District Doesn't Take Evaluations Seriously, Now Laying Off its Best Teachers

Union contract mandates teacher layoffs based strictly on seniority; may violate state law

A 28 percent enrollment decline in the Hazel Park school district over just five years is among the factors that led Hazel Park High Principal Don Vogt to pink slip 15 schoolteachers. The principal claims many of those are the newest teachers and among the school’s best educators.

Vogt's comments were included in a Bridge Magazine article last week that highlighted how the district had turned itself around academically. Recent projections of a rapidly growing deficit, though, triggered layoffs and now threaten to wipe out the high school's new academic success.

But if Hazel Park does have to lay off its best teachers, it's due to flawed teacher rating and layoff policies, according to Audrey Spalding, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The Bridge article states the union contract mandates that seniority play a role in which teachers get laid off. Yet this appears to violate a policy the school board implemented in March to make individual performance a majority factor in layoff decisions. The district made the change because a 2011 state law prohibits making seniority the sole criteria for layoffs.

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Even without the discriminatory layoff policy, Hazel Park’s teacher evaluations over the past few years make it extremely difficult to determine who are its best educators.

For example, Hazel Park gave all 184 teachers in its high school, junior high, three elementary schools and a vocational school the highest rating of “highly effective” in 2011-12. This was the same year the Michigan Department of Education put the school district on notice for poor academics, a warning that could lead to a state takeover.

Over the next two years Hazel Park’s teacher evaluations didn't do any better at separating the good from the mediocre.

In 2012-13, two teachers were rated “highly effective”, 261 as “effective,” six as “minimally effective” and 1 as “ineffective.” In 2013-14, the number of “effectives” had fallen to 248, with four “minimally effective” and five rated as “ineffective.”

In the past two evaluations in which full academic years were used, the district has rated 96 percent of its teachers as “effective." The previous year, all teachers were “highly effective.”

Vogt and Hazel Park Interim Superintendent Rick Repicky didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

“If what the principal said is true, Hazel Park has laid off some of its best teachers in order to keep lower performing teachers with more seniority," Spalding said in a text. "Michigan law was changed in 2011 to give district administrators the ability to make hiring and firing decisions based on performance. If district officials have adopted policies and conducted teacher evaluations in a way that they have to lay off their youngest and best teachers, they have only themselves to blame.”

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See also:

Failing School Ranks Every Teacher and Principal 'Highly Effective'

Teacher Performance to Determine Layoffs

School District May Violate State Law By Removing Teachers Based Strictly On Seniority