LIFO (education)

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Last in First Out (LIFO) is a policy often used by school districts during layoffs. The methodology behind LIFO is that layoffs are done by seniority and as a result, the least senior employees are let go before the more senior employees. The Last in First Out policy is not exclusive to, but most notorious in, the education sector. The Last in First out policy is intended to be an efficient means of doing layoffs in the event of a budget cut. The Last in First Out policy was put in place to protect teachers with tenure and give them job stability.


The Last in First Out policy reflects the idea of tenure. Tenure is a policy which emphasizes job stability. It originated as a means to provide college professors with academic freedom such that they could do research on topics of their choosing. Today, having tenure provides its beneficiaries with special benefits. To attain tenure, an individual must establish his or herself by performing exceptional services. [1] In the K-12 sector, tenure was introduced to lower high teacher turnover rates. In 1932, over 20% of teachers were dismissed due to personal disagreements and difference of opinion.[2] Recently, LIFO has come under scrutiny as "seniority based layoffs result in promising, inexperienced teachers losing their positions, while their ineffective, but more senior, peers continue to teach." [3] Currently, 12 states (Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Kentucky, W. Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York) execute layoffs based on seniority. [4]

Effects of LIFO[edit]

LIFO has a more severe impact in poor or high minority schools, since those schools tend to have newer and less experienced teachers. In schools where 34% or less of the students receive Free and Reduced meals, more than 82% of teachers have 4 or more years of experience. However, in schools where more than 75% of the student body receives Free and Reduced meals, only 77% of the teachers have more than 4 years of experience. [5] Moreover, in California, it was seen that in schools in the lowest quartile of minority students, only 8 of every 100 teachers had two or less years of teaching whereas in schools with the highest quartile of minority students, 13 of every 100 teachers had two or less years of teaching, meaning that under LIFO-based layoffs, schools with larger minority populations would lose 60% more teachers. [6] Finally, teachers in high need areas, such as secondary math and special education, are often less experienced due to the difficulty of recruiting these positions, and districts who adhere strictly to seniority based systems for layoffs face the added burden of recruiting teachers in these areas. [7] In Los Angeles, it was noted that of the hundreds of promising new teachers cut in from the district in 2010 due to LIFO, 190 were in the top fifth overall of teachers in raising math and reading scores. [8]

Research indicates that the effectiveness of teachers does not change after the first few years in the classroom.[9] As a result, the implications of using LIFO rules for layoffs instead of basing layoffs on classroom effectiveness appear huge.[10] With LIFO, more teachers must be dismissed to meet budgetary targets than with effectiveness-based layoffs because the youngest teachers are the least paid, but the teachers dismissed under the LIFO policy are only slightly below average in effectiveness. An effectiveness-based policy on the other hand leads to dramatic improvements in average teacher quality, and these improvements have lasting effects on students throughout their lives.[11]

LIFO and the Value-Added Model[edit]

In many states, tenure is given to teachers after 3 years, without much indication of job performance. A value added model (VAM) could be used in tenure decisions for teachers in order to estimate teacher quality. A VAM would predict how well a teacher would do based on his or her previous experience teaching. Data shows that the VAM based on standardized test scores, is a better indicator of teacher performance than any observable attributes. [12] In using a VAM to evaluate teachers for a tenure decision, school districts can ensure that they teachers they retain (and the teachers who in turn become the most senior) are effective educators, thereby eliminating some of the discrepancy between LIFO and performance-based layoffs. [13]

Controversy and the Overhaul of LIFO[edit]

Starting with Arizona in 2009, certain states and districts have been passing laws which prohibit seniority from being the deciding factor in layoff decisions. Maine, Louisiana, and District of Columbia use multiple criteria in determining layoffs, and numerous other states are trending towards performance based over seniority based layoffs.[14] Furthermore, since less experienced teachers typically have lower salaries, it is estimated that if districts nationwide cut 5% of their budget through seniority based layoffs, approximately 79,000 more teachers would lose their jobs versus seniority neutral layoffs. [15] In a survey of NY parents regarding teacher quality versus seniority, voters expressed that they did not care about how long a teacher has taught so long as the teacher was effective and produced good results.[16]

Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, is a vocal advocate against the Last in First Out policy, instead suggesting performance based evaluation to determine layoffs. [17] While Rhee was at the helm of the DC school system, she introduced the IMPACT evaluation for teachers, which measured teacher performance and was the primary factor for layoffs. [18] She is the CEO of Students First, a grassroots movement "designed to mobilize parents, teacher, students, and administrators, and citizens" to demand a better American education system. [19] Since its founding in 2010, Studentsfirst has been behind legislation across the country which promotes alternative evaluation methods through its "Save Great Teachers" Campaign. Victories from this campaign have been seen in Florida, Utah, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee, and Utah. [20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tenure - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2011, from
  2. ^ Butsch, R. (1937). Tenure of teachers. Teacher Personnel, 7(3), 292-295.
  3. ^ Boyd, D. J., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. H. (2010). Teacher layoffs: An empirical illustration of seniority vs. measures of effectiveness. brief 12.National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from
  4. ^ "Seniority Based Layoff Risk by State." Map. Take Action in Your State. Retrieved 10 Oct. 2011, from
  5. ^ U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, "Public School Teacher, BIE School Teacher, and Private School Teacher Data Files," 2007-2008
  6. ^ Sepe, Cristina, and Marguerite Roza. The Disproportionate Impact of Seniority Based Layoffs on Poor, Minority Students. Rep. Seattle: Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2010
  7. ^ Goldhaber, Dan and Theobold, Roddy (2010). "Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs." Center for Education Data & Research, University of Washington-Bothell.
  8. ^ Felch, Jason; Song, Jason; and Smith, Doug (2010). "When layoffs come to L.A. schools, performance doesn't count." Los Angeles Times, December 2010.
  9. ^ Eric Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin, "The Distribution of Teacher Quality and Implications for Policy." Annual Review of Economics 4 (2012): 7.1-7.27.
  10. ^ Goldhaber, Dan and Theobold, Roddy (2010). "Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs." Center for Education Data & Research, University of Washington-Bothell; Steven Glazerman, Susanna Loeb, Dan Goldhaber, Douglas Staiger, Stephen Raudenbush, and Grover Whitehurst, Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2010); Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, "Teacher Layoffs: An Empirical Illustration of Seniority versus Measures of Effectiveness." Education Finance and Policy 6, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 439-454.
  11. ^ Eric Hanushek, "Valuing teachers: How much is a good teacher worth?" Education Next 11, no. 3 (Summer 2011); Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, and Jonah E. Rockoff, "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood," WP17699 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2011).
  12. ^ Goldhaber, Dan, & Hansen, M. (2010). Using performance on the job to inform teacher tenure decisions. The American Economic Review, 100(2), 250-250-255. doi:10.1257/aer.100.2.250
  13. ^ McCaffrey, D. (2003). Evaluating value-added models for teacher accountability. Santa Monica: Rand Publishing.Retrieved from
  14. ^ Teacher Layoffs: Rethinking "Last-Hired, First Fired" Policies. Rep. National Council on Teacher Quality, Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>.
  15. ^ The Case Against Quality Blind Teacher Layoffs. Publication. The New Teacher Project, Feb. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>
  16. ^ New York voters oppose "last-in, first-out" for teacher layoffs - (n.d.). . Retrieved April 24, 2011, from
  17. ^ End "last in, first out" teacher layoffs - (n.d.). . Retrieved May 2, 2011, from
  18. ^ The Case Against Quality Blind Teacher Layoffs. Publication. The New Teacher Project, Feb. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>
  19. ^ "About Students First." Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>.
  20. ^ "Save Great Teachers." Save Great Teachers- Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>.