Education Opinion

Should Seniority Count in Layoffs?

By Walt Gardner — February 17, 2014 1 min read

Until recently, seniority was paramount in determining which teachers were laid off during a reduction in force. The policy was based on the belief that it was the most objective way. But in Vergara v. California, the plaintiffs maintain that this approach prevents school districts “from providing an effective education to all of their students, as guaranteed by the California Constitution” (“Teacher Tenure Put to the Test in California Lawsuit,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15).

The case is being cited by reformers as long overdue. They point to teachers who are ineffective in the classroom but hold onto their positions solely because of their seniority. It plays well among taxpayers who believe that bad teachers are the cause of the underperformance of students in this country. Instead of seniority, they want layoff criteria to be left to district discretion.

Let’s examine the facts. At one extreme, six states require that seniority is the sole factor. At the other extreme, two states say seniority can’t be considered at all. In between are states where seniority can be considered among other factors. I recognize that seniority is sometimes used to protect teachers who no longer belong in the classroom for one reason or another. But eliminating it completely can result in even stellar teachers being dismissed for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance in the classroom. For example, cash-strapped districts might layoff the most veteran teachers because they are earning the highest salaries.

I think the fairest policy requires that districts make seniority one consideration among others, just as test scores are. (Let’s not forget that five years ago no state even took into account performance criteria.) The debate should be over the weight given to each factor. I admit that it’s impossible to ever satisfy all stakeholders about this controversial issue. But if the plaintiffs prevail in the Vergara suit, it would undermine teacher morale in ways that laypersons cannot possibly understand. Teachers are already under enormous pressure. Stripping them of job protections would be the final straw.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read