Duncan Elaborates on Layoff Policies

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 17, 2011 2 min read
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Apparently I wasn’t the only one to think U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was a little vague about what it meant to revisit things like seniority and layoff policies.

At the conclusion of his big labor-management conference in Denver yesterday, several reporters pressed for more detail.

Duncan said he felt there were two ways not to do teacher layoffs: First, by targeting the most expensive veteran teachers to save costs, and second, by cutting new teachers (pretty much how it’s now done under last-in-first-out, or LIFO, policies).

There are many effective veteran teachers who should be kept, Duncan said, as well as enthusiastic and effective newer teachers. Districts need to consider that as they head into what’s going to be a tough budget year, with the funding cliff and all.

He cited particular concern for low-income schools where there’s already a lot of teacher turnover.

“In underserved communities, we have constant turnover. Those students need stability,” Duncan said. “If you have to make tough calls, particularly for unserved communities you have to figure out how to make those decisions in the best interests of students.”

Seems a bit like code for Los Angeles, where civil rights groups successfully sued to stop LIFO policies from decimating low-income schools.

Overall, his remarks weren’t the condemnation of LIFO policies some would like to hear. But they do advocate for differences in how layoffs are currently performed.

Generally speaking, LIFO wasn’t much of a topic for discussion at the conference. But at least one of the presenting districts, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, in North Carolina, reached an agreement with the teachers’ association in 2010 to alter layoff policies. Under new criteria, teachers who have been suspended for more than three days go to the top of the layoff list; then experience and teacher-evaluation scores kick in.

Photo: Education leaders gather at the Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration conference in Denver to take questions from reporters. From left: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen; Council of Great City Schools Executive Director Michael Casserly; American Association of School Administrators Executive Director Daniel Domenech; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel; National School Boards Association Executive Director Anne Bryant. (Stephen Sawchuk/Education Week)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.