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Doug Mann LPN, LNC

Re: Sharon Henry-Blythes' comments

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How excessive layoffs drive up districtwide teacher turnover; why the teacher assignment system should be modified to more evenly distribute inexperienced teachers

The Board has been jacking up the teacher turnover rates
districtwide by sending layoff notices to teachers in the
spring who are obviously going to be recalled or replace
before school starts in the fall. Here's the explanation
for how that works:

A lay off notice motivates some teachers to seek alternative
employment who might not otherwise seek alternative
employment, especially those who are not certain they
will get called back. And a layoff notice makes a teacher
eligible to accept a job with another school district. The
MN teacher tenure act prohibits job hopping from one district
to another unless a teacher gives notice of their intention
to resign their position by April 1.

I also advocate a modification of the teacher assignment
system so that inexperienced teachers are more evenly
distributed to all of the districts schools. What I have
in mind is setting aside a certain proportion of teaching
jobs in schools where inexperienced teachers are
under-represented. These might be designated as
"teacher in training" positions. Incentives should be
offered to higher seniority teachers to vacate positions
on at least a temporary basis to make room for the "teachers
in training," and to phase in the teacher in training positions
over a period of 2 to 3 years in order to minimize the
number of teachers who would be forced to bid into a
different school. I am not in favor of disturbing seniority
and tenure rights beyond what is required to set aside
the "teacher in training" positions.

The current teacher assignment system helps to keep
staffing very stable in some of the district's schools,
mainly those schools serving neighborhoods where
average household income is very high and most of the
neighborhood's inhabitants are white. At the time of the
2004 teacher realignment, a parent told me that a
school that primarily serves kids living in Kenwood
had no turnover in its teacher staff in at least a few
years, and the least senior teacher in the program
had been employed with the district for 8 years.

On the other hand, a teacher at Broadway Elementary school,
one of the schools on the North side, reported that a majority of
teachers were on probationary status, i.e., had been hired within
the past 3 years, and that in recent years, as much as 80 to 90
per cent of the staff had turned over within a 3 year period (in the
late 1990s). This was a school where about 90% of the students
were African American, and about 90% were eligible for free or
reduced priced lunches. Broadway was among the schools
with the worst results on standardized tests, about 10% of the
students were on track to pass the Minnesota Basic Standards
Tests in the 8th grade in the late 1990s. 

North Star Elementary school, a school on the Northside with
a demographic profile very similar to that of Broadway school
was doing better than the district average on standardized tests.
The district leadership was giving that school a lot of support,
teacher turnover was fairly low. As I recall, the board received
a verbal report from North Star school about midway through
Carol Johnson's tenure which noted that most of the teaching
staff was not on the upper end of the district wide seniority list,
but the majority of teachers had been with the program for
at least a few years.

In my opinion, differences in academic
performance between students in Broadway Elementary
School and North Star Elementary School had little
or nothing to do with differences in the academic potential
of the students. There wasn't much difference between
students in the two schools in terms of background
characteristics and the culture of the community in which
they lived. Better results were obtained from North Star
Elementary students because North Star had a better
program, more effective instruction.

In my opinion, the academic potential of students from
the North side is not that much different from students
from SW Minneapolis. I recognize that a part of the
academic achievement gap may be related to what
is happening to students outside of school. However,
I am certain that the quality of instruction provided in
the schools makes a huge difference.

The current Desegregation Rule does not require the schools
to get equal outcomes between white and nonwhite students,
but it does stipulate that "racially identifiable" schools
(where students of color are over-represented) shall
be comparable to schools that are not racially identifiable
in terms of educational inputs. And teacher experience
and qualifications are recognized as being critical
educational inputs.

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