Study: Seniority-based layoffs hurt students

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.

About Joanne


  1. The results of this study are completely unsurprising, if I understand what they’re saying. But it’s all bogus if the value-added measures are inaccurate.

    Just by logic, if you rank teachers by a different measure than seniority, that measure will appear to be more beneficial than seniority. For example, imagine that we are going to assign all teachers a number based on rolling the dice. We assume ahead of time that the number 2 is the best outcome. Number 2’s are the best teachers. If we fire teachers by seniority, the number 2’s are going to be equally distributed in the group. But if we purposely fire teachers who aren’t 2’s, then more 2’s are left behind.

    If value-added measures are accurate, then their findings have some merit. If not, then their findings are banal. There is lots of research showing problems with value-added measures. If you haven’t read any of this, here’s a good place to start:

  2. Who funded the study? Just because you have seniority does not make you a better teacher by any means…just means you cost more and can hide behind tenure…

    For value added…check out Tennessee…that has the most history with it and why we won RTTT money — tons of it. Soon we will find out how good it is.

    What I want to know about TVASS is if its predictor of where a student will be is three years (you know below basic, basic, proficient or advanced and this predictorisused to calculate AYP) is legit – or for real? Is it ever backend tested? Meaning is the prediction made three years tested for accuracy? I would doubt it…

    If three years of data are to be used on evaluating a teacher (35% of a TN teacher’s evaluation will be based on TCAP/TVASS scores) I would want this backend tested for accuracy.

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    It takes real balls to claim this is an actual study. Note the complete lack of publication in any respected academic journal, it makes it all the easier to avoid fact and method checking, as well as any kind of peer review. Instead, the “study” is released exclusively to the Associated Press (exact words from the article)

  4. @Mike in Texas and it is my understanding that the study was completely funded by the Gates Foundation.

  5. Mike in Texas says:

    Well ms_teacher than the outcome of the “study” was pre-deterimined

  6. John Thompson says:

    Mike in Texas,

    I just made the same point at:

    John in Oklahoma

  7. “Seniority-based layoffs disproportionately hit schools where the most needy kids are and the least senior teachers usually work.” Some may consider this a blessing in disguise because often times the less senior teachers are actually more motivated than the more expensive senior teachers who are merely hiding behind their seniority.