Hartford Thwarts Reform Attempts. Again.

In other news, dog bites man.

Your favorite teacher may not return next year.

When an organization is required to decrease in size, it has a choice: become more efficient and productive or merely become smaller. After the economic turbulence of 2008, the U.S. workforce shrunk, but by 2010, the economy was producing at 2008 levels. Hence, the U.S. workforce became more efficient and productive. That’s not great news for the unemployed, but macro-economically, it’s a significant (and usually permanent) improvement.

The same situation faces many school districts in Connecticut. Forced to trim their budgets, schools usually must perform a “reduction in force,” because staffing comprises most school district’s largest variable expenditure. And they face a choice: become more efficient or simply become smaller.

The fulcrum of that choice is deciding which components of the workforce are reduced. When forced to downsize, organizations typically seek to jettison the least productive and ineffective components. Yet most school districts don’t have this choice. With LIFO in place, school districts are required to use seniority as the sole determining factor in determining reduction in force decisions. (For more discussion on LIFO, and other Connecticut education problems, see .)

This means that your favorite teacher may not return next year, if your favorite teacher is a fairly recent hire. This also means that some bad teachers, the ones who every parent wishes to avoid, will be back next year. This means that teachers with documented incompetency or documented chronic absenteeism can’t be terminated when layoffs are required. This means the entire layoff process is quality-blind.

Hartford Thwarts Reform Attempts. Again.

In a meeting of the joint Education Committee in Hartford on March 25, Senator Toni Boucher (who represents Westport) proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 1160 that stated “years of service as a certified teacher in the school district shall not be the primary factor for why the teacher’s employment is terminated unless all other factors are equal.” Boucher explained to the committee that factors that should be considered include, “student growth and development, years of service, prior evaluations, activities within the school system, peer reviews, etc.” though the amendment would leave to each district to determine the precise factors to consider and the weight given to each of them.

Representatives Fleishmann and Paul Davis voiced their opposition and the amendment failed with a perfunctory voice vote.

Senator Boucher tried again. She offered “Amendment B,” which required that teacher evaluation guidelines include “student growth and development as a significant factor in the rating of teacher performance.” Representatives Fleishmann and Cook disapproved of the word “significant.” The apparently odious modifier was struck from the amendment, and amendment then passed.

SB 1160, which required “the previously created Performance Advisory Council to develop a model teacher evaluation program for across the board use by local school districts,” then proceeded for testimony and a vote.

The president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council, Milly Arciniegas, complained that “there is still no solution in this bill for the urgent issue of seniority-based layoffs.”

Joseph J. Cirasuolo, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, concurred, protesting that “There is nothing in this bill that would help school districts who have to reduce their teaching forces and who are compelled to lay off teachers on the basis of seniority instead of performance.” He suggested including specific language in the bill in order to address these issues, beginning with, “Teachers who are deemed ineffective will be the first to be laid off.”

Alex Johnston, president of the Connecticut education reform group ConnCAN, asserted that “Ending seniority-based layoffs is about recognizing that teachers are professionals who deserve to be treated as such, and whose on-the-job performance should be valued beyond a simple calculation of hours logged on the job.”

Lisa Thompson, Co-Founder of APPLES of Norwalk, a grassroots non-partisan community coalition, testified that Connecticut “ranks near the top on per pupil spending, but at the bottom in terms of closing the achievement gap” and declared, “We know that the vast majority of teachers and principals are delivering great performance and inspiration to students, but are caught up in a system where we can no more recognize those successful educators than get rid of the ineffective ones. And, we've been caught up in this debate for years and years now. While we debate, our children slip farther and farther behind.”

SB 1160 passed, and so this minuscule step forward was generally viewed as a giant victory, despite perpetuating quality-blind layoff procedures. Only in Connecticut.

What can you do?

I’ve been repeatedly told by senators and representatives that they are sensitive to communications from citizens. Right now, there are no plans to revisit the LIFO topic before the June 8 adjournment. There are no plans to help school districts become more efficient. You can change that.

The most important people on this topic are Education Committee co-chairs Andrea Stillman and Andy Fleishmann. They hold the power to engage discussion on this topic and move reforms through the committee. Contact them.

A complete list of Education Committee members with contact information is here. This government works for you. Write, call, fax and remind them.

ConnCAN, a New Haven based education reform group, is trying to put the topic on the agenda before the June 8 adjournment. Contact Jessica Bloom and she can assist your efforts in letting Hartford know that Connecticut’s quality-blind approach to workforce reductions is inefficient and embarrassing.

Nathan Allen May 16, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Here are the in-depth views of Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City public schools for nine years, including that wonderful quote from the former head of the United Federation of Teachers: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/8497/
Nathan Allen May 17, 2011 at 03:01 PM
A plea from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-rader-cirasuolo-teacher-layoffs20110514,0,4597937.story
Nathan Allen May 18, 2011 at 02:10 PM
What hath LIFO wrought? Just a teacher of the year in Las Vegas being laid off … http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/teacher-of-the-year-rewarded-with-pink-slip-121851439.html
Nathan Allen May 19, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Even Gawker takes up the issue (with appropriate caustic sarcasm) – http://gawker.com/5800783/firing-the-most-passionate-teachers-will-save-our-schools
Nathan Allen May 20, 2011 at 02:26 PM
You know things are bad when even dutifully liberal New York magazine takes a swipe at LIFO … http://i52.tinypic.com/2n237yv.jpg


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