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Predictably, teachers’ unions were outraged. “This settlement will do nothing to address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students,” said United Teachers of Los Angeles Elementary Vice President Julie Washington. “It is a travesty that this settlement, by avoiding real solutions and exacerbating the problem, actually undermines the civil and constitutional rights of our students.” New State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson—the California Teachers Association’s choice for that position—echoed the union line, stating, “The ruling could hurt students by requiring them to be taught by inexperienced teachers rather than finding ways to bring in more experienced and arguably more effective teachers.”
Some perspective is in order. Despite the winners’ elation and the losers’ laments, seniority has not been dismantled. The court ruling protects students at the 45 lowest-performing schools, but not students at the remaining 800 LAUSD campuses. Thus, the unjust seniority system remains in force in about 95 percent of the district’s schools. The LAUSD recently announced that it could lay off almost 4,500 teachers—all based on seniority—in June. No doubt many fine teachers will leave the profession, while many of lower quality stay on. To the detriment of hundreds of thousands of school children, seniority remains alive and well in the Los Angeles public schools. For now, the winners are the children at the bottom-performing schools, who will not lose any teachers due to seniority. The losers are the children at all the other district schools, which will incur more layoffs to accommodate the bottom 45. These schools will no doubt lose some excellent teachers.
Judge Highberger’s ruling, then, isn’t quite the “landmark decision” some claim it to be. But if it ultimately becomes the first step in dismantling a system that discriminates against good teachers—and ultimately children—it may yet earn that status.
Larry Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.