During a special session last year, the Arizona Legislature passed a budget provision which said in the event of layoffs, school districts could not use years of service as the only factor for determining which teachers to let go. The Arizona Education Association—the teachers union—is trying to overturn the measure by filing a lawsuit on technical grounds. The union also is opposing a similar measure before the Legislature this year.
A recent Brookings Institution study reveals just how damaging the effort to protect veteran teachers could ultimately prove to Arizona students. The study tracked the value-added gains of students, after statistically controlling for a variety of factors. The bottom line finding was that some teachers are great at adding value, and some are abysmal, dragging down their students’ learning.
If Arizona schools have to follow an outdated rule that says no one who has been teaching at a school for more than three years can be laid off, then schools are forced to let the new teachers go: even if they are highly effective teachers. If you shield veteran teachers from layoffs, you shield even those who should not be in the classroom.
Such a practice is certain to lead to larger class sizes; it is also certain to put more students in the classrooms of ineffective teachers. Larger class sizes are unpopular but academically harmless, all else being equal. Systematically protecting ineffective teachers based on seniority and giving them more students, however, will be catastrophic in terms of how much those students learn.
There is more than one way to address this problem. The Legislature could, for instance, re-enact the budget provision but spell out that neither years on the job nor current salaries shall be the sole determining factor in deciding who gets laid off. The school districts should focus on measurable factors of how teachers are doing their jobs, and get rid of the bad ones first.
Teachers unions talk as if they are open minded, but behind the scenes work to kill every idea that would make schools accountable for actually teaching children. The harder the AEA pursues this agenda, the more policymakers and parents see through the facade.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Does a certificate make a teacher – or the result?
Brookings Institution: Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job