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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bad Teachers on Their Own: Pennsylvania Puts Poor Performers in the Crosshairs

Performance, not longevity, will determine who stays and who goes

By Evan Grossman |

Ineffective teachers kept safe by seniority may soon lose that protection.

Pennsylvania is one of a few states in which performance does not factor into layoff decisions. Instead, it employs a system designed to shield veteran educators from budget cuts while newer teachers, no matter how good in the classroom, are typically the first to go.

When districts are forced to make staffing cuts, Pennsylvania teachers can find themselves jobless simply because they have less experience than some of their more ineffective colleagues.

But state lawmakers made a significant step toward eliminating these “last-in-first-out” policies this week with the passage of House Bill 805, also known as the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.

Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, the bill’s sponsor, called the practice of protecting tenured Pennsylvania teachers “unfair.”

“We often force out our best educators simply because they have fewer years of seniority than other, less-effective teachers,” he said. “Excellent teachers lose the opportunity to build a lasting educational legacy for our children, because we unwisely elevate teacher seniority over teaching success.”

According to Bloom, under a seniority-based layoff system the more effective teacher is dismissed “roughly four out of five times.”

Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that makes seniority the sole factor in determining layoffs.

Bloom’s bill ensures teacher performance, not years of service, will guide furlough and reinstatement decisions. Teacher performance scores are based on a statewide evaluation system, in place since 2012, recorded during classroom evaluations.

“This new evaluation system is well balanced and measures a broad matrix of factors, far more than standardized test results,” Bloom said.

“Student achievement and growth data, traditional classroom observations and locally chosen criteria are just some of the multiple measures being used to provide meaningful feedback for educators.”

Teachers unions and some educators also opposed the bill, which narrowly passed by a 100-91 vote.