Teaching Profession Opinion

MA Teacher Evaluation Law Weakens LIFO, Signals Pre-Emptive Compromise

By Justin Baeder — July 11, 2012 1 min read
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The National School Boards Association’s Legal Clips newsletter reports that Massachusetts recently passed a new teacher evaluation bill under threat of a ballot initiative backed by Stand for Children:

The bill sped through the state legislature with little debate in order to get the bill to the governor's desk in an effort to force a more sweeping initiative petition dropped from consideration for the fall ballot.

EdWeek’s Steven Sawchuck reported in mid-June that the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association (MTA) struck a deal with Stand, thus avoiding a costly fight at the ballot box and potentially more dramatic changes in the laws surrounding teacher evaluation and staffing decisions.

While at first blush the law appears to end “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) layoff policies, Sawchuck explains that it’s a bit more complicated:

Under the terms of the compromise, nontenured teachers would still be dismissed before tenured teachers, during layoffs, but in all other cases performance would have to carry more weight in layoff decisions than seniority. The compromise allows for districts and unions to bargain the exact details.

I wonder if this leaves the door open for districts to change the way they grant tenure in order to circumvent the somewhat diluted performance-based layoff scheme in the law. I would think some districts would jump at the chance to extend immediate tenure (say, in April or May of their first year) to their top new teachers in order to prevent them from being laid off. If you’re familiar with MA law in this area, please chime in and I’ll update this post.

As I’ve argued previously, changes to LIFO policies have enormous potential to change the teaching population, because they shift the impact of layoffs onto the least-competent.

Another interesting aspect of on the new MA law is the pre-emptive nature of the compromise. MTA was facing a serious and probably well-funded ballot initiative effort from Stand for Children, which has successfully lobbied for sweeping reforms in a number of states. In Washington State, Stand has been pushing for charters for a while, a move that prompted Seattle Public Schools and the teacher’s union to bargain a “Creative Schools Approach” option that might be seen as a “charter lite” approach.

The bargaining table, at least in union states, is still where the details of teacher evaluation systems get hammered out, but it’s interesting to see how pressure from outside groups (not to mention the Department of Education, with its billions in RttT money) is influencing these systems both through legislation and through the threat of legislative action.

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