Isn’t it grand when research supports what we easily believe? During the Great Recession, principals were required to lay off teachers. Because of the circumstances they were given more latitude than they generally have. Generally because of union contracts teachers are laid off following the principle last hired, first fired rather than based on teacher performance.
The situation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina changed that scenario. In 2009-2010, principals were given more discretion than usual regarding whom to keep and whom to let go. Generally, teachers with fewer than five years of experience were the first to be let go. It is not a great leap in logic to guess that the least experienced teachers could also be the lesser performing group. However this special situation also allowed for principals to target less effective teachers regardless of how long they had been teaching.
A study appearing in Education, Finance and Policy followed up on student achievement after the lay offs of the Great Recession. The study found that 84% of laid off teachers were probationary teachers. So the rule of last hired, first fired prevailed. Principals said that they didn’t see the point of terminating tenured teachers since union rules gave them “recall rights” for any future position openings.
Teachers with over 30 years of experience were also among the first batch to be let go. Those teachers were receiving both a salary and a pension. These folks known as double dippers are allowed in NC.
But the really good news is that on the whole, the teachers who were laid off were rated about 1/3 of a standard deviation less effective by their principals than were the teachers who were kept on. Even better news, fifty-eight percent of teachers who received a “below standard” rating on any evaluation category were released.
The very good news was that keeping more effective teachers raised student test scores.
Every time the notion of using principal evaluations for staff review and/or merit pay comes up, the unions roadblock it. They are happy with the pay increases for staying on the job and getting another degree. This study gives some merit to the argument that good principals know who the good teachers are and, if allowed, they can make choices that are good for kids. Now if you REALLY want to know who the best teachers are, just ask the students. Truly they know and most are too young to appreciate the benefits of not telling the truth in important matters.