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Teacher-layoffs plan puts DFLers in a jam

Yesterday, the GOP-sponsored bill passed the state House of Representatives on a 68-61 vote.

There are rocks, and there are hard places. And lately, huddled between them in the antechambers and backrooms of the Capitol, are some 92 DFL lawmakers.

The rock: A vote in favor of a GOP-sponsored bill that would end the use of seniority as the chief criteria in layoffs would be seen as a betrayal of the DFL’s labor base, including the state’s largest teacher’s union, the powerful Education Minnesota.

The hard place: The growing bipartisan support for ending “last-in, first out,” or LIFO, among education policymakers, parents, DFL holders of other offices and even some rank-and-file, union card-holding teachers.

Adding to the minority caucus pain:  Poll results released earlier this week by the education advocacy group MinnCAN suggest that the issue is very much top-of-mind for voters, who favor an end to traditional tenure by a wide margin.

Yesterday, the bill passed the state House of Representatives on a 68-61 vote, mostly along party lines. Its Senate counterpart was taken off the table Wednesday by Sen. Gen Olson, chair of the Education Committee, for fine tuning.

Olson doubtless has the votes to get the measure through the Senate, but significant DFL buy-in — a possibility — could help ensure Gov. Mark Dayton signs it.

In a statement urging Dayton to veto the legislation, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher called the bill a political ploy.

“It’s disappointing the House has passed this bill, which does nothing to address the real challenges facing our schools,” Dooher said. “But it will make it easier for districts to shed seasoned teachers for their less-experienced, less-expensive colleagues. This is not about student learning, it’s about budget cutting.”

Seniority mandate

Although some districts have agreements with their unions that allow administrators staffing flexibility in certain circumstances, Minnesota is one of 11 states where, absent a local agreement to the contrary, the law mandates layoffs be done by seniority.

With research closely tying teacher effectiveness to student performance, in recent years education policymakers have sought the ability to take performance into account when teachers must be cut. Because of budget cuts and dwindling enrollment, over the last decade more than 2,000 Twin Cities teachers have lost their jobs.

As the job losses reach further into union seniority lists, principals and administrators — particularly those in schools struggling with large numbers of impoverished students — increasingly complain they are powerless to keep some of their top performers.

The bills before the Legislature would change that to make area of licensure the first consideration, followed by teachers’ performance data and then seniority.

Minneapolis Public Schools is currently enmeshed in an unpleasant, closed-door negotiation with its teachers union, which adamantly opposes a series of contract changes administrators and members of citizen observer groups say are crucial to gap-closing reforms. Chief among them: An end to the forced placement of “excessed” teachers no school will choose to hire in MPS’ 16 struggling “high-priority” schools.

MPS administrators have been asking for flexibility in staffing schools for years, to little avail. In contract talks, school administrators act at the direction of elected board members. And as is the case in DFL elections throughout Minnesota, the Minneapolis union has tremendous influence in the party endorsing process.

Pressure is on at the state level, too. Following the last two sessions, Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) has come under heavy union fire for sponsoring several education reform measures. He also faces an opponent this year for his theoretically secure seat.

Public opinion shifted

Still, the MinnCAN poll isn’t the first suggesting that if the DFL historically has been well positioned as standing with working Minnesotans, it’s now going to have to choose between being perceived as siding with labor or with disadvantaged kids.  

Three-fourths of those surveyed by MinnCAN said student progress should be the chief factor in determining teacher performance, and 91 percent said seniority should count, but performance should be the chief layoff criteria. The group has been meeting with individual lawmakers in recent weeks, sharing the data.

Before the House passage of the bill yesterday, a number of DFLers spoke against it but in favor of making it easier to get rid of bad teachers and keep good ones. Many agreed that seniority should no longer be the top criteria, but criticized the measure on the table as rushed.

An amendment floated in committee by Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna, a high school teacher, would have prevented districts from making layoff decisions based on teachers’ salaries. Kath withdrew the amendment, but the issue is likely to resurface as the measure advances toward Dayton’s desk.

Details of how a teacher evaluation law passed in 2011 will be implemented are still unknown. Districts and unions are free to negotiate their own evaluation systems, provided they meet a series of parameters. Those that don’t, or choose not to tackle the intricacies involved themselves, must use a system being ironed out by a task force created during the 2011 session.

The law passed last year states that 35 percent of a teacher’s effectiveness must be pegged to student performance on tests that measure growth. The tests are thought to be a better, fairer gauge of teachers’ abilities because those working in struggling schools are not penalized if their students start out lagging behind.

Right now, it’s common for teachers who have graduated from probationary status to go decades between evaluations in many Minnesota school districts. An end to seniority-based layoffs could have a disparate impact on teachers who have had little meaningful feedback or coaching.

Because the current tenure-change proposal would base layoff and firing decisions on three years’ performance data so as not to snare teachers who have a particularly bad class or rough year, the new law would not be effective until 2015.

