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Newbie Teachers in Decline

In an era of budget cuts, California's last hired-first fired policy has meant a reduction in the number of new teachers working in Piedmont, and even more so statewide.

With $20 billion cut from the California’s K-12 education budget in the last three years, times are tough—especially for teachers just starting out in the profession. Budget cuts and layoffs in East Bay schools over the last few years have meant a decline in the number of teachers with less than two years of experience.

The fraction of teachers new to the profession in the Piedmont Unified School District dropped from 4.9 percent in 2005-06 to 2.2 percent in 2009-10. (The school board voted in March to cut the equivalent of 4.4 full-time certificated positions for the 2011-2012 academic year, but exactly who will be laid off or see their job reduced is yet to be fully determined.)

Across Alameda County, meanwhile, the number of newbie teachers dropped from an average of 15.8 percent or 1,758 teachers in 2005-06 to 9.6 percent or 1,075 teachers in 2009-10.

Statewide, the number of newbie teachers has dropped by 27,665 in the last decade. The most significant reduction has come in the last few years. (Data for 2010-11 is not currently available.)

California's last hired-first fired policy means that teachers with less than two years of experience are often the first to be handed a "pink slip" when it comes time to cut back. Teachers with the most seniority are the least likely to lose their jobs. 

State law requires that teachers be laid off according to seniority during times of economic stress. A recent bill by state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) would have changed this stipulation to a performance-based policy, using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. The legislation failed in a state Senate education committee May 11.

The last hired-first fired policy is designed to reward teachers who have been in the profession longest and therefore garnered the most experience, said Michael Hulsizer of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. 

"On the one hand you can argue that your senior, most experienced, highest-quality teachers are protected—they are the ones we save," said Hulsizer. "But then the argument is made that some of our best and brightest teachers are our newest teachers. They're coming out of college, they've got energy, they've got new ideas, they've been trained in the latest pedagogy and we're losing those people. And that's a terrible thing."

Since seniority also dictates the pay scale, letting go of the teachers in the lowest ranks can mean a higher cost to school districts, Hulsizer said. Average teacher salaries have been increasing in many school districts in the East Bay, despite pay freezes, over the last few years. Cutting teachers, however, still saves California millions of dollars in overall teacher payroll.

The California Teachers Association rallied against the recent bill by Sen. Huff, stating that it would “undercut seniority protections and deprive students of more experienced teachers,” as well as open the door to age discrimination.

“The real problem in our schools is not seniority protections; it’s the chronic underfunding that has provoked a fiscal crisis and is threatening our students’ education,” the CTA wrote in a statement posted on their website.

California’s teaching corps shrunk by more than 10,000 teachers between 2000 and 2010, while enrollment in state schools grew by almost 140,000 students. Class sizes continue to increase, according to a report released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in February. The average K-3 class rose from around 20 students in 2008-09 to 25 students in 2010-2011. Other grades experienced swelling from 28 students per class to more than 31, with some schools seeing 35 pupils or more in the classroom. Many school districts, , have also shortened the school year in an effort to save costs.

“We’re losing some of our newest, youngest, best and brightest teachers,” said Sheila Jordan, superintendent of the Alameda County Office of Education. “It’s very demoralizing to young people who come into teaching.”

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