Rhode Island Targets Teacher Assignments

Thursday, December 3, 2009
The latest edition of the National Council of Teacher Quality's newsletter highlights the efforts of Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to eliminate the practice of transferring teachers based on seniority. Instead, openings should be filled "based on a set of performance criteria and on student need," according to a memo sent by Gist to the state's school superintendents.

Generally, given the evidence that veteran teachers tend to flee so-called hard-to-staff schools and leave those schools populated by less experienced peers, I am generally agreeable to such policies that promise to lessen such inequitable teacher distribution. I say that with two caveats. First, policymakers and researchers should work to ensure that there are no unintended consequences as a result of such a policy. For instance, might this policy result in some veteran teachers leaving a needy district, leaving the state, or taking an early retirement rather than continue to teach in a location that they no longer want to? Second, the state of Rhode Island would do well to address teacher working conditions which research shows have greater bearing on teachers' decisions to stay at or leave a given school more than other factors, such as pay.

The state's teacher unions -- the National Education Association Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFT) -- are not happy with Gist's approach and may take the issue to the courts, saying that Gist does not have the authority to direct such a change and that it limits collective bargaining rights. That all said, however, this aggressive leadership on the part of Commissioner Gist is why folks are beginning to mention the Ocean State as a serious Race to the Top contender.

See some past thoughts on this issue.