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Firing in the LAUSD: Hard and Expensive

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Trying to fire a bad teacher in L.A. can cost the city up to half a million bucks, and almost never happens, according to a new L.A. Weekly investigative report.

The Weekly's story paints a picture of a slow, untransparent system where teachers interests trump those of the city or students:

But the far larger problem in L.A. is one of "performance cases" -- the teachers who cannot teach, yet cannot be fired. Their ranks are believed to be sizable -- perhaps 1,000 teachers, responsible for 30,000 children. But in reality, nobody knows how many of LAUSD's vast system of teachers fail to perform. Superintendent Ramon Cortines tells the Weekly he has a "solid" figure, but he won't release it. In fact, almost all information about these teachers is kept secret.But the Weekly has found, in a five-month investigation, that principals and school district leaders have all but given up dismissing such teachers. In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district's 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance -- and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each.

Every attempt to fire a teacher for bad performance becomes a complicated procedure through multiple levels of administrative hearings and courts. The piece describes what is known as the "dance of the lemons" as bad teachers continue to be paid and are merely shifted from school to school or given often futile retraining.

While United Teachers Los Angeles boss A.J. Duffy says it is bad administrators to blame for laxness toward bad teachers, the story reports that:

Today, an L.A. teacher who gets a below-standard classroom evaluation can, and often does, file a grievance through UTLA. In many cases, an initial negative evaluation by a principal is then heavily rewritten, or even withdrawn, by district officials. Nothing happens to teachers who have at least two "below-standard" evaluations upheld after the grievance process is completed.

Even when teachers with many consecutive poor evaluations go through a mandated mentoring program, their principles have no way or knowing how they are improving, and "District officials admit to the Weekly that only about one-third of teachers pass the training....three anonymous LAUSD teachers have taken the retraining five times in the past three years, 18 have taken it four times, and 45 three times. Parents do not know, and cannot find out, the names of these 66 teachers who are repeatedly recycled....The state program costs $1.4 million per year, mostly to pay for 50 personal mentors in LAUSD."

The vast majority of LAUSD teachers, the Weekly reports, get lifetime tenure after just two years in the classroom. United Teachers LA's web site. Past City of Angles blogging on problems with firing bad teachers.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Alossix. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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