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Group of young teachers petitions to preserve seniority rights

The debate over the state’s seniority-based layoff system is sometimes portrayed as dividing young teachers at risk of losing their jobs under the current system and older teachers bent on protecting theirs.

But a group of young teachers is arguing that the current system benefits them too, and they’ve started a petition urging the city to preserve it.

“As newer teachers, we rely on our more senior colleagues for guidance and support,” the petition reads. “Without more senior teachers, we would lose our bridge to lessons learned through years of dedicated work in the school system.”

The petition, which launched online yesterday evening, had around 75 signatures by this afternoon, said one of its authors, Stephane Barile, a teacher at the Facing History School and member of the the education and social justice group New York Collective of Radical Educators. All of the signatories are teachers who have been teaching for fewer than five years, which means that unless they teach special education or certain subjects like science, they could be at risk of losing their jobs if layoffs happen this year and the current system isn’t changed.

The petition grew out of a subgroup of NYCORE made up of young teachers focused on supporting teachers who entered the profession through alternative certification programs like New York City Teaching Fellows and Teach for America.

The group’s campaign came on a day that rhetoric between the city and its teachers and principals unions heated up over the question of layoffs. Many teachers and principals were surprised yesterday evening to read city projections of how many teachers their schools could lose in the newspapers before they had seen those estimates themselves.

Teachers and principals packed a room at the teachers union today as United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan accused the city of fear-mongering and of trying to circumvent the unions’ collective bargaining rights.

“No one’s spoken to me about negotiating any of this,” Logan said. “I’m willing to talk. Nothing is off the table.”

The mayor is promoting a bill that would do away with the seniority-based layoff system in favor of a complicated set of other criteria, including teacher evaluation ratings, attendance records and value-added ratings.

The full text of the petition is below, and can be found online here.

An Open Letter from Newer Teachers of New York State February 21, 2011 Dear parents, students, colleagues, school administraters, elected officials, and members of the public, Currently, New York State’s seniority rule protects experienced teachers from layoffs, a policy sometimes known as last in, first out. In recent budget negotiations, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Black have pressured Governor Cuomo to overturn this rule. We, the undersigned teachers who have been teaching in New York State for five years or less, stand in solidarity with our more experienced colleagues and strongly support maintaining the seniority rule. As newer teachers, we rely on our more senior colleagues for guidance and support. Senior teachers offer us their advice, their formal mentorship, and their connections with communities. Without more senior teachers, we would lose our bridge to lessons learned through years of dedicated work in the school system. In addition, the rates of black and Latino new teacher hires in New York City have steadily declined since 2002, while the vast majority of New York City public school students are black and Latino. Opening up more senior teachers to layoffs would risk further decreasing the already sparse ranks of teachers of color. These teachers provide guidance for younger teachers of all backgrounds, and play an important role in the lives of our students. We also believe that Bloomberg and Black’s so-called merit-based system for retaining teachers will foster competitive, fearful school cultures that are detrimental both to teachers’ professional development and to student learning. In addition, Bloomberg and Black seek to measure teacher performance by student test scores, an imperfect measure at best, and one that encourages narrowly test-focused curricula. Finally, Bloomberg and Black’s arguments against the seniority rule are based on the fact that newer teachers work for lower salaries than our more experienced peers; allowing experienced teachers to be laid off would therefore reduce the total number of necessary layoffs. This argument, however, fails to account for the true cost of professional development and adequate support for newer teachers. It also ignores the fact that teacher experience is one of the most reliable predictors of student learning. If student achievement is the priority, then experienced teachers are more than worth their cost. Ultimately, the debate over who to lay off is a distraction from the root causes of inequity that continue to affect our profession and the lives of our students; budget cuts should not include any teacher layoffs. Education is an investment in our future, and cuts to education are ultimately short-sighted. We reject political tactics that raise the specter of massive teacher layoffs in efforts to divide the workforce and pit parents against teachers. In the interest of our students, we stand with senior teachers in supporting the seniority rule. Sincerely, Newer Teachers of New York State