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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

'Lemon' Teachers Plague LAUSD

June 26, 2004|Alfee Enciso

The recent Los Angeles Unified School District vote to cut its mini-districts from 11 to eight is at best a pyrrhic victory for administrators and the teachers union and at worst a continuing headache of teacher isolation and no accountability. This move will save the district $17 million but cut 165 administrative jobs (some of these people will be put in teaching or other campus jobs). In his victorious sound bite, United Teachers-Los Angeles President John Perez said that millions of dollars from these savings could go back to the classroom and pay for basic supplies and services.

The problem does not end with the turmoil of people changing jobs: The union has eliminated "Red Team" audits and the "Learning Walk" evaluation process because teachers felt "uncomfortable" and "humiliated" by them. Granted, many schools and mini-districts did execute these practices poorly, but selling a car because it hits a few potholes doesn't make sense either.

So how will we hold teachers accountable when they don't perform? By "winning" this battle of symbolic politics, we lose the focus on getting teachers to look at student work, collaborate and share lesson plans.

Michael Fullan, in his book "The Moral Imperative of School Leadership," states that "nothing undermines the motivation of hardworking teachers more than poor performance in other teachers being ignored over long periods of time. Not only do poor-performing teachers negatively affect the students in their classes, but they also have a spillover effect by poisoning the overall climate of the school."

A case in point would be the efforts of several teachers at a Westside school to get rid of a teacher who showed films weekly, played games daily and mouthed inappropriate and suggestive lines to his students. After two years of administrative and teachers' efforts, the teacher was removed.

This is the big secret our union won't let out: One of the major issues for teachers is not blue-collar issues of wages and benefits, but rather having to work alongside a colleague who has no business teaching kids. Several years ago, when former union chief Day Higuchi asked his members if they knew of an incompetent teacher, all in the audience raised their hands, some even pointing to others in the crowd. Despite such a referendum, nothing has been done about the problem.

The dance of the lemons is the same for administrators. The school district and the ALA, the administrators union, are still entrenched in hiring administrators piecemeal. Principals, in effect the head coaches of their schools, are forced to work with whoever is already on board. Imagine Bill Parcells being hired to coach the Dallas Cowboys but being unable to hire his own staff, which would share his philosophy.

One way to change this system is to put all assistant principals, counselors and head counselors into a district pool. The principal of each school could interview and recruit his or her own staff and be off and running when the semester starts.

As the new assignments and mini-district changes play out, the union and the district need to tackle the tougher and more pressing issues of education.

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Alfee Enciso is a literacy coach for the LAUSD.

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