American Institutes for Research

Teacher-Layoff Policies Examined in 2 CALDER Studies

Contact: Matthew Corritore - (202) 403-5796


WASHINGTON, D.C., March 8, 2011— Faced with budget shortfalls, states and localities are considering cuts to K-12 education, including reductions in teaching staff.  Consequently, governors, lawmakers, and school officials are taking a second look at seniority provisions in their collective bargaining agreements and weighing the costs and benefits of the prevailing system under which the last hired is typically the first fired.

Two recent CALDER studies, one using data from New York City and the other using data from Washington state, compare scenarios in which teachers are laid off according to  measures of their effectiveness versus the seniority system currently in place. The studies reach the same conclusions: students in affected classrooms receive a better education and fewer teaching posts are lost under effectiveness-based policies.

Some striking findings emerge:

  • The lowest-performing teachers are more readily identified under an effectiveness policy than under a seniority policy.The New York City study found that a teacher let go using effectiveness criteria (often called value-added) was significantly less effective than the typical teacher laid off according to seniority.

  • Seniority-based layoffs dismiss some of the highest-performing teachers and keep some of the least effective. In the Washington state study, more than a third of the teachers who received layoff notices were as effective, or more effective, than the average teacher whose job was secure. In the affected classrooms, when less effective teachers were spared at the expense of more effective teachers, students lost about 3 months of learning per year.

  • For any given budget reduction, more teachers lose their jobs under a seniority system than under an effectiveness system.The New York City study found that under a seniority policy, 7 percent of elementary school teachers would have to be laid off to meet a budget reduction of 5 percent; under an effectiveness policy, 25 percent fewer teachers would be laid off.

Both studies show the downside of seniority-based layoff policies, but they caution against using any single factor (such as value-added measures) to determine which teachers to let go.

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CALDER, supported by a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, is a joint project of the American Institutes for Research and scholars at Duke University, Northwestern University, Stanford University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Washington.


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