Los Angeles Times Editorial
June 30, 2010 -- Even in good times, teachers with little experience have a hard job at low-achieving schools with disadvantaged students. They don't get paid much, and the students are more challenging to teach. And these aren't good times. Job insecurity is a serious problem. Teachers are laid off in order of seniority, so the newest teachers lose their jobs first.
The situation is even harder on students. Because low-performing schools tend to be staffed by newer teachers, students don't get the benefit of experienced instructors — and then they lose more of their teachers during layoffs. Markham Middle School, newly staffed under the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, lost close to half its teachers to the layoffs last year, and well into the school year was unable to fill several of those jobs because of the district's byzantine rehiring rules and because many of the more experienced teachers who had been laid off preferred to remain jobless rather than work there. After the American Civil Liberties Union sued, a judge ruled that, at least for now, no more teachers could be laid off at Markham or several similarly affected schools.
A bill by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) outlines a workable and fair solution to some of the underlying problems: Layoffs at the state's lowest-performing schools could not exceed the average for their district. If Los Angeles Unified had to lay off 10% of its teachers, for example, no more than 10% of Markham's teachers could be laid off. Within each school, though, layoffs would still be based on seniority.
The bill, SB 1285, which will be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Education Committee, has run up against expected opposition from the California Teachers Assn., which wants seniority rules to remain intact, but also more surprising objections from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders at L.A. Unified who prefer to end seniority-based staffing. They want layoffs to be based on teachers' performance, with the least effective teachers losing their jobs.
We would agree, within limits, if the timing weren't so off. L.A. Unified is just beginning the task of creating meaningful teacher evaluations after years of virtually ignoring them. It will take a long time to flesh out and implement those plans; the recession is now.
The bill also has a side benefit: Moderately experienced teachers would have more job security at the affected schools, and might opt to transfer to those schools in order to protect themselves. That would help draw veteran teachers to schools that have historically had a hard time attracting or keeping them. Even if that doesn't come to pass, the bill would even out the layoff rules to prevent the hardest staffing hits from falling on the shoulders of the poorest students.