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A Quality-Based Look At Seniority-Based Layoffs

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Matt-- A characteristically brilliant dissection of the current discussion on seniority and layoffs! In Illinois, we are currently facing an onslaught against seniority and while the unions are proposing our own reform of it, we are encountering strong opposition. Why? Because we are proposing exactly what you point to--allowing districts to locally bargain around this highly complex issue, and to place credentials first, followed by performance together with seniority. But we insist that performance should be used after the state's new revised (improved?) evaluation system is in place. The so-called reformers want to base release on evaluations under the current eval system (which a year ago they called broken). Go figure. Your analysis is very helpful to our work here. Thanks. Dan

Richly detailed; thanks for digging into the subject so thoroughly. I have one question - Could you say more about how training fits in? By this I don't mean consultant-led seminars but advanced academic degrees and national board certification. Thank you.

Thanks for the comment, Mike. As I mentioned in the post, it would appear that advanced degrees are already figured into layoff decisions to some degree (at least in Washington). Put differently, teachers with advanced degrees were less likely to receive RIF notices, all else being equal. This means that having a degree was an explicit part of the “layoff equation,” and/or that administrators are choosing, when possible, to retain teachers who have degrees. Board certification was not included in these two analyses (I’m sure this is due to data availability), and I’m not aware of any papers in which it is included (which may just mean I haven’t read them). I would imagine it is a factor in many places, but I am not certain. I hope that answers your question, and thanks again. MD

What a thoughtful and nuanced piece. Does your institution have any recommended guidelines for what districts ought to do with, as you put it, incompetent teachers? Does there exist a comprehensive inventory of teacher quality that you would endorse, factoring in both observations of teacher performance and objective data points?

KitchenSink, Thanks for your comment and kind words. We do not have a set of specific recommendations for evaluations. In general, we support a concerted effort to develop good evaluation systems that use multiple measures, with full participation from teachers. The measures that comprise these systems – and how they are configured – is the focus of a lot of work that is currently underway all over the nation. The systems might include test-based growth measures, if they are used carefully and commensurate with their limitations (see here: http://shankerblog.org/?p=1383). Other components under discussion include principal and peer observations, student portfolios, lesson plans, and others. Unfortunately, of course, there is no “correct” system – these efforts are still in progress (and have been for a long time in many places). It will be some time before we begin to get an idea of what works, and this will vary by situation/location. Thanks again, MD

Interesting points and a good topic. Another big question is raised by using value-added scores as a replacement model: New teachers cannot be measured by value-added scores as there's no prior data by which to measure them. I believe the LA Times analysis also only rated teacher for whom there were at least three years worth of data in the same classroom, because less than that would have created an even wider margin of error. So that means any teacher with less than four years at the same school could not be measured up against more senior teachers in a value-added layoff model.

Thanks for taking up this timely issue - you make many good points. Washington State is considering a bill that would lay off teachers based on their evaluation ratings, which I think makes more sense than VAM scores, which tend to be unstable and subject to factors that may be outside of teachers' control (such as the classes they're assigned to teach). I like this approach because it sharpens the utility of performance-based layoffs: If you have a two-tier (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) evaluation system, the only people who get laid off are people who have already been rated unsatisfactory, who may also in some stage of a rather protracted (potentially stalled) dismissal process. Assuming the evaluation is fair (which, granted, is a big assumption, but people do not have an intrinsic right to an evaluation they agree with), I think this is the most sensible way to conduct layoffs when they're necessary. Even if it doesn't save much money, keeping satisfactory people while laying off unsatisfactory people only makes sense. I'd feel differently if it were a high-stakes VAM system, though.

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