Why CTA loves seniority

It helps them maintain the fiction
that all teachers are equally good at
their jobs
"School leaders hand out the pink slips loyal to the
seniority rules -- a result of state law. Even
reformers concede state law restricts the district to
this automated application of the practice.

"That doesn't mean the local teachers union doesn't like
the rules.

"The teachers union is willing to howl about the pain
inflicted by these cuts on single schools like Jackson
Elementary, but not willing to shoulder any of the blame
for the make up of the rules that cause it to happen.
Maura Larkins:

Schools need to start
evaluating teachers
effectively whether or
not any teacher is ever
laid off.  Teachers are
leaving schools all the
time, and it's often the
best teachers who are
pushed out or who
choose to leave.  
(Guillermo Gomez and
I both left Chula Vista
Elementary School
District.)  An unhealthy
teacher culture that
fears change and
protects mediocre and
poor performers
causes many good
teachers to leave,
including some who
are simply too
disgusted to stay.  We
can't fire weak
teachers because we
don't have anyone to
replace them, but
professional observers
should evaluate all
teachers, and poor
performers should be
supported and
supervised by good
teachers.
VOICE OF SAN DIEGO
COMMENTARY
How to Layoff a
Teacher of the
Year


By Scott Lewis
April 10, 2008

When the new grandiose Lincoln
High opened to students this
year, it attracted too many
students. It also attracted a young
teacher from Chula Vista,
Guillermo Gomez.

I met Gomez at the teacher's
lounge during lunch at Lincoln
High recently. Gomez and his
colleagues were planning
marches and various ways to get
their students to express their
displeasure with proposed
school budget cuts around the
state -- cuts that, if fully
implemented as proposed, would
mean 913 school teachers would
be laid off districtwide.

Gomez would be one of them. A
year and a half ago, dressed in
black formal wear and smiling,
the young teacher accepted one
of the four awards given each
year to the "teachers of the year"
in the county. He had been a
teacher for 10 years at Vista
Square Elementary School in
Chula Vista.

Despite his success, the
opportunity to teach at Lincoln
High School's new School of
Social Justice intrigued him, and
Gomez moved not only into a
classroom with older kids but into
a new school district -- San Diego
Unified. He says he took a
$10,000 pay cut for the chance to
teach at Lincoln.

No doubt, Lincoln is an attractive
place. There are tennis courts on
top of the parking garage and
each classroom has a state-of-
the-art multimedia system. The
executive principal, Mel Collins,
strides around the campus
barking instructions at security
personnel and haranguing
loiterers unsure, or unwilling to
say, where they're supposed to
be.

At the old Lincoln, Collins said, a
group of three young men,
chatting and looking out over the
baseball field during class time
would have been overlooked, if
seen at all. Not anymore, he says.
In 15 minutes, I saw the principal
dress down three security guards
-- one for sitting down...

It feels like good things are
happening at Lincoln. Gomez
clearly likes it. Not too long ago,
though, his new employers
repaid this enthusiasm with a
pink slip.

Now, talk to most anyone in the
education world and they'll
assure you that Gomez and 912
of his colleagues who have
gotten the pink slips probably
won't lose their jobs. They'll say
the governor and Legislature will
come to a compromise and the
eventual cuts will probably be
small enough that they can be
"absorbed." You have to love that
term in discussions about
government budgets. It usually
means that the infection of
troubled times is handled not with
a shocking amputation of
services or fat but with something
more like an injection of some
kind of calming but lethal poison
into the system. The symptoms of
the budget's troubles are delayed,
but the system's bones rot.

"Everybody knows there's not
going to be a 10 percent hit to
education," said Camille Zombro,
the president of the local teachers
union, the San Diego Education
Association. She added: "One or
two percent can be absorbed."

...Gomez is one of 18 certified
teachers at Lincoln who got the
letter. It's not because the district
and school don't value him and
the others. They might like them
very much. The problem is that
Gomez is considered a new
teacher in the city of San Diego.
His years in Chula Vista mean
nothing to the blind bureaucracy
of school contracts.

