LA lays off effective teachers

When Los Angeles schools lay off teachers, performance doesn’t count, reports the Los Angeles Times. Seniority is the only factor.  Schools with young staffs have been hit hard by layoffs.

At John H. Liechty Middle School opened in 2007 in Los Angeles’ impoverished Westlake neighborhood with a seasoned principal, dozens of energetic young teachers and a mission to “reinvent education” in the nation’s second-largest school district.

The students had come from some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. But by the end of the first year, their scores on standardized tests showed the most improvement in English among district middle schools and exceptional growth in math, according to a Times analysis.

. . . 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 (Monique) 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.

Using value-added analysis, the Times found 190 teachers in the top 20 percent were laid off, along with  more than 400 ranked in the top 40%.  Of 16 schools that lost at least 25 percent of their teachers, 15 were in low-income areas.

Because pay is linked to experience, not to performance, districts have to lay off more junior teachers to balance the budget.  Twenty-five percent more teachers would be working, if Los Angeles Unified had based its cuts on teachers’ records in improving test scores rather than seniority, the Times reports.

Liechty’s laid-off teachers were offered jobs as long-term substitutes, but many left to teach at private schools or quit the teaching profession; two enrolled in law school.  The principal moved on to another school.

It proved difficult to replace Liechty’s teachers. The middle school was forced to hire elementary teachers whose positions had been cut to save money. They had enough seniority to avoid a layoff, but few wanted to teach low-income middle-school students. “Of those who did accept jobs at Liechty, some left in tears within days or called in sick every day,” teachers told the Times. They were replaced by short-term substitutes.