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Report calls for school districts to end seniority-based layoffs

School districts should abandon lay-off policies that require principals to dismiss the newest teachers first and instead incorporate measures of teacher quality into firing decisions, a new report out today from The New Teacher Project argues.

The report proposes a scorecard that would rank teachers, weighing their classroom management skills, attendance, performance evaluations and length of service to the district to determine who should be laid off. Under the group’s proposal, a teacher’s performance rating would be given the most weight, while his or her number of years served would count for only a tenth of their score.

By doing so, the report argues, school districts can avoid laying off their best teachers who may not have worked in the system the longest.

“Layoffs are not good for anyone, but they are worse when they result in the loss of top teachers,” the report states. “With so many jobs — and so many children’s futures — potentially at stake, districts and teachers unions must act now to reform these outdated rules so that schools will be able to hold on to their most effective teachers if layoffs become necessary.”

The report is based in part on a survey of 9,000 teachers in two large Midwestern city school districts (though the report does not name the districts, its description of the two districts seems to match Minneapolis and Detroit).

The survey asked teachers if they believed other factors besides seniority should be considered in layoff decisions. Around three-quarters of the teachers surveyed in both districts answered “yes.” Even among teachers with more than 30 years of experience in their district, more than half agreed that “additional factors should be considered” in excessing or firing criteria.

Eliminating the “last hired, first fired” requirement for excessing city teachers is one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s major political priorities in education, and a change to the system is on the city’s teachers contract negotiations wish list.

Opponents of the mayor’s proposed changes, including the city teachers union, often attack the credibility of The New Teacher Project because of the group’s close ties to the Bloomberg administration. Dan Weisberg, the group’s vice president for policy, was formerly the Department of Education’s head labor negotiator, and the organization was founded by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the D.C. school system whose reform goals frequently align with Klein’s.

“Asking the New Teacher Project about personnel policies is like asking Bernie Madoff for investment advice,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew in a statement. “It is impossible for the New Teacher Project to be an objective voice of reason when they receive almost $5 million a year from the Department of Education.”

“Carefully omitted from their survey is the real option that teachers are afraid would be the most prominent factor in any non-seniority layoff decision — the whims of administrators who too often know less about education than the teachers they are supposed to be supervising,” Mulgrew said.

The survey did gauge teachers’ support for a number of other criteria that could be used for layoff decisions. In both districts, classroom management and teacher attendance rates garnered the most support from teachers. Around half of teachers in both districts also supported the use of “instructional performance based on evaluation rating” as a criteria, though far fewer listed “principal’s opinion” as a factor that should be used in layoff decisions.

Around half of teachers in one district, and 41 percent in the other, listed total years of teaching experience as a criteria they would support, but less than half of teachers surveyed in both cities chose length of service in their districts as a factor the believe should be considered.

The report does not wade into the murky waters of how effective classroom management skills and performance ratings should be determined. A report from The New Teacher Project released last year called most teacher evaluation programs “meaningless” because of the extraordinarily high numbers of teachers rated satisfactory. But efforts to evaluate teachers on other measures, including test scores, frequently draw fierce criticism from those who argue such factors are overly simplistic and unreliable.

Here is the full report:

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