Layoffs that unnecessarily damage children's education must be avoided

It is the responsibility of school superintendents to evaluate their districts' teachers and needs.

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A study of Washington state teachers recently concluded: Teacher layoffs based solely on seniority aren't in the best interest of the students.

It took a study to figure that out?

Whether it is the teaching profession, the journalism profession or any other job, if you determine who gets laid off using only seniority you aren't always going to end up with the best remaining staff.

There is great value in on-the-job experience. Your most experienced teachers should be your best teachers. But that's not always the case. There are older teachers who have "retired" on the job, content to just put in their time. There are young teachers who bring an excitement and a different way of looking at things that can translate into success. There are other teachers up and down the seniority scale who are able to inspire students and spur them to greater achievements.

The Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington found that when seniority is the sole criteria for layoffs, student achievement drops by an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning per student.

If seniority isn't the way, what is?

Teachers unions rail against a value-added method, saying it is inconsistent and inconclusive. They fear it will morph into a litmus test based strictly on student test scores.

Basing layoffs on just one element, where it be test scores or seniority, isn't acceptable. The difficulty is in finding ways to identify these top and bottom performers.

And you have to take into consideration such things as which teachers are in hard-to-fill areas such as science, math or special education. Also, if you lay off only newer teachers, you have to lay off more of them because they don't make as much as teachers with more seniority.

As much as it would be helpful if the process could be boiled down to a scientific solution, hiring and firing have always been more of an art form.

It is the responsibility of school superintendents to evaluate their districts' teachers and needs. They should be required to look at all these factors and then decide what is best. It's a cop-out to throw up your hands and use only seniority or only test scores.

Parents should provide their perspective and the elected school board members should serve as part of a checks-and-balances approach to make sure no teacher is dismissed because of a personality conflict or vendetta by the school administration.

Layoffs are terrible. Layoffs that unnecessarily damage children's education must be avoided.

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