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Gaming the Los Angeles Teachers’ Contract

Useless teacher “professional development” classes cost California taxpayers billions in increased salaries and pensions.

On June 14th, my blog, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Union Wind Blows,” addressed the “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD,” a 58 page report commissioned by United Way and several civil rights’ groups, produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The “Roadmap” was full of mostly common sense prescriptions; it suggested changes to the current union contract and to laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, teacher compensation and work schedules. But there was one egregious element in the report that warrants special analysis and is the subject of my latest City Journal post:

“With California reeling fiscally and education eating up about half of its budget, the state’s taxpayers are being hoodwinked to the tune of billions of dollars by an outrageous contractual perk that pays teachers to take useless classes, ostensibly with the aim of improving their classroom work.”

To continue reading the article, go here.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

A Blueprint for Maintaining the Status Quo

Tom Torlakson’s panel comes up with edubabble and little else in an attempt to turn around a troubled California public school system.

Just when we thought we were safe from yet another “master plan for educational improvement,” A Blueprint for State Schools is bestowed on us. This 31 page monstrosity was unleashed by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Transition Advisory Team. While the Teacher Quality Roadmap I wrote about in June had specific ideas about fixing Los Angeles schools, the “blueprint” is supposed to identify and address areas that are “vexing to the state’s K-12 system.”

The LA roadmap includes interviews with teachers and principals and can be summarized:

“Among other things, the report, which included interviews with over 1,500 teachers and principals, recommended changes to the current union contract and to state laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedules. Some of the prescriptions include using criteria other than seniority if layoffs are necessary and utilizing standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation and when making staffing decisions. Additionally, it was suggested that teachers be denied permanent status until they have been in the classroom for four years instead of the current two.”

In my June post, I commented that while the roadmap was full of good common sense prescriptions from teachers and principals, they were really nothing new and, in any event, would be blocked by the teachers unions because they are happy with the status quo, ugly warts and all.

Unlike the roadmap, the blueprint was written by a consortium of 59 “experts” including business leaders, school board members, college professors, principals, four public school teachers and nine union leaders, including California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman (both termed out at this time.)

With the preponderance of union bosses, you might expect that the new blueprint would be devoid of any specific, meaningful fixes that would shake up the system. And you’d be right.

For example, in their recommendations about teacher recruitment the report says:

“Strengthen and integrate BTSA and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs to ensure stronger mentoring and assistance for beginning teachers and for veteran teachers who are struggling.”

While this might sound good, California’s twelve year old peer assistance program has had very little positive effect. The National Council on Teacher Quality says that “peer review’s potential to reduce the numbers of probationary and tenured teachers with egregious instructional deficiencies is unrealized, if not minimal.” You can only help a struggling teacher so much before they should be shown the door. With the union running the show, however, firing a bad teacher is almost impossible.

“Encourage the development of more effective educator evaluation systems based on professional teacher and leader standards that guide and assess practice in a way that reflects best practices and incorporates appropriate evidence of student learning. Make sure these systems are supported by training for evaluators, mentoring for teachers, and professional development programs.”

Could this have been any more vague? There won’t be any teeth to this evaluation system. Should a teacher get a poor evaluation, they’ll just be moved into the Peer Assistance Program. And getting rid of them will still be practically impossible.

“Rethink the design of the California High School Exit Exam to incorporate diagnostic information over time and to provide instructional supports and assessments that offer more useful information regarding college- and career-readiness.”

What does this mean? The CAHSEE is a monumental waste of time and taxpayer dollars. It purports to measure what students should know when they get out of high school. Yet in 2010, 81 percent of 10th graders passed both the math and English portions of the test. And 90 percent of these high school “graduates” still need remediation should they be accepted at a community college.

“Launch an ongoing initiative to support union-management collaboration toward high-leverage reforms in school organization, management, and instructional innovation as well as teacher, classified staff, and administrator development, support, and evaluation.”

Sounds as if the unions want even more input and power than they have now. Terrific.

In any event, you get the idea. The blueprint is full of this kind of vague, high-sounding edubabble. Unfortunately for the state’s six million school children, little if anything will improve.

Tom Torlakson, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid-for Superintendent of Public Instruction, gushing about the work of his “experts,” said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. As our ‘Blueprint for Great Schools’ shows, there’s no substitute for investing in our children’s education. But we owe our students much more than just money. We also owe them our leadership, our best thinking and, above all, our very best people.”

Oh, please.

If only he had said,

“We are setting our sights high because our students deserve it. For that reason, our plan is to open California up to a universal school choice system. Starting immediately, we are going to empower parents who will be free to pick any school in the state for their children to attend and have their share of education tax dollars follow the child. No longer will parents have to follow the dictates of educrats, union bullies and the politicians they put into office. Government run schools will only stay open for business if they can compete with the wide array of choices that will now be available to California’s children and their families.”

If only. That would be a blueprint worth getting excited about.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.