The End of Seniority-Based Teacher Layoffs

Education is the civil rights issue of our time, but for too long, we've turned a blind eye to the inequalities in our broken public school system. We've created a system of haves and have-nots based on things as trivial as where you live or how much money your parents make.

When it comes to the well-being of our students, there can be no sacred cows. And when outdated policies put the job security of teachers before our children's education we must have the courage to change the system.

Five months ago, because of both the budget crisis and LAUSD's antiquated seniority-based layoff system, we faced a situation where some of L.A.'s most under-performing schools--schools that we're working hardest to turnaround--were subjected to debilitating layoffs that would have resulted in the loss of up to two-thirds of their teachers. By and large, the schools hardest hit by these layoffs were serving low-income and minority students - students that did not have much stability in their lives to begin with.

At the same time, schools with students from higher-income neighborhoods were going to keep their teachers. This is because younger, newer teachers are often sent to struggling schools, and with the LAUSD's "last hired, first fired" system, whenever layoffs were required, those energetic, eager, new teachers were the first to go. Simply put, this was unjust, unfair, and in my mind, it was unconstitutional.

So my education team and my Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, urged the ACLU and Public Counsel to file a lawsuit on behalf of students at Gompers, Liechty, and Markham Middle Schools. The suit argued that the seniority-based layoff system was disproportionally affecting the the quality of education for children at these schools, was thus unconstitutional, and needed to be stopped.

And this week a landmark, first-of-its-kind settlement with the LAUSD put an end to the old system of layoffs. Using some of the most progressive reform measures, such as teacher incentives and value-added models, a we will now ensure that we keep good teachers in schools that need them most, and we'll their progress as accurately as possible.

And this is only the beginning. Reforming our schools isn't just about doing away with "The Dance of the Lemons," -- the annual shuffle of the handful of underperfoming teachers that sends them from school to school -- it's about cutting down the trees that GROW the bad lemons. It's about reforming the entire system that doesn't support our students or our teachers. We started with seniority-based layoffs, next we're going to tackle the assignment process and the broken system of teacher transfers. We're also going to embrace teacher effectiveness reforms and make the changes necessary so that tenure is meaningful.

A system where decisions are made to protect the adults has only served to hurt the children. Education is the civil rights issue of our time, and while today we're declaring a major civil rights victory, we're just getting started.