Teaching Profession

Ruling on D.C. Teacher Layoffs Raises Broader Issues

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 25, 2009 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Washington superior court judge has backed Chancellor Michelle Rhee in a dispute with the Washington Teachers’ Union over layoffs. The union sought a preliminary injunction that would essentially have required Rhee to reinstate teachers who were laid off supposedly due to budget cuts while other legal claims worked their way through the District of Columbia school system.

In essence, the union said that Rhee hired hundreds of young teachers over the summer, more than the district could pay for, thus forcing a later need to make cuts. Because of a series of administrative rulings in the late 1990s, layoffs in D.C. are done not only by seniority but also by performance. In this case, principals laid off many veteran teachers. That precipitated protests, allegations from the WTU that Rhee was bypassing termination procedures in the contract, and hearings with the D.C. Council.

Rhee’s staff disputed the charges, although there has been much back and forth between her staffers and the council about when the district was aware of the upcoming budget crunch.

The reductions-in-force, as they are called in contract legalese, have been cited as one reason that a new collective bargaining pact in D.C. is still languishing. (Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has gotten in on the action by saying that the contract situation has gone on for far too long.)

Bill Turque at The Washington Post has most of the details you’ll need. But for our purposes, let’s leave aside the he-said-she-said aspect of this mess to consider the larger implications.

Although whether or not the RIF was appropriate is the primary issue here, a secondary subtext concerns how teachers were laid off and whether building principals, who were charged with the cuts, made fair, accurate, and defensible decisions. (D.C. is one of only a handful of districts that perform RIFs by anything other than strict seniority.)

Lately, there has been much discussion from the federal government, the Gates Foundation, and others about moving from systems in which proxies for effectiveness, like seniority and credentials, are replaced by evaluations and measures that attempt to gauge teacher effectiveness in much more sophisticated ways. Presumably, that would make decisions such as RIFs and terminations more in alignment with what students need, i.e., keeping the most effective teachers.

But as this D.C. situation points out, that is really only going to work if principals or evaluators are highly trained to use these evaluation instruments; if unions agree that principals (or whoever makes evaluations and consequential decisions resulting from those evaluations) are doing a fair job; and finally, that both parties view this system as an appropriate procedure for handling layoffs and terminations and that there are clear procedures for doing so in place.

None of those things, I suspect, will come easily, cheaply, or without a fair share of legal wrangling. In other words, I think it’s possible that this D.C. lawsuit is only the tip of the iceberg as districts attempt to move to performance-based teacher-quality systems.

Related Tags:

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

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be
The pandemic has put teachers through the wringer. Administrators must think about staff well-being differently.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read