The state should require that its school districts consider classroom performance as a factor in determining which teachers are laid off when a reduction in force is necessary. The bar for this goal was raised in 2017.
Factors to Consider: Rhode Island, through an executive order from the Commissioner, ensures that teacher effectiveness and student need, rather than seniority, are factors in determining which teachers are laid off during a reduction in force. The policy requires that a collective bargaining agreement cannot prevent districts from "assigning staff based on a set of performance criteria and on student need rather than by strict seniority," which "may well have implications for personnel decisions [made] for layoff notices."
Require that districts consider teacher effectiveness as a factor in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions in force and ensure that seniority is not the only factor used to determine which teachers are laid off.
Although the intent of the executive order appears to be to make performance a factor in layoff decisions and to ensure that seniority is not the only factor, the state should clarify this language to ensure that effectiveness is the determinative factor in making reductions-in- force decisions.
Rhode Island recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
"Last In, First Out (LIFO)" policies put adult interests before student needs, yet most districts across the country still use these policies in the event of teacher layoffs. While most states leave these decisions to district discretion, other states require layoffs to be based on seniority. Such policies fail to give due weight to a teacher's classroom performance and risk sacrificing effective teachers while maintaining low performers.
Policies that prioritize seniority in layoff decisions can also cause significant upheaval in schools and school districts. As teachers who are newer to the classroom traditionally draw lower salaries, a seniority-based layoff policy is likely to require that districts lay off a larger number of probationary teachers rather than a smaller group of ineffective teachers to achieve the same budget reduction.
States can leave districts flexibility in determining layoff policies, but they should do so while also ensuring that classroom performance is considered. Further, if performance is prioritized, states need not prohibit the use of seniority as an additional criterion in determining who is laid off.