LIFO threatens high-need schools

A 5 percent budget cut for Tacoma Public Schools could trigger layoffs for one quarter to one half the teachers at “turnaround” schools, concludes a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

“Last in, first out” policies disproportionately affect Washington state schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs). intended to transform chronically low-performing schools.

Many teachers in these schools are newly hired, chosen on the basis of high ability and commitment to education of disadvantaged children.

In Washington’s SIG schools, about 23% of teachers are in their first three years of teaching. That’s nearly twice the proportion of new teachers in other schools in the same districts.

LIFO layoffs could destabilize schools and undermine turnaround efforts, the study warns.

Under a court-ordered settlement, Los Angeles schools with high-need students and young teachers will be protected from layoffs.

Education Experts are discussing how to measure teacher effectiveness on National Journal.

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  1. I genuinely don’t understand one aspect of this FIFO policy. Why are the struggling schools left without teachers? Surely, the senior teachers keep pushing down the ranks until some full-time teacher is left holding the bag at the struggling school. Yet the LA stories always explicitly said that the struggling schools were forced to lay off committed teachers and then deal with subs.

    What part of musical chairs isn’t happening? Why are schools forced to layoff staff without getting full-time teachers from another school who were also laid off?

  2. Not sure what you mean Cal… are you saying that districts should reassign veteran teachers from successful schools to fill the voids in struggling schools?

  3. First, I should have said LIFO–that was a typo.

    If a district decides it needs 42 fewer teachers, it needs to spread that pain out throughout the district. So even though the 42 teachers might be new teachers in “bad” schools, the loss of 42 teachers should be distributed evenly. So Rich School should have lost 2 math teachers just as Poor School did. Now, the actual fired teachers all came from Poor School, but the junior math teachers at Rich School should no longer have had jobs at Rich School, because the positions don’t exist. Poor school, on the other hand, still has two open math teacher positions that the two previous Rich School teachers need to take because otherwise, they don’t have a job. Hence “musical chairs”.

    There are other possibilities. For example, the schools that lose teachers lose teachers. That is, headcount has nothing to do with it. This seems unlikely, but if it’s true, then the problem is not LIFO, but rather teacher allocation. Another possibility is that Poor Schools are costing more to begin with by using more teachers, so they are losing teachers that they only had because the district was flush. That would mean that poor schools were forced to use the same resources the rich schools are, and again, a different problem.

    Or perhaps it’s something else. I’ve just always wondered why the schools seem forced to use substitutes. If they didn’t lose headcount, then there should be senior teachers at other schools who don’t have jobs because of the layoffs.

  4. Thank you Cal for your succinct analysis as it is something I’m not getting as well. In our contract, we have what is called “involuntary transfers,” which can occur as a result of lay-offs. Furthermore, too many articles automatically assume that if you are a young, new teacher that you are automatically a better teacher. Why isn’t there a clamor to get rid of LIFO in well to do districts? Is it because they value experience over inexperience?

    It is appalling to me that only in education do we place such a high value on inexperience + a willingness to serve over years of a experience + a willingness to serve kids who so desperately need stability + commitment.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    It is appalling to me that only in education do we place such a high value on inexperience + a willingness to serve over years of a experience + a willingness to serve kids …

    The way you have phrased this, pretty much only teachers would qualify at all because very few other professions are so exclusively focused on kids. If we change the complaint to a more general on of, “only in education do we place such a high value on inexperience + other-stuff,” then it is not true. A common complaint among middle-aged engineers is that their experience is undervalued relative to the newer kids with less experience, but who are cheaper and more current on the trendy technologies.

    The military has (or had …) and “up or out” policy for officers.

    Law firms tend to have an “up or out” policy for lawyers on the partner track.

    Professors who get passed over for tenure are often encouraged to leave.

    It isn’t just K-12 teachers who face the older-experienced-expensive vs. younger-cheaper-enthusiastic tradeoff.

    One big difference *MAY* be that (until you hit partner or get tenure), the senior people in these other professions are not protected by tenure. This removes the argument that “they only keep their jobs because of ______.”

    But the perceived bias against 40+ engineers is quite a sensitive topic for many 40+ engineers.

  6. That is absolutely true.

  7. John Thompson says:

    There are two sides of the equation, but the Center only considers one side. Yes, seniority should be reformed, but it is basically a good system. The question should be whether this turnaround craze has a snowballs’ chance. If the first setback is fatal, how do we expect the incredibly difficult challenge of turnarounds at scale to work? Also, why assume that turnaround school teachers are any better? In our distrct’s turnaround they have 68 rookies because veteran teachers had learned the hard way, and weren’t about to apply for the chance to work in a fishbowl. A lack of knowledge should not be assumed to be a virtue.

  8. there appear to be three issues:
    1. in districts where teachers can choose among assignments and senior teachers prefer not get the Poor School, then the Poor School see much high turnover % (all their teachers go and a few less senior teachers backfill from many different schools) LIFO destroys teams at the Poor School unless one asserts that each teacher operates an independent contractor within each classroom. This team destruction is the assertion of the article.

    2. Since pay is a function of seniority, LIFO demands more teachers have to be released from the district to save the same amount of money.

    3. If teacher quality is solely a function on seniority, then LIFO will preserve the quality of teaching in a downturn: the district will be releasing the least qualified teachers. If teacher quality arises from factors other than seniority, then LIFO will hurt overall teacher quality. Quality remains imperfectly defined and should include team effectiveness as well as classroom performance.

    As Cal points out, LIFO shouldn’t affect the headcount at the Poor School. But filling that headcount is not always smooth.