Friday, January 21, 2011

Yolie Flores: All of LAUSD's students deserve equality of education

L.A. Daily News editorial, January 20, 2011

Low income students and minority students have been waiting 57 years – since Brown vs. Board of Education – for us to get it right and ensure them equality of education. Yet, despite that victory and despite California’s constitution guaranteeing such equality, the struggle continues. Last May, public school students from three LAUSD middle schools, Gompers, Liechty, and Markham, contended that their right to an equal education had been violated when a disproportionate number of their teachers, nearly two-thirds, were laid off in a period of two years due to budget-based reductions-in-force. The Court agreed with the students’ plea and all involved parties – including LAUSD, the ACLU, and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools – set to the task of developing a settlement proposal that would ensure that the rights of these middle school students were permanently protected.

I am proud to say that the resulting proposal – expanded and strengthened by the Board of Education – not only preserves the rights of students at Gompers, Liechty and Markham, but also expands these rights to more students, setting the stage for us to ensure equality of education for every LAUSD student. This will be achieved by

• Granting LAUSD the authority to provide layoff protections for up to 45 schools that meet agreed upon criteria

• Ensuring that any future layoffs will be applied proportionally throughout the district

• Requiring LAUSD to provide support and resources, including retention incentives to stabilize and improve schools with high teacher turnover rates.

In October, the LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a settlement on these terms and move forward in concluding the lawsuit. However, the teacher’s union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has since thrown all of its legal might at thwarting the settlement’s final approval.

For UTLA, teacher seniority and the insistence of their members to remain employed based solely on the length of time they have taught, trumps the research that seniority does not guarantee effectiveness. UTLA’s fierce opposition to the settlement makes clear its preference for the status quo in which our most vulnerable students — students of color and students in poverty — annually suffer from destabilized learning environments and disrupted instruction.

The approval of this settlement is a first step in leveling the playing field. While it does not yet protect ALL students, it ensures that schools that are making significant progress with our most vulnerable students are not undermined by repeated layoffs. It ensures that the promise of our newest schools in some of the toughest neighborhoods will be fulfilled. It allows their administrators and teachers the time they need to establish trust with parents and the surrounding community and prevents them from being sabotaged before they can begin to realize their potential as transformative institutions of learning.

Despite UTLA’s intransigence on this essential issue, I remain hopeful for two reasons. First, LAUSD, together with community leaders and advocates, stand firmly behind this historic settlement proposal. This coalition of allies grows larger every day increasing the urgency and momentum for much needed teacher quality reform, both here in Los Angeles and in Sacramento. We will look to these groups and individuals to aid us as we pursue critical state legislation well beyond the scope of this settlement so that all students are afforded the same basic protections.

Second, while UTLA’s leadership stands opposite us in this case, there is a small but significant example of their collaboration with the district that provides a glimmer of hope that we can and must build upon. Last week, UTLA’s governing body approved our School District Improvement Grant (SIG) which provides critically needed resources to allow teachers and administrators to engage in innovative work related to the improvement of teaching, learning, and the evaluation process at nine different LAUSD schools. Actions such as this, coupled with the emergence of NewTLA, a growing movement of reform-minded teachers within UTLA’s leadership, are hopeful signs of a new direction within the union to address the needs of children as well as the interests of their members.

The ACLU lawsuit is the next step in the struggle for equality. It once again sets the stage for all of us – at the local and state level – to re-examine our priorities on behalf of our children. If we truly are committed to an equal education for all children, we must leave behind old and entrenched political agendas and policies and embrace the truths that every child deserves a great teacher and that great teachers must be cultivated, supported, fairly but properly evaluated, and more justly compensated. To get there, we must change the rules that violate the principles of fairness, justice and equality that we strive to instill in our children and that we guaranteed them too many years ago.