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Divided over L.A. Unified

Los Angeles City Elections 2013

United Teachers Los Angeles remains at odds with the district over reform measures.

March 12, 2013
  • Newly reelected school board member Steve Zimmer is seen on election night.
Newly reelected school board member Steve Zimmer is seen on election night. (Los Angeles Times )

One nasty election later, there is no sign that the divisiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District will abate. If anything, it looks likely to increase, with activists in United Teachers Los Angeles announcing that teachers will vote on a passel of anti-reform positions. The resolution aims to fight the district's policy of reconstituting some of its lowest-performing schools by removing and replacing teachers, to minimize use of student test scores in teacher evaluations and to spend more money in the classrooms.

According to a Times report, the resolution — the result of a petition signed by more than 1,000 union members and scheduled to be voted on in April — calls on union negotiators to demand "reduced class sizes, full staffing of our schools … safe and clean schools, better pay for all school employees" and more.

These are typical union positions, based on the premise that if the schools just spent more money and raised salaries while minimizing accountability for teachers, all would be well educationally. But as vital as sufficient school funding is, there's more to improving student achievement than bigger budgets — such as the willingness to make drastic changes at schools that persistently fail to make progress.

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At the same time, teachers can't be blamed for feeling under siege. UTLA officials were blindsided when Supt. John Deasy announced in February that he would make student test scores count for up to 30% of teachers' evaluations; they thought he had backed off from that number. Teachers are understandably nervous about the prospect of their job stability depending to some degree on scores over which they have limited control. We don't know what heft test scores should have in performance reviews — no one does because the concept is too new and untested — but if the scores will indeed prove helpful, Deasy would do better by starting with a lower figure until the evaluation system proves its worth.

Strange to say, one of the district's best hopes for a more balanced agenda might lie with a newly reelected school board member whom The Times did not endorse: Steve Zimmer. He is the most independent-minded of those on the board, the most likely to challenge Deasy while supporting worthwhile reform. Unfortunately, in his first term, Zimmer counterproductively sank some of his own good initiatives by including UTLA-pleasing provisions that were indefensible. In his second term, Zimmer could take a real leadership position by working for a more balanced approach to school reform. It would help if Monica Ratliff, the more knowledgeable and open-minded candidate for the one open seat, prevails in the runoff election in May. Zimmer would then have an ally in his effort to promote a more thoughtful vision for L.A. Unified.

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