Measure ‘misses the mark’

A member of the evaluation task force and president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker said the debate underway at the Legislature “misses the mark.” Layoffs should not be the impetus for removing bad teachers from classrooms, she said.

“The real work is in a year-long and career-long teacher-support and evaluation process,” she said. “We’re not waiting [in St. Paul] to make our teacher quality decisions until layoff time.”

Nor should lawmakers and families accept the inevitability of those layoffs, she added. “If people think they’ve won a big teacher-quality victory by ending layoffs based on experience, they’re wrong,” Ricker said. “Because we’re doing absolutely nothing to address the budget that’s forcing the layoffs.”

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Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/17/2012 - 10:20 am.

    It’s complicated. There are

    It’s complicated.

    There are effective teachers and there are ineffective teachers. There are teachers that grow in effectiveness. There are teachers who decline in effectiveness. There are teachers that experience temporary dips in effectiveness.

    And there are classes and students that are easy to teach and they “click” with the teacher. There are classes that are difficult to teach and a class may end up with a disproportionate number of difficult (in an untold variety of “difficult”) students.

    In fact, in a desire for the best outcomes, the most “effective” teacher might find themselves with the greatest number of “difficult” students, which makes their “effectiveness” rating go down.

    So how do you construct a rating system that recognizes all of these and other factors?

    And keep it clear of cost-cutting for its own sake, or of it being a popularity contest with respect to administrators?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/17/2012 - 10:21 am.

    Union supporters

    If you care about the future of the teachers union, you should be supporting this bill.

    No one can have missed the fact that the public’s patience with the public school system has worn thin, or that attention has been focused upon Education Minnesota.

    In and of itself, this measure will not solve the public school crisis, but it is a necessary and solid first step, and ending LIFO has wide public support.

    If you think this is just a bump in the road for organized labor, you’re only fooling yourselves; the status quo has run it’s course, change is coming. If you don’t want to see collective bargaining removed from public schools altogether, you’ll call Governor Dayton’s office and tell him to support this bill.


  3. Submitted by Sarah Tittle on 02/17/2012 - 11:05 am.

    I wish the Dems would realize that they most likely won’t lose votes if they lose the support of MFT. Parents are furious with the union not only because of their reluctance to do away with “last in first out” but also because of the now-closed contract negotiations. Involved parents are frustrated with the school board as well, because are acting like MFT stooges. This is one area in which I agree with the GOP–I just wish legislators would look at the bigger picture, i.e., what’s best for the students (who don’t get to vote… just sayin’) and not get hamstrung by an increasingly archaic union.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/17/2012 - 11:40 am.

    Does nothing?

    “It’s disappointing the House has passed this bill, which does nothing to address the real challenges facing our schools,” Dooher said.”

    Sure it does. When it comes time to prune the tree, the first to go should be the deadwood. And there’s a difference between mature, yet vibrant branches and deadwood as any arborist would tell you. (Well, maybe not Saint Paul’s city aborist, but…)

    Young, culturally savvy, energetic teachers who bring new technologies and teaching techniques that work, should not be let go when other, less effective teachers are kept on simply because they’ve been there longer.

    This is a no-brainer.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 02/17/2012 - 02:23 pm.

      Knowledgeable pruning

      “When it comes time to prune the tree, the first to go should be the deadwood. And there’s a difference between mature, yet vibrant branches and deadwood as any arborist would tell you. (Well, maybe not Saint Paul’s city arborist, but…)”

      Ignoring the gratuitous locale-based insult, this comment does address a critical point. If you’re going to discard “seniority only” in favor of “seniority along with merit”, then it is critical that the methodology of accurately and fairly measuring the “merit” be spot-on. But measuring and assessing merit is not nearly as straightforward as measuring seniority (non-numerical measurements are always more complex than simple numerical measurements). And herein lies much of the cause for concern.

      “No Child Left Behind” attempted to distill a complex set of circumstances down to “one and done” numerical measurements. And we saw how well THAT went over.

      We need to make sure we don’t go down that road again. If people decide reform is needed, then think it through. Don’t just go for the low-hanging fruit and the easy-seeming solutions that don’t think things through to their logical conclusions.

      The best arborists carefully consider each branch they cut from a tree – whether they are removing an old branch or one that is still new. For they know that each cut they choose to make today will influence the health and growth of that tree for many years to come.

  5. Submitted by Rich Crose on 02/17/2012 - 11:52 am.

    Follow the Money

    Target, 3M, GE and other non-union companies target older, more expensive employees by giving them bad reviews as soon as they get too expensive. An exemplary employee with an outstanding record will suddenly get a bad review the minute they reach age 50 and their salaries are high and their health care expenses increase the company’s costs. When they get fired, the company has a record of bad reviews. Boeing moved their facilities to South Carolina to break the Engineers Union for this very reason.

