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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 23, 2017 02:15 PM
From: Representative Stephen Bloom
To: All House members
Subject: Teacher Seniority Reform – Protecting Excellent Teachers Act (Previously HB 805 & HB 2151)

In the near future, I plan to reintroduce legislation previously contained in House Bills 805 and 2151 of last session, which will protect excellent teachers by ending the process of teacher layoffs based only on seniority. This process – sometimes referred to as “last in, first out” or “LIFO” – is not fair for teachers, nor beneficial for students. As you know, last session Governor Wolf vetoed House Bill 805, commonly known as the “Protecting Excellent Teachers Act,” despite broad public support. Because the need for ending layoffs based only on seniority remains critically important, however, I am again sponsoring this important legislation.

Seniority-based layoffs are dismissals caused by a reduction in force and, by current law, must be conducted in order of inverse seniority. The last teacher hired is the first person fired, regardless of his or her impact on students. Basing layoff policies on seniority is a disservice to both students and teachers. While seniority is often described as “fair,” it actually ignores differences in teacher quality and disrupts more classrooms and schools than performance-based layoffs.

Moreover, seniority-based layoffs often disproportionately impact low-income and minority students. Schools serving primarily low-income and minority families often have higher concentrations of new teachers than more affluent schools. When seniority-based layoffs occur, these schools experience higher teacher turnover and lose more faculty compared to other schools.

Research demonstrates that under a seniority-based layoff system, the more effective teacher is dismissed roughly four out of five times. We need only look to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, where in 2012, 16 “distinguished” teachers were furloughed because of this outdated state law. While seniority-based layoffs push effective teachers out of the classroom, 6 states – including Pennsylvania – still require blind seniority to be the sole factor that determines layoffs.

The adverse impacts of LIFO make reforming this policy common sense. Basing dismissals instead on strong evaluations allows performance – not the number of years served – to determine which teachers should remain in the classroom. A 20-year veteran teacher should and must be kept in a school if he or she is effective, just as a fifth-year teacher should be retained if he or she is effective. How well a teacher is helping students learn must be the guiding principle in the unfortunate event of layoffs.

It is also important to note that the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act is a small step toward giving traditional school districts the same flexibility that charter schools already have. Unless a charter school is unionized, a charter school is not subject to the same labor restrictions as a school district. A charter school is free to furlough staff for economic reasons, and can base its furlough decisions on performance, rather than seniority. By giving school districts the ability to furlough for economic reasons, and to begin such furloughs by suspending the lowest-performing staff, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act helps give school districts this important management tool that charters already enjoy.

Last session, some opponents of the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act attempted to justify the Governor’s veto of House Bill 805 by spreading inaccurate information about the bill:

Myth 1:
“Special interests oppose the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act because they believe local districts should be able to furlough as they see fit.”

The Facts:
School districts should be able to furlough as they see fit, but currently, school districts cannot furlough teachers for economic reasons.

Currently, school districts which need to reduce staffing for financial reasons are forced to curtail or eliminate entire programs instead of making more limited furloughs to minimize any impact on students.

School districts support enactment of the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act because it will give districts the very flexibility the special interests claim they should have.

Under current law, the only basis on which a school district can make furlough decisions is seniority, which unfairly penalizes newer teachers.

By contrast, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would allow a school district to furlough poorly performing teachers first, before having to use seniority as a tie-breaker in making furlough decisions.

If the goal of the Commonwealth is to recruit and keep the highest quality teachers in our classrooms, this bill would be a step toward achieving that goal.

Why would a young person want to begin a career as a teacher, knowing that he or she will be the first staff member subject to furlough, regardless of performance?

Myth 2:
“Special interests oppose the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act because it would base furlough decisions on ‘high stakes’ testing.”

The Facts:
Pennsylvania’s current teacher evaluation system considers a balanced array of multiple measures of teacher performance, including classroom observation, student performance and student growth, as well as local measures designed by individual school districts.
  • In the evaluation matrix, the student testing portion of the overall evaluation comprises only a small fraction the building-level score (which itself is only 15 percent of the overall score) and a small fraction of the teacher-specific component (which again is only 15 percent of the overall score).
  • The evaluation system still relies primarily on classroom observation, which comprises 50 percent of the overall score. If a teacher scores high on all other evaluation factors, including observation (which equals 50 percent of the total), there is no way the teacher could be rated below proficient due to test scores alone.

    Please join me in protecting excellent teachers by cosponsoring this measure.

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Introduced as HB1495