Last Hired, First…

Robin Chait and Raegan Miller turn-in a piece on how one common belt-tightening tactic used by school districts – letting the newest teachers go first when dollars get tight — can be counterproductive.   They’re right, but this points up a larger issue on teacher quality more generally:  Young/new teacher doesn’t equal good teacher and older/veteran teacher doesn’t equal burned-out teacher (and the opposite is true, of course, too).   Effectiveness in the classroom is correlated with, well, effectiveness in the classroom, not all the various proxies in use today.   In addition to thinking about who you want to let go if you have to, that has big implications for measuring and evaluating teacher effectiveness, how to structure school district human resources, and how to approach teacher compensation.   And that’s probably why things pretty much continue to happen the way they do…

20 Replies to “Last Hired, First…”

  1. It’s always bad when people have to be laid off, but it’s shocking when the employer makes the decisions based on anything but effectiveness. If you have to go through a tragic situation, you owe it to everyone involved to make sure that you end up with as strong a team as possible.

  2. I think it’s worth noting that there’s actually at least one other way that I’ve seen schools bias their layoffs: by excluding science and math teachers altogether, or at least making them last fired.

    This could probably be similarly attacked on teacher quality grounds (although I think it’s easy to overstate how well we can assess teacher quality), but I think schools could also make a very plausible argument to the effect that the science and math teachers will be harder to replace when the budget loosens up again.

    Anyway, I just mean to point out that layoff decisions can take at least a few other things into account that aren’t quality-related per se.

  3. One problem with who to lay off and who not to is how to judge teacher effectiveness. Should it be standardized testing or principal judgement? Neither of these are valid assessments in teacher effectiveness. So who makes the decision?

  4. Why isn’t a principal’s judgment valid? In most other fields supervisors conduct regular performance evaluations of their staff, and are expected to make decisions about giving them raises or firing them. It’s not hard to a create job descriptions with explicit objectives (most companies develop them for hiring) and hold employees accountable for meeting them (oops, I introduced the word “accountable,” now I’ve done it). Of course, principals, like any type of supervisor, should be able to back up their evaluations with clear evidence, including data collected from observations, satisfaction surveys, peer evaluations, and, yes, student performance data (which could include standardized tests, portfolios, grades, etc). I wish more emphasis was placed on developing principals’ evaluation skills and providing them with resources to conduct them reliably (e.g., time, protocols, etc.), rather than the constant refrain that principals can’t be trusted to evaluate their own employees. With regards to firing new teachers first, one challenge is that in my opinion it takes 3-5 years to figure out if a teacher is any good, so it’s hard to evaluate the efficacy of new teachers with only a few years in the classroom.

  5. I think we have all over-looked the initial problem. Instead of focusing on mid-year budget cuts, we should be analyzing the political system, which placed us in this position and what steps are being taken to avoid financial destruction to our economy. Bear in mind banks are being bailed out and teachers, along with their students, are being drowned!

  6. I absolutely agree that district administrators should be given the tools and resources they need in order to become effective performance evaluators. However, I disagree with the notion that is takes at least 3 years to figure out if a teacher is good at his/her job. I agree that new teachers may not have the experiences and insights needed to make them exemplary but neither do some teachers who have been on the job for many years. I think any good administrator can spot a great teacher from a mile away but they’re forced to follow protocols that they may not even have had any hand in creating. The bureaucracy of the educational system is what sets new teachers at a disadvantage for keeping a job in the face of budget cuts. I think it would take a broad wave to change the current hiring/firing practices in the education field and I would have no idea where to start.

  7. While LIFO systems may make sense in some types of accounting, they certainly do not make sense in terms of who gets cut when schools are forced to let teachers go. Young teachers are less expensive than veteran teachers, often more creative, technologically savvy and have more energy. In buisiness, a manager would not lay off the last person in, if this employee were more productive than another employee with more seniority. The decision is based on performance. Teaching should be no different. I agree with Gideon above that it ought to be the administator’s resonsibility to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. Keep the teachers who are adding the most value to the education and overall experiences of the students.

  8. My public school system is presently going through a belt tighting period so severe it seems we are on the brink of complete collapse. The local teachers union is asking eligible teachers to take early retirement by offering very unattractive insentive packages. This option is not doing well considering our union has failed to bargain for a new contract for over two years. Consolidation of schools, reduction in staff, and busing has caused class enrolment size to be above manageble size. The new teachers are leaving the profession or school system because of the stress and low pay. Only the veteran teachers are able to continue to be productive educators. We need funding help from the state and federal level now and in the future

  9. I agree with Christine that we as educators are in this situation because of politics. Our school district is wanting to increase our class sizes along with a cut in pay. I told our district if they do that then they need to get rid of everything that was implemented because of NCLB. It is because of NCLB that we had to spend billions of dollars. We had to invent new programs, surveys, and tests in order to meet the requirements for NCLB. That is where our money went and is still going.

