Jewish Journal


by  David A. Lehrer

October 30, 2012 | 4:02 pm

The last few days have seen Americans preoccupied, understandably so, with Hurricane Sandy and next week’s election. The attention that might normally have been paid to two items in the Los Angeles Times just isn’t there, but it ought to be.

Last week, the Times disclosed that John Deasy, the superintendent of Los Angeles schools, had urged United Teachers of Los Angeles (the District’s union) to “lay aside its concerns and back a federal grant application that could bring $40 million to the cash-strapped district.” Noting that the District was facing difficult financial times, the superintendent observed that, “It’s a critical opportunity in these painful fiscal times.”

Indeed, if UTLA agreed to sign on to the grant application to the US Department of Education, the District stood to receive $40 million which would potentially have to be matched by $3.3 million from the District.  The grant  would have helped 35 low-performing schools and their 25,000 students.

In last week’s article the Times reported that UTLA was reluctant to agree to the grant application because it was concerned that the grant would not cover all the costs of implementing the District’s proposal. “We do not think it’s budgetarily sustainable…we don’t want to mortgage our future,” said UTLA president Warren Fletcher. He noted that the $3.3 million that would be the District’s share of the new program was equivalent “to the cost of 39 teachers.”

The objections he raised last week were countered by the District’s pledge that no District money would be used to fund the program, but rather the additional money would come from “fundraising efforts.”

Deasy’s pleas and his promise to not negatively impact the District’s budget fell on deaf ears. Yesterday the Times reported that UTLA had “declined” to sign on to the District’s grant application (which was due today but whose deadline has been extended because of Hurricane Sandy). The effort to secure an additional $40 million for the children of Los Angeles is dead.

Despite the District’s commitment to fundraise for the grant’s $3.3 shortfall, UTLA’s Fletcher proffered the absurd argument that “there was greater risk than likely reward.” Hopefully, Fletcher didn’t teach economics when he was in the classroom,; paying $3.3 million in order to receive $40 million has greater reward than risk---no two ways about it.

The transparent silliness of UTLA’s veto betrays their real motivation in terminating the grant for LA’s kids---their antipathy to any suggestion that student test scores can legitimately be even a part of teacher evaluations. The Race to the Top grant would have required that student test scores “or other measures of academic achievement” be a “significant factor” in teacher evaluations by 2014. Clearly not the only factor or the factor, just a "significant" factor,

So there we have it---it’s not about the kids or their education (time was when UTLA’s press releases included the pro forma language, “will do the most good for our students”) that pretense is gone. This is all about not ceding ground on the process by which teachers are evaluated—not even a hint of accountability will be tolerated. If it takes kissing off $43 million in a financially desperate District to make the point, UTLA seems perfectly comfortable in doing so.

UTLA seems unconcerned about stonewalling the District even if it means instilling doubt into voters’ minds, just a week before an election when related issues are on the ballot--- Proposition 32 about public employee unions and how they operate and Proposition 30 about how public funds are expended.  UTLA seemingly has no compunctions about their decision---no measure of academic achievement can enter the realm of teacher evaluation---public relations and election outcomes be damned.

It is a sorry story about the priorities of UTLA. The raison d’etre of the District—the education of its students—obviously takes a back seat to the union’s (not necessarily the teachers’) priorities. After all, Race to the Top is not the creature of a right-wing, anti-union cabal out to undermine unions and their members; it is the proud achievement of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an effort to reform a dysfunctional system that cries out for change.

But even the administration’s modest move towards some use of metrics that assess teacher quality and effectiveness is toxic to UTLA. They just won’t allow it, no matter if LA's kids pay the price.

A very sad story and a dreadful outcome. .

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