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Arne Duncan's Against Seniority-Based Teacher Layoffs

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to change the policy of firing the teachers who've been in the job for the shortest time first.

With draconian cuts looming for state education budgets, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants the nation's governors to be clear: Those cuts can't hurt the quality of education children receive. To that end, when it comes to the tough decisions about laying off teachers, Duncan says the days of a last-in-first-out (LIFO) policy of layoffs are over. Instead, student achievement results need to determine which teachers get the axe.

In a conference call with reporters, Duncan denied that he's "danced around the issue" and said that labor and management have a shared responsibility to put students at the center of their relationship. And, if budgets require teachers to be fired, "Layoffs should be based on a number of factors but the most important thing we can do is keep the best teachers in schools where they are needed most."

Duncan expressed concern over the "concentration of young teachers in the most disadvantaged communities," and how when budget cuts happen, "it’s a massive disruption to those children who need the best and most support."

However, he made it clear what he doesn't want happening is for school districts to purposely fire veteran teachers just to save money. "Whether it's firing good young teachers—which doesn't make sense—or firing great veteran teachers—which doesn't make sense—we have to minimize the negative impact on students," he said.

When asked to point to a district whose layoff policy would serve as a good model, Duncan couldn't name one offhand, but he pointed to Bill Gates' suggestion of increasing the class sizes of excellent teachers and firing bad ones as strategy districts should use. "I'm a parent of two young children," he said. "If I was asked, you can have an extraordinary teacher with 28 kids in the class or a mediocre teacher with 22 kids in the class, I'll take the extraordinary teacher."

In a nod to what's going on in Wisconsin, Duncan also reiterated that although he believes unions need to change their LIFO policies, he doesn't support Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip them of their collective bargaining rights.

photo (cc) via Flick user Center for American Progress

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