…make it this one, from the LA Times. There’s a lot in there, but here’s the crux:
Months before, [Miguel] Aguilar had been featured in a Times article as one of the most effective teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District at raising student scores on standardized tests. Many of his students, the article noted, had vaulted from the bottom 30% in the district to well above average.
The article contrasted Aguilar’s performance with that of the teacher next door, John Smith, who ranked among the district’s least effective teachers. Pupils in both classes faced similar challenges in the poor, predominantly Latino community.
After a particularly long day of teaching several weeks ago, Aguilar found a pink slip in his mailbox. He was one of about 5,000 district teachers notified that they might lose their jobs this summer, depending on the troubled budget.
Smith didn’t get a pink slip. In California and most other states, seniority, not performance, is the sole consideration when layoffs come.
Smith has been with the district 15 years, Aguilar eight.
I know, there’s all sorts of things on the margins to argue about. Just reflect on the core point for a moment: because of the “Last-In-First-Out” hiring/firing policy in California, they’re axing one of LA’s most effective teachers and keeping one of its least. They teach similar students, in the same school, and get dramatically different results…but those results aren’t considered when states face layoffs. This is a triumph of procedure over justice, and it has no place in a country that takes equality seriously. We should be tripling Aguilar’s pay, not firing him for having spent less time in the classroom than the teacher in the classroom next door.
This is why a national study of the American education system found that 59% of teachers (and 63% of administrators) want their districts to do more “to identify, compensate, promote and retain the most effective teachers.” Policies like “Last-In-First-Out” are no small part of why.
Margins stuff: If you won’t accept value-added testing data when considering education policy, go away. This isn’t about teaching to tests or not accounting for poverty or any such thing. It’s not even about shades of gray. These data are beyond minor methodological worries. They’re STARKLY different. These data are gleaned from years of outcomes.
For example: John Smith ranked amongst the district’s least effective teachers, which meant that his students (on average) lost 10 percentage points in math compared with their peers after a year in his classroom. They lost around 7 percentage points in English. Meanwhile, Miguel Aguilar‘s students gained around 11 points in math, and 7 points in English. Those aren’t small differences. They’re reliable and significant differences established over years of teaching service. In clear-cut cases, they ought to matter when deciding who gets to stay in the classroom and who doesn’t.
It’s not irrelevant either that Aguilar’s been sharing his techniques around his school. He’s helping to improve struggling teachers’ practice around the school, with good results. This sort of professional commitment should also matter when tough layoff decisions are inevitable. There’s no easy way to make these calls, but it’s clear that only considering seniority is insane.
Just ask Janelle Sawelenko (another fifth-grade teacher at the school): ”Honestly, if he leaves, I won’t have anyone to collaborate with…It’s an absolute disservice to children and it’s morally wrong.”