Setting the Standard in Education

Who Deserves to be Laid Off?

In California on April 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

That’s the question on the lips of many education  policy makers. It’s not that anyone really wants people to be laid off, but if someone has to, who should it be? In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has supported a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. The current system, which forces school districts to get rid of their newest teachers completely ignores the strength of the teachers getting laid off. This has a few repercussions:

Someone's got to go, so who should it be?

1. The most obvious is that terrible teachers get locked in once they’re in a school long enough and great upcoming new teachers are kicked to the street. This not only lowers the quality of the teaching, it means that change rarely happens. New ideas in how to teach are much less likely to be put into practice. It doesn’t matter if teacher preparation gets better if none of the teachers coming out of those programs can’t hold down jobs. On top of that, it takes away some incentive for teachers to get better at their practice. If they are not pushed to be the best, they don’t have to be.

2. As Gov. Schwarzenegger points out, in a district like LAUSD, minority students suffer disproportionately. The ACLU has actually sued the state and LAUSD because of the extremely high rates of layoffs in poor neighborhoods. Because schools in high-poverty areas are often a rotating door for teachers, they have a much higher number of new teachers. How high? The three schools that the ACLU is suing over had between half and three-quarters of their teachers laid off last year.

3. By firing the employees who are newer and make less money, more teachers have to be laid off. A report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education from last year showed that almost 50% more people have to be laid off when layoffs are seniority-based, rather than seniority-neutral. For example, to have a 10% reduction in salary expenditure (which is a completely reasonable number in the coming year, by the way), more than a quarter million more teachers would have to be laid off using a seniority-based system.

Obviously, there are many great reasons to change the system. Opponents, like UTLA President A.J. Duffy think that without protections for teachers who have been teaching for a long time, the opposite will happen: the more expensive older teachers will be the first to be laid off, because they cost more. Obviously, this would also be a problem, since there wouldn’t be teachers with a great deal of experience to help newer teachers. However, aside from this not being very likely, the solution which is being proposed is simple: base firings on effectiveness and ignore seniority. That’s what should be done anyway. A strong veteran teacher should have the same protection as a strong new teacher and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are others who try to stall improvements. LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortinez says he is fine with changing the system as long has it is a solution that is developed by the unions and a task force. For those who don’t know, these task forces are notoriously slow, taking years to make reasonable decisions. These layoffs are happening this summer. There is no time to wait -and perhaps that is his plan. Take so long that it becomes irrelevant. Thankfully the state is trying to come through when the local district doesn’t have the chutzpah to do anything.

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  1. You discuss using effectiveness as a basis for layoffs. Unfortunately, there is no good way to judge effectiveness. Not one of the standardized test companies will ever say that their test can judge effectiveness of a teacher. In fact, all scientific studies of the testing systems have shown that the tests show much more about outside forces in the students life, rather than the whether what is happening in the classroom is working. Therefore, what measure would you use to judge a teacher’s effectiveness.

    Finally, a teacher’s life right now is a balance of frustrations. On one side you have the frustration of students who don’t seem to care. Then there is the frustration over parents who cannot come to parent conference nights where you often see parents of only 15-25 out of 200 students in Los Angeles high schools. Then there is the frustration of restricted curriculum where school boards and centralized administrators are telling teachers what and how to teach, without regard to the fact that there are no studies showing that these methods even work.

    This atmosphere is part of the reason why most teachers do not stay in the profession for more than five years. Now you are indicating that those who have mastered the ability to maneuver through these frustrations and still want to teach could lose their jobs because some principal decides that they are less effective, or they are teaching the students with more to overcome outside of school leading to lower test scores. That is not fair or good for schools or students.

    Instead of changing the rules for layoffs, maybe we should be looking at why experienced teachers leave the low income, inner-city schools for greener pastures and doing something to change that trend.

  2. I appreciate the sentiment and understand that effectiveness isn’t just test scores. However, there are teacher evaluations. LAUSD has evaluations that UTLA has approved. If they didn’t think they were good evaluations, then they shouldn’t have approved them. I also think you’re clouding the one specific problem that this is talking about. Yes, of course there are problems with teachers leaving, but can you tell me why someone who has been teaching for 10 years and their administration and coworkers agree is a terrible teacher because all they do is hand out worksheets should be able to keep their job while someone who’s been teaching for three, but has enthusiastic students who push themselves and work hard should be let go? To just say that there is no way to judge whether a teacher is effective, rather than pushing for better measures of effectiveness allows the problem to be exacerbated. I taught for a few years and can tell you it’s pretty obvious which are the bottom teachers who everyone complains are bad for the students. I had students come up to me and tell me they hated some of their classes where teachers had them work out of the book while they sat at their desks. I had students who came to me with questions about how to write their papers or do math problems (I was an English teacher, mind you) for other classes because they said their teacher wouldn’t help them. If a teacher can’t tell what makes a strong teacher, then perhaps they need to learn more about teaching.

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