Teacher layoffs: Should seniority rule?

As budget cuts loom again in many states, employee termination, seniority, and 'bumping rights' are in the news. The essential issue is whether organizational leaders should be able to retain the employees they think are the most highly-skilled or whether seniority (or some other factor) should be employed instead. 'Highly skilled' in this instance means 'employee quality' or 'best fit for employer needs,' both of which are typically defined by the organization, not the employee or union.


Here is an indicative quote from Iowa in favor of seniority-based employment provisions:

"We're not going to have this debate on whether or not somebody who has worked for a year gets to stay over somebody who has devoted 30 years of their life because they work harder," [Danny Homan, president of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] said. "That is baloney."

And here's another, this time in favor of merit-based layoffs:

"You always want to focus on keeping your best-performing people," said David Keeling, a spokesman for the New Teacher Project. "The only thing worse than a layoff situation is one where you are forced to cut some of your best-performing people regardless of their contributions or their fit with their jobs."

Providence, Rhode Island parents have petitioned the local teachers union to give up seniority-based layoff protections. The New York Daily News has stated that

there is basically no relationship between seniority and teaching ability. A wide and scarcely disputed body of research finds that teachers' additional experience stops paying off after about year three.

Education Sector reported that rethinking teacher contracts could free billions for school reform. And a very interesting study out of Indianapolis showed that a majority of sampled teachers thought that factors other than seniority (but not student achievement, apparently) should be considered for teacher layoffs.

The National Education Association recently made news for stating that it would encourage local unions to "waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers." In the past it had said that staffing and seniority issues should be left to local unions and districts. The American Federation of Teachers chimed in with its support.

I wonder if the majority of educators favor or disfavor seniority-based layoff protections. I wonder how the majority of citizens feel as well. If I had to guess, I'd venture that most citizens are against teacher seniority serving as the primary determinant of job protection. I'm not sure about public school educators. What do you think?

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