Our place in history ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly... MOU: LAUSD/UTLA School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative

(Originally published on December 5, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/5/113037/558).

Despite the fact that exactly zero of you have officially left comments under these entries on the official LEE blog page, I’ve gotten enough face to face, text message, and social media comments regarding them, that I know that my words have not all been in vain.

Thank you for the love. But please, let’s get a little discussion going. We need it.

This week’s words are dedicated to the tentative agreement regarding the new teacher contract (a.k.a., the new collective bargaining agreement) between LAUSD and UTLA…

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?


Despite the fact that exactly zero of you have officially left comments under these entries on the official LEE blog page, I’ve gotten enough face to face, text message, and social media comments regarding them, that I know that my words have not all been in vain.

Thank you for the love. But please, let’s get a little discussion going. We need it.

This week’s words are dedicated to the tentative agreement regarding the new teacher contract (a.k.a., the new collective bargaining agreement) between LAUSD and UTLA…

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I’m guessing good, so let’s start there.

Good: In theory, this pact, if ratified by UTLA members, would give unprecedented freedom to all LAUSD campuses in the foreseeable future. Allowed to operate with a number of autonomies that charter schools enjoy, schools would place teachers on the basis of mutual consent, and tailor teaching practices unbound by previous district and/or union rules. This brings wide-scale reform to the entire landscape as opposed to relying on charters alone as a strategy for overall LAUSD transformation, something everyone agrees is not sustainable. The popular refrain from education historians is that charters were created as incubators of education, and that public schools were supposed to learn from their successes and then scale them. If this is indeed the case, then LAUSD’s John Deasy has done something really great here. He’s learned from charters what works, and he’s ready to take that to every corner of the district. By every measure, LAUSD has some exceptional schools, and a whole lot of schools that have not worked well for a very long time—schools in which students, parents, teachers, and even principals have been marginalized, and forced into looking for charters, smaller districts, or simply pushed out.

You’re probably asking how this will work. What is entailed in this move to free teachers and principals in the nation’s second largest school district from a range of previously established LAUSD policies and historic UTLA contract restrictions? First a 60% supermajority of teachers at individual school sites must approve flexibility over working conditions and educational decisions rules. Ever since Superintendent John Deasy took the helm, LAUSD has been UTLA to adopt a “thin” union contract in the hope that, liberated to make their own decisions, teachers would take the lead on school transformation. As per this new agreement, from a menu of 15 options that create more autonomy, teachers will be able to select school curricula, replace the district’s pacing guides, choose teaching materials, hire new principals (and, to an extent, other teachers), set daily school schedules and, to a degree yet to be determined, the school site budgets.

The principals and teachers must agree on alternative plans, which LAUSD must approve and monitor, and they must show evidence that they consulted student family members in the process. Specifically, two parents chosen by the School Site Council would be on an eight or nine person committee to hire staff, subject to the principal’s approval. The committee is required to give priority to laid-off teachers, but not forced to hire “lemons.” The first campuses eligible to become “local initiative schools” will be Focus and Service and Support schools (a.k.a., priority low-performing schools, whose API scores are in the lowest four deciles). These campuses will apply for the 2013-14 year. Staff members at the low-performing schools that would otherwise have gone through PSC will be required to seek flexibility waivers next fall. LAUSD and UTLA have agreed to find intervention strategies for these schools. All local initiative schools are expected to be variants of the 31 LAUSD pilot schools already in existence. Based on the Boston model, pilot schools came into being thanks to an agreement UTLA negotiated under former President and now charter school executive, A.J. Duffy. Pilot school teachers with experience drafting and/or implementing school plans based on autonomies (in budget, schedule, calendar, curriculum, staffing, assessment, and governance) for consideration under PSC, have committed to a detailed process leading the transformations intended to turnaround low-performing schools. This is as good an avenue for the voices of teachers in school reform as any, but there’s nothing to compel UTLA members to embrace teacher led reform. It takes an incredible amount of work to plan, open, and operate a school. It’s one thing to claim expertise is in schools and not at Beaudry (a.k.a., LAUSD’s central headquarters) or in Local District offices, and another to take up the mantle of change. This exciting opportunity has tremendous potential. I hope it’s more than Tinkering Toward Utopia.

