Washington, Illinois Shun Tenure, Push Merit-Based Decisions for Teachers at Layoff Time

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Analyst

As the debate over education rages on in Wisconsin, legislation in Illinois and Washington may provide a barometer by which the state can measure its reform.

The two states are the first in 2011 to introduce major reforms to teacher tenure programs in K-12 education. Both are currently in the process of pushing legislation that would tie administrative decisions – including layoffs – to teacher performance rather than experience. As a result, young teachers with proven records of success will no longer be the first ones on the chopping block when a district is forced to turn to layoffs.

In Washington, a bill that would boil layoff decisions down to a teacher’s classroom achievement passed through the state Senate with bipartisan support. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Rodney Tom – a democrat – will provide job security for young effective teachers while putting low-performing teachers across the state, regardless of experience, at risk if layoffs are deemed necessary in a district.

Opponents to Tom’s bill didn’t argue that the current system of layoffs wasn’t ineffective, but instead turned to the state’s overall educational funding. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown suggested that the bill glossed over the idea that these public schools need more funding more than anything else. While this idea holds some weight in a scenario where state governments are flush with cash, it also presents an inefficient model and suggests that Washington spends more in the midst of a financial crisis. Currently, the state expects to take on an additional $1.4 billion in debt over the upcoming budget period (2011-2013). [

Tenure was put under the microscope in Illinois as well, where proposed reforms would not only base layoffs on teacher performance, but tie an individual’s ability to gain tenure to teacher evaluations and reduce the amount of time it would take a school board to dismiss tenured teachers. This plan, which was announced Wednesday by the state’s Senate Democrats after months of working with school boards, teachers’ unions, and other invested parties, is slated for a vote as early as this week.

Both states are in the process of making significant changes to their public education systems that would usher in a new era of teacher accountability. These revised systems will ensure that young, effective teachers are rewarded with job security and kept in the system while ineffective educators at all stages are held accountable. These changes will instill a competitive effect in classrooms from Seattle to Springfield, establishing a culture where the best teachers, regardless of age, are the ones who are given the opportunity to educate.

It’s still early in the process, but Washington and Illinois have laid the foundation for keeping their best talent in the classroom, even during periods of economic crisis. It puts efficiency first in district schools, making sure that money isn’t wasted on ineffective teachers. As Wisconsin pushes forward with an aggressive slate of reform to improve education in the Badger State – much of it rooted in Florida’s successes over the past decade – legislators now may be able to look to a couple more states for inspiration when it comes to addressing the problems behind teacher tenure.