    What is to stop principals and superintendents from stacking classes with the worst students so even the best teacher will get a bad performance rating?

    Why were these laws passed in the first place? This behavior was actually happening!

    • Submitted by James Blum on 02/21/2012 - 01:17 pm.

      Where did this information come from?

      “Target, 3M, GE and other non-union companies target older, more expensive employees by giving them bad reviews as soon as they get too expensive.”

      This is completely, totally untrue in my experience (having worked for 2 of the 3 companies specifically mentioned by name, as well as more than a dozen other very large companies). In fact, I was surprised by how many 30+ year employees Target has (like many companies, they publish a list of employee anniversaries each month in their employee newsletter). Mr. Crose, you make an accusation here – do you have any data (real, hard, confirmed-accurate third-party data) to support what you say?

      “What is to stop principals and superintendents from stacking classes with the worst students so even the best teacher will get a bad performance rating?” Um, maybe parents, other teachers, the media, bloggers, etc.? I grant you that I’ve only had kids in public schools for 7 years (and in ECFE for 5 years before that), but in that time I personally have never heard of an instance of this happening anywhere.

      This is the kind of crazy goofiness that makes even the most liberal, rational people have a hard time taking the teacher’s union seriously.

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 02/24/2012 - 01:43 pm.

      Corporations/Schools ?

      Rich…..Private corporations such as you mention and public schools cannot be equated when talking about employees. Your corporations have the ‘bottom line’ as their criteria. Public school Principals do not have that $ sign floating around in their head when working with their teachers (employees).

      Principals know their teachers, the difficulty of the classes and the ability of the students in those classes. When class assignments are made, we attempt to match the teacher to the level of the students in the class whenever possible. If a certain teacher cannot ‘cut it’, it would be foolish to put that teacher with the so-called ‘worst’, as you say, students.

      As a retired Senior High Principal, I recognize the need for revision of the LIFO. It is long overdue. I feel that there are valid, workable alternatives to the present outdated LIFO that would benefit both the experienced and also the young teacher.

      Not everything will be solved at one time. I feel that this is a project in work that is long overdue…one that needs recognition, cooperation, and positive forward-looking contributions from all sectors, and especially from those public school elements…and it needs it now..

  6. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/17/2012 - 12:25 pm.

    Research, yes, but it’s bogus

    You write:

    “With research closely tying teacher effectiveness to student performance, in recent years education policymakers have sought the ability to take performance into account when teachers must be cut.”

    First of all, that research is highly disputed, if not bogus. Second, there is indisputable evidence that teacher quality accounts for no more than 10 to 15 percent of explaining student test outcomes.

    Third – who would trust MinnCan? Their publications are filled with distortions and outright lies. I point you to their initial prospectus, which was filled with lies:


    In the prospectus they say that “Minnesota’s African-American and Hispanic children…have made zero progress over the past 10 years.” Which, when you look at NAEP scores, is far from true.

    Just one example: Black math scores: In math Black children in Minnesota in grade four scores have increased from 193 in 1992 to 222 in 2007. In 2000 the scores averaged 208. By grade eight Black scores increased from 236 in 1990 to 260 in 2007, showing steady gains over the period.

    In a Strib op-ed Vallay Varro, executive director of MinnCan, claimed that “Decades of research have confirmed that teachers matter more to student success than anything else.”

    As I wrote above, that is completely bogus. Here’s the research that proves it’s wrong:


    The “research” trying to identify teacher effectiveness using so-called “value-added” measures is also highly disputed if not outright fraudulent, with margins of error as high as 40 percent, meaning that a teacher who was rated as 50 percent effective could in fact be either 90 percent effective or 10 percent effective.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/17/2012 - 03:02 pm.

      I’m converted!

      Well Rob, you’ve made a believer of me. Teacher effectiveness is wholly unimportant when it comes to the quality of public school education.

      We might as well outsource the job to a phone bank in India.

      • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/17/2012 - 03:27 pm.

        I don’t know how many times I’ve had to react to that kind of comment, Mr. Swift, so my fault for not repeating it again: Teachers are important. They share the in-school importance of the school and the classroom itself. The point is that the education deformers inflate the importance of the teachers themselves into something that will make a huge difference in test scores, meanwhile conflating the rating of teachers with the test scores of students. Sixty to 70 percent of educational outcomes depends on the students themselves, and, more importantly, the educational and income levels of the parents. If the deformers really cared about students they would focus on those much larger inputs to student achievement. Especially since there is NO proof of widespread teacher incompetence. But to do that we would have to examine the huge income and wealth disparities in the society in general. Much easier to just blame “bad” teachers, even though that will not result in achievement gains. But it is a good diversion.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/17/2012 - 06:23 pm.

          Just so I understand

          Are you saying teachers weren’t important, before they were?

          • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/18/2012 - 08:41 am.

