Layoffs scaring off future teachers
Many of the 26,000 teachers in California who got pink slips in March may have their jobs back by August, if their colleagues agree to furloughs or give-backs and if districts pass parcel taxes next month and come up with other savings. Los Angeles Unified alone has rescinded two-thirds of the 3,100 layoff notices it issued two months ago.
But the damage to the teaching profession will last beyond the disruptions and uncertainty of the next few months. In a paper issued this week, the Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning openly worries about the impact on the future supply of teachers that California will need over the next decade.
“The current rash of layoffs most certainly will harm morale and, even more important, the downstream effect of pink slipping on the teacher development system is already evident,” the Center concludes in “Who will be left to teach?”
Fewer people are pursuing teaching careers. The Center noted that the 52,000 enrollees in teacher preparation programs in 2006-07 were down a third from the nearly 78,000 in 2001-02. And the numbers apparently have continued to fall since then, prompting cutbacks in admissions into programs at a number of California State University campuses.
But a shrinking supply of new teachers will soon be out of phase with a surge in demand, regardless of the state’s fiscal problems. Over the next seven to 10 years, because of baby-boom retirements, there will be a need to replace one-third of the teacher workforce, 100,000 teachers. Plus, elementary school enrollments are projected to rise by 170,000 by 2015, creating a need, assuming an average of 25 students in a classroom, of 7,000 more teachers.
The Center makes three policy recommendations to mitiage the effects of massive layoff notices and to provide a pool of available teachers in coming years:
- Better coordinate the state budget process and layoff notifications so that districts don’t have to prematurely give notice to more teachers than necessary, creating morale problems and driving prospective teachers from the profession. Gov. Schwarzenegger is proposing to move back the notification date two months, to May 15, in SB 955;
- Remove the cap on teacher preparation programs in the CSU California State University system so that
all qualified applicants can pursue teacher training;
- Create incentive programs that encourage teachers to take assignments in high-need schools and in areas of shortage, such as special education, mathematics and science.
Not mentioned by the Center is another idea in SB 955: eliminate seniority in determining the order of layoffs. Giving principals, particularly in low-achieving schools, the ability to lay off based on merit, would at least give new and less experienced teachers a fair shot at keeping their jobs – and not send the signal that it’s futile, no matter how good you are, to keep your job if you are a relatively new teacher.
Since seniority-based layoffs disproportionately tend to effect low-income, low-performing schools, some education groups are calling for making passage of Sen. Tom Harkin’s proposed $23 billion education jobs bill contingent on dropping seniority-based layoffs, or at least encouraging school districts to use part of the money to encourage early teacher retirements. That, too, is a good idea.