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Debating teacher tenure and layoffs

Debating teacher tenure and layoffs
Attorneys Theodore Boutrous, far right, and Marcellus McRae, second from right are joined at a news conference last month by nine California public school students who are suing the state to abolish its laws on teacher tenure, seniority and other protections. (Nick Ut / Associated Press)

Last Saturday's featured letter by former Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education member Yolie Flores — in which she told of a crying parent's plea to save the job of his autistic child's teacher — has drawn a handful of spirited responses. Some readers said Flores' experience shows the absurdity of using seniority instead of effectiveness to determine which teachers get laid off; others say blaming teachers for the district's woes doesn't help.

Flores' letter commented on a lawsuit weighing teacher tenure, a topic that tends to generate substantive yet polarized commentary from readers. The two lengthy letters here reflect that.

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—Paul Thornton, letters editor

Owen Keavney of Claremont suggests alternatives to seniority:

"What a loss we have suffered by no longer having Flores as a member of the school board. Her comment brought a tear to my eye.

"When laying off staff because there are no longer funds to pay their salaries, using seniority as the deciding factor makes no sense. Flores suggested that the tears of a parent were a better guide than seniority in making these decisions.

"Another possibility would be to consider salary. Wouldn't it be to (almost) everyone's benefit to lay off an underperforming older teacher earning $90,000 a year rather than two young, energetic ones making $45,000 apiece? Sounds like a plan to me.

"Finally, how about evaluating the teachers and ranking them based on the results? When it comes time to send out notices of possible dismissal (9,500 preliminary pink slips were sent out in 2012), the district would simply notify the teachers who rank lowest. Those who are actually let go (the number is always less than how many pink slips were sent out) would simply be the worst of those who received notices. Sounds pretty simple to me.

"Another plus is that the district, as a public institution, would be required by law to disclose this list — and I would use it. As a taxpayer, I am as entitled as anyone else to have my children in only the best teachers' classrooms."

David Dillard of Los Angeles speaks up for teachers:

"Flores writes about one student and one teacher, but what about L.A. Unified's 600,000 other students and more than 30,000 other teachers? She says eliminating tenure is a good way to defend students' rights. I don't agree at all.

"If the district wanted to defend students rights:

"Why lay off thousands of great, dedicated teachers?

"Why are the working conditions so awful at many schools that great teachers are prompted to look elsewhere?

"Why were one-fourth of all L.A. Unified teachers emergency-credential teachers before the No Child Left Behind law took effect? They were easily fired, but test scores didn't go up.

"Why not desegregate schools?

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"Why not reduce class sizes?

"Why not bring back special-education aids to assist in classrooms of 40 students?

"Remember, 'blaming the teacher' is not an educational philosophy."

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