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GUEST OPINION: Unions support effective teachers


On Sunday, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. posed the question of whether teachers and their associations support accountability (“Shouldn’t teachers unions want teachers to be effective?”).

Andrew Brennan.

The public is rightly concerned about the quality of educators. Teachers associations have come under increasing criticism, often accused of being devoted solely to the protection of adults at the expense of students. It is import to understand why this is untrue. We are devoted to supporting teachers in their efforts to educate students and have no fear of supporting valid accountability.

Teachers associations developed to ensure that educators would be viewed as professionals and receive protection against retaliation by those who would place politics over sound educational practices. Before there were unions, it was not uncommon for teachers to be fired for getting married, becoming pregnant, having an adult beverage with friends, teaching about evolution, or being a member of the wrong political party. It is against these forces that teachers unions have worked to provide protections through collective bargaining. This process allows for the creation of a contract establishing fair working conditions, fair compensation and a process for dealing with unfair treatment.

It is often argued that unions protect ineffective teachers and that we refuse to acknowledge this. Let us set the record straight: Yes, there are ineffective teachers, and yes, they do have an impact on student achievement. The question is what to do about it.

Although teachers range in quality and effectiveness, truly substandard teachers represent only a very small fraction of all teachers. The way to deal with them is in both the education code and in our collective bargaining agreements.

The key is to conduct rigorous evaluations and for administrators to accurately document their findings. A teacher who is deemed to be substandard can be let go, regardless of permanent status. The problem has routinely been that administrators have too often failed to follow through on this process. Let us again be clear. Ineffective teachers detract from our profession. We believe they should be dealt with just as the public does, but to prevent arbitrary firings, we must have a fair and consistent process for doing so.

The problem we see with the current focus of accountability is the overreliance on standardized test scores. We have no problem being accountable for our actions; our concern is that it be done fairly. Measuring learning is an imprecise science, as anyone who has studied learning in depth knows. The recent political arguments have focused solely on these scores as the gold standard for measure learning. While they are a useful tool, they are subject to all sorts of variables which can invalidate the results. However, in combination with a strong emphasis on thorough evaluations, comparisons to similar groups at similar times, and clear links to what was taught, they can be useful part of determining effectiveness.

We are not against reform, but we are against ill-conceived reform. We will fight against attempts to enforce politically expedient reforms that are not backed by solid data. We recommend that you read national leading education reformer Diane Ravitch’s book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” to further understand why we oppose some of the current reforms. Reform is only good if it improves education, not if it hinders it.

We know that effective teachers are the key to educating our students. Teachers don’t do this because they can’t do other things; they become teachers because they care. They believe in being held accountable for the things in their power to achieve and so do we. Teachers and their associations are not the problem; they are part of the solution.

Andrew Brennan is president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.

41 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Unions support effective teachers”

  1. Beef King says:

    For the record:
    Unions are not bad. Manipulative politicians and thuggish union leaders are bad. Bad union leaders use good, hard working people to achieve their oppressive, self serving goals.
    Progressivism is not bad. Neither is communism nor socialism. On their face they are perfect ideologies.
    When human nature is mixed in, they become dangerous ideas.
    Even teachers unions can be led by bad people.
    We see the results every day in the crime reports.

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  2. chuck becker says:

    Andy Brennan,

    Thank you for the kind words, I lack the education to qualify to teach elementary school. And I’m too old to make the investment worthwhile. Nonetheless, I take away a positive impression.

    Laura Gonzalez,

    You raise the fascinating issue of the lack of social collapse in the face of falling educational achievement. I’m not sure that continuing this experiment is the smartest thing we can do. “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”, or whatever it is that those investment commercials say at the end.


