Teachers unions often argue that the "last in, first out (LIFO)" policy is the only fair way to lay off teachers. Reformers say that LIFO protects bad teachers while indiscriminately getting rid of young and creative new teachers. The way we layoff teachers will become more important as Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) enters
yet another budget crisis. Let's ignore the policy argument for a moment, and instead focus on LIFO’s effect. Ironically, this policy supported by teachers unions ends up benefiting charter schools. To get a good understanding of LIFO’s impact, we should look back to 2009, when
LAUSD laid off 1,806 teachers.
The Year I Was Laid Off
This happens to be a very personal subject for me because I was laid off that year. I started my teaching career in 2008. Three weeks after the first day of school, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the economy went into a tailspin. At first, this didn't really hit the teaching sector hard, but by February it became clear that layoffs were coming. And then, on May 15, 2009,
5,618 LAUSD teachers received layoff notices. Many of those layoffs were rescinded, and those whose notices were not rescinded were told that we could sub for ourselves and stay at our schools. But from a more personal perspective, getting a layoff notice makes you panic. That is exactly what I did. I. Freaked. Out. As a relatively risk-averse person, I chose to apply for a new teaching job. And who was hiring? Charter schools. Oodles and oodles of charter schools. I was hired at Aspire Public Schools, one of the fastest growing charter networks in Los Angeles. My girlfriend was hired at Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC Schools). My friends got jobs at Green Dot, Synergy, Para Los Niños, Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools (ICEF), the list goes on. In fact, of my Teach For America (TFA) cohort who received layoff notices that year, only 21 percent were rescinded, 18 percent decided to sub for themselves, and 57 percent headed to charter schools. LIFO took a bunch of young, excited teachers who already had a year of experience under their belts, and pushed them into charter schools.
From District to Charter
But it gets better. Charter schools are rapidly expanding in Los Angeles, meaning that good teachers can quickly rise through the ranks of charter schools and become administrators. Out of that group of 22 TFA corps members who were laid off, five are now charter school administrators, one is a charter school recruiter, and one worked for the California Charter Schools Association. One person who decided to sub for themselves is now
running for a spot on the LAUSD School Board on a pro-charter ticket (although he would say that he isn't just pro-charter, he is pro-good-schools). What do these teachers have to say about their shift from the districts to charter schools after getting laid off? Michelle Wilson, who was laid off from Gardena High School, found a job at Synergy Charter Academy. “I saw that I was serving students from the same demographics,” she said. “I also worked with more colleagues who were passionate and willing to make changes in and out of the classroom to impact students.” She is now an administrator at Green Dot. Casie Little was laid off from Bret Harte Middle School, and has worked at three charter schools since. She left LAUSD feeling defeated, but says that when she joined a charter school, her enthusiasm for teaching was rekindled. “I discovered a passion for curriculum planning, instruction and assessment that I never knew I had.” She is now an administrator at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School. Casie has strong opinions about what successful schools look like based on her experience. “When I hear or see other admin that don't uphold the values I was shown at PUC and at the two schools I was at Green Dot, I know that it's not best for kids and that data backs that up.”
A Future That Isn't LAUSD
These are young educators that could have been part of the LAUSD family. Instead, they were booted out without evaluation. They were let go of simply because they were new. From my perspective, unions shoot themselves in the foot by supporting LIFO. The policy supplies charter schools with a stream of fresh young blood, who could have been a boon for traditional public schools. These teachers are becoming leaders who will lead the way toward a new educational landscape. And, unfortunately, that future isn’t in LAUSD.
Benjamin Feinberg is an eighth-grade math teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School. After school, he is a MESA advisor and coaches students to run the Los Angeles Marathon with Students Run Los Angeles.
He has taught in charter schools and public schools during his eight years working in education. He has a master's in urban education from Loyola Marymount University.