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Originally published Monday, May 9, 2011 at 4:01 PM

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Base teacher layoffs on effectiveness, not seniority

School districts notify teachers next week of potential layoffs, a challenge complicated by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and their stubborn insistence on an outdated seniority-based layoff policy.

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SCHOOL districts notify teachers next week of potential layoffs, a challenge complicated by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and their stubborn insistence on an outdated seniority-based layoff policy.

The duo's reason is not complicated. The powerful Washington Education Association likes the "last hired, first fired," layoff rule.

That's despite the growing number of school districts using money and other enticements to persuade teachers to exchange seniority for performance.

Research shows 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.

Seniority-based systems have unintended consequences, forcing layoffs in high-demand areas such as special education — where teachers are often less senior. Equally troubling, schools most hurt by seniority-based layoffs are urban or low-income schools which tend to employ more first- and second-year teachers.

These facts led Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, to build a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats and pass a bill allowing districts to first lay off teachers who received the lowest average ratings on their two most recent evaluations. A similar effort was waged in the House by Reps. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, and Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton.

But marked indifference by Brown and Chopp leached the efforts of critical momentum. In the waning days of the Legislature's special session, House lawmakers think they have the votes for a last-ditch effort. But they cannot get past House Education Committee Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos. Santos cannot get past her fear of the teachers union.

Teachers are the most significant factor of in-school achievement. Their effectiveness should be considered during layoffs. Chopp, Brown and Santos should be embarrassed for not allowing this to happen.

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