            I don’t understand that comment Mr. Swift. I said that teachers make up about 10-15 percent in explaining educational outcomes. I never said teachers weren’t important.

            YOU’RE THE ONE WHO SAID: “Teacher effectiveness is wholly unimportant when it comes to the quality of public school education. We might as well outsource the job to a phone bank in India.”

            That is pure snark and a complete distortion of my comment. BTW – you’ve responded to my proof before with the exact same response, leading me to the conclusion that you aren’t serious, just interested in distorting the remarks of your critics. Read my reply. Of course teachers are important. I said two things: 1) There is much more fertile ground to be plowed in looking at wealth and income inequalities if we really want to effect those outcomes; and 2) There is NO PROOF that there is an epidemic of bad teachers.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/17/2012 - 01:25 pm.

    Well done, Beth.No matter

    Well done, Beth.

    No matter what your legislator tells you, there’s no panacea for this.

    A retired, career teacher from another state, I cannot support *tenure-only* as the basis for keeping, or laying off, a teacher. Classroom performance and other factors ought to be part of the mix.

    That said, is this latest legislation a political ploy? Absolutely.

    If the perception is that DFL’ers are in the pocket of the teacher’s union, there’s probably some validity to that perception. Political parties tend to cater to the interests of the people that support them. Teachers have historically supported Democrats (or in Minnesota, the DFL), so there’s nothing sinister about DFL interests and teacher’s interests often being in alignment.

    Unless, of course, someone complaining about that is equally willing to see something sinister in the frequent alignment of businesses and people who call themselves “conservative” with the Republican Party. If it’s sinister for one group to give more weight to its allies in legislative matters, then it’s just as sinister for another group to do the same thing.

    There ain’t no saints under the Capitol dome.

    The economic argument brought up by Tom Dooher – that younger teachers are less expensive than experienced teachers – is one that shouldn’t be ignored. Kory Kath’s amendment, withdrawn or not, points to an important issue that has nothing to do with teacher “quality.” In education, even more than in industry, most of the costs are in personnel, and experienced teachers cost more. Republicans horrified by that simple fact need to step back into the reality-based universe, where experience and expertise are routinely rewarded with higher pay, and often that higher pay is based far more on experience than on expertise. Only in education does the right wing see experience as some sort of drawback.

    That said, the “excessed” teacher policy has to go. If no one wants you in their classroom, it’s time to find another line of work. Become an educational consultant and wreak vengeance thereby.

    While I sympathize with the goals of MinnCAN, and would generally support it, I’m somewhat aghast that opinion polls appear to have as much influence on educational policy-making as it appears they do here. The “Three-fourths of those surveyed by MinnCAN said student progress should be the chief factor in determining teacher performance…” are people who’ve never been in front of a classroom. Student progress is largely a result of *student* performance in response to material that teacher presents. To behave as the poll suggests is a form of blaming the victim (the teacher). Teachers – good, bad or indifferent – can only provide the opportunity to learn. It remains up to the student to take advantage of that opportunity. Equally important, if “performance” is going to be an important criteria in deciding which teachers stay and which don’t, who decides the criteria by which “performance” will be measured, and who will decide whether or not those criteria have been met?

    This is where it often comes down to management – especially when there’s no union protection – simply making things up, then using the made-up criteria to get rid of people management doesn’t like.

    I’d have to side with those DFL legislators mentioned as being opposed to the bill as it stands, but in favor of making it easier to fire bad teachers and keep good ones.

    If, in fact, there are Minnesota teachers who literally go decades between evaluations, the policy needs to be changed. Teachers ought to be evaluated annually. Peer review is a time-tested and effective way to do this, but I suspect Republicans hostile to both teachers and unions won’t support such a sensible means of looking at the work of colleagues, even though it’s commonly done in other professions. If evaluation is something added to the job description of administrators, we may hear from administrators who (correctly) wonder where they’re going to find the time, not to mention the expertise, to judge the performance of classroom teachers.

    I’m in agreement with Mary Cathryn Ricker – layoffs should not be the reason for revamping the teacher evaluation process. It should be an ongoing, career-long activity, without the aura of hostility often surrounds evaluation. I also agree with Ms. Ricker that, in the context of layoffs, reducing the influence of tenure does nothing to address the core issue of utter failure by the legislature to fund the public schools, which has put districts all over the state up against the financial wall.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 02/17/2012 - 03:00 pm.

      Simply bravo, Ray

      Why don’t we finally start paying attention to those in the trenches, or at least those who have been there?

      Thank you for your continuing comments that have the ring of truth only available to those who have been there, in the classroom, teaching.

  8. Submitted by Victor Johnson on 02/17/2012 - 02:08 pm.

    Senority in Housevotes?

    I would like to see the House to mirror this practice: the higher-paid and more senior members of our state legislature should be laid off as well. Especially those with the most experience, connections, and influence.

