How To Keep Old, Crappy Teachers

December 18, 2012

How To Keep Old, Crappy Teachers
Bhavini Bhakta writes in the LA Times that she won the school’s 2009 Teacher of the Year Award, and shortly afterward, got a pink slip, warning that she was at high risk of being let go due to budget cuts:

Sometimes the pink slips are rescinded at the last minute; sometimes they aren’t. But the system has forced many excellent teachers out of teaching and into more stable professions.

The annual madness is the result of LIFO, which stands for “last in, first out.” It is currently the law in California, and what it means is that school administrators must make teacher retention decisions based solely on seniority, without regard to a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. LIFO is the functional equivalent of an NBA team being forced to fire LeBron James because a bench warmer on the team has more years in the league. In the case of schools, it can mean that 30 or more children who have only one shot at, say, third grade, are being taught by an inferior teacher

LIFO’s tag-team partner in the substandard education derby is California’s antiquated tenure system. Under current law, teachers receive tenure after only 18 months of work and minimal administrative review; there is virtually no evaluation process to determine whether teachers are effective before receiving tenure, and after receiving it, tenured teachers are virtually impossible to fire.

The legal roadblocks to firing a tenured teacher are so formidable that even abject ineffectiveness is not considered a fireable offense. In a recent survey, 68% of teachers said they knew of at least one grossly incompetent teacher at their school who deserved to be fired but had not been.

The combined results of LIFO and the tenure system can be catastrophic for students. Multiple studies have shown that even a single year with an ineffective teacher can set students back for a lifetime. They are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to attend college, and will on average earn lower incomes compared to peers who had the good fortune to be taught in that year by an effective teacher.

She calls for regular, comprehensive evaluations of teachers. But, oops — what’s standing in the way? Surprise: Teachers unions, which value teachers’ rights over those of students to get the education taxpayers are paying for.

A caption under Bhakta’s piece:

Bhavini Bhakta lost teaching positions in four schools over eight years because she lacked seniority. She now teaches fifth grade in Arcadia. She worked on this piece with Students Matter, an organization that is challenging California’s teacher protection laws in court.

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