Postscript From The Times Op-Ed Page | http://lat.ms/p57jv2
August 6, 2011 - Editor's note: With this column, we are launching a new Saturday feature in which a letter or comment received during the week will be answered by a writer or editor at the paper.
LAST WEEKEND, in an Op-Ed article for The Times [The Contract LAUSD Needs| http://lat.ms/qm3A9z], Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy outlined changes he would like to see in the district's contract with teachers, which is currently being renegotiated.
THE ARTICLE PROMPTED READER STEVE SEAL TO WRITE THIS:
"I am a teacher in LAUSD and am interested as to why the superintendent is negotiating our contract in the media. He makes some good points, but I feel he is falling into the attack-on-teachers mode that has been commonplace in the press in recent days."
OP-ED EDITOR SUE HORTON RESPONDS:
Steve Seal raises an interesting question, one that we grapple with on the Op-ed page. When is it appropriate to allow public officials to use our pages to try to sway people to their point of view? Don't they have enough of a public forum simply because of their positions?
Not a day passes here without an Op-Ed submission by a public official. We turn the vast of them down, and most are relatively easy to reject. We don't accept pieces that are simply self-congratulation — a congressman, say, patting himself on the back for a piece of legislation. We also don't, in general, run pieces by candidates for office that seem like obvious attempts to win votes. But there are times, we feel, that hearing from public officials on crucial issues of the day is important.
In his Op-Ed article, Deasy suggested he was writing to make the larger community aware of issues likely to arise during negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles. "The contract under negotiation covers teachers and professionals who serve our community," he wrote. "As such, it's imperative that the community get involved, and not treat this as a spectator sport."
We found that a persuasive argument. Will the changes Deasy would like to see in the teachers contract make Los Angeles schools better? That's unknown, but it's important for people to hear what he is aiming to do. On the same day we ran his article, we ran an Op-Ed from a teacher with a very different point of view. The views of L.A. Unified's top administrator — and its teachers — are certain to shape the debate about how to improve schools, which is why we wanted to bring them to our readers.
SEAL'S FULL SUBMISSION:
I am a teacher in L.A. Unified and am interested as to why the superintendent is negotiating our contract in the media. He makes some good points, but I feel he is falling into the attack on teachers mode that has been commonplace in the press in recent days. I would like to respond to some of the points made by easy.
I agree that hiring is an issue and that school sites should have input. I do not agree, however, that teachers who are displaced because of enrollment drops or cuts in employment should not have some level of priority over a Teach For America teacher who may be looking for a job.
As far a evaluation goes, this is a hot-button issue. UTLA has been looking at this issue in great depth over the last year and has made some substantial progress. I think the issue of student progress is one of the most controversial of Deasy's views. As long as the current testing system is being used, these results are invalid, as the tests were never meant to be utilized for teacher evaluation. And by the way: The current testing craze under the No Child Left Behind law is gutting the core out of education in general and leading to a population of great test takers but bad critical thinkers and scientists.
Seniority is important and is one of the things that makes a teaching career stable. I agree that a longer period of probation may actually help a teacher develop better practices. I know it took me many years to acknowledge that I was doing a good job. Teaching is hard, and everything that I have done in my life has prepared me to be a better teacher. Assistance must be given in meaningful and robust ways, and there should be a process for giving those who need it more help to be successful or help them find a new profession. Merit pay is not the answer. It is unfair and can not be equitable in the educational system.
Lastly, the district has taken on some of the Obama administration reform efforts, meaning more charter schools and fewer protections for teachers. The innovations that have been tried out over the last few years in many cases have been thrown to the curb when the next thing comes along, frustrating many teachers. As long as reform is led by the millionaires and their friends, it will not be true reform.
I hope that over the next year, we can work with the new superintendent on many of these issues, but negotiation in the media is not the way it should be done.