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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

“Quality-Blind” Layoff Policies in 14 States Put Jobs of Great Teachers at Risk

February 25, 2011

Outdated Rules and Budget Shortfalls Could Force Schools Nationwide to Dismiss Top Teachers, With Devastating Consequences for the Neediest Students

NEW YORK, NY—As school districts across the country grapple with massive budget cuts, thousands of great teachers could lose their jobs despite a track record of success in the classroom, according to an analysis released today by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). “The Case Against Quality-Blind Layoffs” identifies 14 states where top teachers are in greatest danger of losing their jobs this spring, because of laws making it illegal for schools to consider job performance in making layoff decisions.

Revenue shortfalls in 10 of these states are projected to be greater than 10 percent, making layoffs a serious possibility. Schools in these states are mandated to lay off the least senior teachers first, meaning that success in the classroom provides no additional job security. TNTP’s analysis also summarizes recent research showing that that these quality-blind policies—sometimes called “last-in, first-out,” or “LIFO”—strip schools of great teachers, with potentially devastating consequences for the neediest students.

“This is a real test of leadership for policymakers across the country,” said Timothy Daly, president of TNTP. “Almost nobody disputes that quality-blind layoff policies have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Will policymakers really stand by and allow great teachers to lose their jobs because of these outdated rules? There’s still time to put common sense back into layoff policies—but we have to take action right now.”

The 14 states that mandate quality-blind layoffs are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin. A combined 40 percent of the nation’s teachers (1.25 million) work in these states.

Despite a national emphasis on effective teachers in recent years, only the District of Columbia and three states—Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma—require schools to make job performance a major factor in teacher layoff decisions. Legislation requiring quality-based layoffs is currently pending in several states, including Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Washington.

Research shows that basing layoff decisions on seniority alone has disastrous consequences for students, teachers and school communities:

  • Better teachers are forced to leave classrooms, while lower-performing teachers remain.
  • Schools serving the poorest students bear the brunt of the layoffs—an average of 25% more than wealthier schools.
  • Students in affected classrooms lose an average of 2.5-3.5 months of learning a year—the equivalent of ending the school year in March.
  • More total job losses are necessary to achieve a given budget reduction, since quality-blind layoffs affect only the newest, lowest-paid teachers.

Furthermore, a policy brief TNTP released last year (“A Smarter Teacher Layoff System”) showed that many teachers oppose quality-blind layoffs. It reported the results of a survey conducted in two large urban districts in which a majority of teachers at every experience level favored considering factors other than seniority in layoff decisions. That policy brief also described how districts can quickly implement a quality-based approach to layoffs based primarily on teachers’ attendance, their overall performance rating on their regular evaluation, and their classroom management rating. Under a quality-based policy, veteran teachers would generally still be laid off less often, because they tend to perform better. But high-performing novices would no longer be blindly dismissed.

“It’s not surprising that so many teachers oppose policies that treat their accomplishments in the classroom as worthless,” said Daly. “The question isn’t whether seniority should play a role in layoff decisions—it’s whether we should continue pretending that nothing else matters.”

About TNTP

TNTP believes our nation’s public schools can offer all children an excellent education. A national nonprofit founded by teachers, we help school systems end educational inequality and achieve their goals for students. We work at every level of the public education system to attract and train talented teachers and school leaders, ensure rigorous and engaging classrooms, and create environments that prioritize great teaching and accelerate student learning. Since 1997, we’ve partnered with more than 200 public school districts, charter school networks and state departments of education. We have recruited or trained more than 50,000 teachers, inspired policy change through acclaimed studies such as The Widget Effect (2009) and The Irreplaceables (2012), and launched one of the nation’s premiere awards for excellent teaching, the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. Today, TNTP is active in more than 30 cities.