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December 23, 2010

Layoffs of teachers in Washington state are unrelated to effectiveness

A recent study by researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington Bothell found that layoff decisions within the teaching profession are disproportionally determined by seniority and other factors unrelated to teaching effectiveness. This seniority-driven system flies in the face of the widely understood fact that teacher effectiveness is the single most influential school-based factor affecting student learning.

The recent economic downturn resulted in extensive layoffs of teachers. Nationally that figure is estimated to be as many as 72,700 teachers, and in the state of Washington, a statewide database reveals that about 2,500 teachers were under threat of losing their jobs, having received a layoff notice in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

Seniority-based layoff decisions can be largely attributed to policies set by collective bargaining agreements, which overwhelmingly require that decisions should be made based on seniority. Indeed, many say that seniority should be the sole determinate. But, based on the analysis of the state of Washingtons database, the researchers at CEDR found that a significant proportion of the teachers receiving a layoff notice were more effective than the average teacher in the state.

As a further step, the researchers modeled a more progressive option in which effectiveness rather than time-in-seat would drive the layoff decisions of school districts. Simulation of this model suggested that implementation of an effectiveness-based system would result in a substantial improvement in the states schools. A layoff system based on effectiveness would result in roughly 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 additional months of learning progress each year by the students in the affected classrooms.

As Goldhaber and Theobald point out, “The model we investigate would result in more effective teachers in our schools. Our findings strongly suggest that a seniority based layoff system is not in the best interest of student achievement.”


For more information, contact Goldhaber at 206-616-8793 or