LIFO is good Part II

I received a thoughtful comment from the author of the great mathinaz blog.  For those of you who don’t know, she has the most visited blog on this site.  (I’m a bit bitter about that.  I made it my mission to be #1 for most recent rating period, but only got to #5.)  She had a few lingering concerns about my ‘LIFO is good’ post, which I’d like to address.

The comment said:

First, what if teachers were paid by merit instead of by seniority? Then, if you fired to cut funds, you’d also be cutting the people that the principals/districts themselves actually thought were best, which would make little sense. (I guess that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen, but still.)

Second, what about the fact that the worst schools are often disproportionately affected by LIFO? Those are the schools where it’s hardest to keep staff but stability is so desperately needed. All the “last in” teachers are concentrated in those schools, and it just makes their teacher turnover worse while better performing schools don’t have to lose as many people.

And third, I really disagree with you that there’s no problem with lazy teachers protected by tenure. I won’t say it’s most (or hopefully even many) teachers, but I’ve seen too many people who don’t even bother getting up from behind their desks to teach kids. Those “interventions” you talk about are long and deadline-filled and time-consuming for overburdened administrations, and the “eventually fired” piece means that years can go by before anything actually happens.

To the first concern, I don’t think that merit pay in any of it’s current incarnations is much more than a few thousand dollars bonus, so laying off veteran teachers who are at the top of the pay scale would be ‘better’ financially for the district than new teachers, even ones who are receiving some kind of merit bonus.

The second concern brings up a lot of issues.  The first one is, are they really going to lay off all these teachers, or is it just a bluff.  I tend to think it’s a bluff since there are a certain number of kids that have to be taught so if you reduce the number of teachers, what’s the plan?  Let’s say that one school loses half their staff of new teachers and another school loses none of their staff.  What happens then?  Does the school that lost all the teachers have to make their class sizes over 60 to compensate for that?  Or is the plan to make everyone’s class size a bit bigger which would mean that some of the teachers at the other school would get ‘bumped’ to the other school to make up the difference.  Those teachers who got bumped would be, presumably, the younger (i.e. better) teachers at that other school so the school that got hit hard with layoffs would at least get some good teachers in compensation.

As for the third point, it makes me think of the long term consequences of getting rid of LIFO.  It’s true that it takes a lot of administrative work to fire a teacher.  Those rules were put in place a while ago to counter indiscriminate firings.  If a teacher really refuses to improve it might take a few years to get rid of him/her, but it can be done.  But when layoffs have to happen, that process can’t be rushed.  If a veteran teacher is that bad that he/she should be the first to go in a layoff situation then the firing process should already be well underway.  If that process hadn’t been started yet, then I’d argue that that teacher wasn’t really that bad.

A few more considerations:  Presumably these firings would be some kind of ‘one time deal.’  In other words, if there’s a plan to cut 5,000 teachers and raise class size or do away with band and art everywhere or something like that, then once that cut has happened, it can’t happen again.  There’s a certain number of kids and programs and these vast cuts, I’d think, wouldn’t be an annual occurrence.  So one time a bunch of first year teachers have to be fired under the LIFO rules.  Then, presumably, the new teachers for the next couple of years (who filled in for veterans who retired) should be pretty safe.

Remember that there is not a really accurate way to measure the quality of a teacher — and even if there was one, a new teacher who had one very good year wouldn’t really have enough evidence to show that they should keep a job over a veteran with 20 years experience.  That good first year could be a result of a lot of factors and will not necessarily be repeated.  Also, that new dynamo will, most likely, be out of the profession within 5 years since that’s the trend with people new to the profession, especially with TFA teachers.

I’m also concerned about principals finding a way to fire those veteran teachers so they can free up space in their budgets.  There are ways to stack the deck against an older teacher to set them up for failure.  And if a principal thinks his/her job is in jeopardy, they could resort to such tricks.  Think from the perspective of the older teacher:  This teacher has taught for 20 years.   She made very little money for most of those years and knew that if she worked hard and stayed with it, eventually she would be making a bit more money and then get a decent well-deserved pension.  Now, LIFO gets changed, she gets fired because she scored poorly on some arbitrary rubric and loses her job to a new teacher.  Old teachers are not like old appliances that we just throw out when they wear out a bit.  They’re people who put their lives into what’s often a thankless job.  There are some clunkers out there, I know, but in general there are a lot easier ways to make $50,000 a year so most people that are that bad at it don’t enjoy it and find something else to do.  I worry about the long term damage of overturning LIFO.  One thing is that it would discourage young people from making a long term commitment to teaching.  Why would you dedicate your life to something with the knowledge that when you slow down in your later years you’re going to get fired and not be able to get your full pension that you were counting on?

You mention that administrators are already so busy that they can’t go through the steps to fire the bad teachers, but what about helping the bad teachers.  They must have been decent at some point when they were younger.

Another thing I’d see happening if LIFO were overturned would be a hostile division between the younger and older teachers.  Rather then serve as mentors, older teachers would be crazy to help out younger teachers since there’s a chance they’d be mentoring themselves right out of a job.  I don’t think this would make for a good school environment.  In the long run, I don’t think that such an environment would help the kids much.  Also, if one of the main benefits of teaching — job security, is removed, I don’t know why anyone would want to become a life-long teacher.

One of the arguments, I think, is that we don’t need life-long teachers anymore.  We could just expand TFA so that everyone is a new teacher and we don’t need lazy veterans anymore.  The thing is that the new TFA teachers, I think, are generally not the dynamos that all the politicians are lamenting about losing.  I do think that 2nd year TFAs are very good, but those ones would only get fired after all the first year teachers were, and I think there are a lot of first year teachers, though I don’t know all the statistics.

Well, mathinaz, you said I might be able to convince you.  Please let me know if I made any headway.  And keep up the good blogging.  If you ever want to turn your blog into a book, I’d be happy to give you any advice I have about how to make that happen.


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2 Responses to LIFO is good Part II

  1. Pingback: The Best Articles For Helping To Understand Both Why Teacher Tenure Is Important & The Reasons Behind Seniority-Based Layoffs | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

  2. Rachel says:

    I think that there is a logical middle ground between the current LIFO system in most districts and the unrestricted ability to fire teachers based on a single year’s assessment that many superintendents, such as former DC schools chief Michele Rhee want.

    Why not have all teacher’s performance evaluations, testing data, etc. reviewed two times. First we review every year and a teacher who does badly gets extra help. Then we also review all the data at the end of 5 years. Teachers are then ranked according to their 5 year data set. Those who score very badly are fired. Then the rest are ranked according to performance and the lower ranking teachers are the ones who go when we have budget related lay offs.

    At the same time instead of having guaranteed pay increases for each year of seniority, something primarily abandoned outside of government as making no business sense, we up the initial pay for new teachers and then have pay raises come at either 3 or 5 year intervals and based on performance.

    Finally, to keep principals from simply saddling the highest paid teachers with the worst kids to try to push down their performance (something that under this system would hurt test scores since these should be the best teachers) we base performance on a blend of concrete testing goals (aka standards) and looking at where the kids scored at the beginning of the year versus where they wound up.

    The details for this will definitely not be easy to figure out but should be doable. The alternative of just saying “teaching is not measurable” and essentially giving an “A” for effort regardless of results and awarding time in grade above all else is never going to produce major improvements in educational quality.

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