NCTQ Offers Useful Summary of Teacher Layoff Issues
May 12, 2010

Suggestions on using teacher quality to determine layoffs are sensible, but not new or easy to implement

Contact: Teri Battaglieri (248) 444-7071;
Richard Ingersoll (215) 573-5674 or (215) 573-0700 (x226);

EAST LANSING, Mi., (May 12, 2010) – In a recent report, the National Council for Teacher Quality urges making teacher-layoff decisions on the basis of teacher quality and performance. A Think Twice review of that report credits it for being straightforward and reasonable but notes that its proposals are not unique or easily implemented.

Teacher Layoffs: Rethinking "Last Hired, First Fired" Policies was reviewed by Professor Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, assisted by graduate student Lisa Merrill. Ingersoll is an expert on teacher supply and quality.

The issue of how to prioritize which teachers to lay off is of growing interest in light of teacher downsizing spikes in the troubled economy. Some 60,000 teachers were laid off in 2009, about 2 percent of the nation's teacher workforce, which is four to five times the annual average number during the 1990s.

Teacher Layoffs considers layoff procedures at 100 of the largest U.S. school districts and finds that in 75 of them, seniority is the primary criterion for choosing who will be dismissed. The report argues that while "teacher quality" is not frequently used to make those decisions, it can and should be.

Ingersoll and Merrill observe, however, that while the report's ideas are "straightforward and common sense," they are not new, and they are not easy to implement: "For a century we  have seen numerous attempts to measure, recognize and reward differences in teacher quality," they write. "Often, unfortunately, these reform attempts have met little or no success."

Among the challenges confronting teacher quality reforms are deciding among the multiple and competing definitions of the "good" teacher, and deciding who decides which teachers are better and worse.

The reviewers commend the report for recognizing some of the obstacles to changing teacher-layoff policies—such as its acknowledgement that when principals make evaluations, their systems need to be transparent and systematic. Moreover, principals themselves should be held accountable for their evaluations.

But while the report makes "a useful contribution" in documenting variations in school-district layoff policies and summarizing options, the reviewers note in conclusion that it omits discussion of a potentially broad-based strategy in addressing layoff policies: involving teachers themselves in design and implementation.

"Layoff policies do not have to be conceived as something done by others to teachers," they write. Indeed, they add, "a long tradition of research on implementation has shown that one way to aid the successful implementation of difficult employee reform initiatives is to enlist those being reformed."

Find the review by Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill and a link to Teacher Layoffs on the web at:

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The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


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