Don’t get me wrong, the tentative agreement is just that, tentative. It is by no means a done deal. UTLA members may decide in bulk that they don’t want to trade seniority protections and guaranteed placement for the authority to dictate how their school is run. This trade-off could prove a major stumbling block. Many teachers may not be eager to trade away job security in an uncertain economy for the tremendous risk and responsibility of revamping their school. That said, competition from CMOs in the Public School Choice process has pushed several generations of teachers to step up. In the two years since PSC began, dozens of teacher-led teams have partnered with reform groups, or have developed plans on their own, and won the right to run their schools. Today’s LAUSD is like never before. Thanks to the largest school construction program in the nation, (100 new schools in 10 years) the district is populated with pilot schools, magnet schools, charter schools, partner schools, ESBMM schools, and traditional schools. Innovation is encouraged and failures are very much public and subject to deserved scrutiny and accountability. The proposed model makes cooperation on behalf of students easier—without handcuffs, or anything to block a school from undertaking the reforms in their single plans, as UTLA or LAUSD can no longer deny them anything.

Bad: This deal throws CMOs under the bus. Charters, and the push to proliferate them in high poverty areas, not just suburban, middle class, “white flight” neighborhoods, looking to exit LAUSD, have been cut off at the knees. As I alluded to in my last blog entry, the fact that the California Charter School Association failed to make the case for their role in delivering educational, social, and racial justice to L.A.’s families when Steve Zimmer first proposed to cut off CMO access to new LAUSD campuses, meant that charter schools and Public School Choice—the district’s two-year-old program the allowed charters to bid for control of new campuses and failing schools, and helped make LAUSD the center of a movement toward alternative schools—would suffer. This has occurred, indeed. And families that saw charters as alternatives to unsafe LAUSD campuses, populated by burned-out LAUSD teachers, are forced to place all of their eggs in one basket, as the pact wipes out PSC. By this standard, it’s not clear where parents fit in to the conversation between Superintendent Deasy and UTLA President Fletcher.

Both know perfectly well that a primary motivating factor for parents and legal guardians to seek spots for their kids in charters has nothing to do with test scores. If not overwhelmed with safety concerns, the differences in personal attention, class size, and possibilities for enrichment and/or intervention, are major drivers. What now for them? Sadly, families are seen as disengaged and incompetent, or confused and overwhelmed. When given a chance to weigh in on whom should run their campuses, approximately 1% of eligible parents turned out to vote in the advisory process. Yet neither LAUSD, nor UTLA really ever cared to understand why. When the advisory vote component of PSC eliminated, UTLA did a good job of spinning it to their advantage. But if either side actually cared about parental voice they would have assigned parent opinion a fixed percentage in the final decision-making matrix, incorporated parent voices from the brainstorming phase through plan writing, and found the funds needed to conduct the necessary outreach to parents for plan presentation and election events. But I digress.

While both Superintendent Deasy and President Fletcher declared the agreement, which UTLA members will likely ratify by December 12, a win-win, there’s no way of getting around the fact that for charter schools, it was a loss. Although it is subject to debate whether Superintendent Deasy agreed to a moratorium on LAUSD’s two-year PSC experiment (in which the district invited community groups and charter school operators to bid on the operation of newly built schools, or the chance to take over some failing schools) as an enticement or a concession to UTLA is irrelevant. The result is the same. The dozen charter schools, including high performers like Aspire and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, that were selected through PSC, and opened in the last two years, designed to share large campuses, won’t be joined by any fellow charter compatriots. President Fletcher is quoted as characterizing the end of PSC as an “overdue corrective,” insisting the district and Board of Education had become “enraptured” by the prospect of turning to outside operators to solve LAUSD’s problems. He’s made sure to cite the L.A. Daily News study finding that in the first year, a majority of PSC schools (charters notably excepted) did no better or worse than neighborhood schools. More importantly, he’s argued the new LAUSD-UTLA agreement will save 690 district teaching jobs.

