Teacher layoffs ahead: Should seniority prevail? Six considerations.

Thousands of teachers are being notified this spring that their jobs are in jeopardy – and many of those layoffs may actually occur, given the severe budget crises affecting state and local governments. The result is renewed scrutiny of the seniority rules that govern layoffs in many states. Just in the past month, Florida has done away with such rules, and Georgia is on its way.

1. How do seniority-based layoff rules work, and why is seniority a hot issue now?

Ann Hermes/Staff/file
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke at a rally March 2 outside City Hall in Providence, R.I., after the cost-cutting layoffs of city teachers.

It varies from state to state – often from district to district – but many superintendents are required to let people go strictly on the basis of seniority, with the most recently hired being let go first, regardless of performance.

For the first time in a couple of decades, teacher layoffs are likely to be both widespread and severe. Moreover, a great deal of attention has been paid recently to how much teacher effectiveness matters to student achievement.

There has also been renewed focus on attracting and training a cadre of talented, eager new teachers – many of whom now face the ax.

"When you put all this energy into developing new teachers … and suddenly you have to make substantial layoffs, and there's no system in place to do that in any other way than seniority, then people will challenge that," says Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

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