Thursday, March 24, 2011

One Small Strike Against Teacher Seniority

Publish by City Journal 2 days ago -

Larry Sand
One Small Strike Against Teacher Seniority
A court ruling in Los Angeles offers some hope for students in failing schools.
22 March 2011

Like many other cities, Los Angeles is subject to a state education code requiring that, in the event of teacher layoffs, the last hired is the first fired. Because they invariably have a high percentage of new hires, the lowest-performing schools usually take the brunt of the layoffs under this system, destabilizing them further by requiring a revolving door of substitutes.

When the Los Angeles Unified School District, facing municipal belt-tightening, sent out “reduction in force” notices in 2009, three middle schools—Gompers, Liechty, and Markham, each ranking in the bottom 10 percent of California schools by academic performance—were particularly hard hit. Sixty percent of the teachers at Liechty, 48 percent of the teachers at Gompers, and 46 percent of the teachers at Markham received them. By contrast, the LAUSD sent layoff notices to just 17.9 percent of its teachers system-wide. The notices resulted in a large number of teacher vacancies at all three schools. By 2010, according to an AP story, “More than half of the teaching staffs at Edwin Markham, John H. Liechty and Samuel Gompers middle schools lost their jobs . . . at Markham, the layoffs included almost the entire English department along with every 8th grade history teacher.”

Alleging that the last-hired, first-fired policy violated poor students’ right to a quality education, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a class-action lawsuit. Last month, Superior Judge William Highberger ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge cited a previously unacknowledged clause of the education code stating that a district may deviate from seniority “for purposes of maintaining or achieving compliance with constitutional requirements related to equal protection of the laws.”

According to the ACLU, “The settlement reached between the plaintiffs and LAUSD and the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, protects students in up to 45 Targeted Schools in the unfortunate event of budget-based teacher layoffs.” Determined annually, the 45 schools will be comprised of 25 under-performing and difficult-to-staff schools. Up to 20 additional schools will be selected for protection from layoffs based on the “likelihood that the school will be negatively and disproportionately affected by teacher turnover.” Many, like incoming LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, were thrilled, calling the decision “historic.” Others claimed that it was the beginning of the end of the seniority-based staffing system.

Predictably, teachers’ unions were outraged. “This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students,” said United Teachers of Los Angeles Elementary Vice President Julie Washington. “It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.” New State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson—the California Teachers Association’s choice for that position—echoed the union line, stating, “The ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”

Some perspective is in order. Despite the winners’ elation and the losers’ laments, seniority has not been dismantled. The court ruling protects students at the 45 lowest-performing schools, but not students at the remaining 800 LAUSD campuses. Thus, the unjust seniority system remains in force in about 95 percent of the district’s schools. The LAUSD recently announced that it could lay off almost 4,500 teachers—all based on seniority—in June. No doubt many fine teachers will leave the profession, while many of lower quality stay on. To the detriment of hundreds of thousands of school children, seniority remains alive and well in the Los Angeles public schools. For now, the winners are the children at the bottom-performing schools, who will not lose any teachers due to seniority. The losers are the children at all the other district schools, which will incur more layoffs to accommodate the bottom 45. These schools will no doubt lose some excellent teachers.

Judge Highberger’s ruling, then, isn’t quite the “landmark decision” some claim it to be. But if it ultimately becomes the first step in dismantling a system that discriminates against good teachers—and ultimately children—it may yet earn that status.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CTEN - March 2011 letter

Dear Colleague,

Please note that in addition to the traditional emailing of the CTEN monthly newsletter, we will have it posted on the CTEN blog - Since there are several controversial issues covered in this letter, we think it would be a good time for people to share their opinions with other teachers.

The story of the month for educators has to be the dismantling of collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Whether or not you agree with Governor Scott Walker’s actions, there is no doubt that is a story that will impact teachers in Wisconsin and possibly have long lasting ramifications for teachers elsewhere. Many other states -- New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, et al. -- have been watching with more than just passing interest as they are considering similar type legislation. With 29 Republican governors, a sagging economy and general antipathy toward public employee unions, this is a good time for those who think collective bargaining is not healthy for society to put an end to what many in the union think is their “right.”

While CTEN is not taking a position on collective bargaining, we can’t help but be disappointed in the way many Wisconsin teachers behaved in protesting Governor Walker’s actions. They certainly haven’t helped their cause with the kind of behavior displayed in this brief video -

Another very contentious issue, this one in California, is the Parent Trigger battle underway in Compton. In a nutshell, the Compton parents got the required number of signatures to force a change in school governance, but the school district, the state school board, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Governor Jerry Brown and various state legislators objected and announced their intention to clarify (read: eviscerate) the new law. However, the landslide of articles sympathetic to the parents from newspapers all over the state has softened the positions of opponents to the point where it would now appear that the law might survive in tact. Here is a bit more information about Parent Trigger from our October newsletter:

Earlier this year, without much fanfare, a new law went into effect in CA. The "Parent Trigger" could have major ramifications for teachers, parents and students. Under this law, if 50.1 percent of parents at a school sign a petition, the school must initiate one of four turnaround options as prescribed by the federal government. To learn more, go to . Also, the Heartland Institute has put out a policy brief explaining the promise and possible pitfalls of the Parent Trigger -

There is still much confusion about the new law, and CTEN is sponsoring an event in Los Angeles on March 21st at which we hope to set the facts straight. We will have four experts discussing the law and its ramifications. For more information, please go to

San Gabriel Valley State Senator Bob Huff is proposing a new law. SB 355 ( would allow California school districts to base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority. Needless to say, the state teachers unions will fight this tooth and nail. Seniority as staffing mechanism is at the heart of collective bargaining and is written in the California State Education code. While not dismantling the seniority system in its entirety, it would let local districts determine how they want to handle their own staffing decisions.

In a time when student testing has gotten a very bad name, a new study has emerged which shows that testing actually helps students learn. The study claims that testing and a reading theory developed in 1946 remain great learning tools. To read more, go to

In the reasonably near future, you will be getting a special mailing from us - a brief Survey Monkey questionnaire. We would very much appreciate it if all teachers who are on our list would participate. By doing so, you will help CTEN in our efforts to show that there are independent-minded teachers in California and that not all are happily represented by the two state teacher unions here.

As always, we at CTEN want to thank you for your ongoing support. Please visit our website – regularly. If you any need information that you can’t find on the website, please send an email to or call us at 888-290-8471 and we will get back to you in short order.


Larry Sand
CTEN President