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Originally published February 3, 2011 at 3:41 PM | Page modified February 3, 2011 at 4:48 PM

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Teacher performance must be factored into teacher layoffs

When teacher layoffs are unavoidable, effectiveness ought to be the determining factor in which teachers stay.

TEACHER layoffs are a last resort because of their adverse impact on student learning. When layoffs are unavoidable, effective teaching ought to be the determining factor in who stays.

Legislation by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, would get us to this common-sense approach. Senate Bill 5399 would authorize school districts doing layoffs to choose first teachers who received the lowest average ratings during their two latest evaluations. Seniority could be the tiebreaker when two or more teachers have the same evaluation scores. Unplaced teachers with the highest evaluation scores would get first dibs on new jobs.

This is a potential game-changer, especially for low-income schools typically assigned the newest teachers. These schools suffer inordinately under the current seniority-based system.

The University of Washington's Center for Education Data and Research found that when teachers are laid off on a strictly seniority basis, kids affected lose two to three months of learning time compared with schools where reductions were based on teacher effectiveness.

Billions of dollars are routinely spent trying to raise academic achievement. Tom offers a strategy that requires just a change in the status quo.

Quality teaching is simply one strategy among many, but attention paid to it is justified by the enormous slice of the education budget pie devoted to salaries. Efficiencies or flexibility found in this arena free up budget room for other education needs.

It is disappointing then that action on the legislation is being blocked by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, chair of the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education. The Bothell Democrat is once again doing the bidding of the state teachers union, whose stubborn cling to seniority shows they confuse longevity with quality.

A better voice on this issue is the 81 percent of Washingtonians who said in a poll last month they favored teacher performance being factored into layoff decisions.

Positive signs emanate from the House where a similar bill by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, thrives. Both bills, smart pushes on teacher effectiveness, deserve hearings and a vote.

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