Outdated Seniority Rules Harm Pittsburgh Students

Yesterday, we reported that the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers is trying to lower evaluation standards for teachers it had previously helped craft.

Under Pittsburgh’s new system, which goes into effect next year, the district found about 15 percent of its teachers were rated “needs improvement” or “failing.” About 85 percent are doing well in the classroom.

However, Pennsylvania law isn’t allowing Pittsburgh to act on what they know about effective teachers. After Pittsburgh was forced to furlough teachers according to seniority, like school districts across the commonwealth, it discovered 16 teachers rated “distinguished”—the top rating—were let go. Twelve of those top teachers eventually returned; four did not.

At the same time, 17 teachers rated “failing” were also furloughed, but seniority rules meant 11 of them got to keep their jobs, nudging out the district’s sorely needed “distinguished” teachers.

Seniority rules in the Public School Code mean teachers get placed and furloughed simply according to how long they’ve been in the system, not how well they teach students.

Pittsburgh’s evaluation system, in short, is highlighting just how outdated Pennsylvania’s tenure system is—and how it’s hurting both students and good teachers. It’s a lesson worth learning as state lawmakers attempt to reform seniority so we can keep the best teachers in our classrooms.