Put kids first: Get rid of LIFO

By Michelle Rhee
August 25, 2011

By Michelle Rhee
The opinions expressed are her own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. Below is Rhee’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein, Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch and others.

In his opinion piece for Reuters, “School Reform Deniers,” Steven Brill accurately describes last-in, first-out seniority rules as making no sense in our schools today.

LIFO, as the policy is known, requires that when budget shortfalls lead to teacher layoffs, the last teacher hired should be the first one to go. This happens completely without regard to how teachers are actually doing in their classrooms. There is no question teacher layoffs are awful, but going about them this way makes the problem even worse.

The problem is pervasive, especially during economic downturns. Just within the past few months, about a thousand good teachers in Philadelphia lost their jobs under LIFO.

Researchers from Stanford and the University of Washington have separately found that when you use LIFO to conduct layoffs, as opposed to considering job performance, you let some of your most effective teachers go. With huge achievement gaps in our schools and high drop-out rates threatening our children’s future, can we really afford to do that?

No other school-based factor is as important to student learning as the work of a child’s teacher. Research published by Stanford University has found that effective teachers produce three times as much learning in kids as ineffective teachers. Knowing this, it is our moral obligation to put our best teachers in front of kids – not policies that push them out the door.

In a response to Brill’s op-ed, Deborah Meier wrote that last-in, first-out rules relate to “loyalty and fair play.” I believe LIFO is actually unfair in that it doesn’t account for how hard teachers work for their successes. I also think teachers should be treated like professionals and held accountable for their job performance. Even more importantly, children are not widgets. Their right to a great education is paramount and has to come ahead of the interests of adults in the system. Simply put, LIFO doesn’t benefit children, and therefore our schools should do away with it.

Nationally, about a dozen states require LIFO to be used during layoffs, and most others leave it up to districts – which tend to rely on this archaic policy. But there are signs that things are changing. During the last legislative session, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, and Tennessee eliminated LIFO. I hope other states follow their lead by putting students first and ensuring our schools keep their best teachers.

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