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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All Michelle Rhee cares about is making money hand over fist. She doesn’t care about children. She’s just trying to stay relevant so her billionaire backers can keep cutting her checks. Just last week we find out that she got $50 million from the CEO of the Fox News parent company. She wants to end LIFO because it helps her rich, right-wing friends destroy public education (and makes a them a tidy sum in the process).

Anyone taking this woman at face value needs to look into her record. If she cared about saving great teachers, she wouldn’t be teaming up with governors and policy makers who want to slash school budgets and do away with public schools.

Posted by richard_t | Report as abusive

I’ve taught for 27 years, was county Teacher of the Year in 2010 and am currently nominated state Teacher of the Year. I’m even mentioned in a popular SEI text book. However, I’m afraid I’ll never equal you, Michelle Rhee, in “putting students first.”

Replacing ineffective teachers would not only be “putting students first” but it would make my job much easier. I’d be glad to help point out the bad ones. It’s just that I doubt you, Michelle, making millions “putting students first,” would be as interested in improving my job, as you are making money from education budgets you cut by laying off teachers.

Being paid for performance has been good for me, and I am not worried about losing my job based on test scores. On the contrary, I worry about losing my job based on being the most outspoken and highest paid teacher in my district.

I made nearly 10K in performance pay this year, which along with my base salary,puts me ahead of most public defenders and county prosecutors. Nothing near what you make, Michelle, “putting students first.” I’m sure if kicking me to the gutter puts you–er I mean–students–first, you wouldn’t hesitate, would you?

Michelle just how would you prevent effective high salaried teachers from layoffs when it comes to cutting budgets? I’m sure if two teachers could be had for the price of me, you wouldn’t flinch would you?

What bothers me is you would spend all your energy on LIFO instead of finding ways to fire bad teachers based on their performances. At the time you should be using that great brain of yours to attract better people to my profession.

Dear God, Michelle! You are to education what the Wicked Witch of the West is to Oz. Any promising teaching candidate who walks into this nightmare and encounters you, will surely cry “there’s no place like home” as she runs for the door.

I started this job at 16k a year. Obviously, I don’t do it for it the money. However, I don’t mind receiving a salary that reflects some appreciation for a career that I wager has been more purely dedicated to “putting students first,” than yours, Michelle.

So, Michelle… you’re a hired gun in Nevada now right? Are you “putting students first,” before all personal, financial and political interests?

Then I think I’m headed for Nevada. If you’re there, they need me.

Posted by young5gun9 | Report as abusive

I am appalled by these two emotional and irrational responses to Ms. Rhee’s measured account of why LIFO is bad for both students and educators– at least here. If there are issues extraneous to this article that color any reading of Rhee’s opinion on education, they could have been discussed more clearly.
I doubt she is cackling away in a witch’s lair full of money, plotting the demise of our education system. Rather, she points out why LIFO is not a good policy: it doesn’t work. Instead, she advocates that it should be “best in, worst out;” as in, recruit and teach the best teachers and, when cuts are necessary, fire the least effective teachers.
“Young5gun9″ misreads Rhee’s argument to be a threat to her (?) job security. If she is a phenomenal teacher, as her awards and salary attest, then she would be secure under Ms. Rhee’s idea.

Posted by daisyeight | Report as abusive

Teaching is not rocket science. Teachers can be easily trained to program reading of material in increments in logical sequence enabling all students to master the material within a reasonable amount of time. Frequent monitoring of student progress should be used and all students held accountable for their work. Homework/classwork gains final acceptance on the basis of being correct and complete no matter how many trials it takes the student to accomplish this. For their quarterly grade tests should count as 50%, homework/ classwork counts as 25% an automatic 100% because all students HAVE to complete all assignments correctly and are not allowed the option of non-submission of work and the remaining 25% grade for either an enrichment project or collection of notebooks. When Unions proliferated in this country, teachers no longer remained after school to offer remediation. With high influx of males into the system starting after WWII, avoidance of draft in Korean and Vietnam War and downsizing of defense industry in 1969…males maintained class control, especially at the senior high level merely by their presence without having to give a lot of assignments to keep the students busy in the classroom. As a teacher in three separate socio economic settings ( poor, middle income and high) I watched it happen……THAT and the eventual failure of the administration to collect grade books and curriculum records from teachers every marking quarter. These books reveal what a teacher does every day. The way that quarter inch square for daily accountability of student’s work is treated is a measure of the effectiveness of the teacher, success of the student and reputation of a particular school. High achievement scores are achieved as a matter of default by this method, which, incidentally is not new…..but that used before WWII. There are assumptions here that the lessons follow the curriculum, bi weekly quizzes are given and students made to hand in corrections of mistakes made on tests. This method is at the very core of online learning where mastering an increment presents a positive reward in and of itself. Increasing salaries based on effectivness of the teacher is as ludicrous as giving children candy for doing what they should be doing. While the students are engaged in the program reading which can contain some ‘think questions’…the teacher can be seeing students one on one for an enrichment project.

Posted by Joangeluso | Report as abusive