California Must Do More than Link Teacher Performance and Test Scores

In Governor Schwarzenegger’s latest round of bill signing, he approved legislation that would allow California to compete for the $4.5 billion in federal “Race to the Top” education grants. As the AP reports:

California is removing a legal ban on using the results of student achievement tests to evaluate teachers, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill lifts a barrier that prevented California from applying for $4.5 billion under the federal Race to the Top program. Schwarzenegger says more legislation is needed beyond the bill he signed Sunday. He has called lawmakers back into special session this fall.

Unfortunately, linking test scores and teacher performance will make little difference until California permits seniority-neutral personnel practices for teacher layoffs.

As I wrote in this recent column:

The governor shouldn’t stop at tying test scores to teachers. Layoffs by seniority — last hired, first fired — have been part of the California Education Code for over three decades. Schwarzenegger should introduce legislation to adopt a seniority-neutral layoff policy that allows districts to layoff personnel based on effectiveness rather than years of service.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa experienced the negative consequences of the seniority laws first-hand. Villaraigosa took over 10 low-performing schools under a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District. But when layoffs and cutbacks had to be discussed, the mayor learned that all of his schools could be gutted: all of the principals and assistant principals and about 200 teachers would have to be replaced by more “senior” teachers from other schools that were not part of the reform efforts. The education establishment should realize it can’t afford to lose good teachers simply because they haven’t been on the job as long as less effective peers.