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False Choices In The Seniority Debate

It’s been a busy week with plenty of stories to share. There was the student of mine who transferred schools abruptly without a chance to say goodbye, my post-observation meeting, and the girl who basically extorted $20 from another student. In all it hasn’t been the easiest week back from break. But as I’ve read the discussion surrounding layoffs and seniority, there’s a recurring thread of half-truths that’s too frustrating to ignore.

As usual, both sides of the issue are guilty of manipulating facts in favor of emotion. On the one hand, the argument that seniority-based layoffs, aka “last in, first out” (LIFO), will disproportionately hurt high-poverty schools seems overblown. On the other side, people arguing that without seniority, principals will simply fire the most expensive (e.g. most senior) teachers, are exaggerating the incentive to do so.

Most frustrating about the discussion surrounding LIFO however, is the false insinuation that if we don’t stick to LIFO, therefore laying off the least senior teachers, we’ll lay off the most senior teachers instead. There are legitimate arguments about the changes being proposed. However, the idea that ending LIFO will put senior teachers on the chopping block instead is untrue, and it’s much more harmful than some of the others floating out there, because it fundamentally distorts the conversation.This is not what Educators 4 Excellence’s white paper on LIFO, nor the Flanagan Bill passed by the State Senate earlier this week, propose to do. (I am a member of E4E, and I took part in the group’s lobbying effort in support of Flanagan’s bill.)

While there are some differences between E4E’s policy paper and SB3501, they would both change layoff policy essentially by first losing U-rated teachers, teachers with chronic absenteeism, and teachers who haven’t found jobs after six months in the Absent Teacher Reserve first. This doesn’t mean we’d just go out and summarily fire any teacher with 20 years experience, but that’s precisely what advocates of the current seniority system are arguing.

These same advocates are criticizing opponents of LIFO of trying to pit teachers against each other, young versus old. But in skewing the actual outcome of ending seniority, these LIFO supporters are doing exactly that. They would have us believe that those of us who want to end LIFO have no respect for senior teachers. Their view: Seniority supporters respect their elders. We junior teachers value only our own jobs and everyone else, especially those veterans, can go to hell.

As someone who has relied upon the help of teachers with more experience than me since the day I started Teaching Fellows’ training, I resent this implication. I have the utmost respect for the teachers who have dedicated their careers to education. Teachers like these have been invaluable to my growth and survival in the classroom. But these are not the teachers who would lose their jobs if LIFO ends, and to say otherwise is flat out wrong.

Instead, if the Flanagan bill becomes law, we will lose teachers rated Unsatisfactory, teachers who haven’t found employment after six months, and teachers who can’t be bothered to show up to work. If you want to argue that these teachers should keep their jobs over thousands of newer jobs, that’s fine. But forcing me to defend a choice between new and senior teachers isn’t just unfair, it’s false.

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