    As Richard said the young teachers will be leaving and are leaving the profession due to stress and low pay. The veteran teachers are staying because they have time invested and they are hoping everything will work out on the political end. What is happening right now is going to create more problems. There will not be enough quilified teachers. Our students will suffer. I want to know where the money is going that we are supposedly going to be saving. What is it going to be spent on? Education is diffently being devauled in the

    As far as who should go first, I don’t think there is a justified process. What about administration? Who is going to evaluate them and eliminate their job?

  10. I am currently teaching in a school district where we are experiencing major budget cuts. This will surely effect the students. Prior to laying teachers off I think that individual counties or districts should evaluate who or what they can do away with that will effect the students the least. Would an increased class size and an over worked teacher effect the students? I think so. I am sure that although we are facing a terrible economic crisis that the county I work in, as well as many other counties can come up with other ways to cut the budget with out loosing the educators. If it is necessary for an educator to loose their position I feel strongly that it should be based on their performance not the years they have taught. Our students will suffer greatly if they loose the hightly qualified educators they currently have. There is no way to get around the fact that less teachers means less instructional time, less one on one instruction, and a less of an education for the children that will ver shortly run our country. Is this really worth the risk?

  11. I also agree that our country is facing an economic crisis which we all know translates into job losses. New college graduates can’t find jobs and so many have outstanding loans to repay. As a veteran teacher (28 years) I strongly believe in tenure. We are evaluated over a three year period before given job security. We are observed by our supervisors, vice principals, principals, and superintendents. Unfortunately when budget cuts happen we see programs cut and support staff as well. The last thing anyone wants in education is to see fellow colleagues lose their jobs but the last hired is the way lay offs occur. I think it is unfair to say that veteran teachers experience burnout and young teachers are energetic. That could be said for every occupation and the people in them. I believe with age comes wisdom and most teachers become better teachers as the years pass. Class size is a concern for maximum instruction as well as safety for the students when our work force is decreased. No one wants to see children’s education compromised but until a new system within the local and state goverment comes up with a new way to pay our salaries there isn’t much that can be done. I also don’t agree with merit pay. It definitely favors high test scores in academic areas and teachers who teach electives or those subject areas that don’t appear yet on standardized tests may not be recognized. It should be a common playing field and until that can be reached I don’t feel it should be done.

  12. I completely agree with you, Donna, about merit pay. I often wondered how teachers in the grades that get tested get pay raises but so do the elective teachers whose subjects are not tested. It’s not entirely fair. I do not believe merit pay should be used at all until school districts can make it fair.
    I respectfully disagree with you on one issue. I have seen and worked with veteran teachers who should not be teachers. They don’t want to be there and they go up in front of the class and dictate information to students and give them worksheet after worksheet with no activities. They have tenure so they get to stay teachers. Newer teachers who give it their all and try their hardest to provide students with experiences get the boot first only because they are on a year-to-year contract. The tenure system should be eliminated or drastically reformed. Teachers on tenure do not get evaluated every year, in fact they don’t need to have another formal observation ever. They could be teaching whatever they want in the classrooms and get away with it. How is that fair?

  13. After reading Donna’s response, I was having the same feeling as Jamie about veteran teachers. While there are many veteran teachers who are wonderful there are also many who really should not be teaching. Donna said that teachers are evaluated for their effectiveness over their first three years in order to earn tenure, which is true, but where is the accountability after that? With age does come wisdom, as long as the person is a life-long learner and actively researches best-practices in their field.

  14. Our system is facing cut backs also. I am sure that it is hard for principals to make those decisions. We have many retired teachers who are back working part time that will most likely be let go first. I agree that teachers who are the most effective should get to stay. How does a principal show that fairly?

  15. There seem to be so many ways to cut spending without eliminating the most important part of a school (the teacher that interacts with students every day). I recently found out that my school spends $50,000/year on paper…on PAPER! Now, paper is clearly needed to run a school, but do all 200 teachers need that memo in their mailbox reminding them that the canned food drive is this month? Couldn’t one notice be posted near the time in/out clock? My salary and benefits do not cost the school $50,000 per year. Also, the New York City Board of Education spends millions of dollars on school “report cards” to evaluate a schools performance as a whole. Yes this is important, but…do we need to pay for a company to send people from England to do this? Do we need to put them up in a $400 per night hotel room for several weeks? Do we need to provide a car service for these evaluators? The NYC BOE has also spent millions on ARIS, a program that is little more than an electronic record keeping software. In my school, I know of no teacher (of 200) that actually uses this program. How about how are mayor Michael Bloomberg forced the city to invest tens of millions on text books for a curriculum that was discontinued a few years later? Is that money well spent? Acuity testing is a standardized test that is given several times throughout the year. The problem, our curriculum does not follow the same calander that the test follows. The result is students being tested in October on material that they learn in November, and millions of dollars worth of test results that are inaccurate and unusable. Also, why is it that if we have money for books, that we cant use it on something else if we don’t need books? Instead that money is taken away.

