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Report says L.A. principals should have more authority in hiring teachers

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa strongly backs suggestions in the report, whose research was paid for largely with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

June 07, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • A. J. Duffy, United Teachers Los Angeles president, rallies teachers, parents and students filling Pershing Square to protest budget cuts.
A. J. Duffy, United Teachers Los Angeles president, rallies teachers,… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

School principals should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and displaced tenured teachers who aren't rehired elsewhere within the system should be permanently dismissed, according to a controversial new report on the Los Angeles Unified School District. The report will be presented Tuesday to the Board of Education.

The research, paid for largely by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers a roadmap for improving the quality of teaching in the nation's second-largest school system, with recommendations strongly backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The report gave L.A. Unified credit for improvement in some areas, noting, for example, that more teachers are being fired for poor performance, a sign of better quality control, said researchers from the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

In 2008, the district dismissed seven tenured teachers. The number for the current year, through April, was 94; 105 others have resigned to avoid dismissal.

The teachers union denounced several recommendations as being emblematic of an ineffective corporate-style, market-driven approach to education.

The recommendations would revamp teacher hiring. One would do away with the guarantee of a job for a so-called must-place teacher. These instructors include those who lose positions because of poor teaching, conflict with an administrator, declining enrollment or budget cuts. The list also includes teachers returning from illness or parental leave.

Principals are under pressure to hire from this group, although district rules and state law do not always require that they do.

"Three-quarters of principals surveyed … said that teachers on the must-place list are rarely if ever a good fit for their school," the report says.

"It is critical that we do away with the must-place list," said Arielle Goren, a spokeswoman for Villaraigosa.

The report recommends that principals be able to hire any qualified applicant, including those from outside the school system, and that displaced teachers lose their right to district employment after a year.

Employees should not be punished for factors beyond their control, countered A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. He said about 150 teachers will be displaced because district officials elected to turn over campuses to independent, mostly nonunion charter schools, which frequently opt for less experienced, less expensive instructors.

"Many must-place teachers are fine teachers," Duffy said.

Under the heading "food for thought," the report says, "economists recommend that districts should routinely dismiss at least the bottom-performing 25% of teachers eligible for tenure in order to build a high-quality teaching corps."

That might be overdoing it, said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who largely agrees with the report.

"What you shoot for is quality, not a percentage," Deasy said, adding, "we need to be doing a whole heck of a lot better."

The report also concluded that teacher evaluations must be stepped up: 40% of tenured teachers and 70% of non-tenured teachers are evaluated annually.

Duffy and Deasy agreed that such scarce supervision failed to help teachers improve.

Another of the report's recommendations was that the earning of tenure be more demanding and take longer, but that those who get it receive a significant pay increase.

Sixty-six percent of surveyed principals admitted advising "an underperforming teacher to voluntarily transfer" to another school.

"Sending a problem to another school is the very last thing we should be doing," Deasy said.

The report surveyed 247 principals (31% of the district total) and 1,317 teachers (4.5%) while also reviewing data and contracts in L.A. Unified and comparison districts. The recommendations include changes in state laws and in the teachers' contract.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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