Well I'll start with the easy ones. LIFO based on seniority was pretty much eliminated. Current law says that seniority can only be a determining factor when two employees have the same evaluation scores. Also LIFO ONLY deals with RIF (reduction in force) situations. Those are layoffs dealing with MONEY ISSUES ONLY. Without those provisions anytime time money issues arise (real or not) you would eliminate the top earners. It is completely subjective, period. Given everyone is equal (they can fire anyone during the first 7 years anyway, see below), what else could you base firings off of other than seniority? How can you argue that a 4 year teachers is more important than a 20 year teacher that have the same evaluations? You cannot, you can only equate them to dollars and cents and that is the reform driven money, not education. I think it is a perfect example of reform done by people who don't understand education.
Before I tackle the next questions, I want to cover a couple of tenure basics. First, tenure only deals with instruction, tenure or not, the state can yank your license at any time and that is far more common than firing. Next, Tenure is supposed to identify why good teachers are having issues and correct them. It takes 7 years of POSITIVE EVALUATIONS until tenure can be granted and up until that time all education employees are "at will" employees (i.e. can be fired at any time).
So what exactly is tenure? Under the old system, tenure granted you a continuing contract, due process, and the ability to only be observed on a 4 year track, that is it. Under 153 (Budget Bill), they instituted a new evaluation system and starting July 1, 2013 every teacher has to be observed at least twice a year, except for people at the tippy top of evaluations, they get to go every other year. So one of those provisions have been eliminated. Due process can best be explain by an example. Lets say a teacher has 15 years of positive reviews or 15 years of good teaching, but then receives 1 or two bad reviews over a course of a year. Due process enables that employee to be eligible to have a remediation plan (principal works with the teacher to correct their teaching). That is ALL the protection tenure offers. If after that plan is implemented and no improvement is gained that teacher can be fired. Tenure teachers do get fired pretty regularly around the state. Tenure only works if ADMINISTRATION and TEACHERS both do their jobs. I always say if you have bad teachers in a building you have bad administrators as well. They go hand in hand. Also, Tenure year is not guaranteed. There are plenty of school districts in Ohio that have no employees that are tenured. That is a local decision.
I believe tenure year is important. It is one stop gap from keeping education becoming a revolving door, much like what LIFO is supposed to do. Otherwise teaching becomes a revolving door were older more expensive teachers are let go for younger cheaper ones.
Merit pay is another complicated subject. Most people don't even understand what it is. For this conversation lets define it is supplemental pay, meaning I have a guaranteed base salary and "bonuses" are awarded for different bench marks being achieved. That is what they are usually talking about in regards to merit pay. Also, student data tracking has been going on FOREVER, we know what the trends are. Under those guidelines it becomes an unfair system pretty quickly. Some examples are: Teachers with better classroom management are often targeted, for good reason, to work with difficult students, which often puts their scores towards the bottom. Teachers with AP classes are going to have an advantage over teachers who teach remedial courses. How do you define merit? Is it a test or is getting a student to just come to class and not fail out? Which is worth more? How do you determine how specials (art, music, shop) are graded? Is merit then tied solely to ability? I could go on and on, but I'll sum it up with a story as old as time in education:
At a reform conference a very successful business leader came to talk to the teachers at a failing school. He preached about efficiency and how the business model is more of a successful approach to reform. After the speech was done, an old lady from the back row raised her hand and asked what business he was in. He replied saying he was in the ice cream business and how people from Portland to Portland know his product. She then asked, how have you become so successful? He replied quickly by saying we only ship the best product. She then asked, how do you get the best product? Again, he quickly replied by saying I use only the freshest produce and dairy. She then replied how that applies to education. She said, If I have a bad student, I cannot toss them out like a moldy piece of strawberry. If my product doesn't meet requirements I cannot pull students from another community like a farm. I have to use all my ingredients, whether they are moldy, spoiled, or to old and I am expected to produce a flawless product. That isn't how any business works, yet those are the requirements teachers are held to.
That is honestly how I view merit pay. It is subjective issue and never the same. We control our product for 52 minutes a day at best. If you think dangling a couple of extra bucks in front of a teacher is the answer, then you have never been around education.
Are there places to reform? Yes, absolutely, but changing pay structure and LIFO isn't it. Also, even by the most extreme studies the believe only 3-5% of the teacher workforce is what people consider a "bad teacher."