/19/finland-turns-humble-as-its-economic-outlook-worsens/

      • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/21/2015 - 07:40 pm.

        Mr. Swift always gets a chuckle

        whenever his union-busting claims are demonstrated to be false.

        What else can he do?

        Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? | Innovation | Smithsonian http://ow.ly/HJtLp

        Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

        You need to get caught up on your reading with respect to ethnic homogeneity in Finland, Mr. Swift.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/22/2015 - 07:43 am.

          150 out of a student body of 240.

          Murray Middle School in Saint Paul has 687 of which 57% are receiving special assistance.
          http://apply.spps.org/murray_jr.html

          The population of Finns 14 & under is 888,982. That’s the whole country.
          The New York public school system alone has 983,680 students.
          http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/data/stats/default.htm

          Finland’s population is 89.3% ethnically Finnish, and the overwhelming majority of immigration comes from European countries.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Finland#Ethnic_minorities_.26_languages

          The school Gleason’s link highlights is obviously one that has been selected to concentrate immigrants to, probably to maximize the efficient use of resources.

          Against the reality of American demographics, any thoughtful observer will find presenting such a small special case representation of a culturally and ethnically homogenous population, again, laughable.

          • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/22/2015 - 08:31 am.

            Funny, Mr. Swift

            I suggest that your only real objection to the very successful system used in Finland is that it is unionized. But we’ll let our readers decide that question for themselves.

            Finally I note that, ironically, your earlier description of a desirable situation sounds strangely like the Finnish system:

            “Smart leadership would seize the day and replace the current labor union model with a 21st century professional association that protects the financial prosperity of members by ensuring the highest standards are maintained and that the expectations of the stakeholders (parents and students), are met and exceeded.”

            e.g.

            Educating Americans for the 21st Century
            Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?
            The country’s achievements in education have other nations, especially the United States, doing their homework
            http://ow.ly/HL6UF

            “Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else.

            • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/22/2015 - 04:12 pm.

              I have no objection to the Finnish system, if it works for them, great. What I have pointed out is the obvious fact that their country bears no similarity to America, and comparing their system to ours is ludicrous.

              • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/22/2015 - 04:52 pm.

                Obviously, your opinion is in the minority, Mr. Swift

                Most people with knowledge about educational systems agree that the system used in Finland is currently one of the best. And your claim that it wouldn’t work here is not backed by facts.

                Finland has an education system the US should envy – and learn from | The Guardian http://ow.ly/HN5qS

                “Our students — 69% of whom are economically disadvantaged — can perform at the highest-level academically. Traditional standardized tests fail to adequately assess our academically rich program. Yet our scholars outperform their traditional public school peers by 16% points, and charter peers by nine points. We’re not in Finland yet, but we are making progress.”

                The author of the above article is Linda Moore who teaches school in Washington, DC.

                I’ve already pointed out that it can be used in diverse classrooms and the sample size is certainly large enough to draw statistically sound conclusions from. You have presented no evidence that it wouldn’t work.

                So, on the one hand we have your opinion, and on the other we have facts and the opinion of a large number of qualified people including US school teachers..

                Case closed.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/21/2015 - 02:12 pm.

    A modest proposal

    …let’s gather all the experienced civil engineers, physicians, bankers and business owners in the state, and replace them with youthful, energetic recent graduates from our finest schools. It won’t matter that the new graduates won’t really know what they’re doing, since “best practices” have been identified for them to follow. Besides – and perhaps most important – it’ll be much less expensive for Minnesota taxpayers to provide the salaries for new and inexperienced professionals in these other fields than it would be to pay those old, silver-haired occupiers of space in various offices throughout the state.

    We can fairly and objectively evaluate each of those fields by looking at mistakes made in road and bridge construction, illness rates among patients, dividends and interest paid to depositors, and quarterly profit statements for each of the professions named, respectively. We can also assume that complaints about the evaluation process from members of those professions will be, ipso facto, self-serving lies designed to preserve their employment status.

    We can do the same thing in media, replacing tired, old reporters and editors – Mankato Free Press included – with fresh young faces. It won’t matter whether they’ve gotten a degree in journalism, since any college graduate can be assumed to be competent to write a news story or editorial. Their work, of course, will be evaluated on the basis of daily and weekly circulation. The same procedures can be adapted to current electronic media, particularly network television. Simply replace the current news anchors and weather forecasters with new and more energetic employees. Evaluate the forecasters on the basis of their forecast accuracy over a designated period, reporters on the basis of ratings point changes when they’re presenting a story, and news anchors on overall ratings changes when their news program comes on.

    Farmers, of course, would be required to be licensed practitioners of farming, though an agriculture degree, while desirable, isn’t considered necessary. Farmers would be evaluated on crop and/or livestock yields, particularly as a ratio of labor hours and raw materials invested.

    And, it goes without saying that all of these evaluations of various professions would be made by non-practitioners of the respective professions. In some cases, where real-world performance is not, for some reason, available for a particular person, we’ll rely instead on a multiple-choice test devised by testing professionals and administered during the morning hours of a designated date. In all cases, negative evaluations will result in the business or farm being closed and reorganized to operate under the auspices of a state-chartered entity, and in the case of individual practitioners, their employment will be terminated without prejudice. They’ll be free to seek employment in other fields.

    In other words, the writers of the editorial in the Makato Free Press are jaw-droppingly short-sighted and wide of the mark. Only in education – and, I should add, only in PUBLIC education – is experience regarded as a negative, rather than positive, factor in retaining an employee. I’ve read no similar cry for the replacement of experienced private or parochial school teachers, and someone advocating the blanket replacement of experienced physicians, engineers, bankers or business owners/operators simply because they’ve been doing their jobs for 20 years would – justifiably – be laughed out of the room.

