Monday, June 15, 2009



●●smf's 2¢: The LA Times goes the old Daily News route:

1. Basing a "news" story on the opinion of a source: "business leader Carol Schatz said she was appalled."

2. Following up this sort of opinionated news with a "me too" editorial the next day, and…

3. Joining the game of political gotcha by confusing Poor Teachers (The kind that aren't very good teachers) with Bad Teachers (the kind who commit criminal acts). Or is it the Times Editorial policy to criminalize poor instructional technique?

Here's a direct quote from the first article: "She had attended to support a resolution to speed the firing of teachers ACCUSED of serious crimes." (Emphasis added). This points to a failure in the Civics Education of just about everyone from the quoted party to the Times reporters; The Board of Ed who voted for the resolution, the legal eagles who blessed the resolution language and the Times Editorial Board.

  • Since when does anyone fire anyone ACCUSED of anything?
  • What happened to due process and innocent until proven guilty?

Don’t get me wrong; the status quo is unacceptable. And UTLA leadership has often been and continues to be an obstacle to reform. However in this case a good deal of the blame/responsibility/lack-of-accountability accrues to the Board of Education and Superintendent - whom methinks currently protesteth too much.

This is a fine moment to get real and not confuse the bad apples with the forces of evil.

The LAUSD policy of housing alleged wrongdoers and paying them (in essence bribing them out of their right to a speedy resolution of their case ) instead of acting deliberately is bad policy and a fine way to keep everyone’s lawyer employed.

But it's LAUSD policy, Not State of California policy.

The other issue - about evaluating and retraining or removing poor teachers is an issue that WILL require collective bargaining AND legislative relief.

A: Without doubt here are teachers who shouldn't be teaching because they are educationally inept. They should be brought up to standard or encouraged politely and then forcefully to find another line of work. Lifetime tenure should not extend where it negatively effects the education of students.

B: And there are bad people who prey on children and behave inappropriately. They should be accused, arrested, adjudged and fired. With all deliberate speed. Deliberate and Speed are not LAUSD's strong points and that needs to be corrected.

But A. and B. are NOT the same problem and anyone who says otherwise is itchin' for a fight. A fight they will lose in court. A fight all kids will lose because little or nothing will be solved.


Failure Gets A Pass: L.A. UNIFIED VOTE FORETELLS DIFFICULTIES FOR SCHOOL REFORM: Debates Between The Board and The Union Grow More Heated as Teacher Appraisals and Tenure Gain National Attention.

By Jason Song and Jason Felch from the Los Angeles Times

June 14, 2009 | After listening to the debate at last week's Los Angeles school board meeting, business leader Carol Schatz said she was appalled.

She had attended to support a resolution to speed the firing of teachers accused of serious crimes. But even this proposal -- tiptoeing on the margins of improving teacher quality -- generated heated objections from the teachers union and its supporters.

With some last-minute amendments and sniping among board members, the resolution passed by a single vote.

"I came away depressed," said Schatz, who heads the 500-member Central City Assn. of Los Angeles. "If they can barely pass something like that, how are they going to tackle teacher quality?"

By even grazing the hot-button topic, the nation's second largest district has entered one of the most contentious debates in American education, one that increasingly is pitting powerful teachers unions against school boards and would-be reformers.

Teacher effectiveness is considered one of the most significant factors in student success. But giving it a hard look can involve reexamining teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, dismissal of "bad" teachers and merit pay for "good" ones -- all highly charged political issues, especially in California.

Such scrutiny historically has been urged by those on the right, but Democrats -- including President Obama and Arne Duncan, his education secretary -- have recently embraced it.

"If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching," Obama said in a March speech.

The issue came up again this month in a study by the New York-based education reform group the New Teacher Project, which described a "national failure" to measure teacher success.

In California, a Times investigation recently found, it is remarkably time-consuming and cumbersome for school districts to fire teachers who don't meet standards. A review of cases in which teachers statewide contested their firings showed that far more teachers were fired for egregious acts than for poor teaching.

In L.A., the debate is only beginning. The Los Angeles Unified School District has set up a task force, headed by education reformer and former Occidental College President Ted Mitchell, to make recommendations on improving teacher quality.

The panel, whose other members are to be chosen by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, is not limited to looking at teachers accused of egregious or immoral acts. It may delve into what is good and bad teaching, who should be the judge and how the system should promote the good and purge the bad.

