There are just some silly policies out there in K-12 education. One that has justly received a remarkable amount of attention in recent weeks and months is the issue of “Last In, First Out” (aka LIFO). Thanks to many union bargaining agreements and some state laws, many teachers are able to retain their jobs or their positions within a school during seasons of downsizing (not uncommon now), based on their seniority within the school district.
A school principal may have to part with an effective teacher who has less experience — or just hasn’t been around that district as long — while a less effective senior teacher stays in the classroom. You can imagine some of the inevitable problems, such as what Michelle Rhee’s national organization Students First points out concerning the case of Nevada teacher Christine Simo:
Not a good policy, nor an easy one to defend. Which is why several states have taken on new policies to roll back or get rid of LIFO. Here in Colorado, we are better off than many other states. Last year’s Senate Bill 191, the educator effectiveness bill, addressed the problem. But it was watered down a bit by a legislative compromise that said seniority may be considered after performance evaluations are weighed in “and only if the contract or policy is in the best interest of the students enrolled in the school district.”
Under those terms, you would think the negotiated teachers union agreement in Jeffco would require some updating. (Since it’s all going on behind closed doors, though, who’s to say?) I’m talking about tiebreakers. Article 34-6-5 says that “involuntary transfers” of teachers from one district school to another are determined by seniority, with a tie being broken by the “flip of a coin.” I kid you not. Article 39-6-1 says that seniority-based layoffs of teachers — if several of them were hired on the same day — may need to use “a drawing by lot” to determine who stays and who goes. Is playing games of chance really the best we can do? Hopefully, SB 191 puts an end to this sort of procedure in Colorado.
On a related side note, the New York Times reports today that Michelle Rhee’s former rival as president of the Washington, D.C., teachers union has become “the first senior fellow of Students First.” George Parker is his name. An interesting development to keep your eyes on.