May 22 2014
Vicki E. Alger
Last-in-first-out, or LIFO, may be on death row. President of the California Teachers Empowerment network Larry Sand explains in this month’s City Journal that this policy:
…is enshrined in California’s education code and treated as sacrosanct by the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. It compels public school administrators to make seniority the paramount consideration when facing layoff choices, putting quantity (time served) over quality. But time may be running out for LIFO. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu has until July to rule in a closely watched lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s teacher-seniority and dismissal statutes. If Treu rules for the nine plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, barring a successful appeal, LIFO will die.
This policy has devastating effects on the teaching force as a whole. As increasing numbers of newer teachers with six years of less experience are laid off, potential teachers still in college look to other professions. Not surprisingly, in just five years, teaching college enrollments have plummeted 41 percent, according to a recent Sacramento Bee review. What’s more, basing employment decisions on teaching time rather than teaching quality reduces the overall effectiveness of the teaching force—which undermines student learning.
As Sand, a retired teacher himself, sums up:
Unions’ insistence on maintaining seniority underscores their archaic factory-worker mentality. For the unions, teachers are not really professionals but rather interchangeable, dues-paying widgets whose competence and effectiveness are of no discernible importance. The case of Bhavini Bhakta, a former teacher of the year in Southern California, epitomizes LIFO’s arbitrary nature. Bhakta lost her job four times in eight years for want of seniority. In one of her yearly encounters with LIFO, a district official had to decide between her and another teacher of the year, hired on the same day. One would have to be laid off. The solution: have both teachers pull numbered popsicle sticks out of a hat. Her colleague got the higher number, and Bhakta lost another position.
When determining a teacher’s value, administrators should look to more criteria than the number of years on the job. Students’ standardized test scores, along with performance evaluations by impartial experts, principals, and parents, should clearly be part of the mix. For the sake of children, the teaching profession, and taxpayers, seniority must go into the trash heap once and for all.