All We Are Saying…Is Give Students a Chance

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Photo: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

No one wants an adult who abuses children in the classroom, and existing laws and policies work when adults actually enforce them. In fact, in the wake of several high profile cases in Los Angeles Unified School District, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing admonished District officials for failing to do just that—follow existing reporting guidelines.

Nowadays in LAUSD, when teachers assigned to “teacher jail” pending investigation of an accusation (any accusation—even a hearsay accusation without any evidence) have been cleared by police of wrongdoing, our School Board and superintendent frequently refuse to return these professionals to the classroom. Often, these are older teachers who cost the District more money and who, for their years of service, are about to obtain lifetime health benefits. Often these are also the kind of teachers who know how to mentor younger teachers and to advocate forcefully for their students on issues such as budgeting and school priorities. Often they have been around long enough to know how to ask the right questions—the kind of questions that, if actually considered and addressed, would positively impact students’ lives.

UTLA spends between $20,000 to $70,000 on each educator whose case we are able to take on, and when we do win, the District (which has a $6 billion-plus budget) insists on appealing those decisions, incurring even more costs for taxpayers and for a union that doesn’t have the same resources and billionaire friends as LAUSD.

Due process dates to the Magna Carta and is incorporated into our U.S. Constitution. When public agencies commit offenses, we have a mechanism that protects a person from government abuse, balancing the rights of the individual with the law of the land. In the workplace, due process ensures that people are not disciplined or fired for arbitrary reasons, for saying things management doesn’t like, or for trying to organize employees.

A recent study found that 40 percent of LAUSD teachers quit within the first three years. When I listen to other teachers, most often I hear about how class sizes are unmanageable (classes with 30 to 40-plus students are common in middle schools, and a high school biology teacher recently told me he had 96 students on his roster the first day of school), how we’re afraid to engage and challenge students lest one becomes angry and decides to make up a story to get us fired (there are even student-created YouTube videos on how to get your teacher fired), and how we’re blamed for student misconduct despite lack of enforcement of even the weakest of schoolwide behavior plans (despite the facade of how the willful defiance policy has changed everything).

I hear about how displaced teachers (who have lost a position at a school due to declining enrollment or school demographic changes) are forced to jump through hoop after demoralizing hoop as administrators assign them to campuses halfway across town, and, how, if they ask questions, their concerns are considered “whining.”

I hear about frustration with Common Core State Standards and concerns that it’s just another billionaire-pushed fad like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. After all, if students can’t pass our current tests, the solution must be to give students different tests, right?

I hear about years of shortened school calendars and furloughs (this being the second full school year since 2009-10), inflation, how teacher pay remains at the bottom for teachers in L.A. County, and that teachers and health and human services professionals haven’t seen any sort of raise in almost seven years (not even a cost-of-living adjustment).

So, what’s the solution to bridging the achievement gap?

Why, iPads, of course. Please overlook the fact that the software specially designed for the tablets is incomplete and only comes with a three-year contract, that there are much more affordable desktop computers and tablets, and that, aside from bond dollars that are being currently used to sponsor the first phase of the program, general fund dollars are proposed to be used for subsequent phases.

You weren’t actually going to suggest the solution to bridging the achievement gap is smaller class sizes, were you? Were you going to say that what our students truly need are librarians, nurses, counselors, psychiatric social workers, pupil services and attendance counselors, arts education, physical education, adult education, vocational and life skills classes, early childhood education programs and/or resources for special education students?

david lyellInstead of these real-world solutions for our schools, LAUSD focuses its resources on iPads and teacher jail. It is a sad day for public education when students’ rights are neglected by those seeking to destroy unions. We need to act with a sense of urgency, but we also need to act responsibly.

David Lyell
UTLA Secretary

Published by the LA Progressive on December 21, 2013
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About David Lyell

David Lyell is a 13-year veteran LAUSD teacher, and secretary of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).
David was one of six activists to march the entire 352-miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento from March 5 to April 21, 2010 as part of The March For California's Future, a diverse coalition of labor, faith, parents, educators and children calling for tax fairness and adequate funding for public education and essential public services in California.
David has blogged for the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism's Intersections SouthLA, as a free-lance reporter and photographer for a defunct cycling publication in Southern California, Southwest Cycling, and also wrote for another shuttered newspaper, The Peninsula Times Tribune.

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