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Teaching Profession Opinion

Improving on State Teacher Legislation: Idea #3: Look Beyond LIFO

By Sara Mead — August 12, 2011 1 min read

The perverse consequences of “Last in-first out” teacher layoffs have gotten a ton of attention over the last few months--and several states have recently passed legislation designed to end this practice.

But it’s important to understand that a focus on ending seniority based layoffs actually gets it wrong here. A few states--for example, Arizona and Tennessee--passed legislation to end seniority-based layoffs--without indicating an alternative basis on which layoffs should be determined. This could potentially allow districts to keep using some of the other bases--higher education credentials, random lottery--they currently use as secondary considerations in making layoffs. That would be an even dumber policy outcome!

Rather than merely ending seniority-based layoffs, states should focus on making sure that layoff decisions are linked to teacher effectiveness. Crucially: If a state links layoff decisions to teacher effectiveness, it doesn’t actually need to prohibit consideration of seniority--which is in fact a totally valid thing for employers to take into account when deciding which employees to retain and to let go. Colorado’s law, for example, requires teacher effectiveness to be the primary consideration in reductions in force, but allows districts to also take into account seniority or other factors as secondary considerations.

While teacher layoffs are in the news a lot these days, layoffs are actually not that common. Much more common is teacher “excessing,” which occurs all the time when individual positions are eliminated at a school due to programmatic changes, enrollment fluctuations, or a host of other factors. Most of the recently passed laws (Colorado’s is a notable exception) do not address excessing, which is typically based on seniority, and one cause of high turnover among teachers in their first few years in the field. A next step for many of these states would be to end seniority-based excessing decisions, linking these decisions also to effectiveness and/or giving principals greater flexibility to decide which teachers to retain based on the fit and needs of the school. Policies should also require excessed teachers to obtain new positions through mutual consent hiring, rather than simply assigning excessed teachers to other positions in the district in order by seniority.

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The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.