Originally published by Sydney Morris in the New York Post.
The proposed $1.4 billion cut in the state education budget could mean 8,500 teachers would be laid off and taken out of their classrooms in New York City, punishing 1.1 million students.
As a third grade teacher at a Bronx public school, those numbers terrify me. How will this impact the academic futures of the 31 students in my class?
State law now forces teacher layoffs to be made strictly in order of reverse seniority -- last hired, first fired -- with absolutely no consideration of a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom. It's hard to believe that this policy was created with my 9-year-olds in mind.
However, a new bill in the Legislature would change the law to give schools the power to take into account factors besides seniority, such as a teacher's performance, when making layoff decisions. The bill was introduced by Sen. Ruben Diaz and Assemblyman Jonathan Bing -- who represent two of the districts that would be hardest hit by teacher layoffs.
An ever-growing and largely undisputed body of research indicates that the single most important factor impacting student achievement is teacher quality. In fact, according to widely cited studies by the Dallas Independent School District, having a "highly effective" teacher for three straight years can essentially close the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.
So how can we eliminate teachers with no thought to how they perform in the classroom? Seniority-based layoffs punish our students by taking good teachers out of the classroom.
Don't get me wrong: Quality veteran teachers are essential to any school. They serve as mentors and as models of good teaching in many classrooms. But experience doesn't always equal quality: A 2006 study by The Hamilton Project shows that, after year three there is almost no correlation between time in the classroom and teacher effectiveness.
Proponents of the status quo also make the case that, without an all-encompassing teacher-evaluation system, "last in, first out" is the only "fair" way to lay off teachers.
Teachers certainly need to be evaluated equitably. The perfect evaluation system doesn't exist yet, but we do have access to measures of teacher performance that are far better than seniority: teacher ratings, classroom management, teacher attendance, specific licensure, peer or principal review, value-added student data. Teachers should be involved in the creation of a more comprehensive measure -- but in the meantime, we should start by using what we have.
Furthermore, teachers themselves overwhelmingly reject the concept of seniority-based layoffs. A recent study by The New Teacher Project found that more than 70 percent of teachers believe that factors other than length of service should be considered in layoff decisions.
No one wants teacher layoffs: They mean larger class sizes, reduced extracurricular programs in areas such as art and music, and fewer other services, such as small-group instruction, that our students desperately need. But those losses are all the more reason why we need our best teachers left standing in front of our kids.
With vast teacher layoffs looming, now is the time to end a practice that blatantly ignores our students. To turn a blind eye to teacher quality is to turn a blind eye to the needs of our children.
The original article can be read on the New York Post.