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An Almost Meaningless Settlement on Teacher Seniority, Layoffs



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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: United Teachers Los Angeles and supporters protest state and local budget cuts on January 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. District officials say they are facing a gaping $500 million budget shortfall. The board of education earlier this month authorized nearly 2,300 layoffs, but the superintendent ruled midyear layoffs out. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Hold the apple cider! (This is a school story, and the students can't drink Champagne).

    This week, there was much official celebrating over the settlement of a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District and the state of California that took on the practice of laying off teachers by seniority. This practice disproportionately hurts inner-city schools because they tend to have younger, less experienced teachers -- and thus more layoffs and turnover when hard budget times like these result in layoffs. In recent layoffs, three Los Angeles middle schools lost half their teachers.

    But it's far from clear that the settlement will change the status quo very much at all. That's because the agreement doesn't do anything to end the seniority-based system for teacher layoffs. It merely seeks to equalize the problems created by such layoffs. That is, layoffs based on seniority would be distributed evenly among district schools, so inner-city schools are not disproportionately hurt.

    Most maddeningly, it doesn't change the worst thing about such layoffs: the effectiveness and job performance of teachers cannot be used to make layoff decisions.

    It's too bad the lawyers quit here before pursuing their claims further. The seniority system itself needs to be blown up. It hurts students and taxpayers when older, more experienced teachers are kept on -- even if they are failures or burnouts, just building service time to pensions -- while newer teachers -- even if they are incredibly effective -- can be let go.

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