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Great Wyoming Teachers and Attrition

The purpose of Wyoming’s K-12 education system, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court, is to provide education that is “the best we can do”[1] as well as “unsurpassed” and “visionary”[2] A growing body of evidence shows that those characteristics are achieved, primarily, by having great teachers.

Here are three references found in just a few minutes of browsing on the web:

  • “There are huge variations in teacher effectiveness. Some teachers are really good at getting their students to learn, and others are not.” “Teacher quality matters so much that a student is likely better off in a bad school with a good teacher than in a good school with a bad teacher.”[3]
  • “Research shows that effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement. Although curricula, reduced class size, district funding, family and community involvement all contribute to school improvement and student achievement, the most influential factor is the teacher.”[4]
  • “Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.” “Nonschool factors do influence student achievement, but they are largely outside a school’s control.” “Effective teachers are best identified by their performance, not by their background or experience.” “Effective teachers tend to stay effective even when they change schools.”[5]

Also, ask any teacher privately who his/her school’s good/weak teachers are and you will get an earful.

Wyoming has attracted many teachers over the last 15 years to staff its schools and has paid them well. Some of them are great, effective teachers but, naturally, not all of them are.

What makes teachers great – or not - is a question beyond the scope of this article. The important things are to identify, hire and retain great teachers while having fewer mediocre and poor ones. These are what’s needed in order to achieve the “best”, “unsurpassed” and “visionary” system we are supposed to have. Looming education funding cuts will require staff reductions, but they need not affect education quality if they are accomplished through carefully aimed layoffs. In fact, overall quality may actually improve.

So why do Wyoming school superintendents and legislators, one after another, vow to achieve staff reductions via attrition rather than layoffs? Here are four recent newspaper quotes:

  • “[Natrona School District] Superintendent…, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday, has said the district’s No. 1 priority is to avoid layoffs.”[6]
  • “… LCSD1’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said, “Not that we want to lose our veterans, but with the financial crisis we’re facing, if we can have somebody retire and not replace them, then we save their full salary and benefits.” He added that veteran teacher replacements may be newer teachers who can be paid less.”[7]
  • “When asked if those two factors — cuts and dropping enrollment — could mean layoffs in the near future, [Natrona County School District executive director of human resources] said the district remains focused on avoiding that…”[8]
  • “..[Laramie County School District #1 Superintendent of Schools] said he does not expect the district will have to undertake a reduction in force. The cuts likely can be covered through people leaving their jobs naturally, he said.”[9]

These statements are not consistent with increasing education performance. Neither are they consistent with rationally reducing costs in the face of funding difficulties. They seem oriented toward some other agenda entirely.

Attrition, or “natural turnover” is a poor way for staff adjustments to occur. It incorrectly presumes everyone is pulling their weight equally well and one teacher is as good as another. It also allows managers to duck hard work they are expected to do, which is separating the effective performers from the not-so-effective. But it is that hard work which is so badly needed when times get tight. Look at this article from April 2016: “GILLETTE (AP) — About 465 coal mine workers are being laid off from the two largest mines in northeast Wyoming as declining prices and demand for coal force mining companies to scale back their operations.”[10] Hard work indeed, but there are times it must be done.

The sole purpose of Wyoming K-12 education is to educate our children. It is not to provide jobs or stimulate economies. As a local school superintendent recently said, “We’re all in it for the kids…”[11] There can be no other agenda.

 


[1] Campbell I, 1995 WY 184, 907 P.2d 1238

[2] Campbell II, 2001 WY 19, 19 P.3d 518

[3] Testing Teachers, Emily Hanford. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/testing_teachers/why.html

[4] Effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement. Educational Research Newsletter. http://www.ernweb.com/educational-research-articles/effective-teachers-are-the-most-important-factor-contributing-to-student-achievement/

[5] Rand Education. Teachers Matter. http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html

[6] Casper Star-Tribune March 6, 2017 http://trib.com/news/local/education/school-official-confident-district-can-handle-cuts-in-education-funding/article_e0b843b7-c2da-5472-9939-a13965d64948.html

[7] Wyoming Tribune Eagle February 22, 2017. http://www.wyomingnews.com/news/local_news/lcsd-offers-early-retirement-incentives-to-reduce-costs/article_a9b2b67c-f8cb-11e6-86eb-7fa39c8fca02.html.

[8] Casper Star-Tribune February 26, 2017. Officials say Grant transition going smoothly, but district awaits cuts, enrollment totals

[9] Wyoming Tribune Eagle March 12, 2017. http://www.wyomingnews.com/news/local_news/cheyenne-schools-set-to-lose-million-in-next-school-year/article_ff1ea968-06ef-11e7-b062-af64c0ee7c61.html

[10] The Sheridan Press April 1, 2016. http://thesheridanpress.com/layoffs-north-antelope-rochelle-black-thunder-mines-devastating/

[11] Wyoming Tribune Eagle December 20, 2016. http://www.wyomingnews.com/news/local_news/wyo-joint-education-committee-supports-new-bill-for-funding-deficit/article_cb132856-c680-11e6-8bf0-d784dc2b8de1.html

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