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Sun Sailor Column: Seniority Rules

Column: Revisions to seniority rules for teachers are premature

By Guest Columnist Jim Beneke

The legislative proposals to revise seniority rules for teachers on the surface seem to be a commonsense approach to reforming education. After all, who could argue against the idea that having effective teachers is more important than protecting the seniority of teachers?

However, these proposals are premature at best, and a rush to implement them is likely to distract from efforts to truly make our educational system better.

The teacher evaluation system mandated by the Legislature hasn’t even been in existence for a full school year, and there is little agreement about how to adequately evaluate teaching.

Do you base it on test scores? Student or parent feedback? Ability to effectively teach highly motivated students? Students who struggle? How much students like being in school? How do you even evaluate teachers when we have very little knowledge about what makes for effective teaching?

Prior attempts to evaluate teachers relied heavily on test scores of their students. Test scores in and of themselves are a poor indicator of the quality of a student’s learning, and the average test score of a class can fluctuate greatly due to factors outside of a teacher’s control.

Trying to implement quickly a scheme to rank teachers will likely result in major problems. It will perpetuate a system where teachers narrowly stick to a curriculum designed to get the most out of test scores and not leave any time to really analyze and innovate about what makes for effective teaching.

A lot is being asked of the school system to mitigate the damage of students living in the stress of poverty or myriad social or family problems. If we strive to make education as effective as it possibly can what is needed is a systemic change of the learning environment.

Teachers should be engaging in continuous collaboration where teaching methods are constantly evaluated and refined. We need teachers who are adept at adapting their teaching styles and methods to engage all types of learners. To support teachers in this effort, there should be frequent opportunities for peer support, mentoring and evaluation designed to promote continuous improvement.

It is important that teachers welcome frequent monitoring and evaluation. It would damage the system and undermine collaboration if the teachers see evaluation as primarily intrusive and potentially punitive.

Any attempts to modify the seniority system should be undertaken with care and not be the primary focus of education reform. Rather we should be concentrating on giving all teachers the tools and environment for continuous improvement. In the end, that will make for effective teaching.

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