Report: LIFO Policies Threaten Teacher-Diversity Gains

Mar 1, 2023 1:30:00 PM

by Mark R. Lowery

When teachers of color are in the classroom, all students thrive through greater classroom engagement, higher academic achievement and increased cross-cultural interactions.

Yet, despite the fact that more than half of all public-school students identify as people of color, only 20% of their teachers do. And in four out of 10 public schools, students don’t have a teacher of color.

“Having teachers of color that looked like me changed the way I thought about school,” a recent Minneapolis Public Schools graduate is quoted as saying in the new report, So All Students Thrive: Rethinking Layoff Policy To Protect Teacher Diversity. “I felt cared about in a different way, and now I am studying to be a teacher so that I can inspire students the way my teachers of color inspired me.”

The report from TNTP and Educators for Excellence says districts across the country are making progress in recruiting teachers of color, but that progress is threatened by last-in, first-out (LIFO) policies in which seniority is among the most common factors used to determine which teachers to lay off.

According to the report, teachers of color are nearly 50% more likely to be in their first or second year than are white teachers. That percentage holds true in almost all states and grows to more than 100% in several, including Massachusetts and New York.

Thirteen states require some form of LIFO, either through explicit state law or a requirement that teachers without tenure be laid off first. Another 19 leave the decision to districts—many of which include LIFO in their collective bargaining agreements. 

The report makes several recommendations on how districts can reverse this trend, including transitioning from a seniority-based layoff system to outcome-based ones; leaving final layoff decisions to districts and principals, using multiple factors in addition to seniority and tailoring layoff decisions to specific district needs.

“Many states are making significant progress in diversifying their teacher workforces—a development that research shows will positively impact students, particularly students of color. But without changes, outdated layoff policies could threaten to undo this progress,” the report concludes. “We hope stakeholders across the country take this opportunity to examine policies in their own states and districts and advocate for necessary reforms. As the examples in this paper show, reforms that prioritize our students’ needs are possible.”

Take Action:

Read the full report here.  

Write your legislators.

Join the coalition to protect/encourage teacher diversity    

Mark R. Lowery

Mark R. Lowery was formerly managing editor of Ed Post. He is a veteran journalist who has managed national magazines and worked for major newspapers, including New York Newsday, the Detroit Free Press and the Plain Dealer. He previously served as editorial director of October Research.

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