By Hillel Aron
Today, full page ads appear in the L.A. Times, Daily News and La Opinion taken out by Don't Hold Us Back -- respected organizations calling out United Teachers Los Angeles and LAUSD for letting kids fail. The new supergroup includes The United Way, The Urban League, Community Coalition, Alliance for a Better Community, Families in Schools, Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Communities for Teaching Excellence.
The ad's bland wording at first seems a bit "so what?" but it's actually written in code to UTLA leaders, who have helped the local teachers union gain a reputation as one of the most anti-reform big-city education unions in the U.S. Here's a translation:
In one line, the ad says teachers should "be rewarded for academic excellence."
That sounds normal, right?
But in fact, that idea has for years been vehemently opposed by UTLA. UTLA has fiercely fought efforts to reward the most effective teachers, or the teachers who take on the toughest assignments, by giving them financial sweeteners -- merit pay.
Another line in the ad seems equally inarguable -- that kids should have well-trained teachers "regardless of where their school is located."
Who would oppose that?
UTLA, for one. Thanks largely to the union, the most experienced teachers in L.A. are not assigned to difficult, poor schools -- Watts, or the Eastside, for example.
Instead, LAUSD sends inexperienced newbie teachers to the poorest, most difficult neighborhoods.
Education reformers find the practice appalling.
The ad urges newspaper readers -- presumably a lot of people with kids in school -- to call or email Superintendent John Deasy, individual members of the elected Los Angeles Unified School District Board, and the UTLA led by Warren Fletcher.
Veronica Melvin, of Communities for Teaching Excellence, headed by ex-LAUSD board member Yolie Flores, says the ad is intended to clue in the public to the fact that there's "a movement afoot to really push the district and union toward making progress -- to realize quality education for L.A.'s youth."
What's fascinating about the crowd behind this ad is that it is heavy with key minority groups and most of the groups have serious, real track records in helping under-served people. And: these groups are dominated by Democrats.
Ten years ago, most of these people would have been extremely reluctant to call out UTLA.
That would have been seen as anti-union.
But with Los Angeles kids circling the drain (and remember the frightening fact that LAUSD educates one in every eight or nine kids in all of California) and with the union fighting most attempts at change, those days seem over.
This ad is more proof of that.
"Everybody, including the African American community, none of us should sit on the sidelines," says Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition. "We live with the consequences. We've got to weigh in and weigh in early."
"Without public pressure, both sides will stalemate," says Melvin.
Don't Hold Us Back is demanding a new contract for teachers that firms up what school reformers (including LAUSD Superintendent Deasy) have been suggesting for years:
-- a way of evaluating teachers based on their own performance in the class
-- an end to the "last hired, first fired" practice that looks solely at teacher seniority and not at teacher competence
-- reinstituting full Public School Choice, which allows outside groups to take over flailing public schools. The LAUSD Board of Education weakened Public School Choice in late August.
The school board meets Tuesday at 1 p.m. It's guaranteed that every one of the LAUSD School Board members will have read this ad. (And figured out the coded messages almost instantly.)
Here are a few numbers listed in the ad, if you want to call and ask why the adults are digging in their heels while students fail:
UTLA President Warren Fletcher, 213-368-6267, firstname.lastname@example.org
LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia, 213-241-6180, email@example.com
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And some of the UTLA water-carriers on the LAUSD school board:
Steve Zimmer, 213-241-6387, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bennett Kayser, 213-241-5555, email@example.com
Marguerite LaMotte, 213-241-6382, firstname.lastname@example.org