Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If not now, when?

The Fordham Foundation's Mike Petrilli with a good piece on the madness of layoffs via seniority:

I’ve heard from several friends, particularly those on the left, who are perplexed by the arguments made by me and others that budget cuts can be good for education reform. Sure, they concede, it’s theoretically possible that difficult times would give local leaders the political cover to make tough decisions that would otherwise be politically impossible, such as releasing their most ineffective employees. But most often, superintendents and school boards do the politically expedient thing instead, such as laying off all their young teachers, or cutting art and music, or eliminating school counseling programs.

This issue is brought into stark relief in the city of angels. Los Angeles Unified has announced plans to lay off 2,300 teachers. And guess which approach to layoffs the district is pursuing? The most junior teachers will be gone, including most (maybe all?) of the city’s Teach For America teachers. This even though those recruits have been found to be just as effective as more veteran instructors, and even though they earn much lower salaries.

This is an outrage. A crisis. And crises are good times to push for policy changes. The L.A. Times, local foundations, community organizations, everyone should be up in arms at the prospect of a mass firing of the city’s young, enthusiastic teachers because district leaders don’t have the courage to tackle corrupt union policies and weed out incompetent or burned-out staff.

According to Wikipedia, LA Unified employs over 80,000 people. Just assume that 2 percent of these people are no longer doing a bang-up job. (Hard to imagine, right?) That’s 1,600 people. Assuming that many of these folks are long-timers and thus make more money than starting teachers do, you could probably close the same budget hole by firing those 1,600 as you could be letting go of 2,300 teachers. Is anyone within the district willing to stand up and say that the worst 2 percent of employees don’t deserve to lose their jobs instead of bright young teachers? That the district couldn’t survive without them? In fact, that the district wouldn’t be better off without them?

It’s not hard to understand why a group like Teach For America would want to see districts such as L.A. get a bailout from the feds, so that its recruits don’t end up on the street. But such an outcome would amount to winning the battle and losing the war. Eventually, the bailouts are going to come to an end. So too will the days of regular budget increases for the schools; with Boomers retiring, almost all new public dollars are going to be sucked up by Social Security and Medicare. Budget crunches will be the norm, not the exception. And then how are we going to keep young, energetic teachers like TFAers from losing their jobs? Eventually, we have to beat back the “last hired, first fired” madness. So again, if not now, when? If not us, who?

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