Ezra Klein makes a good point about the ‘first-hired, last-fired’ rule governing most public school systems. In most unionized public-school systems, tenure and seniority are the primary considerations which are used to determine who gets laid off during periods of belt-tightening (that and whether the subject matter is ‘essential’ or not). Seniority often plays a role in the private sector as well, as many companies don’t like cutting their most experienced, and often most reliable employees. But in public schools, come layoffs new teachers – regardless of their enthusiasm or talent – invariable face the chopping block before their more experienced counterparts. Notes, Klein:
These systems do have something to recommend them: Older employees are more expensive, and so there can be a bias against retaining them that’s separate from any measure of quality. If two first-year teachers cost as much as one high-flying veteran, you might end up with an education system that pushes veterans out, and that thus attracts less talent because it’s understood that you can’t make a good career teaching. But that doesn’t militate towards something like "first-hired, last-fired." It militates towards developing objective quality metrics that a teacher could use to make the case that he or she was fired unreasonably.
One impulse common among school reformers is to do away with seniority considerations altogether. Obviously you then run the risk of losing all your experienced, costly teachers when it comes time to balance the books. Seniority should play a part in determining everything from pay to parking, and probably a pretty large part at that. But as it stands, a lot of young people thinking about becoming teachers aren’t going to want to have anything to do with the public education system, knowing that no matter how hard they work or how stellar their performance may be, if a school district faces cuts they’ll be the first to go.
Add to this the sheer enormity of cuts facing many state and local budgets, and you see how this quickly becomes a pretty vicious cycle. Even if we assume that most teachers who have stuck around to gain their seniority are really good teachers, there will still be some bad ones and weeding those out so that younger teachers have a chance is good for teachers and students. That being said, you don’t want to replace anxiety in the first two or three years of a teaching career with career-long anxiety that budget woes, rather than performance or any other metric, will have the final word.