The Virtue of LIFO: It’s Arbitrary

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Social science writer Eric Horowitz has been reading Richard Kahlenberg’s biography of Albert Shanker (“Tough Liberal“) and comments on Shanker’s view of the primary benefit of  last in, first out, or LIFO: it’s arbitrary.  Thirty years ago, there was so much discrimination towards Blacks and Jews that LIFO imposed a system of job security that left no room for racism or anti-Semitism.  It’s virtue was its arbitrariness. Horowitz:

What better way to protect against racial discrimination than to mandate that everybody be discriminated against based on experience? The problem is that even if it was a smart thing to do at the time, the policy seems to have outlived its use. Nowadays the threat of a teacher being dismissed strictly because they are Black or Jewish is much less severe, and even if somebody were to attempt to pull it off, it’s unlikely they would get past the existing union protections. Meanwhile, Shanker’s final justification of maintaining unity plays right into the hands of critics who claim the unions put their own interests ahead of those of students. Shanker is effectively saying that allowing a superior teacher to be fired is a price worth paying for union solidarity. 

One interesting takeaway from all this is that if attempts to do away with LIFO had begun earlier, so that there was less overlap with the push to utilize value-added measures, reformers may have been more successful in their efforts to eliminate it. But once teacher concerns about value-added measures began to grow, the fear of unknown arbitrariness rekindled the desire for an arbitrariness that was well-known. Just as Shanker felt LIFO was necessary to prevent dismissals due to racial discrimination, many teachers now feel LIFO is necessary to prevent dismissals due to what they perceive to be unfair VAM scores.

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2 Comments

  • An Educational Enthusiast, May 7, 2013 @ 1:21 am Reply

    There is always someone that will come along and eventually be able to do a particular job better than someone else.

    I don't want to see LIFO removed. What I want to see is a contract that requires a certain level of performance that is acceptable, and as long as that is being achieved by a staff member, they should not fear losing their job because they are out performed.

    While unfortunate the best player might be cut, the school will still have a winning team.

    http://bit.ly/120YXzb

  • kallikak, May 7, 2013 @ 1:46 pm Reply

    By “best player”, do you mean someone who today has a higher relative ranking but someday (possibly soon) may be eclipsed by others?

    Careers have trajectories and are not static at any point in time. The ranking system touted here is Newtonian in that it assumes inertial performance levels over time for all involved. It is the kind of optimization model best applied to inanimate objects with predictable useful lives and stable performance characteristics over those lives.

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