Monday, January 24, 2011

L.A. Judge Kills Teachers’ Contract

As mentioned in an earlier post, the ACLU filed suit in L.A. on behalf of parents to block LAUSD from laying off teachers in low income schools, even when this violated seniority rules in the contract. Judge Wiliam F. Highberger, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, approved the settlement Friday.

Up to 45 LAUSD campuses will be completely shielded from teacher layoffs, while the remaining 750 schools were ordered to spread their layoffs out more equitably. LAUSD faces a nearly $400-million shortfall that could result in thousands of pink slips this March. As a result of the ruling, many inexperienced teachers at low income schools will be spared, while many experienced teachers will have their seniority rights stripped away and be fired.

Advocates for students are hailing the ruling as a victory for low income students, as it will minimize the disruption caused by mass layoffs. LAUSD, like many districts, has a disproportionate number of young and inexperienced teachers working at its lowest performing schools. This occurs in part because many newer teachers want to be where they feel they are most needed and able to do the greatest good. It also occurs because many experienced teachers have tired of the extra pressures at low performing schools, like the demand that they bring up student test scores or implement new curriculum and provide more student supports, usually without any extra compensation or release time.

However, it is the school districts’ responsibility to create the conditions where experienced teachers want to work at these schools, and where novice teachers are spread out more equitably. Not only does this prevent the poorest and neediest students from being inundated with inexperienced teachers, but it increases the chances that those inexperienced teachers can receive on-site mentoring and support from more experienced peers. Simply shielding inexperienced teachers from being fired maintains the status quo, where low income students are disproportionately taught by inexperienced teachers, depriving them of the better quality that comes with experience.

Many critics of seniority rights mistakenly assume that many bad teachers are protected at the expense of good teachers. However, studies not only show that teachers improve with experience, thus justifying seniority as a process to protects students, but that inexperienced teachers leave the profession on their own at very high rates, due to the high demands and low support provided new teachers. Shielding novice teachers at the toughest schools, therefore, is at best a bandage on a gushing wound. The students remain poor, the schools continue to be low performing, and the novice teachers continue to be hammered with demands to fix the problem, try out new strategies, and provide additional supports for the students, with nominal if any, professional support, thus increasing the chances that they will quit within three years.

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