Myth Busting Walker's "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" Getting Fired Story

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

This past weekend in Iowa, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rolled out one his favorite talking points:  The story of how Wisconsin's 2010 "outstanding teacher of the year" winner Megan Sampson got laid off days after receiving the award and how his "reforms" prevent that from ever happening again.

This would be a compelling true if it were true, but it’s mostly fiction. 

Yes, Sampson did get an award in 2010, but it wasn't for "outstanding teacher of the year" as Walker claims.  Sampson was awarded something called the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award, which is given by a small group called the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English (WCTE) for "an outstanding first-year teacher of the English language arts." In order to be considered for the award, a first year English teacher must apply for it by writing a cover letter and including two letters of recommendation. 

In other words, of the approximately 60,000 teachers in Wisconsin, when it comes to those who may qualify for the award, we're talking only about English teachers, who also happen to be a member of this group, who also are a first year teacher, and who also self-nominated themselves to receive the award.  According to the WCTE's David Roloff, who is in charge of this award, each year only about two to ten people across the entire state actually apply for the award.

Most importantly, Walker's central premise with this story is that because of the big, bad seniority layoff system, a "teacher of the year" was tossed in favor of a teacher who may have more seniority, but was clearly inferior-- after all, those more senior teachers didn't win the teacher of the year award, did they?  However, because this award only goes to first year English teachers, those teachers with more seniority would never been considered for this obscure award in the first place! 

Plus, as others have reported, while Sampson was indeed given a layoff notice during the summer when school wasn't in session, she was also notified a few weeks later that she had been removed from layoff status.  In other words, Megan Sampson never lost a single day of work due to layoff, and therefore was never really laid off.  

Yeah, yeah, yeah-- but isn't Walker's larger point that the bad old days of "last in, first out" layoff policies are dead and gone because of his reforms?   No.  Before Act 10, nothing required school districts to put "last in, first out" in their contracts with unions; and after Act 10 there is nothing tht prohibits school districts from adopting "last in, first out" policies now --in fact, many still do have that policy in place.

It’s also not as if teachers are hired or laid off at random, anyway. School administrators have always had 100% of the power to hire whomever they please. Layoffs are somewhat rare and usually come as a result of either a school's poor planning or sudden, unforeseen budget cuts.  In the case of 2010, many schools did have to lay off some teachers, but it was because of sudden budget cuts caused by The Great Recession, which was created by Scott Walker's idol, President George W. Bush.

Speaking of Dubya, remember how he was the going to be the first "CEO President," because we need to run government like a business?  Well, many businesses (union and non-union) have policies of last in, first out.  Why? Because it is an inherently fair policy and better for company morale. Plus, there is argument to be made that a 22 year old is much more likely to find another job right away, compared to his or her 52 year old counterpart and it is better for the overall economy to offer older workers more job protection, in exchange for their loyalty.

The bottom line is that Walker's solution (union-busting) was always a solution search of a problem that never existed. Although Walker would have you believe that the Wisconsin teacher unions were forcing schools to stockpile bad teachers, survey after survey has repeatedly belied this assertion and clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of Wisconsin parents are happy with their local public school teachers.  

I have to say, though, the irony of Walker telling a mostly fictional story about a teacher who teaches about writing fiction is pretty delicious.