Overturning Seniority Would Hurt Students Teacher-Effectiveness Measures Are Not Yet Adequate to Guide Layoffs in Pittsburgh

By Hileman, William | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Overturning Seniority Would Hurt Students Teacher-Effectiveness Measures Are Not Yet Adequate to Guide Layoffs in Pittsburgh


Hileman, William, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The move to dismantle seniority rights in teacher union contracts is gaining momentum across the country. Now, this anti-union strategy has shown up in Pittsburgh. The claim that seniority keeps bad teachers in the classroom and harms children is absolutely false. The two objectives of this movement are to weaken unions and to pay teachers less.

In the face of huge budget shortfalls, the Pittsburgh Public School district wants the power to lay off higher-paid, experienced teachers and to keep lower-paid inexperienced teachers. Who has the best interests of children at heart, the district's accountants or the teachers?

In April, the Pittsburgh school board publicly joined the anti- seniority movement when it voted 8-1 to direct Superintendent Linda Lane to begin discussions with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers about changing the basis of teacher layoffs from seniority to performance. Three of the busiest men in Pittsburgh also found the time to co-author an opinion piece that appeared in the Post- Gazette.

Foundation leaders Grant Oliphant (The Pittsburgh Foundation), Robert Vagt (The Heinz Endowments) and Gregg Behr (The Grable Foundation) in their April 30 Forum piece, "Protect Our Best Teachers," presented a flawed argument about the effects of the impending teacher layoffs on the quality of Pittsburgh's teacher corps. Their article demonstrated naivete about the accuracy of current measurements of teaching and learning as well as the history of seniority rights.

There is no organization that cares more about our city's students than the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, including the philanthropic organizations that are invested in the dream of a safe and productive life for every child. Student success and teacher success are intertwined. Experience matters. Teachers get better over time. Dismantling seniority will do nothing to help students achieve.

Seniority rights exist to protect against racial, gender and other biases in employment decisions. …

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