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March 7, 2011 / J. Shaw

RHEE:How 'Last In First Out,' Harms Our Kids

By MICHELLE RHEE……Last week, New York’s state Senate proposed a bill that would correct a longstanding problem in public education by eliminating the outdated and harmful policy commonly known as “Last in, first out.”

LIFO dictates how teachers are laid off — mandating that the last teacher hired must be the first fired, regardless of how good they are. Thus, a teacher’s effectiveness with students now plays absolutely no role in layoff decisions.

When this policy is folded into the current budget crisis, our children stand to lose some of the best teachers in the state unless we work quickly to completely erase LIFO altogether.

The Senate bill would allow New York City to address budget gaps without stripping schools of their best teachers. District leaders could base their difficult decisions about layoffs on performance — no longer having to reward practices such as chronic lateness, absenteeism or misconduct, or ignore criminal and disciplinary charges or a consistent inability to advance student growth or keep teaching certifications current.

The city alone stands to lose 4,700 teachers this year as Mayor Bloomberg works to fill a giant budget gap while also maintaining effective city services. And right now, it will have to conduct layoffs according to LIFO.

Under Bloomberg and former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the city showed significant strides in student achievement in recent years. But if Albany leaves LIFO in place, much of these gains will be lost as New York’s best teachers are swept from schools without regard for their incredible impact on children.

Why is LIFO so bad for kids? First, research indicates that when districts conduct seniority-based layoffs, we end up firing some of our most highly effective educators. These are the inspiring and powerful teachers that students remember for the rest of their lives.

Second, LIFO policies increase the number of teachers that districts must lay off. Because junior teachers make less money, schools will lose more teachers and more jobs as long as LIFO remains the law.

Finally, LIFO hits hardest at the highest-need schools. These schools have larger numbers of new teachers, who are the first to lose their jobs in a layoff. High-income areas, which have more stable systems and fewer newer teachers, are less impacted by budget cuts.

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