Layoffs of Teachers in the State of Washington Are Unrelated to Effectiveness


December 23, 2010
CONTACT: Dan Goldhaber – (206)616-8793 –

BOTHELL, Wash. – A recent study by researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald of the Center for Education Data and Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington Bothell found that layoff decisions within the teaching profession are disproportionally determined by seniority and other factors unrelated to teaching effectiveness. This seniority-driven system flies in the face of the widely understood fact that teacher effectiveness is the single most influential school-based factor affecting student learning.
The recent economic downturn resulted in extensive layoffs of teachers. Nationally that figure is estimated to be as many as 72,700 teachers, and in the state of Washington, a statewide database reveals that about 2,500 teachers were under threat of losing their jobs, having received a layoff notice in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.
Seniority-based layoff decisions can be largely attributed to policies set by collective bargaining agreements, which overwhelmingly require that decisions should be made based on seniority. Indeed, many say that seniority should be the sole determinate. But, based on the analysis of the state of Washington’s database, the researchers at CEDR found that a significant proportion of the teachers receiving a layoff notice were more effective than the average teacher in the state. 
As a further step, the researchers modeled a more progressive option in which effectiveness rather than time-in-seat would drive the layoff decisions of school districts. Simulation of this model suggested that implementation of an effectiveness-based system would result in a substantial improvement in the state’s schools. A layoff system based on effectiveness would result in roughly 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 additional months of learning progress each year by the students in the affected classrooms. As Goldhaber and Theobald point out, “The model we investigate would result in more effective teachers in our schools. Our findings strongly suggest that a seniority based layoff system is not in the best interest of student achievement.”

About CEDR: The Center for Education Data Research works to address the disjuncture that exists between research, policy, and practice.  To do so, CEDR conducts high-quality research designed to give policymakers the hard evidence they need to make good choices for children. CEDR’s primary research is in the areas:  school and teacher effectiveness, educational accountability and governance, and teacher labor markets. To learn more about CEDR, go to

About UW Bothell: The University of Washington Bothell combines the benefits of a small campus with the resources and prestige of a world-renowned university. Offering over 30 degrees, options, certificates and concentrations, its curriculum emphasizes close student-faculty interaction, collaboration among students, and hands-on learning.