‘Last hired, first fired’ strikes again

A story in Saturday’s Bloomington Herald-Times (subscription required) provides an example of the kind of thing that gives teachers’ unions and public schools a bad name.

It’s about Scott Wallace, a science teacher in the Monroe County Community School Corp. who was selected as 2010 Indiana Teacher of the Year by the Air Force Association but lost his job with the MCCSC because of budget cuts. Wallace was placed deep on the district’s reduction-in-force list as a result of the strict seniority system – “last hired, first fired” – enshrined by the MCCSC’s contract with the local teachers’ union, the Monroe County Education Association.

The MCCSC board voted in April to put 73 teachers on the RIF list, which meant they could be laid off for the 2010-11 school year.

Dozens were called back over the summer. They included Batchelor Middle School’s Jackie Macal, one of six “outstanding Hoosier educators” honored at a Statehouse ceremony in May, and Kathy Heise, who established the highly regarded early violin program at Fairview Elementary School. But Wallace, a first-year teacher last year at Bloomington’s New Tech High School, wasn’t recalled. The Herald-Times reports he is leaving the MCCSC for a job with the Bloomington Project School, a charter school.

There are legitimate reasons for basing teacher job-retention decisions on seniority. New teachers are more likely to be able to find another job when they’re laid off, even if it means moving. Mid- or late-career teachers typically have family or personal obligations that make it hard for them to pick up and start fresh. The seniority system, if it works right, can make teaching a stable, attractive career, and enable teachers to become more engaged with their schools and communities.

At the same time, the MCCSC and the MCEA should consider options for retaining top teachers while giving seniority its due. One possible step might be to adopt an approach taken by Indianapolis Public Schools, with support from the local teachers’ union. There, according to the Indianapolis Star, first- and second-year teachers are placed in a reduction-in-force pool when layoffs are needed. Within the pool, layoffs are determined according to job-performance evaluations, not by who was the last person hired.

When a rigid job-protection system drives away a school district’s most promising teachers, it’s ultimately the students who lose.

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One thought on “‘Last hired, first fired’ strikes again

  1. Pingback: PDK poll, teacher effectiveness, Friedman on ‘what works’ « School Matters

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