Jul 7, 2011

Last In, First Out Hurts Minnesota Schools [No, It Doesn't, And How Could You Know? You Are Just A College Student]

Claire is an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and the president of Students for Education Reform (SFER) - Minnesota. SFER works to close the achievement gap and ensure an excellent education for all children by mobilizing the next generation of leaders in education reform. The group's members believe that college students are important stakeholders in the education discussion and offer a unique perspective as the most recent benefactors of the K-12 education experience. SFER Minnesota expands the human capital pipeline in education reform, striving to raise the profile of education issues in Minnesota by engaging student voices to advocate for the policies that drive improved student outcomes.

At the end of the regular legislative session in Minnesota, as part of the Omnibus Education Finance bill, lawmakers passed a measure that would help ensure kids in the state have access to great teachers by ending harmful policies related to teacher layoffs.

In light of the tough circumstances around a current government shutdown in Minnesota, we know leaders on both sides of the aisle are working hard to come to an agreement on budget matters that will be in the best interest of the state. We ask that, as all parties work to pass a budget that will work for all of us, ending seniority-based teacher layoffs remain a priority. The time to end this policy is now.

Because of current budget shortfalls, many schools in Minnesota are letting teachers go. It's an awful situation, but how these layoffs occur makes the problem even worse.

In Minnesota, like in many other states, when funding shortages lead to layoffs, seniority dictates which teachers should stay and which ones should go. This policy of last in, first out – LIFO for short -- means some highly effective teachers, who are skilled at moving kids along academically, could be shown the door. Meanwhile, less effective educators could stay. That makes no sense, and it hurts kids. Teachers are the most important school-based factor that impacts student learning.

It shouldn't matter how long an educator has been on the job. What should matter is how well that person has done helping kids learn. That's why we are urging lawmakers to change the law to make sure the most effective teachers stay on the job, regardless of their length of service.

Children are at imminent risk of losing some of Minnesota's best teachers. Lawmakers should act quickly to end LIFO. Such a move would follow a successful effort by lawmakers and Gov. Dayton earlier this year to push through an important law allowing people to become teachers even if they didn't go through traditional schools of education. That has allowed motivated mid-career changers and other talented individuals to join the ranks of Minnesota teachers. We need to make sure we're not pushing these teachers, and others, out the door.

When you look at the statistics, it's hard to argue with the need to do everything we can to make our schools better. While Minnesota students often achieve at higher levels than kids in other states, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Consider fourth-grade reading scores on a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. Just 37 percent of Minnesota children were proficient (meaning they demonstrated competency) on the federally administered test. For black and Hispanic students in the state, that figure hovered around 12 or 13 percent.

We can and should expect so much more of our schools. There is not one silver-bullet approach we can point to that will give us the schools we need to compete globally and provide our children with the schools they need and deserve. But ending LIFO and saving great teachers will go a long way toward achieving those goals.

The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

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