New information – not previously available to the public – strongly confirms what many already suspected: because teacher seniority rules assignments in Jefferson County, few experienced teachers are found in the school district’s many low-performing schools.
“Analysis of Collective Bargaining Agreements in Kentucky Districts”, a new report from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA), a division of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, provides the data for the table below. This table shows that middle schools in Jefferson County that experience high demand for teacher in-transfers have much higher test scores (pink shaded area) and far more experienced teaching staff (blue shaded area).
The experience difference is dramatic. In schools where teachers want to go, only around one in ten teachers are low-experienced – having three or fewer years of experience. In sharp contrast, in the schools not many teachers want to go to, nearly half of the entire staff is low experience.
The impact on student performance is obvious. In the schools where teachers want to go, the student proficiency rate averaged across math and reading runs an astonishing 40 points higher than the average for the schools where teachers are much less interested in working (72 percent proficiency versus only 32 percent).
This is what happens when union seniority rules trump the needs of children.
What is worse, Jefferson County has no plan to fix this mess. The OEA’s report also says:
“The draft version of the 2011 Comprehensive District Improvement Plan does not include any policies or programs related to teacher distribution and transfer provisions.”
The OEA defines a high demand middle school in Jefferson County as one that averaged 28 or more requests from teachers to transfer to that school, while a low demand school had less than 10 transfer requests. There were five high demand middle schools and seven schools had low demand for transfers.
The popularity of the high demand schools versus the low demand schools is enormous. An average of 42 teachers requested a transfer to each of the high demand middle schools, while only five teachers on average wanted into the low demand schools.
Student performance in the two types of schools is also dramatically different. Low demand schools had combined reading and mathematics proficiency rates on the Kentucky Core Content Tests somewhere between 25 to 42 percent. In the high demand schools, the proficiency rates ran from 63 to 85 percent. The highest proficiency rate in a low demand school was thus over 20 percentage points lower than the lowest performing high demand school. Averaged across all the schools of each type, the combined student proficiency rates in the high demand schools was an astonishing 40 points higher than the average performance in the low demand schools.
The strong bias in requests for transfer, which are determined mostly by seniority in Jefferson County, creates huge imbalances in teacher experience in the two school types. Little more than one in twenty teachers in the low demand middle schools has taught for more than 20 years, while nearly a quarter of all teachers in the high demand schools have at least 20 years of experience.
It is worth noting that the OEA report says Jefferson County is the only school district left in Kentucky that still allows teacher seniority to overrule the best interests of student and school needs. All other contracts in the state have been changed during the past decade and all now permit much more rational approaches to staffing schools. Congratulations to the teachers and school staff in those more forward-looking districts.
It looks like the school district’s outgoing superintendent, Dr. Sheldon Berman, was too busy burning up diesel in a failed busing plan to take the time to do things that will really make a difference for kids in Louisville. That’s really sad.
Hopefully, while the Jefferson County Board of Education completes the process of dumping Berman and hiring a replacement, they will include discussions on fixing the enormous and festering problem of teacher assignments in their school district. This obvious now made much more so by the new data from the OEA. It’s a problem that should be a major consideration as the board deliberates who to hire as the new superintendent.