And since Lincoln is a new
school that recruited a lot of new
teachers and transfers from other
districts and charter schools, the
disruption of layoffs -- if they aren't
fictional -- will be exaggerated. If
the district must cut, Lincoln will
lose 18 teachers. This is
compared to seven at Clairemont
High School, eight at Mira Mesa,
10 at Morse High and nine at
Point Loma High School.

The same thing is happening --
though worse -- at Jackson
Elementary School, just south of
San Diego State in east San
Diego, where 24 of the school's
26 teachers received notices that
they will be laid off if the budget
cuts are as severe as they
possibly can be.

Sure, they will be replaced. But
the people who come in will have
gotten bumped down from
schools where they wanted to be.
They may have done all they
could, in fact, to get away from
places like Jackson and Lincoln...

The old Lincoln was troubled. The
new Lincoln is just getting
started. If you rotate out a fifth of
its teachers after the first year,
you're not giving it much of a
chance at the beginning. Why
would anyone choose to hammer
Jackson and Lincoln and leave
other schools in more
prosperous neighborhoods much
less affected?

...In the teachers lounge that day
were some of Gomez'
colleagues, many of whom had
also received notices that their
employment was tenuous.

There was Edward Moller, an art
teacher, who's been a teacher for
nine years -- in the San Diego
Unified School District. But
because his first job was at
O'Farrell Community School, a
charter school, he's denied
seniority under rules devised by
the teachers union and district.
Moller was let go after cuts from
O'Farrell last year. But his
colleague, an English teacher
named Chris Dier, left O'Farrell
just because he wanted to be part
of the new Lincoln High.

Dier's enthusiasm was also
welcomed with a pink slip...

But a guy like Moller has to act on
his pink slip. He can't rest his
financial future on the blind hope
that the teachers union president
is correct when she scoffs that
the governor can't possibly be
serious about cutting the budget.

Moller is currently applying for
other jobs, hoping that the charter
school High Tech High, where he
once had an opportunity, might be
willing to hire when the rest of the
district fires. In times of trouble,
charter schools have latitude to
make budgeting changes that
protect teacher jobs...

♦♦♦

School leaders hand out the pink
slips loyal to the seniority rules
-- a result of state law. Even
reformers concede state law
restricts the district to this
automated application of the
practice.

That doesn't mean the local
teachers union doesn't like the
rules.

The teachers union is willing to
howl about the pain inflicted by
these cuts on single schools like
Jackson Elementary, but not
willing to shoulder any of the
blame for the make up of the
rules that cause it to happen.

Ask union officials about the
disproportionate effect the
layoffs would have on a place
like Lincoln and they will say
something like what Zombro told
me.

"The school board should have
known it was going to have this
effect when they decided to do
this," she said.

To do what? The layoffs were
coming, we were told, from the
governor's recommended cut of
the education budget that would
result in $80 million in cuts for
San Diego Unified.

So what could San Diego Unified
have done to avoid it?

"They could have decided not to
lay off teachers," Zombro said.

It's sort of like arguing that the
Chargers could have avoided
losing last year's AFC
Championship Game by deciding
to score more points than the
Patriots.

Yes, they could have. But how?

Zombro claims the district is top-
heavy, and she rattled off some
stats. Across the state, the
average ratio is one student for
every 394 administrators. In San
Diego, she said, it is one student
for every 282 administrators.

It's a good point -- ironically
reminiscent, actually, of
conservative gripes about the
education system. OK, so say
they cut administrators at San
Diego Unified. There's a bit of a
problem: remember what
happens to them when you cut
their jobs? They don't line up for
unemployment, they bounce
someone else out of a lower
position. And the cascade of
doom slides down to the guy at
Lincoln.

So give me something else.

Well, it's simple, the unions
contend, the state shouldn't cut
education.

The district won't have to lay off
teachers if the state doesn't cut
its budget...


