In September of 2009, Washington, DC, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off nearly 400 teachers, citing a serious shortfall in funds for the DC school system. The move, coming as it did after Washington hired more than 900 new teachers in the summer of 2009, made jaws drop — some in outrage, some in awe. But the controversy was due only partly to the fact that Rhee axed jobs so close on the heels of a hiring spree; she also took full advantage of a clause in DC regulation that made “school needs,” not seniority, the determining factor in who would be laid off.
Approve of Rhee’s move or not, the highly scrutinized and controversial layoffs spotlight an important question: what factors should be considered when school districts must decide who will stay and who will go?
In the past year, cash-strapped districts have been handing out pink slips by the hundreds, and some, by the thousands. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nearly 60,000 teachers were laid off in 2009. State budget gaps and deficit projections, with federal stimulus funding already spent, suggest more of the same for 2010. Some observers expect current cuts to come faster even than those of the 1970s, when the baby boom generation waned, emptying out schools across the country.