Friday, May 13, 2011

Calif. Performance Pay Bill Dies in Committee

A bill that would have allowed school districts to lay off teachers based on performance instead of seniority failed in a state Senate education committee this week, according to the LA Times. The measure was proposed by state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and called for school districts to create new teacher evaluations based partially on student test scores. It also would have allowed districts to fire teachers based on student performance.

This is the second year in a row that the bill has failed. The CTA lobbied heavily against the bill, taking advantage of its State of Emergency rally in Sacramento to get teachers to personally visit legislators to express their opposition to the bill.

Sen. Huff blamed the failure of his bill on union inflexibility and stubbornness, as if they had no reason to oppose the law other than to protect bad teachers. In reality, student test scores are influenced mostly by students’ socioeconomic background and tell us very little about teacher quality. Even laws like Huff’s, which was a value-added measure that compared individual students’ progress over time (rather than comparing them to other students), are still biased by familial wealth because affluence not only influences where students start, but how well equipped they are to succeed in school and benefit from the effects of good teaching.

According to the Times, Huff made the tired and incorrect complaint that the bill’s defeat “. . . means incompetent teachers are still given preference to better teachers because of the quality-blind approach we currently use." This delusion assumes that younger and less experienced teachers are necessarily better than experienced teachers. Aside from the fact that experience makes teachers better, as it does with most professions, there is no logical reason to assume that young, inexperienced teachers who are laid off due to seniority rules are necessarily good simply because they are new and eager. Furthermore, large numbers of teachers leave the profession within their first three years of teaching because of the high demands and stress. So even if good young teachers were protected, the chances are good that they would quit within a few years anyway, making it a questionable investment.

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