Outlook's Third Annual Spring Cleaning List

Let's get rid of seniority-based firing in schools

Each spring, school administrators look toward the new school year with an eye on their staffing requirements. However, unlike spring gardeners — and pretty much any private-sector manager — school administrators cannot prune back what is unproductive to ensure that there's room for the promising.

Instead, when they must cut people, they have to use what's known as LIFO — the "last in, first out" system of seniority-based firing. It dictates that even if a teacher is lousy and everyone knows he or she is lousy, he or she can stay while better teachers with less time in the system must go.

I was a terrible teacher my first year in a classroom, but I learned as I went along. So I know that teachers need time to hone their craft, they need ongoing professional development, and they need to be treated as professionals. But inevitably, there are a few teachers who just don't get any better. They continue to do damage to kids year in and year out. It's outrageous that children suffer because a badly negotiated contract stipulates that teachers with the least seniority are the first to go when budgets are cut.

I'm not advocating an end to collective bargaining or unions, but we do need to make sure that the top priority for schools is educating children, not protecting a few adults who aren't up to that important, difficult job. Let's not automatically toss out the newest teachers. Let's toss out seniority-based firing.

Geoffrey Canada is the president of the Harlem Children's Zone.

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