Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

More LIFOllies

By Sara Mead — February 28, 2011 1 min read

Per last week’s post on layoffs by lottery, a correspondent sent me this example from Ann Arbor, Michigan:

4.813.3 Experience shall mean months, days and years of certificated employment in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. If two or more teachers have the same seniority and the Board must decide on laying off one of the teachers, the last four digits of the teachers social security number will be used as a tie breaker. The lower number will have the most seniority.

Emphasis added. Srsly, people?!?!?

Having grown up outside Ann Arbor, I am totally not shocked that people from Ann Arbor have come up with a unique and especially complicated way of doing something stupid. But I’m sure it’s still much better than anything those idiots in Columbus have come up with.

On LIFO more generally, the point isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) that seniority has no place in layoff decisions. Lots of employers take seniority account, along with other factors, in making all sorts of personnel decisions, for perfectly good reasons, and it would be dumb to prohibit schools from doing so altogether. The issue is whether seniority should be the FIRST and in many cases ONLY factor in these decisions. Neither extreme--mandating consideration of seniority on its own, or banning consideration of seniority at all--is optimal; something more in the middle would be better, but that requires policy change.

A secondary issue is that some of the other factors districts currently use in layoff decisions are arbitrary and stupid, in ways that give lie to the arguments we sometimes here about why performance can’t be incorporated into teacher layoff or other key personnel decisions. Even if you think that data on teacher impacts on student performance are arbitrary and unreliable (leave aside for now whether that’s a valid viewpoint), can anyone really argue that teacher performance metrics are MORE abitrary or unreliable that “the last four digits of the teacher’s social security number”?

BTW: Check out this great new policy brief on LIFO from The New Teacher Project. Key points: “quality-blind layoffs cost students an average of 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning a year” and hit high-poverty schools especially hard, causing 25% more layoffs than in wealthier schools. They are also doing a kicking job of tweeting this thing, too, so if you’re not following them on twitter now, you should be!

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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.