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Diversity Will Be a Casualty of Teacher Layoffs

New America Media, News Report//Video, Words: Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen // Video: Ann Bassette Posted: Mar 30, 2009

Editors Note: Public schools are in dire need of teachers who reflect the demographic diversity of the state. But the current budget slashing and layoffs will probably decrease diversity in the teacher workforce, writes NAM Education Editor Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen. Video by Ann Bassette, senior producer for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

Corine Coaloca will graduate this May from San Diego State University with two teaching credentialsone in bilingual education, and one in special education. A Mexican American, Coaloca, 24, wants to teach in a border community where her language skills and cultural background will translate well with students.

But her job prospects are not good. This month, California school districts gave pink slips to nearly 27,000 teachers because of steep budget cuts to education. Although public schools are in dire need of teachers like Coalocathose who mirror the student population of Asian, Latino and black studentsbudget slashing threatens to decrease diversity in the state teacher workforce.

What motivates me is thinking of the population I want to serve, she said. But its really scary. There are no teacher jobs out there.

VIDEO: Bay Area students talk about the real cost of cutting younger teachers.

The consequences of teacher layoffs are numerous and none of them good, say education leaders and advocates. The majority of teachers who got pink slipsnotices that they could be laid off at the end of this school year--were junior teachers with a few years in the public school system. Layoffs are done by seniority. Most junior teachers are in schools that serve low-income and minority communities, where high teacher turnover is often a problem anyway. Teacher cuts could lead to larger class size, which makes teaching and learning more difficult.

Another possible impact is that layoffs will mean less diversity in Californias current teacher workforceand among aspiring teachers, like Coaloca. Although the California Department of Education doesnt calculate the race or ethnicity of teachers being laid off, data on the teacher workforce indicates that a higher percentage of junior teachers are ethnic minorities. And last hired will be first fired, according to the process for layoffs.

In the 2000-2001 school year, about 25 percent of teachersor some 77,000were of an ethnicity other than white. In the 2007-2008 school year, about 29 percent or 91,000were. The good news, then, is that over the past six years, some 14,000 teachers with diverse backgrounds were added to public school classrooms. The bad news is that they are among the junior teaching force most likely to receive pink slips.

School districts will feel the impact of teacher layoffs differently, and Los Angeles may be among those hardest hit. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where teachers of color make up 56 percent of the total, some are concerned about maintaining that diversity, says John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA.

When you have a diverse staff, it can mean that teachers bring in different cultural understandings that can be shared across the staff, he says. Having a diverse faculty can also mean that the school has richer relationships with different parts of the community.

Rogers says that the future of the states education budgetand teacher layoffscould be shaped in the next few months. There will be a political choice over the next few weeks about whether to further cut Californias education budget, Rogers says. And that choice will determine the extent to which, district by district, large numbers of teachers are fired.

Rogers says that diversity among the teacher workforce should be one of many criteria that are considered in budget cuts.

Its important for teachers unions to grapple with this question [of diversity], he says. Its important for teachers unions to think about who they want to become over the next 15 or 20 years, and the importance of unions forging deep connections and relationships to the communities they are serving.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the lead teacher at the Social Justice and the Law Academy at Crenshaw High in L.A., is fighting to save the jobs of four teachers who received pink slips. All are young, ethnic minority teachers.

Weve got African-American teachers, Latino teachers, a Vietnamese teacher, a Filipino teacher, a Chinese teacher, and white teachers. For the students, it really helps them reflect what Los Angeles and California and increasingly the U.S. looks like, he says. It does absolutely broaden the perspective that students have about social issues, about issues at school.

Some are afraid that losing young ethnic minority teachers will also mean the loss of much needed linguistic skills in the classroom.

Mary Rose Ortega, a third-grade teacher at First Street Elementary in East L.A. for 26 years, is particularly concerned about the loss of Spanish-speaking Latino teachers.

L.A. has the largest number of Latino teachers in California, and a lot of them are the new teachers. The majority of these Latino teachers teach English-learner kids, and the majority of these teachers speak Spanish, she says. Its a big worry for me.

David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, fears that layoffs will make teaching a less attractive career option for young people. We go out there and try to recruit young people from these communities to go into teaching, he says, but they may not want to do it now.

Sanchez says hes seen the discouraging effects on his nephew, a new teacher who he had mentored. I worked very hard to get him into teaching, says Sanchez, but now hes being told they might not require his services next year. He told me, Uncle, I may not want to go through this every year. Its frustrating for him.

Related Articles:

California's Teachers Too Few, Too Unprepared

School Matters: Putting an Accent on Latino Students Needs

UC Berkeley Chancellor Keeps Hope Alive Despite Budget Challenges

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