  9. Submitted by Conrad Soderholm on 02/17/2012 - 02:11 pm.

    All employees, not just teachers

    Bus drivers, pilots, construction workers, cooks, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, and virtually everyone else is protected by seniority rights when the time comes to lay off employees. Seniority has been a basic element of labor-management agreements for almost as long as those agreements have existed. This legislation is not just an attack on teachers, it is a direct attack on all organized labor.

  10. Submitted by Victor Johnson on 02/17/2012 - 02:17 pm.

    Acheivement Gap exists because of the Use of NCLB

    Get rid of NCLB and Minnesota will not have the acheivement gap. This is not a teacher directed issue…this is a “disfunctional test” designed by the Bush Administration to purposely eliminate the unions, and public schools.
    K-6 students learn best in collaborative learning groups, not drill and kill methods. But the D & K is all that can be use when applying the NCLB tests. With such dysfunctional teaching strategy’s that are required by the Bush Administration, all children will be left behind.

    Senior teachers are NOT the problem. This discussion was “invented” and brought to the table for the purpose of downsizing education.
    Few poor teachers make it through the probation period of 3 years.

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/17/2012 - 03:26 pm.

    Neal Rovick’s first comment is, in my experience, absolutely on-target. It’s a VERY complicated problem, and while a simple solution (e.g., get rid of LIFO) may be easy, it won’t necessarily be effective.

    I’ve no quarrel with parents and members of the public who are tired of excuses made by bad teachers – I’ve been annoyed by them myself – but this is an issue that readily opens itself up to the phenomenon of tarring everyone with a very broad brush because of the sins of a relative few. A few bad teachers doesn’t provide a license to vilify everyone who does the work.

    And I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the assertion that age somehow magically makes one competent or not. The whole business of age somehow being a significant determiner of teacher quality, per se, is pernicious. The last two student teachers I had were both ineffective. One was a just-40-ish woman who’d tired of a corporate career and thought she’d give teaching a try. She might have grown into it, but she was terrible during her 6 weeks with my classes, largely because she spoke to high school students as if they were in the 3rd grade.

    You want enemies? Patronize a 16-year-old. Do I need to add that, once she’d alienated whole classes, it was virtually impossible for her to bring them around and get them on her wavelength again?

    The other was a college guy, about to graduate, whose spelling and grammar were so atrocious that parents were calling me to find out who it was that was sending the illegible and illiterate notes home to them. He didn’t know his subject (Western Civ), nor was he especially energetic or creative. The kids were correcting his spelling when he wrote on the blackboard. I spent a lot of time apologizing for him to parents after I spent a lot of time trying to point out to him how he could (and should) do things differently, both in class and when talking to parents. Even before his student teaching period was complete, he confided that he was going to look for other kinds of work, and while I didn’t visibly applaud, it was certainly tempting.

    Finally, my experience was that engaged and attentive students make for more energized and creative teaching, and vice-versa. I was often a more energized teacher when I had a “good” class than when I had a group that fought me every step of the way, and the “good” class would probably say I was a better teacher than the kids in the more resistant group would say. It’s an illustration of what Neal brought up in the first comment, and there’s no way to get around it.

    If teaching were an *easy* job, anyone could do it. The fact that we (and the legislature) are having this conversation is a powerful confirmation that it’s *not* easy, and “just anyone” cannot do it. The sometimes-expressed sentiment that society can just bring people in off the street who don’t have any special commitment to the task, or love their subject but don’t actually like the kids, is essentially wishful thinking.

  12. Submitted by Callie Bush on 02/17/2012 - 03:41 pm.

    Who Will Speak Up for Kids?

    In this debate of teacher effectiveness, the most important group is being forgotten – the kids!

    As a teacher, I do not want ineffective teachers in the classroom any more than anyone else does. However, I understand that there are laws in place that allow for the removal of ineffective teachers. The general public seems to ignore that fact. Administrators simply need to do their jobs and follow the due process procedures. When the procedure is followed, ineffective teachers can and are removed from the classroom.

    Changing the seniority laws puts all kids at risk. Who determines the “effectiveness” of teachers? Are teachers effective or ineffective if they remind administrators that a student’s IEP is not being followed? Are teachers effective or ineffective if they ask for the district to invest in new equipment for classroom activities? Are teachers effective or ineffective if they speak up about the safety risks of having 40 kids in a science class?

    Teachers are consistently working to create the best learning environment for their students. If teachers have to worry that upon review, they will be seen as a “complainer” or not a “team player” or simply a “pain in the butt” and be fired, why would they speak up for kids? Students will lose in a world where the teachers’ job security is dependent upon an administrator’s evaluation of their effectiveness.

