I've watched Gov. Mark Dayton's intense lobbying campaign to drum up support for a state-of-the-art Vikings stadium and admired his commitment. Like many Vikings fans, I hope the governor ultimately succeeds in his campaign to build a new home for my old team. But I also hope the governor would turn some of his attention to something far more important than football: our public schools and a failed policy that's hurting our kids.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Vikings fans have the governor's backing in the push for a new stadium. But Minnesota public school children also need Gov. Dayton to act as their champion in the fight for a common-sense law that will improve education across the state.
Minnesota is one of 11 states that still conduct teacher layoffs without any regard to the quality of a teacher's work. The House and Senate have passed legislation that would end this ridiculous practice. Gov. Dayton has indicated he won't sign the measure, but I urge him to put partisan politics aside and reconsider. This legislation is, without a doubt, good for kids.
Today, the only factor that goes into teacher layoff decisions in most districts in Minnesota is how long a teacher has been on the job. And while experience matters, it clearly shouldn't trump everything else. By that absurd standard, I should probably still be the starting quarterback for the Vikings. For the record, I recently turned 72.
Sticking with this antiquated approach just won't lead
to a winning game. It would be like having to fire your rookie of the
year because some arbitrary rule says he hasn't been there long enough
to earn a place on the team. Could you really see that happening in the
NFL? No way, and it shouldn't happen in our schools either.
Report after report warns us that American kids are losing ground against their international peers. The problem is particularly dire when it comes to math. We need to rethink our approach to education, because it matters for the future of our society more than almost anything else.
I'm sure you're wondering, "Why does an ex-jock like Fran Tarkenton care so much about education?" In my career since leaving the NFL, I've worked to champion America's small businesses and entrepreneurs. From my experience working with thousands of fellow entrepreneurs, I've seen the difference education makes. It's so important that our economy has a skilled, creative work force to hire from and to start new businesses. Educating our children is the foundation of America, and we've got to do a better job of it.
But in Minnesota, it's not just a competitiveness issue. The achievement gap between groups of children, such as minorities and their white peers, is enormous; this is a great injustice we all know we have to address.
Which is why, with all of these challenges, the current policy is so absurd. We want our kids to have great teachers. It's pretty simple. And if we want our kids - and all kids - to do well in school, we have to make sure they have the best teachers in front of them every day.
But seniority-based layoffs do the opposite. This outdated bureaucratic policy pushes some of our best teachers out the door and out of the profession altogether. One recent study found very little overlap between teachers who would be laid off under seniority-based rules, like Minnesota's, and those who would be let go if teacher effectiveness were the determining factor. This means that many of the teachers we're laying off are teachers we actually want to keep.
Now, I've heard from folks defending the status quo that this is anti-teacher. But it's not anti-teacher to call for an end to bureaucratic policies that don't value the quality of a teacher's work or the needs of our students. And it's not anti-teacher to want all kids to have access to great schools staffed with great educators. It's not anti-teacher to condemn an insane policy that says the only thing that matters when it comes to a teacher keeping a job is how long they've been teaching.
I want to keep effective teachers in the classroom, not because I'm anti-teacher, but because of my deep respect for the profession: they have one of the most important jobs in the world, and I want the very best people taking on that challenge. And those who excel should be rewarded, not forced out by irrational rules.
I'm not anti-teacher, and neither are the vast majority of Minnesotans who support this change. In fact, a recent poll found that more than 90 percent of voters surveyed believe teacher effectiveness should be used when schools are forced to consider layoffs. I hope, in the end, the governor listens to Minnesotans and makes the right decision for the sake of their kids and their kids' futures.
Gov. Dayton, you should sign this bill.