On "Quality-Based Lay-Offs"

Regarding the memo below from NJEA president Barbara Keshishian and NJEA executive director Vince Giordano: we get the outrage at the 2.5% cap on municipal and school levies and annual increases in salary in benefits. After decades of free health benefits and annual salary increases of 4-5%, why wouldn’t a public labor union announce that “our war with the Christie Administration is now full-blown?” It’s NJEA’s job to express high dudgeon at any threat to the status quo in regards to teacher compensation. Here’s where we lose them:
Christie is also going after the civil service system, by allowing towns to opt out of civil service protections such as the use of seniority when determining layoffs. This is on top of last Friday’s legislative proposal announcement by Commissioner Schundler, which seeks to change our tenure system and to basically abolish the seniority system as we know it.
NJEA’s leaders refer to, of course, to Comm. Schundler’s announcement on Friday (superintendents and school boards hear it today) that part of NJ’s Race To The Top application will include changes to teacher evaluations and seniority rules. Specifically, our proposed Teacher Performance Index will “establish the principle that student learning must represent at least 51% of teacher and school leaders evaluations.” Regarding awarding of tenure – which would happen after 5 years employment, not 3 – “we should require a meaningful tenure decision based on effectiveness, not simply elapsed time. Finally, when lay-offs are necessary, our RTTT proposal specifies that we will “base decisions on evaluation data, not seniority.”

In fact, NJ’s second try at RTTT money aligns well with the latest research. For example, a new study out from The New Teacher Project called “A Smarter Teacher Lay-Off System” finds that not only does many years of experience play a minimal role in teacher effectiveness but also that classroom teachers believe that basing lay-offs on seniority alone is a bad idea. Part of the study surveyed 9,000 teachers on their views regarding “quality-blind lay-off rules:”
Teachers in these two districts overwhelmingly rejected quality-blind layoff rules. When asked whether factors other than length of service should be considered in layoff decisions, 74 percent of teachers in District A and 77 percent of teachers in District B said “yes.” A majority of teachers at every experience level favored considering factors other than seniority. Even among teachers with 30 or more years of experience, 51 percent of teachers in District A and 57 percent in District B indicated that other factors should be considered.
Teachers know that effectiveness in the classroom and length of service are two separate matters. NJEA’s leaders probably know that too. Maybe they should pick their battles more carefully.

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