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  3. @Beef King says:

    There is no evidence that charter schools do any better than public (study after study shows this-try Google) As far as private schools they can pick and choose high achievers (unlike public schools which are mandated to educate ALL students including autistic, learning disabled and limited english speaking) which makes their scores appear higher. The biggest correlation to performing well in school is parents income. Beef King everyone on this board knows how much you hate unions and working people, so perhaps you should try to marshall an actual argument instead of just atttacking and labeling teachers. It seems as if you find a way to work your hatred of unions into every post and frankly apart from the fact that it adds nothing to your (already unpersuasive)arguments…it’s boring. We get it. You hate unions. They are bad. They are responsible for all badness. Fox News says so.

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  4. Laura Gonzalez says:


    “I agree with Laura, public education has never served the student properly and our tax dollars have gone to adults with political goals rather than to books for kids.”

    I never said that. Go back and re-read all posts.

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  5. Laura Gonzalez says:


    The real facts are that charters and vouchers, as a whole, do not do better than public schools.

    I would suggest starting with Diane Ravitch’s latest book.

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  6. Beef King says:

    The real story is that unionized education is a proven failure.
    Charter schools and vouchers are clearly producing students with higher achievement levels by any standard of measurement.
    We cannot afford the losses associated with failing to educate our young people.
    I agree with Laura, public education has never served the student properly and our tax dollars have gone to adults with political goals rather than to books for kids.
    Unionized teachers would be smart to clean their house before the taxpayer does.

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  7. Laura Gonzalez says:


    Sorry you don’t like my scoffing tone, but the truth of the matter is, when it comes to the American public educational system, the sky has been falling for years.

    I mentioned Sputnik becauseit was mentioned in “A Nation at Risk:”
    “We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge.” Emphasis was indeed place on education.

    From Bill Bryson’s “Made in America:”

    What is almost always overlooked in these debates is that people have been complaining about declining educational standards for about as long as there have been schools to complain about. “Bad spelling, incorrectness as well as inelegance of expression in writing, ignorance of the simplest rules of punctuation, and almost entire want of familiarity with English literature, are far from rare among young men of eighteen otherwise well prepared for college,” lamented the president of Harvard in 1871. A colleague of his despaired of “the tedious mediocrity” of compositions among students and the want of “fresh thought.” Princeton University was so alarmed at the quality of its undergraduates that in the 1870s it established a remedial writing clinic.

    Is Our Schools Failing? http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2007/12/is_our_schools_failing.php

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  8. Laura Gonzalez says:


    It sounds like our friend Victoria is hanging around here.

    Welcome Victoria!

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  9. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @ No ideologues on our school board

    1 : an impractical idealist : theorist
    2 : an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology

    “If you have serious concerns about a person who espouses the viewpoints she has here making decisions that affect the education of our children…”

    I’m curious exactly as to what viewpoints I espouse that are contrary to my serving on the SRCSBoE? In your humble opinion.

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  10. Andy Brennan says:


    I appreciate your passion and your perspective. It is important for students to have role models with differring views and the ability to articulate them. Have you thought about becoming a teacher?

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  11. Lisa Maldonado says:

    Laura Gonzalez has my vote for school board. Anyone who teaches junior high school kids all day, volunteers to work on the school board at night and still cares enough about education and learning to post on these boards about how to improve public schools is dedicated and caring and a fighter for kids! Thanks Laura!

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  12. chuck becker says:

    Andy Brennan,

    You present your position in reasoned and measured terms, but your carefully crafted words do not conceal your agenda. And that agenda is to empower public school teachers to decide what the “ideals” of America are and how the supporting evidence should be presented to students. Ideals embody values, and it is NOT the business of the public education system to teach values.

    Just teach the dang subject material and leave your personal political opinions in the teacher’s lounge, among adults who aren’t under your control and can defend their own positions.

    Expecting parents to come to you to object if they feel you are being too politically biased is a red herring. That approach grants the initiative to the teacher and allows the teacher to land the first intellectual blow, then required parents to “opt out” of a political movement they may not agree with and, in any case, are forced to pay for.