♦♦♦


There are other ironies. Jackson
Elementary, the one facing a
brutal turnover in the event of the
layoffs becoming reality, was just
Wednesday listed as one of the
"California Distinguished
Schools." According to a piece put
together recently by the California
Department of Education, the
school has narrowed the much-
fretted-about achievement gap
and improved its situation
dramatically.

Now, again, 24 of the school's 26
teachers could be replaced this
year.

No manager of a major
organization would institute
layoffs like this. Even government
agencies, like the city of Chula
Vista, give their departments a
chance to hit budget targets.
Collins, the Lincoln principal,
says he could meet a target for
budget cuts if he were asked.
Months ago, he was asked to cut
5 percent of his budget and he
got rid of $500,000 of that just by
rearranging the school schedule.

Without a change in state law, the
teachers could never be
evaluated by merit when
discussing layoffs. The last time
the governor tried to change a law
like that, he almost ruined his
political career. It will be a lot
easier for him to layoff teachers...

A report from the U.S. Census
bureau last week put all the
numbers out on the table.
California ranked right in the
middle when you compare how
much the state spends per
student on education. No. 25 out
of 50.
The average state in the
country spends $9,138 per year
per student. California spends
just below that -- $8,486...

Reader feedback
...
11. Lee wrote on April 10, 2008 2:
29 PM:

"I taught for 35 years and knew
several 'Teachers of the Year',
and, although many were good
teachers, many were also chosen
because of their popularity or their
ability to promote themselves.
The very best teachers I knew
were never the most popular, just
the most effective.

...
14. Ochoa wrote on April 10, 2008
8:13 PM:

"RE: ZOLLNER.... I also teach at
Lincoln, two rooms down from Mr.
Gomez. This is a great piece and
it's an honor to work w/ an
extraordinary educator who helps
his students in and out of the
classroom. In regards to the
10,000 pay-cut and the
comments made by "ZOLLNER",
districts always make exceptions
to their "6 Year" rule and honor all
years of service. The SDUSD did
this for Guillermo and the reason
why he had to take a pay-cut is
due to the fact that the SDUSD
ranks at the very bottom in
salaries for teachers compared to
other school districts. A teacher in
Chula Vista w/ the exact same
number of years makes about
10,000 more than one in the San
Diego Unified School district. The
move was obviously about
contributing to his community, not
his own pocket."
Interviewing to keep
your job
Voice of San Diego
June 12, 2008

"...All vice principals
underwent a new interview to
compete for a shifting pool of
jobs. The interview is modeled
on the teachings of University
of Wisconsin Milwaukee
professor
Martin
Haberman,
who studies
disadvantaged
students and the
educators who help them best.
Principals applying for new jobs were
interviewed as well.

"San Diego Unified signed a $23,000
contract with the Haberman
Educational Foundation to train
staffers in the interview process, which
includes problem-solving scenarios
and is meant to reveal the applicants'
core values. Two people ask
open-ended questions during a
tape-recorded interview and score the
answers.

"It's a different kind of interview. You
can't really bone up. Nobody really
knows how they did," said Bruce
McGirr, president of the Administrators
Association and principal at Grant
School in Mission Hills. "They walk out
shaking their heads."

"The Haberman Educational
Foundation declined to release
interview questions, but Grier offered
examples of scenarios: How might a
principal evaluate their school's
achievement? How would they improve
it? And who would they involve in that
process?

"You're posed with a situation you'd
find pretty typical in any school, but
especially in an urban school district. It
could be a very simple question, but
the answer itself reflects what you
value," said human resources director
Sam Wong. "What guides your actions,
if not your values?"

If their eyes glaze over, Grier said they
aren't likely to succeed.
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Evaluating Teachers
SDEA President
Camille Zombro
Defends Union
Voice of San Diego

August 21, 2008

The San Diego Education
Association is proud of our 90
year history. We are a union of
over 8,000 talented and
dedicated professionals who
chose our dedication to
children as a career. We work
hard to provide great schools
for the children of San Diego,
and we do so despite huge
challenges. Whenever we see
ourselves reduced to personal
attacks, like Mr. Bowers', it
makes us wonder whose
agenda is really at play.

