Souring on the "Dance of the Lemons"

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As this muggy summer drags on, districts are pressed to finalize teacher assignments for the coming school year. One complicating factor is finding placements for teachers transferring within the district, particularly from so-called "turnaround" schools. As a condition of receiving their share of the $20 million reserved in federal grants, turnarounds can't retain more than half of their original staff. But because of state tenure protections and contractual obligations, many of the teachers not rehired at turnaround schools are still entitled to a job within the district.

A recent analysis from the Boston Globe found that teachers who weren't rehired by turnaround schools are still employed by other low-performing Boston schools. Of the 186 teachers from turnaround schools asked to reapply for their jobs, 96 now work in different but similarly struggling schools. Some call this reshuffling of teachers the "dance of the lemons."

Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times also recently explored this issue and took a far more sympathetic approach. He describes the resulting shuffle as a "bizarre game of musical chairs" that stigmatizes teachers who worked at a low-performing school. In other words, teachers who aren't rehired at their original school are "the turnaround leftovers."

We'd argue that schools' stigma would arguably carry less weight if transferring teachers could bring their test data to their interview. It's an odd omission from the Times to neglect any mention of using teacher effectiveness data in hiring and firing decisions.