JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 5, 2010
Today, after months of wrangling, the Senate finally approved $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, as part of a larger $26 billion package of state aid. Nancy Pelosi has said she will call the House back next week to vote on the measure as well. States and teachers’ unions (and the Obama administration) are breathing a sigh of relief.
But, as I’ve written before, edujobs is far from a perfect bill. It doles out money to save jobs, which is good. But it doesn't include incentives for states to reform the bad systems that govern layoffs. Currently, the vast majority of states and school districts lay off teachers based on seniority—meaning those who have the fewest years in the classroom are dismissed first, with no regard for their quality. In addition to being unfair to teachers, this “last-hired, first-fired” policy has a particularly heavy impact on low-income, high-minority schools, which tend to have a lot of young teachers.
Last week, the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) released a study that describes additional problems with the policy. “[B]ecause many districts have redesigned human resource policies to place greater emphasis on the recruitment and retention of effective teachers, they may have hired disproportionately more effective teachers over the last several years than in prior years,” the study notes. “In such cases, seniority-based layoffs will be even more detrimental for [teacher] quality.” The findings then show that quality-based layoffs, which keep better teachers in the classroom, lead to greater gains in student achievement over time. “Strong teachers get nearly triple the results that weak teachers get with their students,” Jane Hannaway, the head of CALDER, told USA Today.
Policymakers could have used edujobs to spur states to develop quality-based layoffs—but they didn’t. Promoting good teaching and academic success, it seems, will just have to wait.