When layoffs come to L.A. schools, performance doesn't count
STOP THE PRESSES! The LA Times just published the best article/research I've read to date on the impact of layoffs purely by seniority (last hired, first fired), focusing on one school in LA, and the results are exactly what one would expect: such an utterly insane policy destroyed the promising turnaround at the school and has been DEVASTATING for the school's poor and minority students (who else? This kind of sh*t doesn't happen to wealthy or white kids):
But when budget cuts came in the summer of 2009 — at the end of the school's second year — more than half of the teachers were laid off. Among those dismissed were Gascon and 16 others who ranked in the top fifth of district middle school instructors in boosting test scores, The Times' analysis found. Many were replaced by a parade of less effective teachers, including many short-term substitutes.
By the end of the last school year, Liechty had plummeted from first to 61st — near the bottom among middle schools — in raising English scores and fallen out of the top 10 in boosting math scores.
"Everything we worked those two years to instill is gone," said Amanda Uy, a math and science teacher who was laid off and now teaches part time at a private school. "It's really tragic."
Quality-blind layoffs are just one vestige of seniority rules introduced decades ago to promote fairness and protect teachers from capricious administrators. Enshrined in state law and detailed in teachers' union contracts, the prerogatives of seniority continue to guide many of the key personnel decisions made in public schools across the country, including pay and assignments. The effects are most keenly felt by students during layoffs.
The Times sought to measure the impact of about 2,700 seniority-based layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the last two years. It focused particularly on the performance of about 1,000 elementary and middle school teachers for whom math and English scores were available.
Among the findings:
- Because seniority is largely unrelated to performance, the district has laid off hundreds of its most promising math and English teachers. About 190 ranked in the top fifth in raising scores and more than 400 ranked in the top 40%.
- Schools in some of the city's poorest areas were disproportionately hurt by the layoffs. Nearly one in 10 teachers in South Los Angeles schools was laid off, nearly twice the rate in other areas. Sixteen schools lost at least a fourth of their teachers, all but one of them in South or Central Los Angeles.
- Far fewer teachers would be laid off if the district were to base the cuts on performance rather than seniority. The least experienced teachers also are the lowest-paid, so more must be laid off to meet budgetary targets. An estimated 25% more teachers would have kept their jobs if L.A. Unified had based its cuts on teachers' records in improving test scores.
…"How can we be doing what's in the best interest of kids if we don't even consider a teacher's impact on kids when making key decisions?" asked Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington.
The issue has gained momentum as tens of thousands of teachers nationally have been dismissed without regard to their abilities and research has established that veteran instructors on average are no better or worse than their less experienced colleagues.
From Washington state to Arizona to Rhode Island, seniority-based cuts have turned some young teachers against their own unions and fueled efforts — mostly unsuccessful thus far — to revise seniority rules. In California, two bills failed this year in part because of opposition from the California Teachers Assn.
At L.A. Unified, outgoing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he believes it is time to consider other factors besides seniority during cutbacks, including performance measures such as attendance and parental feedback. He said he favors capping the number of layoffs at a single campus — an approach similar to that proposed in a pending legal settlement involving Liechty and other schools.
Liechty, he said, is among middle schools that suffered deeply because their principals either recruited a high number of the "best and brightest" young teachers or were unable to find veteran teachers willing to work there.
"It's not a fair situation for those schools, and they bore a very large burden," Cortines said.
… When United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy met with instructors in Liechty's library on a spring morning in 2009, their hopes for a reprieve were quickly dashed.
Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs, Duffy said, according to interviews with several people at the meeting. Seniority is the only fair way to do it, he said, and any exception would be "an act of disloyalty."
Teacher after teacher stood up to protest. "There needs to be a different way of doing this," Mike Kwok, a teacher with more than 30 years in the district, recalled saying. Allowing the layoffs to proceed "would destroy not only these new teachers but also the community and the relationships they had built with the students."
… By the time school started in September 2009, Liechty was still desperately trying to find replacements. Stevens herself was leaving to lead a struggling high school in San Pedro. Before departing, she tried to fill the jobs but found few teachers willing to take them.
Many of the candidates were elementary teachers whose positions had been eliminated to save money. Under the rules, they had enough seniority to avoid a layoff but had to be placed elsewhere.
Many had little interest in teaching challenging middle school kids in a poor community, Stevens said. Of those who did accept jobs at Liechty, some left in tears within days or called in sick every day, teachers recalled.
"The teachers who were hired didn't want the jobs, and those who wanted them weren't allowed to teach," recalled Barker, who ranked in the top fifth of middle school teachers and quit in frustration.
Many classrooms had as many as 10 subs over the year, often with no credentials in the subject they were teaching, staffers said.
"I got these calls saying, 'Your class is falling apart,'" said Judy Kerber, a laid-off Liechty teacher also in the top fifth of middle school instructors districtwide. "This amazing group of kids just fell apart."
More fights broke out on campus, drug use increased and youngsters became more unruly in class, several students and teachers recalled.
"I'd visit them and see that books were destroyed, their classroom was vandalized," Gascon said. "I could lecture them … but I understand how they feel. They feel like they've been abandoned."
Kwok, who was not laid off but retired at the end of last year, saw it too. "It became like a game," he recalled. "The kids knew what was going on, they'd test the teachers, push as many buttons as they could."
Eighth-grader Helen Arias said students knew the teachers weren't going to stay long, "so why should they pay attention?"
Last year, Arias said, she had three short-term substitutes in math at the beginning of the year. One of them had the class fill out multiplication tables every day for half an hour. The rest of the class was spent going over the results.
"We knew what 12 times 2 is," Arias said. "We didn't make any progress."
… Disillusioned, many of the talented young Liechty instructors have sworn off ever returning to L.A. Unified.
… At Liechty, meanwhile, students are still struggling to recover.
"We do the same lesson over and over again," said Jana Medina, an eighth-grader who has had three substitute teachers in history alone. "I feel like I'm not learning anything."
Jana got a C in history last year in a different middle school, according to her report card. Last term she got an F. Her mother, Lourdes Gonzalez, said she went to talk to one of the substitutes, but the teacher barely knew who Jana was.
"We live in a very hard area," Gonzalez said. "The only way to break out is through education, and she's not getting a good one now."
When layoffs come to L.A. schools, performance doesn't count
After the budget ax fell, hundreds of the district's most promising new instructors were laid off. Campuses in poorer areas — such as Liechty Middle School in the Westlake neighborhood — were disproportionately hurt.
By Jason Felch, Jason Song and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Time
December 4, 2010|8:30 p.m.