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Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Are Millions of Dollars Spent to Protect Bad Teachers?

On Sunday (5/3/09) The Los Angeles Times had a major front page article by Jason Song detailing the job security teachers have in California once they obtain tenured status. This article is a must read for every adult in the state.

For parents the article pulls back the curtain showing some of the bureaucracy which controls your children six or seven hours a day, one hundred eighty days a year for thirteen years. It reveals the lack of control over the teachers by you a parent, and by your representatives elected to your local school board. Most basically it shows once again how important is your vote in school board elections to ensure independent members of your community are elected to represent you, the parent, and thwart any efforts by your local teachers union or the state organization to control your school district.

For elected school board members it is a wake up call to get stronger rules for dismissal in their contracts with their teachers' unions. Reading the Times article detailing case after case of incompetent, or worse borderline sexual predator, teachers retaining their jobs for years while districts go through the process to dismiss them one wonders why we even have school boards at all. If an employer cannot take measures to ensure the safety, physical and emotional, of its charges from its employees then the system is broken. School boards across the state need to restructure their contracts to eliminate most of the process needed to dismiss teachers currently being protected by their unions and they processes installed in their collective bargaining contracts.

For members of our State Legislature this article is a wake up call that the gig is up. The relationship between the teachers' unions across the state and by the huge statewide umbrella to which most of the locals tithe, the vaunted California Teachers' Association, and funds funnelled from teachers' paychecks to the Democratic Party, its candidates and propositions it supports is evident. And thanks to the Los Angeles Times article, many parents will begin to see the correlation to the candidates supported by the unions and the inept teacher who may be teaching their child. Voters will begin to connect the dots between the over-protective laws handcuffing their district administration preventing them from firing the teacher making lewd and lascivious comments and actions to their daughter. As part of the upcoming process to break down and untangle the relationships and spending mandates that have led our state to a financial abyss, pressure should also be put on the legislature to change the laws restricting the ability of bad teachers to be dismissed.

As for teachers, this article begins to crack the veneer they have ably constructed that has held them as a protected class above criticism because of the noble profession in which they engage. The connection between their unions and the buying of officials enacting laws protecting bad teachers at the expense of our children is fully exposed. Millions and millions of teachers' salaries have been collected through automatic payroll deductions and syphoned to candidates and propositions without any real input for the majority of teachers. And the results are disastrous for those in the profession as evidenced by the budget cuts throughout school districts throughout the state. Propped up by millions of dollars every election the large majority in Sacramento has spent, spent and then spent some more until we arrived at our current budget crisis. Every school district budget cut can be laid at the feet of the number one contributor to those currently in office in Sacramento: teachers' unions. Spending millions to elect anyone with (D) next to their name. Los Angeles Unified is looking at laying off perhaps a thousand teachers or more--whose fault is that? The same people whose elections to office in Sacramento were paid for by those teachers being laid off.

The average teacher when asked about their political contributions or their local union politics typically replies, "I don't get involved in that." And they don't, they just blindly tithe to the apparatus that has screwed them with budget cuts and allows bad teachers to be in the classroom next to theirs. The system is broken, and it was broken by those who are supposed to look after the best interest of all teachers and work with our communities to instruct our children. It was broken by organized labor in conjunction with their political allies who cared more about the power of the whole instead of the good of the community.

Our teachers' unions have way to much power in our state. Voters need to stand up and take back their school boards and insist their elected officials protect their children first and teachers' second. There is no excuse for a pedophile or totally incompetent teacher standing in front of your child for six hours a day--and s/he will remain there as long as the CTA and its locals retain the control they have on our state political systems.

Should a local school board hold firm in negotiations at contract time to make it easier to dismiss those teachers who clearly need dismissal you can count on the local union to spend significant amounts of funds in a public relations campaign vilifying the school board. They will spend the funds of the many, many, many quality educators who are their members to protect the few who deserve no such protection. Vocal members of the local will campaign on campuses and at meetings pulling out the "woe are we the teachers" argument, and many of those voices will be from some of those being protected.

As a parent of children in the Long Beach Unified School District I am willing to undergo some short term pain for long term gain. If the LBUSD board draws a firm line in negotiations demanding easier resolution to dismissals that save time and needed funds for the district and more quickly eliminates bad teachers I will support them. If the Teachers Association of Long Beach, the local union, makes this a strike point and threaten to walk out over the issue I say: let them. Let the union take the position of closing down the district to spare the jobs of a few teachers. Let them show the public, their members and the students they would rather every student suffer than allow a few bad teachers be eliminated from the classrooms.

It is time for parents and the voters to take back control of the education of our children and wrest as much of that control away from Sacramento where control has been usurped by the CTA. Contact your local school board representative and tell him or her: I support you, change this insidious process.


Bob Schillilng said...

First, I'd like to propose some perspective here. "Bad teachers" are not the sole cause of our educational failures. Most of the teachers in most schools try hard to educate their students.