  13. Submitted by chuck holtman on 02/17/2012 - 03:42 pm.

    Evaluating teachers

    Hardly anyone would disagree that teacher effectiveness ought to be relevant to layoff decisions. The issue is how this concept would be made operational. Folks above have thoughtfully noted the inordinate complexity in measuring teacher effectiveness and the real concern about subjectivity allowing for decisions based on pretext. Add to that the further unhappy fact that the criteria for teacher evaluation will distort how classroom hours are used. Those with kids are well aware of how NCLB has diverted the curriculum and taken hours away from productive classroom activity. If a teacher’s job depends on a particular set of student performance criteria, who believes that we can avoid major-league “teaching to the test”?

    For those whose positions are simply ideological (public schools bad, unions bad, market good), none of this matters. For those, conversely, whose sense of civic commitment involves working to build and sustain a decent society, the facts matter. Every approach is non-ideal. The task is to fashion the best one that we can.

  14. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 02/17/2012 - 04:54 pm.

    Minnesota Law/Legislative News

    I desire to know the numeric information about bills in the legislature and laws referenced that have been passed. In this article, for example, you reference a law passed in 2011, but I don’t see a name for the law and certainly don’t see a numeric attachment that identifies the law. Picky, I know, but if I want to dig further, it would help.

  15. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 02/17/2012 - 05:22 pm.

    Stan: The 2011 House bill is HF0025. The current one is HF1870.

  16. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 02/17/2012 - 08:20 pm.


    Value added tests are great tools to use to gui teachers instruction in a timely, specific manner. Usimg them as evaluation is pretty close to unethical. Here is an example:

    Teacher in a high poverty school has two classes, same class, same age kids, same population.

    class 1 the kidss achieved about 180% of expected growth
    Class 2 the kids only achieved 90% of expected growth

    was the teacher a failure or a success?
    what if the teacher only had the hard class and not the others? fire him?

    Upon closer look, class 1 kids actually achieved 200% growth in reading, so the math teacher actually underperformed compared to other classes.

    meanwhile, class 2 only achieved 10% growth in reading, so 90% was actually better work.

    that year, the teacher happened to have the most challenging students.

    the next year, the students the teacher had all exceeded expectations. Also with the black and hispanic kids outperforming the others. Did the teacher miraculously improve? nope, just had the advanced kids that year.

    This whole discussion is stupid.

    • Submitted by Ann Anderson on 02/18/2012 - 11:21 am.

      This whole discussion is necessary

      There was a fantastic teacher in my kids’ elementary school. Although all the parents knew it, you couldn’t request her. Each year she filled her class list with kids who were a year behind, 2 years behind in reading…and the kids caught up. It was a magical classroom led by her system of addressing reading problems.

      Under a new system, would she be laid off? Of course not. Educators have better tools than class averages to track results.

      We have to reject the position that teacher evaluation is too complicated, therefore we can’t do it. We evaluate schoolchildren every day– even though testing can be imprecise or affected by outside factors– and make decisions about a child’s potential and/or need for remediation.

  17. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/17/2012 - 08:44 pm.

    Because of budget cuts and dwindling enrollment, over the last decade more than 2,000 Twin Cities teachers have lost their jobs.

    These words in the article deserve highlight. From this circumstance, the entire conversation begins. . If teacher one did not lose her job but was moved somewhere else it may have been to a situation where she did not have the kind of experience that is situational, ie. From high school to elementary. Well to those never having seen her before, parents, kids, and administrators she may have looked ineffective. However at the high school she may have been one crackerjack teacher. The senority system protected her from the foibles of the marketplace to some extend but there was no retraining for an entire different situation. Is that the teachers fault or a breakdown in the system that assumes all teachers are equivelnt regardless of the situation. Two different 5th grade classes in the same building could have completely different personalities. If a school district hires a teacher what is the districts commitment to that teacher? If it’s for the long term then senority discussions are almost a moot point. But how is the person to know that ? If a teacher is left high and dry when things get tough as they are currently what evidence is that to someone who wishes to dedicate their career to teach that it is worth a reward? Minncann and Put Kids First are nowhere near willing to engage in discussions on commitment to kids or teachers. These organizations don’t ever see the inside or the depth of the issue.

  18. Submitted by Doug Johnson on 02/18/2012 - 11:15 am.

    Polls and public policy

    I agree with he above sentiment that it is concerning that public polling seems to be driving more and more policy decisions.

    Additionally, it is incorrect to conclude from MinCAN’s survey that eliminating LIFO is “top of mind” with voters. When a complicated issue is “pushed” to respondents through a survey — I could issue a poll that says, “should doctors cure the flu?” and vast majorities would say yes — it doesn’t mean that that issue is the most pressing in their minds.

    In that same survey, when given a CHOICE about what concerned them about education, huge majorities said funding/budget cuts. A mere 4 percent said “low quality teachers.” (Margin of error in that poll– 4 percent.)