Though this calculation assumes the unlikely scenario that every campus in the next round of PSC would have gone charter, President Fletcher was very astute to hardline negotiate the gutting of CMOs. After all, L.A. has more charters than any system in the country, with one in five LAUSD campuses housing a publicly funded, charter-run school. The UTLA argument has always been that charters siphon money from the district, as education funds follow students enrolled in charter schools. And every time LAUSD has faced a budget shortfall because of the sorry state of education funding statewide, UTLA has been able to successfully spin the argument that no RIFs, furlough days, or academic calendar cutbacks would be necessary if LAUSD had not gone through a “giveaway of neighborhood schools intended to privatize public education.” Again, as I pointed out in my last blog entry, the real resistance to the spread of charters is the dilution of UTLA’s membership base, and its accompanying financial, political, and lobbying power. It is much easier to demonize CMOs than attempt to unionize them, or incorporate unionized charters like Green Dot into UTLA. While it’s noteworthy that Superintendent Deasy, President Fletcher, Educators4Excellence, and Randi Weingarten are all very excited by the prospect of teacher-led reform via this new contract, former Board Member Yolie Flores has made it clear that the tentative agreement “completely undercuts” the Board’s 2009 Motion because it, “eradicated the entire intent and purpose of PSC, which is to use choice and competition as a powerful lever [to improve outcomes for kids]… Autonomy’s great but without accountability you’re going to have a mess.”

Accountability is, in fact, king. And it’s in the accountability piece that the biggest problems with the proposed pact and the conditions surrounding it are found. While I agree with Superintendent Deasy that, “teachers and parents are uniquely qualified to have a relationship with their school.” The problem for teachers continues to be that they are subject to an uphill battle if they’re in pursuit of change. Requiring a supermajority just to get to the point where autonomies can be earned means it is unlikely any changes will take place at schools where teachers are satisfied with the conditions of the current contract, and aren’t at all excited by the prospect of taking on more responsibility, or risking workplace instability. If Superintendent Deasy hadn’t shown his hand by making changes to PSC prior to entering into negotiations with President Fletcher, it might have been possible for him to make it possible for all eligible teachers participate in LAUSD’s value-added teacher evaluation model, Academic Growth Over Time. As it stands right now, UTLA may have dropped its court challenge to LAUSD’s plans to roll out AGT on a voluntary participation basis. But that most certainly does not mean that President Fletcher is going to allow Superintendent Deasy to use data on actual student outcomes versus predicted scores on standardized exams such as the CST, part of the multiple measure teacher evaluation system LAUSD was hoping to rollout districtwide in 2013. Without AGT data professional development for teachers cannot be specifically tailored on the subset of students they are not reaching. For instance, a fifth grade teacher might be great with African American males, but lousy with English Language Learning girls. This kind of specific information is not often gleaned by classroom observation alone.

The unresolved issue of AGT data is most troubling for parents. Although LAUSD’s Programs and Policies office headed by TFA alum, Drew Furedi, has always insisted that AGT data should remain confidential, (as opposed to the approach taken by the L.A. Times in its application of its less sophisticated value-added model) the fact is that a parents have a right to expect that their children won’t find themselves trapped in a classroom with someone completely unaware of his or her role in perpetuating racial, ethnic, gender, etc. achievement gaps. Were I still in the classroom I would want to know which students I was consistently letting down so that I would never do such a thing again. Were I to discover that my failings were with African American girls, for instance, I would demand professional development to help my teaching improve, and I would make sure that my parental engagement efforts were much more focused on delivering the best possible outcomes for the students who AGT revealed I consistently let down. I would ask all parents to keep me accountable, but I would insist that the parents of the African American girls in my classroom found another resource at my school, or in the community where I taught, to make sure they understood every lesson, and has every question answered. This kind of unrelenting parental engagement is not taught or expected in teacher credentialing programs. And based on the fact that LAUSD has done absolutely the bare minimum with the recommendations presented to it by the Parents As Equal Partners Taskforce, I doubt it’ll become the norm under this new pact. LAUSD is already getting sued by parents claiming it failed to evaluate teachers under the Stull Act, and Parent Revolution successfully pulled the Parent Trigger in Compton long before it received the California Education Policy Fund monies that allowed it to expand statewide. If no accountability exists to meaningfully engage parents in this plan, if no real power is extended to parents to accept, or reject, teachers, and principals, at neighborhood schools, then they won’t play ball, and many teacher-led reforms will fail.

