Prioritizing Effectiveness, Not Seniority Critical for Schools Disproportionately Hit by Teacher Layoffs


OAKLAND, CA (June 3, 2010) – As California policymakers attempt to address the disproportionate impact of seniority-based layoffs on high need schools, a new brief by The Education Trust—West called Effectiveness, Not Seniority contends that attempts to correct this inequity must prioritize teacher effectiveness.  The brief argues that solutions to this problem must ensure that high need schools can retain their most effective teachers.

Too few of our highest need students are taught by highly effective teachers, even though research shows that quality teaching is the most important factor in improving student achievement.  Students in high need schools—most often African American and Latino students—too frequently are the victims of churn when teachers are laid off through a seniority-based reduction in force.  Teachers in these schools disproportionately receive pink slips, subjecting students to a revolving door of teachers and substitutes.

This problem has been magnified by three years of devastating cuts to public education, a result of the state’s ongoing deficit, which currently stands at $19 billion. The topic recently received increased attention when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge barred California’s largest school district from laying off teachers at three of its worst-performing middle schools for budgetary reasons.

As a result, legislators and local education leaders are seeking to identify policy solutions that mitigate the impact of layoffs on high need schools.  One solution under consideration is to balance average years of experience across schools in an effort to equalize the impact of seniority-based layoffs.

According to the brief, this solution is both unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.  Average teacher experience is already roughly equivalent across schools statewide. Even in the most struggling schools, the average years of teacher experience is high.  For example, in the lowest performing 10 percent of schools in the state, those with an API rank of 1, the average teacher has more than eleven years of experience.

“The notion that a more experienced teacher is a more effective one is a myth.  Bottom-ranking schools are providing students with access to teaching staffs that are on average, decidedly veteran,” stated Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust—West, a leading policy, research and advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement pre-kindergarten through college for students of color and students in poverty.  “Our highest need schools and students need effective teachers, regardless of how many years those teachers have been in the classroom.”

Teacher performance should be the determinant criterion for layoff decisions.  However, making teacher effectiveness a top priority in staffing decisions will only happen if the state legislature and district policymakers pursue solutions that give school leaders the flexibility they need to measure teacher quality and make decisions that protect the most effective teachers.

“Using experience as a proxy for effectiveness is not an adequate solution, and it does not make sense to mandate the “mix” of teacher experience in our schools,” said Ramanathan.  “Any attempt to address the disproportionate impact of layoffs on our most vulnerable students without directly addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness may have significant negative consequences, such as pushing out the great teachers that students and our school systems need.”

The full brief is available online here.



About The Education Trust—West

The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, kindergarten through college, and to forever close the achievement gaps separating low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this— All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels. 


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.