    In yet another question on that poll, 81 percent said their teachers were “good” or “excellent.” One would assume some of the respondents live in Minneapolis and that many have children with experienced teachers.

    But LIFO gets front-page treatment in the local papers. It seems the governor may not be far off when he warned about education becoming a political tool.

  19. Submitted by Ann Kay on 02/18/2012 - 06:05 pm.

    Wanted: A Fair and Rigorous Teaching/Learning System

    As a former elementary teacher and current educational consultant and university adjunct instructor, it has always puzzled me why teachers, parents, school administrators, and school boards tolerate a system that provides little, if any, feedback for teachers. It takes many years of practice and study to become an excellent teacher. People need feedback to know what’s working and what’s not. It’s hard to improve without it. But, currently, once a teacher is tenured, typically within the first three years, most districts do not have rigorous system of providing feedback or evaluation. They may not be observed or evaluated again for many years–teachers have told me that they were not evaluated for decades! And, what about administrators? They need feedback, too. And, not just from their boss, but from the teachers. Let’s build a new system.

    Over 20 years ago, as a parent I co-chaired the creation of the staff development initiative of the strategic plan for my children’s school district. I was proud that the committee of teachers, administrators and parents chose to take a stand that all staff members deserve annual feedback. This was incorporated into the strategic plan passed by the school board. Whether it was ever implemented, I do not know. We tried to start building a new system.

    I’m pleased that the MN Legislature passed a law last year that mandates the development of a statewide teachers’ evaluation. Yesterday’s NY Times reports that the NYC teacher’s union and school district reached an agreement about using an evaluation system based on one in the New Haven, CT. It’s worth studying: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/education/observers-get-key-role-in-teacher-evaluation-process.html

    Our current system is based on seniority. Those who have more years, get retained first, and in some districts, get the most desirable placements. This is not in the best interest of students, especially struggling learners who need the absolute best teachers but get the leftovers. Yes, teachers still need protection, especially the very-exceptional but costly wise elders. In fact, these teachers are practically “captives” of the system, because if they take a job in another district, they are rarely given equivalent pay for their years. However, in times of lay-offs or filling teacher absences, using only seniority to justify which teachers will be retained, is unfair to both students and teachers. Let’s create a system of retention based on licensure, evaluation, and seniority.

    If teachers want to be valued as PROFESSIONALS—which they ARE, they should realize that what is assessed is what is valued, and what is valued is what is funded. Once a new responsive system is in place, I believe that citizens will value education more, and in turn, vote to increase educational funding. First, we must build a new system.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 02/19/2012 - 09:48 pm.

      You confuse timely, formative feedback with tests

      Teachers, good ones, love and appreciate supervision, evaluation, feedback, etc. MY principal is in my room, at least once a week, unannounced. He gives constructive feedback every single time he comes in. This is true for all the over 100 teachers in our school. Your comments show a complete ignorance for what real evaluation is, and what is happening in our good schools today. You want to know if I am good? Come watch me teach. You want some one day snap shot in time, look at a test.

      Modern reformers don’t care how we teach. Nothing in modern reform has anything to do with teaching. Oh, and along with teaching high school I have taught graduate level courses during the summer. Just so we can compare qualifications.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/20/2012 - 03:52 pm.

      Amen Ann

      “If teachers want to be valued as PROFESSIONALS—which they ARE, they should realize that what is assessed is what is valued, and what is valued is what is funded. Once a new responsive system is in place, I believe that citizens will value education more, and in turn, vote to increase educational funding. First, we must build a new system.”

      Spot. On.

  20. Submitted by Brian James on 02/19/2012 - 05:11 pm.

    worth a try

    I’m a self-identifying liberal, but I find myself wanting this legislation to go through. I know that this isn’t likely to be the perfect solution, but it seems like one worth trying. I say that because I think the benefits gained from the added efficiency outweigh the injustice of a teacher being unjustly (I’m not going to define unjustly) let go. Our schools are in tough shape, let’s give this a try.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 02/19/2012 - 09:54 pm.

      Here is why this is dangerous

      I could go to Edina and I guarantee every single kid would pass the math test. Now, I don’t really care about Edina. I want every kid in Saint Paul to pass the math test. I will work until that is the case. If you are going to put my ability to feed my own family at risk though, I might have to go teach those kids with less disadvantages. I also guarantee there are probably not many suburban teachers who can do what I do. I have seen them come in and try. That is what you risk.

      If you wholesale transferred every teacher from Edina to Saint Paul, do you honestly think scores would flip to 100% for Saint Paul and 50% in Edina? Seriously?

      If that is the case, transfer them now, or you are being unethical. Seriously, transfer all the Edina teachers to Minneapolis or Saint Paul. It will cure every social ill.

  21. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/20/2012 - 01:26 pm.

    Good teaching practices start with the administration.

