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LIFO in Today’s Education Climate
posted by: Alix | May 12, 2011, 03:44 PM   

With another school year winding down, we are again hearing stories about young, often first- or second-year teachers and their being laid off due to budget cuts. The fact that states across the country are facing historic budget shortfalls shouldn't be news to anyone. Clearly this sobering reality will have an impact on education budgets, but what if the union-backed policy of "last in, first out" punishes good teachers and impacts parents seeking a quality teacher for their child? Sadly, LIFO has become just that: forcing new teachers out without any regard to their performance.

PBS recently highlighted the LIFO policy at an average American school in Connecticut. One principal shared a story of a new and successful teacher who joined his staff last summer. "In the first round of testing, she had the highest number of increases in the school," he highlighted. Sadly under the LIFO policy, this highly effective teacher will be laid off and there is nothing he can do about it. Does it seem fair to the teacher or the students that perhaps the best teacher in the building will be let go to close the budget gap?

"It is an embarrassment to all we do in education," said high school Principal Steve Perry of the LIFO policy. "I want the best staff available to me, regardless of how long they have been teaching."

According the Michelle Rhee-led education advocacy group, StudentsFirst, seniority based lay-offs are hurting our children tremendously. According to their research, when firing teachers based on seniority we end up firing some of the best teachers in a district, as evident by the teacher in Connecticut and the thousands like her across the country.

Further, because junior teachers are paid the least, the district is forced to let more teachers go to fill the budget deficit. Sadly the highest-need schools are often the most affected by this policy. Teachers in low-performing schools are often new, leaving these schools virtually empty at the end of the year, unfairly impacting some of the most high-need students in under-served communities every year.

While education advocates, reformers, and legislators are working to change the policy, we often hear of union push-back in districts across the country. A union leader from that same district in Connecticut as the PBS broadcast advocated for experience above all other quantifiers. "Experience has to count for something," she argued, "If you were going to have an operation I'm sure you would want the doctor with the most experience."

So what do teachers think about this policy? According to AAE members, LIFO is obsolete and harms teachers and students alike. 70% of AAE membership survey respondents disagreed with the policy. Clearly teachers across America are seeing the negative effect of this policy every year.

So if not for experience–which teachers need to go? Experts advocate for lay-offs based partly on performance. But how do you do we accomplish this when evaluations are often the most hotly contested aspect of education policy today? It seems that until we get a fair, comprehensive, and accurate gage of where teachers stand, changing the policy will be a tough sell. The good news is states like New Jersey are paving the way for the elimination of LIFO and growth-model evaluations. Hopefully it will only be a matter of time before we find policies that work for both students and teachers.

What do you think about the LIFO policy and seniority-based lay-offs?
Comment below.

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by Brian Ford, the Bronx, August 10, 2011

We can even leave aside that most of the LIFO foes want to equate 'effectiveness' with how kids did on standardized tests, which is not an equation we should pay heed to.
Let us think for a second what the teaching profession will look like without protections for senior teachers.
Just like at every other organization, many who have done a good job for the long haul will be done away with as a cost cutting measure.
Professional autonomy for teachers will be out the window -- either your principal likes you or does not. I have seen a lot of vile principals over the years do nasty things to teachers, but that is not even the point. Even good principals will be under pressure to get rid of teachers who make more.
What happens to the profession then? What happens when what is not a particularly well paying job is also an insecure one? What happens when you can't count on working for 20 years, but instead have to count on the possibility that you'll be given the heave ho after 10 or 15 years?
LIFO protects the profession. Yes, it is bad that a lot of good teachers will be let go in RIF firings, but the alternative is worse. And don't trust the Rhee numbers -- StudentsFirst, the TNP, etc. broadcast statements based on one or two research projects, not a consensus in the field. Teachers have little enough power now, but with this change education will be taken over by those who have or are making room for those who have a profit motive. Let's keep it a profession where you can decide to enter, work with kids and look forward to a secure livelihood.
written by Danny, May 16, 2011

I agree with Cassandra that it is not safe to assume new teachers are always better than old. Obviously there are good new teachers and not so good, good experience teachers, and not so good. And LIFO does prevent those good, more experience teachers from being let go because they cost more than two new teachers.

On the flip side, a whole generation of teachers might be out of work if LIFO were the law of the land everywhere. Schools are cutting jobs, rather than hiring, and an entire graduating class of new teachers might never have a chance. Meanwhile, older teachers who are near or past retirement are enjoying healthy paychecks and a seniority and tenure system that keeps them virtually untouchable. However, is it better to have one experience teacher out of work rather than 2 or 3 new teachers?

Clearly LIFO isn't the best solution, but what will a world without LIFO look like?

Also, I have no problem with the Rhee statistics, since AAE is very good about citing sources and we the reader can take it with a grain of salt if we so choose.
written by Cassandra Ewert-Lamutt, May 12, 2011

While I agree that there are issues that need to be addressed, the assumption that "new" teachers are always better than "old" teachers is false. While there are certainly fantastic teachers who are newer to teaching, I have also met those who are in over their heads and would not make it without the experience of their elders. Also, LIFO keeps teachers with more education and experience from being fired simply because they cost more, which has been a problem in the past and still can be if you want/need to change districts, as many will not hire those "expensive" teachers no matter how good they are. I am alarmed that you use Michelle Rhee and company's research as the basis for your article, considering the recent revelations of less than honest reporting of scores from those sources; a less biased source would be more believable. I definitely have problems with LIFO, but those won't get solved until the overall attitude towards education and teachers improves, and until then, LIFO may be a necessary evil.

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