Thursday, April 11, 2013

Attacks on the Teaching Profession Continue

HB 478 by Representative Simone Champagne who represents Iberia and Vermilion Parishes is purportedly an attempt to keep the best teachers in the classroom when teacher layoffs are necessary. (Click on the bill number to see the bill) It would do away with all seniority rights of teachers in determining the teachers selected for layoff and would instead use the teacher's ranking on the new Act 54 evaluation system. This means that the teachers ranking lowest on the evaluation system in a category targeted for layoff would be the first to be laid off. To the average observer, this may seem to be a fair and logical method for determining which teachers will stay and which will go in the event of a layoff. But let me explain the serious pitfalls of such a system.

Suppose a school system experiences a drop of student enrollment because maybe a large employer in the area shifts operations to another state causing many families to move. Suppose the local Superintendent determines that four teachers must be laid off from grades 3 through 5 out of a teaching staff totaling 25 teachers. Lets assume that all 25 teachers scored above the 50th percentile on the Act 54 evaluation system which included satisfactory scores on the VAM portion by all 25 teachers. Let's also assume that the variation in scores were distributed over a 20 percentile range. This new law would require the local superintendent to lay off the bottom scoring 4 teachers without consideration of seniority. The problem is that statewide data analyzed so far indicates that teacher scores on VAM can often fluctuate by more than 20 percentile points from year to year even if the teacher teaches exactly the same way from year to year. Let's also suppose that two of the bottom 4 teachers on the ranking are within 3 years of retirement and they both have had excellent employment records and evaluations from their principals for all of their years as teachers. Let's also assume that their scores differed from the top scoring teacher by only 15 percentile points. The VAM data collected so far by the state indicates that this scenario is quite possible. If this law passes, the local superintendent would be forced to ignore all other factors and lay off these teachers who may have devoted their entire careers to this school system. They would be denied their full retirement benefits. I submit that such a law would be cruel and uncaring of the contributions a teacher has made over a long career. That's why I stated in an earlier post that these so called “reform” laws would change the employment status of a professional educator to the level of a teenage grocery store clerk!

The Louisiana legislature has no business interfering with local employment decisions based on this unstable evaluation system. How would they like it if the legislature dictated to their employer how to lay them off? This type of micro management would not be tolerated by any other profession. What if we mandated that doctors and lawyers be hired and fired based on their number of successful patients or clients. We know that these professionals cannot always control the behavior of their patients or clients. The same uncertainty of success also applies to teachers.

But here is the part that adds insult to injury for professional public school educators. This law would not apply to the voucher schools that may receive taxpayer support at the insistence of the Jindal administration. If they receive our tax monies for education why are they treated differently? This is just another one of the many double standards being applied to give a free ride to the voucher schools at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Please consider talking to or sending an email to your legislators asking them to vote against this House Bill 478. This is a bill which is certain to further demoralize the teaching profession in Louisiana.