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Teachers Union's Battle Plan

March 23, 2005|A.J. Duffy, Joshua Pechthalt and Julie Washington | A.J. Duffy is UTLA president-elect, Joshua Pechthalt is UTLA/AFT vice president-elect and Julie Washington is UTLA elementary vice president-elect.

As newly elected officers of United Teachers Los Angeles, we want the public to know who we are, where we stand and what we will do when we take office July 1. The most important thing is this: We are classroom teachers -- not politicians or bureaucrats -- and we hope this background will help us in the fight to ensure that all students receive the best education possible.

Unfortunately, the current "reforms" in education -- including excessive standardized testing, a one-size-fits-all mandated curriculum and the imposition of sanctions designed to scapegoat teachers for the educational system's problems -- actually undermine authentic student achievement, demoralize teachers and push more kids out of school. We have a different starting point.

We believe that every student has unique needs and that the role of public education is to meet those needs. Our top priorities will be to lower class size; reduce the amount of standardized testing so that students will receive more instructional time; and work to convince the Los Angeles Unified School District that teachers, not district bureaucrats, should be the driving force behind curriculum and professional development.

We also will fight for decent salaries and benefits for teachers and other UTLA members. This is critical in retaining good teachers and attracting bright young people from college, as well as the second- and third- career teachers who have so much to offer and whom we desperately need.

Because we believe that a union is only as strong as its membership, our first task is to help UTLA members organize around their many issues and concerns. Then we need to build lasting alliances with parents and other school workers, such as custodians and secretaries. This is essential because it will take a powerful grass-roots coalition for public education to win the funding from Sacramento and Washington needed to make real progress.

We also believe that it is the responsibility of teachers, along with our allies, to fight against the various punitive and divisive proposals that parade as reforms. One example is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to impose a merit pay system on teachers, which rests on the mistaken assumption that teachers either have to be bribed or punished to teach better. We believe that teachers should be encouraged to work collaboratively, not pitted against one another.

Even more damaging to public education are the anti-student, anti-teacher provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which virtually guarantee that every public school in the United States eventually will be deemed a "failure," leading, ultimately, to the privatization of public schools.

Currently, the law is forcing 73 LAUSD schools to restructure, many of them because their special-education students -- some of whom are learning-disabled -- did not meet the proficiency standards that were established for other students. Other schools have "failed" because the students who are still learning English, many of whom are recent immigrants, did not perform up to the test standards originally created for native English speakers.

Rather than addressing the real needs of such schools, which are mainly in low-income areas of the city and suffer from overcrowding and underfunding, the LAUSD is considering "reconstituting" some of them. Under that system, the entire school staff would be dismissed and forced to reapply individually.

Under our leadership, UTLA will resist these attacks on students and teachers. We will work to educate our own members, parents and the public about how No Child Left Behind forces teachers to narrow the curriculum and "teach to the test," rather than engage our students in deeper, stimulating inquiries and activities.

As union leaders, we will work to protect our members from administrative abuse and harassment. But just as important, we want to help organize a movement that makes schools places where students love to learn and teachers love to teach.

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