    That’s what this editorial deserves: to be laughed out of the room.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/21/2015 - 10:37 pm.

      Under these conditions ….

      who wants to teach ? The public school classroom teacher is being battered from all sides. Is it LIFO that really is leading to the high turnover rate with young teachers ? Or is it lack of funding to support all the teachers needed. If positions are funded by the budget as they are and there is not enough in the budget guess what happens. Yep ! Positions are cut. Maybe the problem is an upside down budget. Fund based on need rather then hire teachers with the money avialable. That is truely what is happening now. Is Special ed adequetly funded? Heck no ! What if it were. What if all the unfunded mandates were funded? If the entire teaching corps is funded then the problem is bigger then LIFO. It is under funding no matter how badly Switft’s bias would lead him to other conclusions. Fund the needs of public education and there will be no need to fret over LIFO issues. Teachers will not be let go. All will be working. But stop already with the illogically twisted nonsense. Already the budget fear mongers are wringing their hands over Daytons education proposals. Research shows what works but also shows the expenses. Either we funded or don’t. If you don’t then do not scapegoat the public school teacher for your own balanced budget short sightedness.

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/21/2015 - 02:53 pm.

    Thank you, Ray

    For pointing out some of the problems with the Mankato Free Press editorial.

    But I do have a concern, as I am sure you do, also.

    I’ve been tutoring at a local high school and have been very impressed by the work of young high school teachers there. I also know a few other school teachers in Colorado who are very impressive although they are also young.

    And while teaching at the U, I had a number of students do projects as undergrads. These students got an undergraduate degree in science or math and then obtained an MS through the U that allowed them to obtain credentials they need to teach in the public schools.

    What do we do with these young teachers? My feeling is that we shouldn’t HAVE to lay them off and that the monetary reasons necessary for doing so are at the root of the problem.

    Thoughts?

    Thank you for spending time on your very informative comments. You must have been a helluva good teacher.

    Sincerely,

    Bill Gleason

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/21/2015 - 09:57 pm.

      Young teachers

      I agree – we shouldn’t HAVE to lay them off, and the root of the problem is economic, not educational.

      If districts could afford it (personnel costs are THE big budget item for most school districts), many of those at the bottom of the seniority ladder who get laid off would still be in the classroom. Dropping class sizes from 25 to 20 would keep a lot of people employed, but more importantly – much more importantly – it would provide each child with considerably more individual attention than they now get in a lot of classrooms. Doing so, however, not only means more money needed for salaries, it might also mean more money needed for classroom space – you only need 4 classrooms for 4 primary grade classes of 25 each, but you need 5 classrooms for 5 primary grade classes of 20 each. That extra classroom can be pretty expensive if it means rebuilding a school, or building a new school altogether.

      My granddaughter’s kindergarten teacher is a former chemical engineer, who left the private sector to do “…something more important…” in his words. He’s taught upper elementary grades previously, but this is his first year with kindergarten. He has 25 to 28 (depending upon the day’s attendance) 5-year-olds all day long, with a part-time teacher’s aide. All my experience was in high school classrooms, where everyone had at least been exposed to some basic rules of decorum. “Decorum” is a foreign concept to many a 5-year-old, and now that I’ve helped out a couple of times in that kindergarten class, my belief that primary teachers have a job at least as difficult as any other K-12 position has simply been reinforced. The energy level in a room full of 5-year-olds is pretty astonishing. My granddaughter loves him, and is thriving in that class, so I’d hate to see him laid off for budgetary reasons – or for any reason, frankly.

      I have no grudge against youthful energy and exuberance – I hope I still have a little of those qualities myself, even if the youth itself is long gone – but I also have no grudge against experience. I’ve said before, in other comments, that I can’t support LIFO as the ONLY determinant for retention, but those on the right who are working hard to eliminate public education and teachers’ organizations would apparently like to eliminate experience from consideration in teacher evaluation altogether, which is ridiculous. In the state where I spent my career, experience was only one of several factors that determined who got laid off when layoffs were deemed necessary. It got more weight in the equation than other factors, but it could also be outweighed by those other factors combined.

      Education is expensive. The most important transactions, between a teacher and a student, are personal ones, not business ones, and that most important facet of education cannot be made “business-like” and still be effective. Human relations are time consuming and inefficient – it’s the nature of the beast.

      From the end of WW II well into the 1970s, funding for local public schools was often a matter of community pride. The decline in public support since then is of a piece with the decline in public support for many other tax-supported endeavors – the same people who want you to be on your own for health care, retirement, and numerous other kinds of transactions in society are the people who want that same faux free-market approach to education, which would, in practice, drop us back to about 1840. Tax-supported public schools are a community (and state, and nation) obligation if what we want is a relatively egalitarian and democratic society. As long as substantial numbers of people (i.e., voters) buy into what I call the “free lunch” syndrome, whereby education and other public institutions and infrastructure are somehow to be provided for without increases in cost to keep up with inflation, not to mention paying decent salaries to people who must be trained and licensed by the state, money will continue to be an issue in public education.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/22/2015 - 08:15 am.

    Low performing schools

    You know, I have spent a little bit of time in schools, both high and low performing. What struck me about the low performing schools I attended was how exciting they were, how there was a real commitment to the kids from what struck me as quite the idealistic set of administrators and teachers. In terms of advocacy, that school has quite the committed group of parents who quite frankly hit quite a bit above their weight class, to the irritation I can tell you of some of my better heeled friends.

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