5 tips on how to cover teacher layoffs

Chad Aldeman:

Even in a normal year, it can be challenging to cover the teacher hiring process.

School districts project their student enrollment for the coming year and use those estimates to decide how many teachers they’ll need at each school. After subtracting teacher turnover and retirements, districts then hire to fill any remaining spots.

This summer is, of course, far from normal.

As school districts begin to announce their plans for the fall without clarity on how many students are likely to enroll or whether teachers will return to schools, reporters will need to help readers understand what choices districts are facing and what their decisions will mean for teachers and other education employees.

Budget uncertainties will make reporters’ jobs even harder as they attempt to explain potentially misleading terms like pink slips, layoffs, and RIFs (reductions-in-force). Most challenging of all, reporters will also have to try to determine how all these decisions will affect the quality of services students receive.

To help journalists wade through all that murkiness, I’ve identified five tips for reporters to produce smart, accurate journalism about the layoff process.

1: A pink slip is not a layoff

Many states require notices to be sent to any teacher who may face a layoff in the year ahead, but this doesn’t mean their job loss is guaranteed. Those rules, in turn, force districts to overidentify workers who might be at risk. Without careful reporting, the public perception of layoffs may be larger than the eventual impact.