Laying off the least effective teachers

Seniority determines teacner layoffs in most school districts. Laying off the least-effective teachers, instead of the newest hires, would let districts retain more and better teachers for the same budgetary savings, write University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald  in Education Next.

 Only 16 percent of Washington state teachers who received lay-off notices were in the least-effective category, the study concluded, comparing teachers for whom value-added scores could be generated.  Because the least-effective teachers are more senior and therefore earn higher pay, laying off 132 would save as much money as laying off 145 junior teachers.   

Furthermore, the least-effective group was 20 percent of a standard deviation lower in students’ math and reading achieve­ment then the least-senior group.

The magnitude of the difference is strik­ing, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.

Black students are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers who are the first to be laid off, the study found.  Effectiveness-based layoffs spread the disruption more evenly.

Some districts protect teachers in high-need specialties: Math and science teachers are less vulnerable to layoffs than P.E. and health teachers, for example. But in 70 percent of the nation’ s largest school districts, seniority alone determines the order of layoffs, the study concluded.

 That’s just crazy.

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