Complaining that he had been left out of the process thus far, A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, proposed unsuccessfully to delay the vote on the resolution on teacher firing. He was noncommittal about whether he would support the task force.

"If I'm comfortable with the composition of the task force, then I'll agree to be a part of it," Duffy said. "Otherwise, that issue is going nowhere."

Yolie Flores Aguilar, the member of the school board who proposed the task force, conceded that it could be difficult to surmount opposition.

"This is the sacred cow of all sacred cows," she said.

Just discussing the firing of teachers accused of crimes prompted sharp debate at L.A. Unified's board meeting Tuesday.

The measure, which passed 4-3, was a considerably whittled-down version of a proposal by school board member Marlene Canter to urge the state to speed the termination of poorly performing and abusive teachers.

Confronting strong opposition from fellow board members and the teachers union, Canter focused exclusively on teachers deemed to have committed immoral acts, such as physical or sexual abuse.

"This isn't about teacher evaluation!" she said repeatedly during Tuesday's hearing.

At the insistence of union members, the measure was amended to include administrators as well.

Still, the resolution was rejected by the union and some board members.

"This is a political mishmash under the guise of helping children," said Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, before casting her vote in opposition. She was joined by colleagues Julie Korenstein and Richard Vladovic.

Duffy questioned the motives of Schatz and other business leaders. "They want to break the power of the union," he said.

But school board member Tamar Galatzan said the resolution should have been a "slam dunk."

"I think they [union officials] see it as a slippery slope toward revamping rules on tenure and seniority," Galatzan said.

California lawmakers appear willing to wade into the debate but say that for any reform to be successful, it has to have the backing of teachers unions.

"There is tremendous political pressure in Sacramento," said state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, referring to the power of teachers unions and others. "But with President Obama calling for a restructuring of public education, we have a window of opportunity to . . . run with it as fast as we can."

Teachers unions, including UTLA, say they are not opposed to reforms but want to help shape them, given their collective experience in the classroom. Student test scores, they say, cannot be used as the sole indicator of teacher quality.

California is building separate databases for student test scores and teacher information, but the law prohibits using either database for teacher evaluation.

The policy recently drew strong rebukes from Duncan, the education secretary and former head of Chicago public schools.

"It's like suggesting we judge a sports team without looking at the box score," Duncan said of California's policy at a speech to the Institute for Educational Science last week. "I think that's simply ridiculous."


PAYING FOR BAD TEACHERS: California has long put an outmoded notion of teacher protection over the interests of students. Now that practice may cost the state some federal money.

LA Times Editorial

June 15, 2009: They put it off. They debated it at length and watered it down. And in the end, the Los Angeles Unified school trustees barely passed a resolution asking the Legislature to make it a little easier to fire teachers accused of serious crimes. Mind you, not the ineffective teachers who sleep in the classroom, ignore the curriculum and pass their unprepared students to the next grade. Just the ones who stand accused of abusing or molesting students.

Union leaders warn that the Legislature will never comply without their stamp of approval, and they're probably right. Failure to put the interests of children over the power of unions is characteristic of California education policy.

It also puts the state out of touch with education reforms sweeping the nation, and could put our schools out of contention for new pots of federal money. Just two days after the resolution squeaked through last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made it clear that antiquated notions of teacher protection will not pass muster with the Obama administration. Teachers should be evaluated, retained and paid based on how well their students learn, Duncan said, and that includes progress on standardized tests.

California couldn't do that if it wanted to right now. At the behest of unions, the state put a firewall between student data and teacher performance. The data "may not be used ... for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction or personnel evaluation," the law reads. Duncan has $4.3 billion in competitive grant money to parcel out to schools that meet his standards for innovation, and California's perverse position on teacher pay and firing isn't likely to make the grade. But Duncan has a role to play in making that more feasible. The kinds of data called for by the No Child Left Behind Act don't measure individual student progress. The federal law has long needed revision to emphasize yearly growth rather than meeting an arbitrary, inconsistent bar called "proficiency."

We agree with union leaders that teachers need decent job protection and that they should not be judged by test results alone. But a recent study by the New Teacher Project, a training organization in New York, found that in many schools where teachers agreed that a colleague should be fired for poor performance, no one was even given an "unsatisfactory" rating on evaluations. Some objective measures are necessary.

We are so far from that in California. Here, it is considered revolutionary for a school board to beg for relief from a tortuous, money-wasting teacher termination process that is nearly doomed to failure anyway. Duncan has given the state a new reason to act on behalf of children, an incentive it shouldn't need in the first place.

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