Open letter: New teachers support seniority rights - Request for signatures

An Open Letter from Newer Teachers of New York State

February 27, 2011


Dear parents, students, colleagues, school administrators, elected officials, and members of the public,

Currently, New York State's seniority rules protect 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 seniority rights.

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

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