D.C. teacher layoffs: Not for the faint of heart

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If you took your eye off the ball during the past two weeks, you might have missed teacher layoffs in D.C. As evidence of just how bold D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee can be, she announced two weeks into the new school year that the district had learned that it needed to lay off an undisclosed number of teachers by the end of the month.

The school system maintains that it didn't realize how dire its financial situation would be until after they had spent the spring and summer months hiring 900 new teachers--almost one-quarter of the teacher workforce. Last year about half as many were hired.

So how come D.C. isn't laying off these newbie teachers--as they'd be the first to go almost anywhere else? D.C. regulations don't make seniority the primary determinant of who stays or goes, and Rhee has seized this legal latitude, instead dismissing teachers primarily on the basis of "school needs"--regardless of how long they've been teaching. Principals have been assigned the task of rating each teacher under consideration for layoff, but they don't have to include teachers who are already on the chopping block for receiving an unsatisfactory evaluation last year.

According to a memo sent to principals describing the process to occur, "school needs" accounts for 75 percent of a teacher's rating and includes all kinds of ambiguous qualifications, such as "commitment to student achievement," "positive classroom environment" and "using data to make decisions about instruction." Notably, only 5 percent of the rating is based on a teacher's length of service and his or her (granted, virtually meaningless) evaluation ratings.

Apparently, rumor has it that a slew of veteran teachers were never assigned to their own individual classrooms this fall, instead being assigned to work with a co-teacher on the basis of poor performance. That means that when the layoffs hit, the impact on students will be minimized--which should also minimize public outcry.

The district has offered security back up for when principals have to deliver the bad news this week.