Wednesday, April 13, 2011

24 Oakland Schools May Fire Half Their Teachers

More than two dozen Oakland schools may lose at least half their teachers if proposed budget cuts go through. Three of the schools could lose over 95% of their teachers, reports the Bay Citizen. The schools most affected are in East and West Oakland, the city’s poorest communities.

While the cuts are devastating, especially for the students at the affected schools, it is not the fault of the teachers’ union or seniority rules.

First, the poorest schools tend to be the toughest to work at, with higher rates of student absenteeism, lower test scores, and greater pressure on teachers to work harder and longer to raise the test scores. Furthermore, students are more likely to come to school hungry, depressed, anxious, or academically and socially unprepared for school. Teachers are paid the same, whether or not they choose to work at these tough schools and accept the longer hours. Consequently, many veteran teachers choose to work at other schools, while novice teachers, full of enthusiasm and optimism, are often willing to take on all the extra challenges, not really appreciating how much work is actually required. As a consequence, lower income schools tend to have high numbers of young teachers who lack seniority. However, they also tend to have high rates of turnover due to attrition, as these starry-eyed teachers burn out quickly.

A second problem is that several of the schools in question underwent “reforms” or charter conversions in which all teachers were fired and required to reapply for their jobs. Many of the veteran teachers chose not to reapply, either out of frustration with the process or because they knew that once they had their old jobs back they would be expected to work longer hours and do far more work as part of the “reform,” without any evidence that it will solve the schools’ problems. Furthermore, some of these schools used the process to get rid of veteran teachers, who earn higher salaries, and replace them with younger teachers in order to save money.

Overall, districts throughout the state are being destroyed by devastating budget cuts. Some districts will see cuts of up to $1,000 per pupil, bringing California’s per pupil spending down from its already abysmal level of $7,000 per student. If Gov. Brown can’t close the still gaping $12 billion hole in the state budget, another 19,000 teachers could get the axe state-wide, according to the CTA’s recent “State of Emergency” declaration. Getting rid of seniority rules will not solve this problem—schools will still be hit hard by cuts and have to lay off teachers. Rather than arguing about how to fairly divvy up the dwindling supply of qualified teachers, we should be demanding tax hikes for the richest members of society so that there is sufficient money to provide all children with qualified teachers, books, and decent classrooms.

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