Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Need to Eliminate Seniority-Based Layoff Policies

I published my third article in the Huffington Post yesterday, this one about the need to reform seniority-based layoff processes to the truly horrific teachers can be let go, rather than good ones:

So teacher layoffs will have terrible long-term consequences for our schools, students and, ultimately, our nation, right? Not so fast... The answer to that question depends on which teachers are laid off. I believe our schools will actually get better if layoffs are done carefully, such that only the very worst teachers are let go. Yet it is the law in 14 states, representing 40 percent of U.S. teachers, that layoffs must be done strictly by seniority (and only three states and the District of Columbia explicitly require teacher performance to be a major factor in layoff decisions). These so-called "last in, first out" policies result in great teachers -- in many cases, literally Teachers of the Year -- being let go, and disproportionately affect schools serving the most disadvantaged children, as documented by this new report by The New Teacher Project, The Case Against Quality-Blind Layoffs. The report concludes: "It should not be illegal for schools to try to keep great teachers during tough economic times."

Doing layoffs solely by seniority is obviously utter insanity, but the unions defend it by arguing that, while this method might not be perfect, it's the only fair alternative in light of the fact that the teacher evaluation systems in most districts are weak or nonexistent. This would be a valid point if we were trying to distinguish between slightly above average teachers and slight below average ones -- but layoffs are only affecting a few percent of teachers, so all we have to do is identify the handful at the very bottom.

Let me be clear: most educators (such as my parents) are dedicated and effective. I love and celebrate good teachers, and it's critical that we do more to identify them and keep them happy and motivated. Equally importantly, however, we need to identify weak teachers and help them improve -- or counsel them out of the profession so that they can find another career at which they might succeed. It is in this area that our educational system is failing miserably. There are far too many ineffective teachers and, in particular, far too many truly terrible teachers who are harming children and poisoning the system.


Whitney Tilson

Board member of KIPP charter schools in NYC, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Democrats for Education Reform

Posted: February 28, 2011 12:31 PM

The Need to Eliminate Seniority-Based Layoff Policies

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