Seniority, performance most often weighed in teacher layoffs

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Dive Brief:

  • Teaching positions could be on the chopping block as public schools face decreasing enrollment and September 2024 spending deadlines for federal pandemic relief funds — and the resulting possibility of budget cuts. With this in mind, the National Council on Teacher Quality released a report Thursday analyzing teacher layoff policies among 148 of the nation’s largest districts.
  • The two most common factors districts use to determine teacher layoffs are based on seniority and performance, according to NCTQ. A third of districts said they primarily rely on a teacher’s performance, with the educators having the lowest evaluation ratings being the first to face layoffs. 
  • Discussions about teacher layoffs are occurring while ongoing staffing shortages are still felt in some states and districts. On top of that, a recent report by Horace Mann Educators Corp. revealed 63% of educators are considering leaving the profession. 

Dive Insight:

While 33% of districts look primarily at performance when considering layoffs, nearly the same share —  31% — report using seniority, NCTQ found. Some 28% consider multiple criteria, including both seniority and performance.

Though seniority policies remain some districts’ top factor when determining which teachers to lay off, such strategies can disproportionately and negatively impact teachers of color, who are more likely to be early career educators, according to an April 2022 study published in the journal Education Finance & Policy. 

Seniority-based layoff policies could likely undo recent efforts to diversify the teacher workforce, the Education Finance & Policy study said. This approach can disproportionately impact students of color, too, the study found. 

“One consequence of these sorting patterns is that LIFO [“last-in first-out”] layoff policies end up removing less-experienced teachers, sometimes en masse, from a small handful of schools,” the study said. “Further compounding these inequities, high-poverty districts that serve more students of color are more likely to have seniority-based layoff policies.” 

To address these concerns, the study’s authors suggest creating federal stabilization funds to help minimize position and budget cuts during economic pitfalls. States should also collect data on teacher layoffs and pass laws barring seniority-based layoffs in schools, the study recommends. 

As concerns about budget cuts loom due to declining enrollment, district school leaders may also have to begin considering if and how they should close or consolidate schools. Geographic location tied to falling enrollment is a common factor influencing such a decision, but school performance and student achievement can also play a role.

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