Ending teacher seniority

Patrick Gibbons

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to discuss two dozen education-reform proposals at a meeting of the Legislative Committee on Education. One in particular dealt with the issue of teacher seniority. I suggested prohibiting the use of teacher seniority in determining teacher termination, job transfers and promotions – meaning: no special preferences given to teachers just because they’ve taught for more years than other teachers.

Nevada, like so many other states, practices “last hired, first fired,” which protects senior teachers over younger, less experienced and cheaper teachers. It is true that teachers continue to improve their skills over the first three to five years, but seniority also protects some older, more expensive but bad teachers from being fired.

Worse still, senior teachers are more likely to teach in higher-income schools. This means lower-income kids are more likely to be exposed to inexperienced teachers. Ironically, because of this system, low-income kids not only have the least experienced teachers, but they end up subsidizing the costs of higher-priced teachers at the schools for the wealthier kids (individual schools are “charged” for the average salary rather than the actual salary). Progressive public education, indeed.

Arizona banned the use of seniority in determining teacher terminations this month. But Nevada’s Legislative Committee on Education didn’t want to discuss the issue further. Meanwhile, civil rights groups in California successfully litigated a case where the judge ruled that firing teachers based on seniority violated low-income children’s right to a public education.

Seniority rules in California naturally resulted in younger teachers being fired instead of the older teachers. Consistent with the data from around the country, the younger teachers were far more likely to teach at the low-income schools. In L.A., a third of the teachers at the low-income schools had been dismissed. At the wealthier schools? Hardly a dent.

Maybe the Nevada ACLU will be brave enough to bring a suit against their friends in the Nevada Department of Education?

We shouldn’t wait around. If the Nevada Legislature truly cares about improving the quality of education – especially for low-income kids – it will eliminate the concept of teacher seniority.