    What you wrote seems reasonable to you and those who agree with you. It’s not, it’s a well crafted Trojan horse for getting political indoctrination into the classroom. If teachers stuck to the material and left politics out of it, then school boards, public schools, and teacher’s unions wouldn’t be under such fire … these problems are self inflicted.


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  13. chuck becker says:

    Laura Gonzalez,

    You wrote: “But, that being said, the outcry against public education seems to have begun with Sputnik. From what I’ve read, Americans were scared the damn Reds were going to beat us in science. So the nation turned its eyes to the public school system and found something to blame.”

    Nope. Quick history lesson: In the years right after WWII, the Soviet Union had grabbed, imprisoned, and enslaved a dozen or so Eastern European countries. The United States, pretty much singlehandedly, faced the Soviet Union down (Google “Berlin Airlift”).

    The ultimate weapon of the day (1950′s) was the long range missile (ICBM). The nation that could shoot the biggest missile payload the farthest held an axe over the head of their adversary. Putting a payload (Sputnik) in orbit demonstrated the greatest missile achievement of all, unlimited range. Every time Sputnik passed beeping over America, we all knew it could as easily be a nuclear weapon. That is exactly what the USSR intended.

    Both sides knew what this meant, and both sides were terrified of falling behind the other. In the US, we elected a President of courage and vision who challenged us to go to the Moon and return (thereby trumping the mere Earth orbit of Sputnik) within a decade. Finally, after doing untold damage to their own and other people, the Communist Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact finally collapsed of their own internal socio-political flaws.

    Of course the education system was challenged, but in those days it was about education and achievement. Hardly anyone thought of using the public school system for political purposes. The nation was tremendously prosperous because we made more than we consumed and sold the surplus to others. We needed to do everything at once, and we made ourselves capable because everyone knew what was at stake.

    The outcry against public education is far too complex and uncomfortable to be captured in sound bites. I don’t mind your reference to Sputnik and American achievement, but your scoffing tone further erodes what little faith I still have in our decayed public education system. The public education system in the United States of America cannot possibly be fixed with more money, I’m not sure it can be fixed at all.


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  14. Common Sense says:

    Here is solid data! HS students are not prepared for college level work when they graduate.
    Many have to take remedial English and Math classes.
    Unions are for unions and scalping the public by saying the tests are unfair.
    Our JC is teaching at a high school level and many foreign college students are going to Europe when they used to come here!
    The Unions response: We want a raise and more bennies!

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  15. Andy Brennan says:

    Notutoo and Jhak,

    Politics in the classroom is a touchy subject and needs to be approached with balance by an effective teacher. Our job is to educate, not indoctrinate and there is a fine line. The amount of political discourse really should depend on its relevance to the subject matter being taught. As a government teacher, it is something that is central to the standards based curriculum, so I cover it in depth. I have a large U.S. flag in my classroom, because it is a symbol of who we are and what we stand for as a nation, specifically freedom of speech and the right of political participation. This is not a conservative or liberal view it is our national ideal.

    I see it as my duty to teach about our ideals and my students’ responsibility to uphold them. This also necessitates that I teach about the times that we didn’t live up to our own ideals, so that we can learn from those mistakes. Spouting one ideology over another does not prepare students to be effective citizens, teaching them to evaluate information and form opinions based upon evidence and sound reasoning does.

    If parents think a teacher is being unfairly biased, I urge them to contact the teacher and talk to them about it. That is the nature of political discourse. If indeed they are crossing the line, then they can be held accountable for it. However, it is also the teacher’s duty to present all reasonable sides of an argument. Just because some people don’t like a political view doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. It would be fair to look at revolutionaries from throughout history and compare their similarities and differences and let students develop their own conclusions.

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  16. No ideologues on our school board says:

    Some of you may not be aware that Laura Gonzalez is a member of the Santa Rosa School Board.
    If you have serious concerns about a person who espouses the viewpoints she has here making decisions that affect the education of our children, she will be up for re-election in 2012.
    The more informed voters are, the better.