Another worthwhile question with respect to "bad" teachers is this: Were they incompetent when we hired them, or did we have to train them that way? This is a serious question. My experience as a coach, consultant and project manager suggests strongly that the way people are treated and the rules under which they work have a lot to do with how well they work.

That said, the unions have successfully built formidable protections for their members. They say they've done this to protect teachers from arbitrary school administrators who would otherwise capriciously punish teachers they don't like. From other points of view, this looks like protecting the incompetent and the lazy. I suspect both positions have at least some merit.

I don't think we'll get very far with more punishment in the system. I do think we'll do well to encourage high levels of performance, and to be generous about past sins.

Dennis C Smith said...


Thanks as always for your great comments. To start, I never indicate that bad teachers are the sole cause of or educational failures, they abet the process where they are present but they are not the cause. I firmly believe that most of our challenges in California in the realm of K-12 education arise from a few areas: 1) parents who are not involved in their childrens' education 2) state/feds making districts pay for the feeding and education of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant children in our school systems 3) Sacramento program mandates that tie the hands of the local districts and site administrators in spending education funds as Sacramento thinks "best" without any clue what is happening in the classrooms. We cannot have one size fits all education in this state. The needs in Watts are different than those in Compton which differ from those in Stockton which are not the same as those in Barstow--yet the Dept of Ed thinks they are or should be.

I would be interested in knowing how many of those you coach, consult and manage are in protected job environments knowing regardless of their effort they will experience zero economic impact. For some that affects their behavior and work ethic for others it does not. I will not buy that bad teachers are "made" by their bosses and administration training them to be that way because of the conditions under which they work. If this was the case whole districts, or schools, would have the same level of teaching, good or bad, and that is not the case. Sometimes it is where and entire district is failing, Compton ten years ago, or succeeding, Long Beach now, but that is more the exception than the rule.

John Greet said...

Dennis: Your attempts to wake folks up concerning this critical area of their lives are clearly well intended but, I personally believe and am extremely sad to admit, most likely doomed.

The majority of those qualified, do not bother to register, let alone to vote. It is in such a manner that they tacitly, if not assertively, abdicate control of their government to the very few who do still bother to participate.

Of those still participating, the majority do so, I believe, because they understand the power they control by keeping registration roles small and intelligent voting to a minimum. As voter apathy and ignorance increases, government necessarily becomes less representative.

We cannot seem to muster the critical perspective necessary to avoid electing the inept or the scoundrels to office that some in government clearly are.

Once they are in office and begin to clearly demonstrate their comparative worthlessness, we can rarely muster the interest or the collective will to remove them.

I offer Mr. Michael Shane Ellis, of our own LBUSD School Board, as “people’s exhibit 1” in evidence of how we sometimes permit the inept, even the unlawful, to remain in elected office on our very own School Board.

A constituency that will tolerate and permit a person who is on active criminal probation to remain a trustee on our School Board is a constituency that has well and truly lost its way.

Our public schools are government-run schools. They are creatures of the self-same federal, State and local governments we create with our combined apathy, ignorance and disinterest. The comparatively few above average or excellent administrators and educators that do exist are far overshadowed by the vast majority that has no business being involved with the orientation, let alone the education, of our children.

The priority among this majority of mediocre administrators and so-called educators has shifted from education to indoctrination and from true accountability to contractual protectionism.

And the proof is no more apparent than in standardized comparisons with other Districts. Our drop-out rates climb while our test scores drop but we’re too busy crowing about the latest Broad Prize nomination to admit how truly badly our government-run public schools are doing at teaching our children anything more meaningful than how to seek out and acquire government-controlled social services after they “graduate”.

One need only visit the NCLB web portal and review our District’s shoddy performance there to understand just how we are failing many students in our School District that need a better education the most.

Certainly I generalize to a certain extent. Certainly there exist some truly stellar educators and administrators in our District. but the true challenge is not with these mediocre schools so much as with the people who permit them to be created in the first place and to continue to operate at the same poor performance levels year after struggling year.

The same people who see our public schools less as places of learning and more as places for child care…places simply to deposit their children for monitoring for the day rather than to deliver them for potential enlightenment.

These same people who find the “average” and “the median” as acceptable in school and student performance find the same to be acceptable in our government.

These people are one in the same.

These are the overly-tolerant and the “good enough for government work” electorate and even if they have no children enrolled in our public schools, they are equally complicit with those who do in their acceptance, and thus their furtherance, of the mediocre.

Change those members of the electorate, Dennis, if you can. I do also.

Help them to better understand their sovereign responsibilities and duties as a self-governed people in a free society and then how to more consistently discharge those responsibilities and duties.

For it is only then that we will see our public schools improve; only then that we will see our government improve; only then that we will see our society improve…

…One (hopefully) newly-enlightened and properly motivated member of the electorate at a time.

Keep up the great work, my friend!