Panel Paper: Minimizing Harm from Teacher Layoffs through Strategically Allocating Class Sizes Based on Performance

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 11:15 AM
Aztec (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Hansen, American Institutes for Research
The Great Recession led to unprecedented layoffs in K-12 public schools across the country. Class sizes increase as a direct consequence of laying off teachers, which is generally expected to harm overall student achievement. This paper conducts a simulation to examine whether teachers’ classroom assignments after an episode of forced layoffs can minimize the expected harm to student achievement from larger classes. It tests the proposition, which has been advocated by influential education figures, that strategically increasing class sizes among the best remaining teachers after the layoffs while limiting increases among weaker teachers may cancel out some of the negative achievement effects of the layoffs and overall class size increases. Because gains from access to an effective teacher outweigh the negative consequences of larger class sizes under some fairly common circumstances, this approach shows promise as a method to limit the collateral damage in tough times.  This investigation extends the analysis presented in Hansen (2014) that shows a strategy of shifting students between classrooms of teachers with differing levels of expected productivity can yield achievement gains, particularly in secondary grades when instruction is generally subject specific. Yet, how effective this strategy may be when coupled with overall class sizes is unclear.  

Using longitudinal data from North Carolina spanning the 2009-10 through 2012-13 school years to calibrate the simulation, this paper investigates different teacher reduction scenarios to estimate the harm due to the increase in class size and simulates student learning gains under alternate class assignments based on targeted class size increases for the strongest teachers. The simulation framework allows me to document the extent to which the expected harm might be reduced through strategically inflating class sizes at various increments. Since this approach’s ability to mitigate harm from increases in class sizes is likely related to how the layoffs are conducted to begin with, separate simulations are conducted corresponding to both seniority-based and effectiveness-based layoffs to compare the production possibility frontiers corresponding to these different layoff scenarios.

Simulation results are forthcoming, expected by the summer of 2014.