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:
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.