Layoffs: Massachusetts

2017 Retaining Effective Teachers Policy


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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Factors to Consider: Massachusetts determines which teachers are laid off during a reduction in force using a teacher's tenure status. School districts may not lay off teachers with "professional teacher status" if there is a teacher "without such status" within the same certification area who could be laid off instead. Effectiveness is taken into consideration between two teachers with like tenure status. Indicators used to determine performance include "overall ratings resulting from comprehensive evaluations... and the best interests of the students in the school or district."


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require that districts prioritize teacher effectiveness in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions in force. 
Although Massachusetts uses teacher performance as a factor in layoff decisions, the state still allows the main emphasis to be on seniority and tenure status. Using performance as the tiebreaker does not send a clear message to districts that it is the most important consideration.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts indicated that chronically underperforming or failing schools or districts are afforded additional flexibility with regard to reductions in force, such that, ultimately:

"[a] teacher with professional teacher status in a school declared underperforming or chronically underperforming may be dismissed for good cause; provided, however, that the teacher receives 5 days written notice of the decision to terminate which shall include without limitation an explanation of the reason why the commissioner/superintendent is not retaining the teacher in the school."

How we graded

9E: Layoffs 

  • Performance: The state should require that districts consider teacher effectiveness in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions in force and ensure that seniority is not the only factor used.

  • Performance

    The total goal score is earned based on the following:

    • Full credit: The state will earn full credit if teacher performance is the top criterion in reduction-in-force decisions.
    • Three-quarters credit: The state will earn three-quarters of a point if performance is a required—but not the most influential—criterion in reduction-in-force decisions.
    • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if retention policies based solely on tenure or seniority are explicitly not allowed, but performance is not an explicitly required factor in reduction-in-force decisions.

    Research rationale

    "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.[1]

    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.

    [1] See National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Teacher layoffs: Rethinking 'last-hired, first-fired' policies. Retrieved from; The New Teacher Project. (2011). The case against quality-blind teacher layoffs. Retrieved from; Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2011). Teacher layoffs: An empirical illustration of seniority versus measures of effectiveness. Education, 6(3), 439-454. Retrieved from; Goldhaber, D., & Theobald, R. (2010). Assessing the determinants and implications of teacher layoffs (Working Paper 55). National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from; Sepe, C., & Roza, M. (2010). The disproportionate impact of seniority-based layoffs on poor, minority students. Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington. Retrieved from