Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Voice of San Diego Education Reporter Emily Alpert looks at school reform in San Diego and New York City.

The Series: A VOSD project reveals a flawed teacher placement system that can undercut schools from making straightforward choices on the fundamental issue of who teaches in their classrooms.

The Teacher Whom Nobody Chose

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

12-14-2009 -- Principals want to freely choose the teachers they become responsible for, but the elaborate and confusing system barred them from doing so in one out of every five teacher assignments last year, according to a survey of more than two dozen principals. And the rules, outlined in the contract between San Diego Unified and the teachers union, aren't the only problem. 

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Slowing the revolving door of poor schools

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

12-15-2009  -- Jeff Merzbacher left Knox Preparatory School after a single aggravating year, tired of being insulted by middle schoolers who called him a redneck, tired of trying to teach gym on a vacant field with no gym or locker rooms. "I just lost all my steam," he said. "I always wanted to be positive. But it was just a nightmare." He jumped at the chance to leave, pushed away by the inadequate fields, indifferent coworkers and lax student supervision. The teachers who took his spot left even quicker. Knox cycled through eight gym teachers in September and October alone this year. Some stayed for just a few days before quitting. The Lincoln Park school was supposed to be one of the lucky ones when it comes to staffing. Under a new California law, it was freed from the rigid and sometimes dysfunctional hiring system that other schools lament. That was supposed to allow principals to choose the right teachers for their schools.

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Jane Steffen teaches at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School in the Bronx, where the principal can now choose any teacher who applies. But getting applicants can still be tough.

A Free Market for Teachers

  • New York City's overhaul of its teacher placement system serves as a test case for San Diego, where principals complain that complex rules prevent them from hiring freely.

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

12-16-2009  -- There are 10,129 public schools in California, attended by about 6.3 million students. There are about 850 charter schools, attended by about 200,000 students. The current hang-up in Sacramento over accessing up to $700 million in federal funds to improve education for these 6.5 million kids is mostly about the 3 percent who attend charter schools. For all the bluster that has emanated in recent weeks from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others, the controversy over legislation to bring California into compliance with federal Race to the Top funding guidelines is mostly about charter schools. There have been two Race to the Top bills in play. The Senate-approved version, backed by Schwarzenegger, would eliminate the current 1,350 cap on the number of charter schools that can exist in the state and leave it at that.



Read on for other angles to this story:

1. Charters: Seceding from the System | How the system spurred some schools to leave the school district.

2. Loopholes and Gaming the System | Principals play the system. The district violates its own rules.

3. Why Schools Treat Teachers Like Widgets | The system evolved this way for a reason.

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