    Before politicians with no background in education start firing teachers to save some money, why don’t they wake up and realize that schools shouldn’t be run like a business. Firing any teacher, whether they teach math or music is a grave mistake. History shows that these mistakes take years to overcome. A student doesn’t have that time to “redo”.

  16. I agree Dave. I think there needs to be an established set of guidelines for budget cuts when it comes to education. It seem as if all the inexperienced non educators are the ones calling all the shots. Cut backs is sort of a lose lose situation, because in today’s society it’s WHO YOU KNOW, not WHAT YOU KNOW! There is this twisted undercover principal depending on your social status rather than effectiveness. I have a question, if education is the key to success, then why does a football coach salary is five times more than a teacher or professor? The economy fails to realize that we as teachers holds most of the world’s future in our hands. These funds are being distributing for the wrong reasons and extracted for the wrong reasons. Educational funds are being wasted on luxury for the administration. Tell me one thing, why does a board room need three 52″ flat screen/touch screen televisions. Why can’t they just use a projector or smart board like us teachers? From observation, some teachers have received a new telephone before materials for their classroom. Their school has spent up to 10,000 dollars on wood chips for a playground rather than give teachers a raise, students get new desks, and hire more staff. The economy has a lack of respect for the education system. I also think the administration needs to lay off employees as a result of their effectiveness. Of course, I wouldn’t wish any hardship on anyone, but we all have to face reality.

  17. I agree with so many of the things stated on this blog. I agree tenure needs to be reevaluated. I know I work with some teachers who have years of experience and wisdom. Students are gaining knowledge from them but I do believe there are better, newer, more forward thinking ways of instruction than what is taking place in some of those classrooms. There are staff members who are teaching as they did 20+ years ago and are not being monitored because of “tenure”. I would certainly not want a doctor performing a procedure on me as it was done 20+ years ago. Scary thought! Our students are the future and deserve the best practice and most effective teaching available. Cutting teachers and increasing class sizes is not giving our children a quality education.
    The school district I work for is projecting cutting certified and classified staff based upon date of hire for the next school year. I am pretty close to the chopping block, if not on it. This concerns me as I am considered a “novice” teacher who is striving for the “expert” status. The last several hired teachers all have young children receiving their schooling within the district. We all know where funding comes from….student enrollment. How wise is it to cut your teachers who have children in the district as students? Isn’t that making the available funding even more dismal? I am not saying to keep younger teachers for student enrollment but I agree principals and administrators need to look at more than date of hire. Observations, contributions to the professional world, professional development, classroom performance, and teacher efficacy should all be attributes to consider when determining what is best for students and which staff members should stay on the payroll. Maybe this topic is too personal for me to comment on but I am also a mother wanting the best education and educators for my children. There has to be an appropriate measuring device and I do not believe merit pay is the correct tool.

  18. I agree that the last hired is not necessarily the least effective. Although the older, veteran teachers may be the most experienced in terms of classroom management, they may fall short when it comes to being privy to new methods, materials and strategies. We all can agree that change is difficult and if you are a veteran at anything, it may be difficult to be open minded when new ideas are introduced. These veteran teachers may be reluctant to attend seminars and conventions, possibly even district staff meetings because they feel that they may have an upper hand, when in turn, they are much less effective than they used to be. Times are changing and students needs are more difficult to meet, therefore, without new ideas, technology, etc. effectiveness will be significantly diminished. Administrators need to look closely at the overall picture. Not only may veteran teachers be less effective, but they also cost the district more to keep on. Two less experienced, but equally effective teachers could be hired for what it would cost to keep one veteran. I am by no means saying that this is true across the board, as I work with many veterans who are excellent teachers and from whom I have learned a great deal. I just think we need to consider the bigger picture when making cutbacks when the education of our future is at stake.

  19. Like everywhere else in the country, the fiftyth state is suffering too. We are not experiencing ANY reduction in classroom teachers, just resource teachers. This is a good thing, because no one knows what these “teachers” do anyway. It is crazy to run education as a business, but in some ways our DOE can be more accountable. Those useless programs Dave talked about- I bet we all know of similar situations. Hang in there, maybe with the stimulus money we can teach in new, termite free rooms!

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