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Larry Hirsch

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The Lie in Ending LIFO

Posted: 04/25/11 02:32 PM ET

Mayor Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and the other "education reformers" feel that ending the policy of Last In First Out (LIFO) when it comes to teacher layoffs is the crucial piece to improving public education. LIFO is the practice of having junior teachers be the first to face the ax when jobs are cut, while those with the most seniority are kept. They claim that LIFO will force cities to lay off good young teachers, while those with more experience remain even if they don't deserve to. Therefore they are pressuring legislatures that ending LIFO is the absolute and only answer to seniority reform. However, there are some holes in their argument that should be pointed out.

First, at least in New York, many young teachers come from programs like Teach For America (TFA). TFA does an excellent job of recruiting smart, young people to teach in the public schools, however the TFA commitment is only for two years. I am a Board Member of Charter School that uses TFA teachers and the experience at our school has been that after the two years, many of them leave teaching. These are people with a lot of options open to them and many seek other ones. If LIFO is ended, many of these excellent young teachers will be kept, however a lot of them will likely leave soon afterwards, resulting in a teacher shortage.

Second, if you completely end seniority and job protection the number of qualified applicants who want to teach will fall greatly. Teachers are underpaid as many need second jobs to make ends meet in cities like New York. Teachers work long hours, often getting to school well before the day starts and leaving long afterwards. Teachers are underappreciated as these days they seem to be blamed for all that goes wrong in the school system, while education administrators whose issue confusing policies and their high paid consultants seem to rarely accept responsibility. Without the promise of seniority and job security few of the talented young people will want be teachers.

Governor Cuomo in New York has rightly stood up to the demands of Bloomberg and Rhee by deciding that instead of ending LIFO and seniority benefits he is looking for ways to reform them. There is no doubt there should be a better way to hold bad teachers accountable. A system that respects the seniority that teachers have earned by having decades in the field, while not allowing that seniority to absolutely shield them from layoffs, is one I hope the Governor will devise. Many of the education reformers are backed by Wall Street and Hedge Fund leaders. Bloomberg and Rhee both share their private sector view that if someone isn't measuring up just quickly fire them. However in the public sector, some people sacrifice income to serve the public and have some degree of job protection. The extension of their view is ending LIFO so they can fire the teachers they want, while reforming LIFO will arrive at a solution that is more equitable. As I have show above, ending LIFO could have unanticipated consequences Bloomberg, Rhee and their colleagues do not acknowledge.