When times get tough, should new teachers get packing?

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In Los Angeles, the ACLU has won a significant civil rights victory, with the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling that last year's seniority-based layoffs disproportionately impacted three L.A. schools that serve poor and minority children. Last year, half to three quarters of the staffs at those three middle schools were laid off due to budget cuts.

One of these schools, Markham Middle, had been declared a turn-around school in 2008, meaning a big turnover in the school staff. The nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools took over the school, let its entire staff go, and began hiring new teachers. Due to its late start in the hiring process, the school picked up mostly young teachers who were new to the district, and, as California law stipulates, they were then the first to go nine months later.

The victory is rather narrow in that only the teachers at these three schools will be protected from future layoffs. But it portends well for future rulings. Education Trust West blogged that "It would be great if this lawsuit forced California, and allowed LAUSD to develop a system where layoffs were based on effectiveness, not how long someone had been working in a system."

Of course California certainly isn't the only state seeking to use teacher layoffs as a means for climbing out of a gaping hole of red. New York has a bill in the works (though it hasn't moved in the State Assembly or Senate) that would allow principals to decide who to layoff in their schools, meaning teachers who are newest to the district don't have to be first on the chopping block when budget shortfalls occur.

According to New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, seniority based layoffs could have the largest impact in one of the city's poorest districts: the South Bronx's District 7 could see 14 percent of its teaching force laid off, while a wealthier district such as Staten Island's District 31 would only lose 2 percent of its teachers.