Sunday, November 20, 2011


by Karin Klein of the LA Times Editorial Board in the Opinion LA blog |


Illustration by Peter Bennett / For The Times

November 18, 2011 |  9:53 am - We can talk all day about test scores and what they tell, do, or don't tell us about the worth of a teacher, but most parents know the good and bad teachers on campus from a mile away. I was reminded of that at Thursday night's meeting of the school board at the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, which was mostly about whether the donations of parents at the rich schools in Malibu should be put in a central pot for use by students at all the district schools -- more coming on that next week.

But one mother spoke on a very different topic. It seems her Santa Monica school had instituted a new system that informed parents about their children's ongoing grades as well as their homework and other assignments, but that some teachers weren't posting the assignments. This mom wanted to make sure her sons were doing their schoolwork.

When she contacted the teachers, most were great about adding the assignments, but about one-fifth  told her that the union contract didn't require them to do that and so they weren't going to extend to her what they considered to be a "courtesy," not a necessity.

Of course, I don't know what the teacher contract says, and maybe these teachers didn't either. But there's no reason to doubt this frustrated woman's word.

Often, teachers write to The Times about reform by complaining that they are being held accountable for the failures of uninvolved parents. To some extent, that's true. But it's too easy for union supporters to avoid talking about truly awful teachers -- including the teachers who just don't care. Here's a woman who wants to be involved in a very direct way, helping the teachers by making sure her children do their part in the educational process.

The superintendent promised to look into it, and I'll be interested in hearing the results. If this mother's story is true, though, it's a perfect illustration of why the public is so fed up with teachers' unions and with uncaring teachers who go through the motions. For many parents, it's not all that important how much teachers improve their students' scores on a standardized test that the kids take once a year. What's most important is whether teachers care, whether they interpret information in ways that helped children learn and think, and in this case, whether they bother to do their jobs. From my perspective, any teacher who isn't willing to follow a school's policy by giving parents the information they need to do their job should be fired.  

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