Louisiana Research: When Tenure Ends, Teachers Leave.
In 2012, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 1, commonly known as the “teacher tenure law.” Moreover, the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) has translated Act 1 into an evaluation system whereby 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is connected to “student learning”– the bottom line of which is student test score outcomes.
Act 1 began in 2012 as House Bill 974. The reason it is called Act 1 is that the 2012 Louisiana legislature rammed it though as the first act, with calculated speed, amid an atmosphere dripping with then-Governor Bobby Jindal’s business-and-industry-backed intention to bring “accountability” in the evaluating of the state’s teachers.
Once 2012 hit, Louisiana teachers began considering how and when to leave the profession. And each year beginning with 2012, Louisiana’s teacher workforce has experienced a noticeable exit of many experienced, seasoned teachers who otherwise would not have likely chosen to leave the profession so soon.
Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that a February 22, 2017, study by the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans has found that based on teacher data from 2005 to 2012, Louisiana teachers did indeed begin leaving at a more notable rate, with those retirement-eligible comprising the greatest number of exiters.
Having 25+ years of employment, this group also happened to be the most experienced.
Moreover, it should come as no surprise that schools graded “F” lost the highest number of teachers in the post-Act-1 exit.
And the zinger, to quote from the study:
Though we cannot address the effects of this policy change on its main target, teacher quality, these effects on turnover rates are important in themselves. [Emphasis added.]
In short, the foolish assault on teachers and the asinine practice of trying to measure their worth in the lives of their students, schools, and communities via idolized test score gains has produced the critical side effect of crippling the teacher work force– with a built-in incentive for districts to hire cheaper, less experienced replacements– if they can continue to find them.
From the study discussion:
Our estimates suggest that the tenure reform is responsible for the exit of 1,500 to 1,700 teachers in the first two years after the removal of tenure protections, a loss of 3.0 to 3.5% of Louisiana’s teacher workforce. Future research is needed to estimate the long-term effects on teacher vacancies, the teaching profession, and the intended goal of school improvement through teacher quality.
These findings have a variety of fiscal and educational implications. The tenure reform created substantial churn in the Louisiana teacher workforce. Any sudden increase in teacher exit rates places a burden on school districts to fill vacancies with qualified replacements. Ideally, tenure reform would trigger the exit of less effective teachers, but that still leaves the challenge of replacement. States considering similar reforms should prepare to fill more vacant positions than usual in the initial years of implementation. Moreover, studies suggest that teacher turnover is detrimental to school culture and student performance. States should consider how reform-induced churn may impact schools and students, especially in low-performing schools where turnover effects are greatest.
States considering tenure reform should also consider the fiscal costs. Studies suggest that it costs between $4,000-18,000 to recruit, hire, and prepare a new teacher, depending on the context. Reform-induced exits may cause substantial short-term costs to hire replacement teachers. In addition, we find that teachers who can immediately access full pension payments are more likely to exit than teachers who cannot. While retirement decisions are driven largely by the financial incentives of the retirement system and broader economic forces such as the unemployment rate, it appears the tenure policy had an additional and separate effect. State pension systems must be able to absorb a sudden increase in retirements. However, at the school district level, increased retirements could reduce pressure on school budgets if replacement teachers are less experienced and, therefore, lower paid. …
Tenure clearly matters to teachers, and research clearly shows that teachers are important to students.
Though the researchers conclude that “tenure clearly matters to teachers,” a statement at the outset of the study makes it seem as though teachers who want to escape the misuse of student test scores as a threat to job security could somehow be placated by other means:
Our results support prior findings that teachers value the job security that tenure provides. In places where the supply of teachers is already limited, districts may need to provide higher teacher salaries or improve working conditions to make up for the diminished job security that accompanies tenure reform.
Louisiana is in a budget crisis, largely created by the choices of the same governor who pushed Act 1– Bobby Jindal. Higher teacher salaries are not a reality for many districts. Retaining teaching positions is more the order of the day. As for improved working conditions– in many cases, such improvements (e.g., smaller class sizes, adequate time for planning and collaboration, sufficient classroom materials and space) also require the funding to back them.
Still, for many teachers, the answer is simple:
Stop trying to grade us, our schools, and our districts using test scores. Such practices might be popular, but they are not nor never have been valid. I have yet to encounter a standardized testing company that advertises its student tests as appropriate for grading teachers and institutions. There’s a reason for that: The testing companies know full well that such faulty guarantees would make them liable for a practice that has never been anything other than doomed.
If Louisiana wants to curtail a serious teacher shortage in upcoming years, it must stop this twisted teacher grading scheme.