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Editorial: Too much emphasis put on seniority in teacher hiring

Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:34 PM

One of the critical elements of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform package is giving local school officials more flexibility.

That includes more flexibility to hire the best teacher for every teaching job.

As we all know from our own life experiences, that may or may not mean picking the most senior person who applies. Often the longest serving worker is the best candidate for a position, but the private sector figured out long ago that sometimes you need fresh approaches and new ideas to move an organization forward.

The recent audit of West Virginia schools noted that the teacher hiring process is one of the problems the state faces in trying to improve student performance. With all the rules coming down from the state, the process is "extremely restrictive and provides no incentives or creative options for districts to attract or retain high-quality teachers, especially in low-income areas of the state," the report said.

Part of the solution is giving a more reasonable weight to seniority.

Currently, county boards consider seniority and six other factors in reviewing candidates for openings. Theoretically, all of the factors (including credentials and training) should be weighed equally. But there's a catch. If school officials do not pick the most senior applicant, they have to provide a written explanation of why, if the senior candidate requests it.

Representatives of the state teachers' organizations argue that does not make seniority the deciding factor, but many would disagree. At minimum, that provision makes hiring the most senior person the "line of least resistance" and the course that involves the least "red tape."

In a huge bureaucracy with layers and layers of reviews and grievance procedures, such provisions make a big difference and become part of the culture. Who wants to fight the system?

Tomblin's proposal would remove that explanation requirement and weight seniority as just one of eight factors, and county boards could emphasize factors as they choose. That is how it should be.

The legislation also would include the recommendations of principals and faculty senates in the hiring process. That also makes a lot of sense.

"If they're going to work in your building, you ought to have a say as to whether they fit in that building," Pendleton County schools Superintendent Doug Lambert told The Associate Press recently.

West Virginia spends more than many states on its public education system, but student performance ranks near the bottom. It is time to make the changes that put our children first, and getting the best possible teacher in every position is an important step.

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