pink slip priorities

Report calls for school districts to end seniority-based layoffs

School districts should abandon lay-off policies that require principals to dismiss the newest teachers first and instead incorporate measures of teacher quality into firing decisions, a new report out today from The New Teacher Project argues.

The report proposes a scorecard that would rank teachers, weighing their classroom management skills, attendance, performance evaluations and length of service to the district to determine who should be laid off. Under the group’s proposal, a teacher’s performance rating would be given the most weight, while his or her number of years served would count for only a tenth of their score.

By doing so, the report argues, school districts can avoid laying off their best teachers who may not have worked in the system the longest.

“Layoffs are not good for anyone, but they are worse when they result in the loss of top teachers,” the report states. “With so many jobs — and so many children’s futures — potentially at stake, districts and teachers unions must act now to reform these outdated rules so that schools will be able to hold on to their most effective teachers if layoffs become necessary.”

The report is based in part on a survey of 9,000 teachers in two large Midwestern city school districts (though the report does not name the districts, its description of the two districts seems to match Minneapolis and Detroit).

The survey asked teachers if they believed other factors besides seniority should be considered in layoff decisions. Around three-quarters of the teachers surveyed in both districts answered “yes.” Even among teachers with more than 30 years of experience in their district, more than half agreed that “additional factors should be considered” in excessing or firing criteria.

Eliminating the “last hired, first fired” requirement for excessing city teachers is one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s major political priorities in education, and a change to the system is on the city’s teachers contract negotiations wish list.

Opponents of the mayor’s proposed changes, including the city teachers union, often attack the credibility of The New Teacher Project because of the group’s close ties to the Bloomberg administration. Dan Weisberg, the group’s vice president for policy, was formerly the Department of Education’s head labor negotiator, and the organization was founded by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the D.C. school system whose reform goals frequently align with Klein’s.

“Asking the New Teacher Project about personnel policies is like asking Bernie Madoff for investment advice,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew in a statement. “It is impossible for the New Teacher Project to be an objective voice of reason when they receive almost $5 million a year from the Department of Education.”

“Carefully omitted from their survey is the real option that teachers are afraid would be the most prominent factor in any non-seniority layoff decision — the whims of administrators who too often know less about education than the teachers they are supposed to be supervising,” Mulgrew said.

The survey did gauge teachers’ support for a number of other criteria that could be used for layoff decisions. In both districts, classroom management and teacher attendance rates garnered the most support from teachers. Around half of teachers in both districts also supported the use of “instructional performance based on evaluation rating” as a criteria, though far fewer listed “principal’s opinion” as a factor that should be used in layoff decisions.

Around half of teachers in one district, and 41 percent in the other, listed total years of teaching experience as a criteria they would support, but less than half of teachers surveyed in both cities chose length of service in their districts as a factor the believe should be considered.

The report does not wade into the murky waters of how effective classroom management skills and performance ratings should be determined. A report from The New Teacher Project released last year called most teacher evaluation programs “meaningless” because of the extraordinarily high numbers of teachers rated satisfactory. But efforts to evaluate teachers on other measures, including test scores, frequently draw fierce criticism from those who argue such factors are overly simplistic and unreliable.

Here is the full report:

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.