Keeping good teachers while losing the bad

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Sunday, March 6, 2011; 7:56 PM

The March 4 editorial "Last in, best out?" was misleading and a disservice to readers, as well as to educators whose years of hard work have shown a commitment to our public schools.

There are already procedures in place to terminate unqualified or incompetent teachers, and administrators shouldn't wait for a budget crisis to remove them. The dismissal process must be fair to teachers, but it should not protect those who don't belong in a classroom.

If the process is cumbersome, I hope that National Education Association affiliates will work with school officials to make it more efficient, as some are already doing in New Jersey, Illinois and Clark County, Nev.

Layoffs caused by budget cuts are about a different issue: money. We might save a few dollars in the short run by axing experienced teachers and retaining newcomers who earn less, but in the long run our children would pay a steep price. High teacher turnover is already a problem in many schools, especially those that serve the poorest students, and targeting experienced teachers would make it worse.

How many people who dismiss the value of experience would send their own children to a school staffed entirely by first-year teachers?

If we want to attract smart young people into the teaching profession, we must treat teachers with respect, not punish them for their experience and years of service.

Dennis Van Roekel, Washington

The writer is president of the National Education Association.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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