Beyond what the proposed deal does or doesn't include, or whether it’s ratified by the rank and file this month, the real issue of concern for TFA corps, alumni, and LEE members, is the failure to retain former Board Member Flores’ seat when she made public her decision to not seek reelection. Former Board Member Flores said she had to leave for financial reasons and was talking to a handful of folks about replacing her. But no clear candidate emerged. Luis Sanchez, Chief of Staff to Board President Monica Garcia, and founded of Inner City Struggle, ran and lost to Bennett Kayser, a candidate who emerged as the “official” UTLA nominee one month after it withdrew its financial support and public endorsement of John Fernandez. Red flag. The failure to find another candidate, one the reform-minded community would have supported, and/or the failure of the reform-minded community to get behind Luis Sanchez’s candidacy explain the deficits in the LAUSD-UTLA agreement on the table. Be clear, Superintendent Deasy was hired by one Board of Education. But he now works for another. He doesn’t have a majority, commanding strong, broad support from throughout the multifarious expanse that is LAUSD, to back him up, to take on a tough, long fight over contentious issues. Hence the end of choice and competition in LAUSD, the lack of mention of the role of student outcomes in teacher evaluations, much less any mention of differential pay, etc.

LEE friends, LEE-Angelinos, LEE countrymen, lend me your ears! I come here not to bury the reform-minded community in L.A., but to praise the dirty work of running candidates, getting out the vote, and instilling a Board with the power to un-encumber reform and provide public schools with the power and resources needed to offer each and every youth an empowering and transformative academic experience. Students deserve a path out of poverty, not a possible one, but one that is probable. If LEE members are willing to come together, that which was once only rhetorical, will be real: And one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education, will finally arrive.

Read more (New contract):

MOU: LAUSD/UTLA School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative of 2011 http://www.scribd.com/doc/74649096/LAUSD-UTLA-LOCAL-SCHOOL-STABILIZATION-AND-EMPOWERMENT-INITIATIVE-OF-2011

Labor agreement would give more control to L.A. schools http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/11/school-labor-agreement.html

LAUSD & UTLA Agreement To Give Autonomy To Individual Schools And Put A Moratorium On Charter Schools http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/lausd-utla-agreement_n_1121359.html

#LAUSD: The Story Behind John Deasy's Mystifying Labor Deal http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/12/lausd-utla-reach-agreement-granting-wider-autonomy-to-all-schools-on-teacher-placement-and-budgets-893-kpccthe-los-angel.html

LAUSD/UTLA MOU: 5.9 more years of failure http://edobserver.blogspot.com/2011/12/lausdutla-mou-59-more-years-of-failure.html

Big choices for LA teachers http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/12/02/big-choices-for-la-teachers/

Individual Los Angeles schools gain new autonomy http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1130-lausd-teachers-20111130,0,1644115.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Flocal+%28L.A.+Times+-+California+|+Local+News%29

News Release. November 29, 2011. #11/12-073. LAUSD Superintendent and UTLA President. Jointly Announce Historic Tentative Agreement notebook.lausd.net/.../TA%20RELEASE_SC_FINAL.PDF

LAUSD's promise of school freedom is progress, but no panacea http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-banks-20111204,0,6348666.column

UTLA reaches agreement with LAUSD to provide stability and local control to struggling schools http://www.utla.net/node/3550

Reform: What To Make Of The Proposed LAUSD-UTLA Deal? http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/12/la.html

LAUSD announces tentative labor agreement with teachers http://www.dailybreeze.com/ci_19436546

LAUSD & UTLA reach agreement granting wider autonomy to all schools on teacher placement and budgets
LAUSD and UTLA Announce Contract Agreement http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/LAUSD-and-UTLA-Announce-Contract-Agreement-134725183.html

LAUSD Contract Deal Between John Deasy and Warren Fletcher: Bad Teachers Might be Ousted at Schools Freed from Old Rules http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2011/11/utla_deal_allows_bad_teacher_firings.php

Groundbreaking LAUSD school-by-school reforms unveiled http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_19437314
LAUSD, Teachers Have Tentative Contract Deal http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/education/lausd-teachers-have-tentative-contract-deal-20111129

UTLA Gives Away Collectively Bargained Rights http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/utla-gives-away-collectively-bargained.html

Read more (UTLA’s stance toward evaluation):

L.A. teachers union drops legal challenge to evaluation system http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/12/la-teachers-union-drops-legal-challenge-to-evaluation-system.html

LA teachers' union drops case against new reviews http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_19460829


Post a Comment

<< Home