IT'S TEACHER CONTRACT TIME AGAIN, and the first proposal from the Los Angeles teachers union is full of the pie-in-the-sky demands typical of early stage negotiations. This year, with the mayor vying for control of the district, the school board has more reason than ever to show it puts student needs before teacher demands.
It would be wonderful, funding permitting (which it won't), to reduce class size to 27 students and to give hardworking teachers a 14% raise, to name two of the union's demands. But whatever gains United Teachers Los Angeles makes in these areas must be accompanied by more accountability and flexibility by teachers. And nothing would be more helpful than scrapping the provision that allows teachers to pick the campuses where they'll work based on seniority.
No one blames teachers for craving jobs at schools where there are no gangs or lunchtime fights and where students come from enriched home lives prepared to achieve. But the result is a concentration of experienced, higher-paid teachers at middle-class schools, while low-paid beginners who are still learning the tricks of classroom pedagogy teach the students who are poor and still learning English.
This isn't always bad. New teachers often have creativity and energy, and principals don't always want the more experienced teachers that seniority forces them to "hire." But decisions about where teachers teach should be made by district managers, in consultation with principals, based on where teachers are most needed. Some classes at hard-to-staff L.A. schools -- mostly math, science and special ed -- are still taught all year by substitute teachers who have no expertise and often no credential.