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Los Angeles Unified School Board Challenges Teacher Seniority Practices

Lisa Snell
April 24, 2009, 12:54pm

With only 31 teachers fired in the entire state of California in the last five years, Los Angeles Unified school board members are challenging state laws that make it so difficult to remove low-performing teachers.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports on the challenge:

Embarking on a monumental task that some say is doomed to fail, Los Angeles Unified school officials are taking aim at state laws that make it virtually impossible to fire teachers.

Facing unprecedented layoffs, including 3,500 teachers with less than two year's experience, district officials and their allies say they need the power to cull bad teachers from the ranks or students will suffer in the classroom.

"It's about weeding out people who shouldn't be working with our kids," said Tamar Galatzan, a board of education member who represents part of the San Fernando Valley.

On Tuesday, the school board is scheduled to vote on a pair of resolutions to change state teacher protections as well as internal teacher promotion policy. Among them, they will seek to rewrite codes that favor teacher and administrator seniority during layoffs that allow senior staff to "bump" less senior staff out of their jobs, creating a domino effect that leads to the loss of new, nontenured teachers.

Also, the board has proposed a new evaluation method that would automatically fire teachers if they received two consecutive poor performance reviews. A better evaluation method, say district officials, will improve teaching morale and student achievement.

This is perhaps the most positive unintended consequence to come out of California's current budget debacle. Los Angeles Unified faced with laying off 3,500 new teachers under the "last hired, first fired" legal requirements are taking steps to change these illogical personnel practices.

For example, Mayor Villaraigosa, who this year began overseeing 10 schools under a partnership with the district, could lose all of the principals and assistant principals and about 200 teachers at the 10 schools strictly based on seniority. Villaraigosa's school staff would be replaced by senior teachers from other schools. This seems like a poor way to bring improvement and innovation to any school. Yet, under current law the district has no alternative.

Los Angeles Unified school board members deserve a lot of credit for taking on this challenge which impedes school reform throughout the state of California.

I also give some credit to the Los Angeles charter schools for demonstrating a better way of managing school personnel. Charters do not face these burdensome personnel practices. Los Angeles charter school leaders can hire and keep energetic new teachers and do not have to worry about losing their human capital investment because of state and union rules. They are free to evaluate their personnel based on performance, and the difference is apparent in student outcomes with more than 70 percent of LA charters outperforming their traditional public school counterparts.

Charter school competition has the potential to benefit teachers as well as students.The charter school success in Los Angeles has forced the Los Angeles school board to see that the charter schools' discretion over their employees is one of their great comparative advantages. Of course, Los Angeles unified board members realize that it would be to their advantage if they could also keep high-performing teachers.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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