Even in these difficult times, many teachers would rather remain jobless than work at Markham Middle School. The school is located in a crime-plagued Watts neighborhood that encompasses the Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens housing projects and their rival gangs. Its test scores are among the lowest in Los Angeles, and during the 2006-07 academic year, more than 500 students were suspended, at least half of those for "attempted physical harm," including 19 assaults on staff members. Its reputation was further tarnished after an assistant principal, Steve Thomas Rooney, was arrested on charges of molesting students. He was sentenced in September to eight years in prison.
As a result of its unpopularity, Markham has six teacher openings in a year when hundreds of L.A. Unified School District teachers have lost their jobs. The school's leaders know of qualified teachers outside the district who would love to work there, but cannot hire them because of state regulations and contract rules that govern layoffs and rehirings according to seniority.
Instead, while Markham goes through the byzantine hiring process laid out in the L.A. Unified teachers contract, those classes are being taught by substitutes who rotate every month. That means students not only have under-qualified teachers, but enjoy no continuity of instruction. They're already on their fourth teacher of the year in those classes.