On Strike

The public supports us.

Being on strike makes me proud. To see and hear the support of the public every morning on the picket line, I am further convinced L.A. teachers made the right choice to leave the classroom. It is not an easy choice for many single income teachers, but it is one of the reasons we are striking. Teachers should not have to live paycheck to paycheck when educating society's children.

But our strike is about more than that, and it seems the public is aware of what we have been concerned about for years. In the middle of one morning's picket session I realized that the education reformers had been so very wrong in what they were telling us. The public knows and understands that we know what's best for children in schools. They place their precious children in our hands to educate, and want us to do our job unencumbered by district edicts and structures that get in the way.

The public supports us.

Being on strike is not what I thought it would be. It is be…

Race to the Top and South Central L.A.

 The big news this summer is the speed and ferocity of the federal governments new education reform plans that fall under the umbrella of Race to the Top.  RTTT is a competition for federal funding that will be awarded to winning states who adopt the reforms espoused by the President Obama and the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Some of these reforms include merit pay for teachers, reforming teacher evaluation, increasing testing in all subjects, imposing sanctions to the lowest performing 5% of schools, and lifting the cap on charter schools.

As we have said before in this blog, the ideas and policies of those in power always present themselves in a different iteration at the school level, and in South Central L.A., even more so.

For example, take the idea of reconstitution.  The idea is that if a school has very low test scores, and has had them for a long time, then it must be the fault of the faculty.  If you fire the faculty and only retain the best teachers (who have to reapply for their jobs), you can start over by changing the culture of the school.  Sounds logical, even exciting, because something is finally being done about those so-called "dropout factories."

But what if the "best teachers" choose not to reapply?  The reality is that low performing schools are likely located in centers of poverty and crime and many teachers with families may not want to take the extra risk that comes along with working in such schools.  L.A. Academy, for example, is located in an industrial area south of Downtown L.A. and has undergone 2 lockdowns in 6 weeks due to massive explosions at factories near the school.  If you are a talented Math or Science teacher (of which there are such drastic shortages that the district has to import teachers from the Phillipines) and you have the choice between working near the beach or in the 'hood, then the beach will almost always win.

Reconstitution, in theory, would work if you would replace the fired teachers with notably more talented teachers.  Replacing them with the same old tired LAUSD teachers would not yield a different result.  Which is why the reconstitution, or turnaround, of Fremont HS (a high school in South Central L.A.) is so troubling.  As of this week, sources inside the school and on LAUSD's own Human Resources page indicate that not all teaching positions have been staffed.  It is the fifth week of school, and countless numbers of classes are being taught by substitutes.  The truth is, you are going to have to make it very worth the while of an able teacher to take on the challenges of teaching at a school forsaken by all, and which is now the focus of sanctions.

Teachers have concerns about the soundness and viability of RTTT.  We also have ideas and solutions.  But we have not been asked for them.  And when we speak of our concerns we are accused of standing for the status quo (see comments by Mike Piscal, CEO of ICEF charter schools), having low expectations, or just being plain lazy and greedy.  No fear; teachers are educators, and we have voices and words.  We will continue to speak the truth from schools and classrooms of America, and we will continue fighting for quality education for all students.


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