Poll Shows Minnesota Overwhelmingly Favors Teacher Performance

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A recent poll shows that 68% of residents in Minnesota feel that a teacher’s performance, rather than their seniority, should be the main factor when determining layoffs.

The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll took place through phone interviews of 625 residents of the state between March 16 and March 18.  The results showed that the majority of Minnesota residents stand in support of performance over seniority and that the sentiment was found across party lines, across the state, and within all age groups.

“Experience does come with teaching for a number of years, but I don’t think it should be the only factor in teachers being laid off,” said Janelle Kanz, 77, a retired educator and Winona resident. “Seniority is for the advantage of the teacher. Performance is for the advantage of the student.”

As one of the most controversial issues this year, the poll reveals that Minnesota is one of less than 12 states in the nation that offers job security for teachers based on date of hire.  However, recently approved GOP-legislation would require school districts to revisit these layoff procedures.

According to an analysis recently performed by the Minnesota Department of Education, around 2,200 teachers in the state were laid off as a result of the “last in, first out” provision in state law between 2008 and 2013.

“None of us want to see teachers laid off but the reality is that … it’s something that happens enough that you want to make sure when it does happen, we’re keeping the absolute best teachers we can in the classroom,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

The poll discovered that 66% of Democrats supported the idea of laying off teachers based on performance, which is only 10 percentage points less than Republicans.

Meanwhile, 73% of women supported performance-based layoffs, 10 percentage points higher than men.

In addition, 51% of state residents were found to believe that more experienced teachers were generally better than younger teachers, although about 25% said experience does not matter much, and 17% were unsure.

John Pierson, 66, of Champlin, is one of those who are unsure, although he did say that keeping experienced teachers has its benefits:

“Young teachers maybe have more enthusiasm, but experience means so much in doing a job like that,” said Pierson, a former mechanic and Teamster member. “Performance is nice, but I wouldn’t think seniority would be built up if their performance were so poor.”

Senate Education Committee Chair Chuck Wiger said the public needs to become aware of a 2011 teacher evaluation law that he said aims to increase the quality of teachers and allow for more collaboration between colleagues, writes Ricardo Lopez for The Star Tribune.

“The public may not realize that, and they need to,” Wiger said. “And they need to be more concerned about the alarming number of teachers leaving the profession or students that are no longer applying to colleges of education and deciding on another career.”

Education Minnesota, the 70,000-member teachers union in the state, believes the state should not make changes to its current system, arguing that basing layoffs on seniority offers a way to keep experienced teachers in the classroom and gives a stable framework for administrators.

In addition, union representatives argue that the newly implemented teacher evaluation requirements should not be used to determine layoffs because they have not had the chance to be tested yet.  Education Minnesota president Denise Specht added that the new standards will help to improve the quality of teachers in the state.

“The law encourages collaboration,” Specht said. “It provides support so that every teacher can improve every single year, and it also puts people on a clear path out of the classroom if they’re struggling, if they can’t improve or if they won’t improve. … Nobody has ever claimed that teacher layoffs, however you want to define them, will significantly improve teaching and learning.”