Most of us in leadership, staff
and hundreds members of
SDEA have been working
12-18 hour days since January
trying to save the jobs of 900+
educators. We still have about
200 teacher layoffs, with
school starting in just over one
week -- and we haven't
stopped working. We didn't
choose this to be our priority,
but we were put here by San
Diego Unified leadership.

It's both self-serving and false
to say that the school bond for
San Diego Unified is
something we oppose. As we
clearly stated in a letter to the
Superintendent earlier this
year, we have other priorities
(fighting the layoffs) and would
revisit our involvement once an
initiative was finalized. SDEA
was formally asked just today
to support the bond, and our
internal discussions are just
beginning. Our members will
decide what, if any, position we
take on Proposition S.

As for concepts like "merit pay,"
and "battle pay," abhorrent is
an accurate description. What
proponents of merit pay are
really about is "pay for test
scores." Anyone who has been
forced to subject a child to the
stress of high-stakes tests
know what an inaccurate
measure they really are. Our
children are more than test
scores and our work in San
Diego's classrooms simply
cannot be measured by any
fill-in-the-bubble test.

Differential pay for working in
high-need schools or "battle
pay" is an insult to our children
and our profession. Paying a
teacher more to work in a
particular school is essentially
saying that we'd rather pay
teachers more to work in an
unsafe, under-equipped and
understaffed school than
spend that money on reducing
class sizes and providing a
quality environment for children
to learn and educators to teach.

There is a long line of
misinformed people who bash
our teachers unions based on
presumptions and a total
disconnect from what we
actually do each day.
Unfortunately, there is a short
line of leaders in San Diego
Unified who are willing to roll
up their sleeves and work with
us to improve conditions for
our schools. We make no
apologies for organizing to
better the working conditions of
San Diego's educators: Our
working conditions are the
children's learning
environment.

--CAMILLE ZOMBRO




Editor´s Choice
The reader comments you
won't want to miss. (Editor's
Choice selection do not
represent the views of the
editors. They are comments
that seem to add to the
discussion as opposed to less
productive insults or
arguments.)

Our children are more than test
scores. Yet, their cost-free
suggestions to improve
achievement fall on deaf ears. I
read the school newspapers.
Adults should listen to them.
Some ideas include: 1.
Eliminate the Senior Exhibition
- a time-consuming and
outdated project. Based on this
ONE project, a senior can be
denied a diploma and
participation in graduation
ceremony. It is not
implemented uniformly or
fairly. The Sweetwater School
District has a 12% drop-out
rate. It eliminated the senior
portfolio/exhibition years ago.
2. Seniors should be informed
of the shortened schedule
available to seniors when they
enter high school(provided
they have enough graduation
credits). Thousands of 12th
graders sit in classes they
don't want or need. Those
teachers could be freed up to
teach 9th, 10th and 11th grade
classes decreasing class
sizes. I pass their ideas to you
from students who have no
clout in the system.

Posted by Sally Smith | reply to
this comment
August 21, 2008 8:41 pm

Hello, Ms Zombro! While we
obviously disagree on a
number of issues, we do have
common ground. For example,
there are a number of parents
lined up to improve the working
conditions for BOTH teachers
and children. I just returned
from our school (9:00pm) ,
where a team of parents and
teachers have completed the
second of several work parties
doing just that- with our own
hands, on our own time, at the
end of our workday. I also
agree with you that using test
scores is a clearly unfair way to
base a teacher's salary.
Teachers face too many
challenges to a student's
success that are beyond their
sphere of influence- poor
home conditions, unsafe
neighborhoods and general
lack of support from outside
the school. Pay for test
scores? Absolutely not, we are
in total agreement.