    My son attended elementary school in St. Paul through 5th grade, after which we transferred him to a charter middle school and later high school, where his learning improved greatly. There were a number of reasons for this. Teachers were part of it. Those he had in his 7 years in the charter school were, for the most part, more committed to getting the job done than those who taught him in his first 6 years. There were of course, exceptions.

    A large part of if was the administration, which established standards that made demands on teachers and students alike. Frankly, such standards were missing at the St. Paul Public School District. For example, teachers chose not how to use parent volunteers in the classroom, but whether. In one particularly outrageous case, a teacher refused even to allow a parent to take on the job of preparing the Scholastic book orders.

    Flash forward ten years or so: I tutor at a St. Paul middle school one afternoon a week, in math. The three students I work with each have different math teachers. One simply checks that homework has been turned in and not whether it has been done correctly. The second grades the homework but doesn’t return it to the students. The third goes through the homework in class, on a whiteboard. The students correct their own work then the teacher notes the results. In the first two cases, the students have no idea what they got wrong or why, which to my way of thinking pretty much destroys the value of homework. It also deprives the students of critical information needed to prepare for quizzes and exams. It also severely limits what I can do with the students as a tutor.

    Do the teachers need to go? I don’t know. I’ve seen only one aspect of their work. The fact that the school administration either was unaware of or unconcerned about this situation until I questioned it is more alarming to me.

  22. Submitted by Josh Lease on 02/21/2012 - 01:11 pm.

    flawed premise

    This article suggests that DFLers are up against the wall because parents are clamoring for a change to the seniority system in public school and offers the MinnCan poll as proof. Except it doesn’t say that at all. Nowhere in this poll is it testing intensity of the issue for voting behavior, only that once you drill into it people consider student progress to be the most important factor in evaluating teachers.

    48% of those surveyed consider lack of funding to be the most critical issue facing schools. Only 4% consider poor teaching the primary issue. 81% consider the teachers in their school district to be good to excellent. So how exactly are DFLers against the wall if they oppose a blanket ending of a seniority system in the public schools? Where is the proof offered that they’re being squeezed by anyone other than policy advocates (who are always squeezing)?

    Look, there are a few tropes in education that everyone always agrees with, when asked. 1) schools need to be able to get rid of bad teachers. 2) student performance is the most important thing. 3) schools need to innovate more! (always my favorite, it means whatever people want it to) But no one can agree on how you get rid of the bad teachers while protecting the good ones (lots of great teachers rock the boats at their schools. how many principals do you know that like boat-rocking?). No one can decide how to measure teacher performance in student progress with any degree of accuracy without issues like teaching to the test and subjective performance measures cropping up all over the place.

    The people who are really stuck are the teachers. We want them to educate our kids, play babysitter, fill in for parents, and do more and more for less and less. And then tell them their job will be at risk every day? Tick off the principal and get put on the hit list? get made the punching bag for every bad outcome in the schools, regardless of the social-economic status of the kids? No thanks.

    But regardless, I’m not seeing anything here that tells me one single legislator is going to get voted out if they push back against this issue. So let’s not pretend this is some posion pill for the DFL, huh? MinnCan’s entire poll just says that people like the teachers here, want the students to do better, and has people agreeing with pretty generic statements about improving education. Bored now.

  23. Submitted by Tom King on 02/22/2012 - 08:44 pm.

    Teacher Evaluation with Student Standardized Tests

    I don’t believe the research is all that compelling regarding predicting teacher success from student standardized tests.

    Many teachers, particularly urban teachers, have significant class turnover within an academic year. Students who take the test in the fall are often not the same students who take the test in the spring. Conclusions cannot be drawn from such spurious data.

    Also, many students are absent from school, or care little about their performance on standardized tests. Once again, drawing conclusions about teacher competency is risky.

    We know good teaching when we see it, and there are checklists and observations which can be helpful, too. Perhaps successful, retired teachers could assist in this assessment.

    It makes far more sense than this proposal.

  24. Submitted by Jeff Schalles on 02/22/2012 - 10:59 pm.

    follow the ideology back to its source

    This morning I received an opinion poll call from Students First Minnesota. The first yes-or-no question asked if I believed teacher seniority should be abolished statewide so that, during layoffs, the best teachers could be retained. I told the interviewer this was not a yes or no question and attempted to get to the bottom of who the polling organization actually was. He hung up on me.

    So, I googled around and found out quite a lot about “Students First” and the founder, Michelle Ree. Look deeper and you’ll find… The Koch Brothers. Fancy that.

  25. Submitted by Dave Seitz on 02/27/2012 - 02:47 pm.

    So what other careers can you work 9 months a year and be given a job for life? Other industries now do a reverse interview when they dismiss workers. The least qualified and effective persons are dismissed in order to keep the best. How many of you work with people that skate through the day at work? The persons with the attitude of doing just the minimum and no more, they take no additional training or certifications. So why have teachers gotten a pass on this for all of these years?

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