Teaching Profession Report Roundup

Study: Who’s Fired When Principals Get to Choose?

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 18, 2015 1 min read

Following the Great Recession, the wave of teacher layoffs gave birth to a seething debate: Should teacher layoffs be based on a last-hired, first-fired policy, or based more heavily on other factors, like teacher performance?

A new research paper is the first to examine the topic using actual layoff data, in this case from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina. In 2009 and 2010, when faced with a budget shortfall, the district gave principals a lot of discretion on how they reduced the teaching force. Even so, the study found that layoffs still tended to be concentrated among teachers with four or fewer years of seniority. But principals also targeted less-effective teachers across all levels of seniority. And when that happened, student achievement benefited, according to the study, to be published in the fall issue of Education Finance and Policy.

Author Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University found that:

• Eighty-four percent of laid-off teachers were probationary teachers. Principals, in interviews, said they didn’t see the point of terminating tenured teachers since state law gives them “recall rights” for future open positions.

• Teachers with more than 30 years of experience, particularly those who were “double dipping” with pensions, were more likely to be let go.

• On the whole, though, teachers who were laid off were rated about one-third of a standard deviation less effective by their principals than teachers who were spared. The lowest-rated teachers were targeted for layoffs among all levels of seniority, and 58 percent of teachers who received a “below standard” rating on any evaluation category were let go.

Kraft also found that teacher seniority did not seem to have much relationship to how students did the following year. However, laying off a teacher deemed to be more effective did decrease student test scores in math the next year, compared with laying off a less-effective teacher.

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