The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Teacher layoffs spark debate about education

Stehpanie Munves, a senior SMU student, spends her days as a student teacher in a math calss of fifth grade school children. Without a salary, Munves’ work is a labor of love. She teaches to help bring the students up to their grade level; Dallas Independent School District students average two years behind what is expected.

“You never know what a kid has going on at home, but all I can do is make their day the best it can possibly be for that little time I share with them,” said Munves.

While she is ready to dedicate herself, the profession is not necessarily ready to dedicate itself to her.  For her first few years on the job, Munves could be a target of layoffs. 

In many districts, including DISD, a system of seniority requires that the most recently hired teachers be the first to get laid-off, regardless of ability. 

The Texas State Teacher’s Association backs this system. “If layoffs are absolutely necessary, we believe job priority should go to the most experienced teachers,” TSTA Public Affairs Specialist Clay Robison said. 

“Teacher effectiveness increases with longevity, and teachers who have demonstrated loyalty to a district by staying on the job for several years also should be given some consideration for that loyalty.” 

The TSTA is an affiliate of the National Education Association, which is the largest democratically run, member controlled, professional organization in the world.  Its primary goal is the protection of teachers.

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is trying to prevent drastic layoffs.  In an April press release he said, “(it) not only creates hardships for educators who lose their jobs and the children they teach, but the damage ripples through the economy as a whole.” 

“I think there are a lot of really good people who get up every day and do really good work as teachers and administrators,” Lance Weaver, a professor at the University of Delaware and member of the Tower Hill school board in Wilmington, said.  “However the public education system is broken to a certain degree.  It is an outdated model that hasn’t been reshaped in the past hundred years.”

However, tax revenues are low due to the economic downturn and many states must make budget cuts.  Without enough funding, education reform is not financially feasible.

With the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a different system was created to determine the best and most effective teachers.  A teacher’s ability was determined by the success of his or her students on standardized tests.  If the students were underperforming, funding for the school was held back.

“I think No Child Left Behind is a double-edged sword,” said Tracy Schandler, a teacher of three years. 

“If you are at an inherently low performing school or at a school with mostly English as a second language students, their performance on standardized tests often have nothing to do with a teacher’s ability.”

Bilingual educator, Lorena Canellos, encounters these difficulties daily.  

“Tests have become a bit more ‘friendly,’ but yes the bilingual population always has a slight disadvantage because of vocabulary and their lack of experiences that many of the tests assume most children have prior knowledge about,” Canellos said in an e-mail interview.

President Obama made plans during his campaign to reform the No Child Left Behind Act.  A statement on his presidential campaign website reads, “teachers should not be force to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” 

Instead, President Obama’s Race to the Top fund has asked states to advance education reform through competition, which resulted Delaware and Tennessee were given six hundred million dollars in grants while 10 to 15 other states will share the remaining $3.4 billion of remaining grant money.

Now as president, the TSTA is more skeptical of his reforms.

“We dislike the No Child Left Behind Law because of its over reliance on high-stakes, standardized testing,” said Robison.  “But we also oppose the Obama administration’s proposal for reauthorizing it because it also would continue to rely on high-stakes testing and competitive grants.  States and school districts shouldn’t have to compete against each other for funding.”

Instead of waiting on grant money, California is taking action.  Legislation is currently being drafted to overhaul education after over 26,000 California teachers have been given pink slips this year. 

Schandler, one of those teachers, said, “It is hard because there are teachers with tenure who are complacent and don’t want to be there, and you really do want to be there but you are the one laid off.”

Locally, Plano Independent School District has created a new strategic plan for reform by 2012.  The plan is entitled “future focused” and looks to incorporate technology and in-depth curriculum choices for students.

But for now with such little funding, districts have no choice but to lay off teachers.  In an inherently low-performing school, the school will get even less funding based on low standardized test scores.  Without a way to determine the best educators, teachers without tenure are laid off.

This circular problem in education is a difficult one to fix.  In defense, Duncan said the economic stimulus package saved at least 320,000 education jobs last year.

However, in this global economy, education matters more then ever.  Students are not only competing for jobs regionally or nationally but now globally, said Weaver.  

“This generation is the fuel that is going to power our nation and economy and ensure the US remains a global leader,” Weaver said.

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