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Program's Demise Leaves Teacher Trainees Jobless

October 14, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Last November, Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer stood before reporters at John C. Fremont High School and enthusiastically called on professionals, including lawyers, bankers, engineers and accountants, to switch careers to teaching under the Los Angeles Teaching Fellows Program.

Now, that teacher training program has been killed amid budget cuts and a surplus of better qualified teachers, some laid off from other districts around the state.

About 540 new teachers were trained and hired under the fellows program since last year. But another 100 or so "teaching fellows," many of whom left other careers, remain without jobs and are angry about what they contend are unfulfilled promises. The district says it made no explicit pledge of jobs and that many of them may be hired later in the year.

"All of this is messy and difficult and challenging," said Deborah Hirsh, chief human resources officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She said the district could no longer afford the program, which cost at least $6 million last year.

The fellows program is among several teacher recruiting efforts in the Los Angeles district. Its participants were given a six-week crash course and ongoing mentoring and training. The rookies then were to become interns for three years, while continuing to take education courses with the goal of earning their full teaching credentials.

The training program, run by a national nonprofit, was adopted in Los Angeles to ease a previous teacher shortage. Then, in what officials said was an unexpected turn of events, L.A. Unified received a windfall of applications from more experienced teachers who, in effect, bumped some of the trainees. Because enrollment did not grow as expected, the district also inadvertently over-hired teachers and is using some of them as full-time substitutes, officials said.

Hirsh said the district "has never had this many fully credentialed people apply," and "we didn't anticipate this last fall, when we finalized the contract with L.A. Teaching Fellows."

She added that she hopes most of the jobless teaching fellows who enrolled in the program over the summer will be placed later in the year, through regular turnover.

Rene Diedrich, 41, left her part-time job as an adjunct professor at Marymount College to enroll in the program after seeing ads in the newspapers and online. But after completing the six weeks of training, she has not been placed.

"They were very 'rah-rah-sis-boom-bah.' We had all these great ceremonies," she said. "They were stroking us and trying to do these cheerleading things, and you could see the whole thing falling apart as people realized, 'Hey, I might not be placed.' "

Diedrich said the program was worthwhile because she learned classroom management skills. But she feels like she has been "bamboozled" because nobody helped her find a job. She said she faxed her resume "all over the place" in L.A. Unified, but hardly got any interviews.

"I'm a single mom, and my parents are dead," she said. "I'm not going to make it much longer off what I have saved. I may sub. In the meantime, I will live off unemployment."

Some trainees could not be hired at all because they did not pass tests in the subjects they wanted to teach. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all schools must employ highly qualified teachers -- those who have passed such tests -- by the 2005-06 school year. In cases of trainees who failed the tests, the district unintentionally "wasted" $3,000 for each of those individuals' stipends and six weeks of training, Hirsh said.

Leo Carlin, 63, a former engineer who was recruited into the program last summer, was one of those teachers who quit his job to enter the program but did not pass the test in English.

He said he did not know that he would not be hired as a result. He said the program made "promises [that] sounded too good to be true. After six weeks of training, poof! You've got a job teaching."

But he later realized it was more complicated, he said. Those six weeks were strenuous, filled with assignments, tests, studying and practice teaching, he said.

"They said they're dying for teachers and, 'We selected you guys out of a huge group of people,' " Carlin said. "The impression was

Ariela Rozman, a spokeswoman for the New Teacher Project, the nonprofit national recruitment organization that oversees the Los Angeles Teaching Fellows, said many other districts in the program are having trouble placing trainees because of enrollment dips and budget cuts. The New Teacher Project has helped recruit more than 3,000 teachers in 17 states.

"We have definitely seen placement issues across the country. It's not just an L.A.-specific issue," Rozman said. "This is an important program to us, and we are disappointed."

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