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  17. Lyn says:

    @Laura, I should have seen that. Thanks.

    I differ with you slightly, though. Sputnik caused Americans to notice that our students we’re no longer necessarily the best educated in the world (if they ever were).

    Like the “missile gap” of the early 60s, the problem was exaggerated. But, with the demographic and social changes that hit America post 1960s, a lot of responsibility got dumped on teachers.

    In addition to hitting science and math hard, teachers were now handed the task of teaching sex, race relations, English to non-native students, etc.

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  18. Laura Gonzalez says:


    Why not out your kid’s school so we can see if you are indeed telling the truth?

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  19. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @Lyn I posted again stating this was sarcasm/irony on my part in response to another poster.

    But, that being said, the outcry against public education seems to have begun with Sputnik. From what I’ve read, Americans were scared the damn Reds were going to beat us in science. So the nation turned its eyes to the public school system and found something to blame.

    And not much has changed.

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  20. Laura Gonzalez says:

    LOL! Great. I get my quote on the QOTD, but what does the PD choose? My stab at sarcasm/irony in answer to another post. Great.

    Is Ted back? Can we change this?


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  21. Andy Brennan says:

    Providing a quality public education is something we absolutely have to do for our country’s sake. In order to do that we must hold all stakeholders accountable, teachers, parents, students and taxpayers. We need to create excellent standards like the National Standards for Math and English that were just adopted and fairly evaluate teachers on their implementation. Parents need to make sure their kids go to school and then help them with their homework. Students need to stay focused, do their work and seek help when needed. Taxpayers need to fund education. When we spend less per student on education than forty eight other states, we are a disgrace. We have a lot of work to do. I will do my part.

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  22. NOTUTOO says:

    I couldn’t agree more with “Jhak Schiddt.” Many of the teachers at my childrens high school used the classroom as a bully pulpit of sorts. And usually with a far left wing slant, aimed at scaring the kids by slamming G.Bush and depicting the United States as a aggressor nation. What was real telling is when I went to the open house I noted that a number of the classrooms/offices had pictures of “Che” Guevara and Cuban or Communist China flags. Think I’m being outrageous? Take a walk through your teenager’s public classroom and see for yourself.

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  23. Lyn says:


    >>US education has been on the skids since the Russians launched Sputnik.<<

    Are your suggesting a cause and effect connection between the two or merely dating the start of the decline?

    If so, why so?

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  24. Jhak Schiddt says:

    I agree with Laura Gonzalez that our education system began to decay in the early 60′s, a turbulent period during which the Democrat party went through a makeover to stave off creeping irrelevancy.
    Dems did a complete 180 by casting aside dreams of apartheid in favor of backing the rising tide of civil rights, and saw that great power would be theirs if they could transform our education system into a behemoth of voting power and dues collection.
    The result 50 years later is a broken mess of public vs private educators, and students who can’t even read or understand the baloney that is fed them by their unionized teachers.
    Teacher unions can only be reformed from the inside out.
    Maybe Mr. Brennan is the one to lead.

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  25. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @Oh boy

    Kids do say the Pledge. Law requires some kind of patriotic activity, and many if not most schools fulfill the requirement by saying the pledge.

    Education is not a business. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/25/AR2010022505543.html

    Private schools serve a function in society, and in fact, my youngest daughter went to St. Rose for 7th & 8th grades. I found the education she received to be no better nor any worse than what she got in public school(ok, maybe she learned to diagram a sentence in no time flat). What she did get was a small school, where she was not lost in the crowd. And that was what she desperately needed at that time. What St. Rose didn’t have, of course, were any ESL or special ed classes, or kids from gangs, etc.

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  26. Oh Boy! says:


    Amen sister! What also shocks me kids today in public school no longer say “pledges of allegiance”.

    Do you think our kids know who our allegiance is to? Or is that just irrelevant like going to bed early to these parents.

