By Victor Skinner

INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout Indiana, student learning will now be a major focus as districts consider teacher layoffs to balance their budgets, thanks to education reforms enacted in 2011.

New state laws require school districts to consider a teacher’s abilities in the classroom as the predominant factor in layoff decisions, instead of the union seniority system that has prioritized older teachers over performance for decades.

The new approach will have a significant impact in Indianapolis Public Schools, where the state has taken over four schools due to dismal academic achievement and 80 teachers are slated to be laid off soon. Instead of basing decisions solely on seniority, IPS administrators will use teaching performance, student scores on state standardized tests, and yearly evaluations as the major factors when considering who will be let go, reports.

“Seniority is not going to be the main priority,” district spokeswoman Mary Louise Bewley told the television station. “Ultimately, we’ve really found that folks feel like it’s a fair instrument” for determining which teachers will be laid off, Bewley said.

This year, IPS and several other schools will use the new measurements for layoff decisions, but “schools across the state will negotiate similar layoff systems with unions as contracts expire in coming years,” reports.

The Indiana State Teachers Association, which fought bitterly against the changes, continues to talk down the new system and create unnecessary paranoia about how evaluations and performance factors will influence layoff decisions.

ISTA mouthpiece Craig Blume told that administrators might target older teachers to save money because their salaries typically are higher than newer educators.

“I think you’d have to be really foolish to ignore the fact that where somebody is on the salary schedule is going to play into that decision,” he said.

IPS’ Bewley said “parents, teachers shouldn’t worry that it’s all going to come down to dollars and cents. It’s going to come down to, is this the best teacher to be in front of a child?”

We suspect that evaluating teachers on their actual teaching ability may really be what the union fears most.