It's not just New York. Olympia yesterday heard from proponents and opponents of the Great Schools bill (.pdf), which wants the state of Washington to scrap teacher seniority rules.

Currently, if school districts in Washington face budget cuts and have to eliminate teachers, a teacher's seniority—that is, how long they have served in the district—protects them from getting laid off regardless of their merit. The youngest and newest teachers get pink slips first.

But a group of state lawmakers want to overturn that law. Under HB1069, school administrators will have to take into account teacher performance and not just seniority before asking them to leave. Those who score the lowest points on two of their recent evaluations would be the first to go.

Specifically, the bill says,

Since the loss of teachers through layoffs already impacts student learning, there is an urgent need to conduct layoffs in a way that retains the most effective teachers

Testifying before the House Committee on Education, State Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37), the primary sponsor of the bill, described it as a tool to close the achievement gap. "All I can say is it's good for students," said Kirby Green, a fourth-grade teacher at Seattle's Hawthorne Elementary School who belongs to Teachers United, which supports the bill. "We have young committed teachers at schools but they are all vulnerable to reductions in force (RIFs). When RIFs happen, especially based on seniority, students suffer the most."

Teacher unions, along with the state school board and principals associations vociferously protested the bill, arguing that it would only complicate matters, especially since some districts were in the middle of transitioning to a state-mandated four-tier evaluation system which would rate teachers as unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, or innovative instead of just satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Others said that the bill, as proposed, was immature and wouldn't be able to withstand legal challenges.

Jonathan Knapp, Vice President of the Seattle teachers union, said that while the new evaluation system gives struggling teachers a timeline to improve, the proposed bill would abruptly do away with any kind of due process. "It's too murky," Knapp said. "it changes the rules of the game."

But shouldn't new teachers get a chance to keep their jobs if they are really good at it? "Any kind of large analysis shows that new teachers, with exceptions, are nowhere near effective as old teachers," Knapp said. "Teaching is one of the hardest things to do. Nobody comes out of college and sets the world on fire."

As for the argument that the bill would close the achievement gap, Knapp doesn't buy that either. It's an ideological position," he said. "It makes you wonder if they don't have some other motive."