Are seniority layoffs unfair to poor kids?

Seniority-based layoffs are unfair to low-income students, who are the most likely to lose their young teachers, claims an ACLU lawsuit against Los Angeles Unified, the LA teachers’ union, the state education board and the governor.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the board of education have switched sides: They agree with the ACLU.  From Educated Guess:

In February, ACLU of Southern California and pro-bono attorneys with the group Public Counsel sued on behalf of students at three low-performing, high-minority middle schools in Los Angeles, where there has been a constant churn of teachers that lack seniority and an inability to find permanent replacements for them. Some of the schools have had underqualified teachers or substitutes for several years.

Schwarzenegger is backing SB 955, which would end a state law requiring layoffs by seniority in most cases. Last week, the board voted unanimously to support the lawsuit.

Of course, the ACLU also wants more funding for low-performing, high-minority schools. The governor is proposing to spend less on K-12 education.

The ACLU also wants the state to require districts to end seniority-based layoffs; the proposed law would allow districts to set their own lay-off policies.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    Why am I not surprised that the ACLU cannot support a sensible policy without having to resort to the politics of class warfare as a rationale for that policy? Seniority-based layoffs hurt all students, not just the poor. Is it really too hard for them to simply state that seniority-based layoffs is harmful because the school system is forced to lay off some good teachers and retain some bad teachers?

  2. Richard, there’s a difference between opposing a particular policy and finding a legal cause of action that a court will recognize.

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    You are correct Mike, but hopefully the courts will not agree that the ACLU’s rationale is a valid legal reason for changing the school policy. I do not see where “fairness to poor kids” is a right that is guaranteed to us in the constitution. Yes I realize that they are trying to argue that since more poor children are minorities then the policy discriminates against minorities. By that convoluted logic one can oppose almost any policy if it has an unintended disparate impact on minorities. However, that should not be the way the courts interpret the law.

  4. Mark S. says:

    Actually seniority-based layoff probably benefit poor kids. Right now these kids are most likely to be taught by the most inexperienced teachers. Seniority-based layoffs will force school districts to place more experienced teachers in the schools that poor kids attend.

  5. Interesting.

    A few years ago I was experienced.

    But now I’m too old.

  6. john thompson says:

    Seniority-based lay-offs helps all kids by helping to lay a foundation of predictablity that makes teaching a more attractive profession. “Refdormers” don’t know what they don’t know about real world schools, and they thus threaten the goose that can lay the golden eggs.

    But, reformers are right that lay-offs, along with improved evaluations and tenure reform (reform not abolition because tenure is essential to public education) should be changed to make it easier to remove weak teachers and keep new talent.

    Were they to propose realistic changes, it would easier to negotiate methods where teachers seniority rights are limited to persons who have demonstrated a certain level of effectiveness. But that also requires negotiations over fair and legal evaluations that can include data, but can’t be driven by test scores in the hands of management alone.

    We’d all be better off if “reformers” would work with reformers in the unions and not attack the basic principles that all Americans should embrace.

  7. The overwhelming reason that seniority exists is both protection from layoffs, and pick of assignments. Somehow, I doubt that for most teachers, these schools are a “choice” assignment.

    That’s the reason that inexperienced teachers are in these schools in the first place. The senior teachers would rather be in different schools.

    And attempts to place them in those schools will probably result in accelerated retirements. And we’re right back at the beginning.

  8. It’s nice to see some of the usual tortured excuses for the seniority system being dusted off and trotted out but there’s really only one reason for a seniority system and that’s that there’s no interest in and no mechanism for determining skill.

  9. >Seniority-based lay-offs helps all kids by helping to lay a
    >foundation of predictablity that makes teaching a more
    >attractive profession.

    Seniority-based lay-offs hurt all kids by eroding a foundation of excellence that makes teaching a more attractive profession.

    different perspectives (and a grammar fix as part of that standard of excellence)

  10. Ponderosa says:


    Realize that, along with old hacks, a lot of smart gadfly teachers would also be canned if this bill becomes law. Tenure assures freedom of speech. I and other unorthodox teachers would be fired, or at least silenced, by this law. Though I’m politically liberal, I’m an education traditionalist that uses my tenure shield to criticize the progressive ed orthodoxy.

    Older teachers are also more expensive. Just as fifty-something executives are often canned and replaced with twentysomethings, so will older teachers get liquidated. Won’t it be grand when this brutal practice is extended to our public schools?

  11. Hooray for you Ponderosa but unless you’re positing that tenure’s shielding a pretty significant percentage of you pedagogic iconoclasts from from the dead hand of the administration then all you’re doing is trying to find some defense for a means of determining which teachers to keep on and which teachers to let go that takes no explicit, and no particular implicit, notice of teaching skill.

    Congratulations for making a “brutal practice” sound good by comparison.

  12. Fascinating that Schwarzenegger, whose education legacy includes destroying the University of California system, is now advocating for poor children, right!

    It is a well known truth within education circles that district’s love to pay substitute pay instead of giving a long term substitute a teaching contract. That LA Unified uses this practice is not the fault of senior teachers. By the way, this bill would also cut substitute pay, that will surely promote teacher quality.

    Ahnold just hates unions. First a great narrative: Teachers don’t care about kids, they only care about fat pensions, salaries, etc. Give me a break! Great idea going after the teacher unions first, as the membership is overwhelmingly female. What public employee union comes next?

  13. Hopefully, all of them.


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