Will Seniority-Based Layoffs Undermine School Improvement Efforts in Washington State?

March 2011

A new analysis finds that policies known as “last in, first out” may disproportionately affect schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs).

A centerpiece of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s school reform agenda, SIG funds are intended to transform or turn around chronically failing schools. Analyzing Washington State personnel files, researchers at the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that teachers at risk of layoff are concentrated in schools receiving SIG funds. Many teachers in these schools are newly hired, chosen on the basis of high ability and commitment to education of disadvantaged children.

In Washington’s SIG schools, about 23% of teachers are in their first three years of teaching. That’s nearly twice the proportion of new teachers in other schools in the same districts.

A 5% budget reduction in Tacoma Public Schools, for example, could mean that Tacoma’s SIG schools would lose one-quarter to one-half of their current teachers.

The analysis concludes: “Under current policy, teachers in these schools will face a higher risk for layoffs, potentially destabilizing schools and undermining turnaround efforts.”