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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Last In, First Out

Let's be clear, LIFO, is not about education, it is about budgets and union busting. As I read and hear arguments to repeal, LIFO policies, budget constraints are the first item listed. We know school leaders will eliminate the higher paid teachers and find reasons for dismissal while coddling the cheaper, less experienced teacher who may not be good for the classroom. Yes, it is about merit and methods of merit are not being discussed as much as eliminating the higher paid teachers just because they are highly paid. I haven't heard any method of evaluating teachers except by the price tag, and that is why we need unions. If the voices of repealing LIFO came up with a worthy method for evaluating teachers beyond price tag, we might be able to participate in the solution. I also know I am a better teacher now than I was after ten years of teaching. When I reflect on my second or third year as a teacher, I get real scared. Consider how we choose a doctor, a lawyer, a building contractor in our lives. We look for experience and word of mouth. Let's use this same rubric in selecting teachers for our children.

I haven't seen any study about the length of service by our younger teachers. During my 35 years, I have found the attrition rate of younger teachers is higher than the older teachers, who make teaching a career. The teachers who leave after a few years of teaching write books about teaching or make movies. The point is they aren't teaching anymore and could have been kept instead of a career teacher who is now unemployed. My experience is that younger teachers don't see it as a career as much as a job before they discover what they want to be when they grow up or in the cases of our female colleagues who become mothers. I have seen that about 50% of women who have babies don't return.

Perhaps a compromise would be accepted if once a teacher reaches ten years, then all teachers with ten or more years in service would be in the same pool. Certainly the number ten is arbitrary and could be lowered to seven. But eliminating a good 25 year teacher to keep two two year teachers is stupid. That 25 year teacher has experience those two two year teachers can't replace for many years, if they stay 25 years. Chances are one of them won't.

The older teacher has made a commitment to the school and the community. That teacher will now be a drain on the very government trying to fix the budget. That older teacher may have a mortgage, kids in college, and is a taxpayer. When this older worker is now out of work, the money saved initially becomes a drain later on. Now that's bad economics. The two two year teachers are not yet established and may not be part of the community or school base in a year. They are more fluid then the established teacher. Younger teachers are more transient. I'd propose a study done by school districts to explore this very idea of who stays and who goes in an school year and over the last ten years to see a pattern to help them make a more informed decision. When we hear leaders speak about attrition, what is the percentage of age group who leave at the end of a school year over the past ten years? I know they will be surprised to find those numbers shocking as it pertains to the younger teachers.

The knee jerk reaction we are now seeing across this country as it pertains to unions and teachers is not far thinking remedies but instead is elevating an immediate pain with a solution that will have dire ramifications in the future especially in our schools if we start seeing the teaching career become a revolving door.

Good thinking is not happening right now in our state capitals.

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