Seniority-based teacher layoffs hurt students, concludes a study by the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington. Researchers compared “value-added scores” of less-experienced Washington state teachers targeted for layoffs to scores of teachers with enough seniority to avoid layoffs.
Using teachers’ past performance, the researchers predicted the performance of two hypothetical school systems: one in which the teachers receiving notices had actually lost their jobs, and one in which more than 1,300 of the lowest-performing teachers had been fired instead.
Dan Goldhaber, lead author of the study and the center’s director, projected that student achievement after seniority-based layoffs would drop by an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning per student, when compared to laying off the least effective teachers.
“If your bottom line is student achievement, then this is not the best system,” Goldhaber said.
American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said value-added measures — which look at students’ rate of progress in reading and math — are inaccurate. “This report is actually going to do a tremendous disservice. It will stop the real work that needs to be done to development comprehensive evaluation systems,” Weingarten said.
Using a strict seniority system for layoffs creates other problems, the report found:
— School districts lay off more teachers to meet their budget goals because junior teachers are paid less.
— Some districts lay off teachers in high-demand and hard-to-fill areas such as special education.
— Seniority-based layoffs disproportionately hit schools where the most needy kids are and the least senior teachers usually work.
As long as teachers are paid based on seniority rather than performance, districts will have a huge incentive to lay off senior teachers who may be twice as expensive as junior teachers but nowhere near twice as good.