Stories abound about the staffing cuts that will have to be made currently, and in the next couple of years, as the ripple effects of the economic crisis impact local and state education budgets. Major budget cuts make teacher layoffs a near inevitability. This raises two very timely questions: what now determines which teachers are laid off, and is that policy best for students?
A significant body of empirical research shows that the specific teachers to which students are assigned can have dramatic effects on their achievement. Research by economist Eric Hanushek (1992), for instance, estimates that the difference between having a very effective versus a very ineffective teacher can be as much as a full year's learning growth. So are the significant differences in teacher effectiveness part of the equation when making tough decisions about which teachers will lose their jobs?
The research I describe here suggests that the answer to this question is a definitive "no." Empirical analysis reflects what is hard-wired into collective bargaining agreements (CBAs): seniority is the most important factor when deciding which teachers are laid off. Not only does this seniority-driven system not consider teacher effectiveness, but it also results in substantially more teachers being laid off to achieve specific budget targets because senior teachers, whose jobs are protected, earn more than novice teachers. This research also tellingly finds that the novice teachers laid off are often more effective than the senior teachers left behind. Looking at Washington state data on teacher effectiveness and teacher layoffs, we find that current layoff policy could lead to students losing 2 to 4 months of learning in the year after the layoffs.
.Dan Goldhaber is a research professor at The Center for Education Data & Research