Posted by Paul M Bowers |
reply to this comment
August 21, 2008 8:46 pm

Ms. Zombro has captured the
most important issue of all
when she ended her comment
by saying, "Our working
conditions are the children's
learning environment." Nothing
establishes the need for
parents, community and union
to work together more
powerfully than that fact. And I
continue to believe that we
must establish meaningful
measures of teacher
performance that are not
limited to test scores. Let's get
with it!

Posted by Richard Lawrence |
reply to this comment
August 22, 2008 7:24 am
11 Comments so far on this
story...

I'm not an educator, so I don't
know if the Senior Exhibition
should be heavily weighed
relative to graduation. I'll
happily leave that decision to
those qualified to make it. I had
the privilege of spending the
better part of a day this year
volunteering on a panel at one
high school's exhibition day. If
you ever have the opportunity to
participate on one of these, I
cannot recommend it highly
enough. The benefits to both
students and our community
were obvious and exciting. And
the students that presented
before our panel earned our
respect and admiration.

Posted by Paul M Bowers |
reply to this comment
August 22, 2008 7:57 am

Ms. Smith, the only way
schools could follow your #2 is
to free school funding from
Average Daily Attendance, or to
revert to the way ADA used to
be calculated. If a 12th grader
could attend for only 4 hours
and have it count as a full day
for ADA purposes, such might
work. Of course, master
schedule issues may still
interfere with implementation
of your idea - ask any high
school principal.

Posted by Mr. Middleton | reply
to this comment
August 22, 2008 5:22 pm

Ms. Zombro creates a straw
man and then knocks him
down in this sentence:
"Differential pay for working in
high-need schools or "battle
pay" is an insult to our children
and our profession. Paying a
teacher more to work in a
particular school is essentially
saying that we'd rather pay
teachers more to work in an
unsafe, under-equipped and
understaffed school..." Not all
understaffed schools are
unsafe or under-equipped.
Many of them are simply in
areas where poor minorities
live, and too many teachers are
reluctant to work in them.
These reluctant teachers
prefer to teach middle class
English-speaking students.
Differential pay is the best
method so far offered to get
experienced teachers to poor
minority schools. Maybe it
should be called "All kids are
equal" pay or "Something's got
to be done or we're all going to
pay" pay.

Posted by Maura Larkins | reply
to this comment
August 21, 2008 8:58 pm

Mr. Lawrence got it exactly right
when he said: "...[W]e must
establish meaningful
measures of teacher
performance that are not
limited to test scores." I have
never seen a good teacher
evaluation system in any
school I have taught at. I think
such a system would have to
involve observations by
teachers from other school
districts. This time would be
well spent, since observing
others is a great way for
teachers to get new ideas, and
to evaluate themselves. I
would also like to see
standardized testing of
teachers, not to find out if
grade school teachers can do
calculus, but to find out if they
truly understand grade school
math and have good basic
skills, including thinking skills.

Posted by Maura Larkins | reply
to this comment
August 22, 2008 9:47 pm

" I would also like to see
standardized testing of
teachers, not to find out if
grade school teachers can do
calculus, but to find out if they
truly understand grade school
math and have good basic
skills, including thinking
skills... I have never seen a
good teacher evaluation
system in any school I have
taught at." Are you also calling
for standardized tests of basic
grammar rules?

Posted by Deep Thinker | reply
to this comment
March 11, 2009 9:15 pm
Why is school reform happening so
slowly?  Because those is control
aren't thinkers and explorers; they
have a clerk mentality

Every day, everyone and everything should be in the same
place it was in the day before.  That's the philosophy of most
teachers and administrators.

The problem with most educators is that they are not in a
learning mode.  They like to have their system controlled,
wrapped -up, routine, smooth, always the same.  They don't
like uncertainty, experimentation, open discussion,
exploration.  They like hierarchy and top-down
decision-making, and uniformity.  This is true of most union
leaders as well as most administrators.  They don't believe in
democracy.  They think students and parents should be
required to jump through their idiosyncratic hoops before the
kids are considered worthy of educating.
See more articles on San Diego Education Report's Evaluating Teachers.