From the Field

Are There Hidden Costs Associated with Conducting Layoffs?

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If  teachers are laid off or threatened with a reduction-in-force (RIF), does it affect their productivity, and in turn, student achievement? Researchers from set out to answer this question by examining a set of teachers laid off, then rehired in Los Angeles and Washington state

Routine layoffs in response to budgets or decreased student enrollment are common for many school districts and increased during and after the 2008 economic recession.

The March 2018 study—which updates a 2015 analysis by Katharine Strunk, Dan Goldhaber and others—takes a unique angle of looking not only at the layoffs but the potential for layoffs. The distinction is significant in the study’s conclusion that teacher’s effectiveness was greatly impacted by the teacher’s job commitment and may help to shed light on best practices moving forward.

The study found the teachers typically receive RIF notices in the spring and then many will be hired back the following fall, if they have not already found another job. Due to this trend, districts normally lay off more teachers than would be necessary to comply with budgets in the hopes of hiring back enough teachers to fill the open roles. This practice inflates the negative effects; the study concludes that even the potential of being layoffs can decrease productivity for years to come.

The study is significant in shedding light on the repercussions of layoffs in school districts, its long-term effects on teacher performance, and the decrease in teachers’ job commitment as a result of even the prospect of losing their jobs. The layoff process has been shown to increase teacher turnover, which results in lower student achievement. The study found teachers in the most disadvantaged schools, often the newest teachers, are the most likely to receive a RIF notice, adversely impacting disadvantaged students There are several ways states can reduce the number of layoffs, the study finds, beginning with enabling districts to create more accurate budget projections.