    I actually get goose bumps when I see my children doing the pledge of allegiance at their school (private).

    Point noted I went to public school.

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  27. Oh Boy! says:

    @Laura Gonzalez this is probably the closet I am ever going to agree with you

    “American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education”

    But financially it needs to be ran like a business and not the teaching.

    And this being one of the reason why I have chosen private school for my children. More teacher for you buck and less bureaucracy.

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  28. Oh Boy! says:

    “Before there were unions, it was not uncommon for teachers to be fired for getting married, becoming pregnant, having an adult beverage with friends, teaching about evolution, or being a member of the wrong political party. “
    Great news, today’s laws protect all us from this kind of discrimination, no need for unions.

    “It is often argued that unions protect ineffective teachers and that we refuse to acknowledge this”
    LOL (X) a million! Enough said, no acknowledgement no problem.

    The problem with teachers teaching today is that they’re not allowed to teach. My Uncle taught for 36 years and before he retired what he most didn’t like was spending close to 40 percent of his time in faculty meeting and not with his students.

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  29. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @Really Big Fish

    US education has been on the skids since the Russians launched Sputnik.

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  30. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @Jack Could you please provide a link for your quote, since I could not find anything. Thanks.

    Also, it has been my experience that parents have plenty of say in the daily goings-on of their childrens’ education.

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  31. Jack Nelson says:

    Have you ever tried to effect change in school policy? You might as well attempt to “uncarve” stone.

    They want no interference from well meaning parents. Some have even taken districts to court over issues. The CA Supreme Court stated it clearly, “Parents have no right to question or interfere with what their children are taught or how it is taught in Public School”.

    You wonder why homeschooling is growing so fast? There’s a big part of it in that one statement.

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  32. John says:

    Administrators who fail to evaluate teachers are a significant part of the problem. In a previous accreditation report SRJC was slammed for failing to do evaluations of their instructors.

    Another large part of the problem is the folks in Sacramento, the same folks who can’t deliver a balanced budget on time, telling teachers what and how they must teach.

    And then there are all the school districts, each with their own expensive administrations, in Sonoma County…

    There’s lot of blame to go around, but the bottom line is the parents. They need to demand better of everyone – beginning with themselves.

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  33. Kathy says:

    What about a little less blame for teachers and a little more responsibility for parents? I see people everyday who have the TV on all day and night, and no books in the house, but complain that their kids don’t read well or do well in school.I see parents feeeding their kids junk and letting them stay up all hours and then surprised when they do poorly in school and can’t concentrate. I see parents who never discipline or instruct their kids and then are suprised that their kids make poor choices and get into trouble. I feel sorry for teachers who have to deal with some of these kids all day, let alone be judged by their test scores. Stop blaming teachers and look in the mirror America.

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  34. Really Big Fish says:

    There is no more rewarding experince to have a great teacher in school or out. Unfotunately, Mr. Brennan may be a good teacher but let’s be “clear” the US and particularly the California public school is dying a slow and painful death. Teachers unions,liberalism and ignornat parents are the cause. Starting with Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education in the late 1970′s public education has been on downhill parade. Then there’s the easy money with the ACLU. Additionaly many kids today have no respect for education and the opportunity it offers them. Thanks for your efforts Teach but with letters like yours which is typical from of school districts our children will miss the chance for a college education. Many High schools will simply be vocational schools and only the intelligent few will raise to the top. In one school district the labor unions are allowed on campus at invitation from teachers union. Try to promote a ROTC program ( one of best opportunities available)on high school and see the reaction.

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  35. Zuma says:

    Here is solid data! HS students are not prepared for college level work when they graduate.

    Many have to take remedial English and Math classes.

    Unions are for unions and scalping the public by saying the tests are unfair.

    Our JC is teaching at a high school level and many foreign college students are going to Europe when they used to come here!

    The Unions response: We want a raise and more b ennies!

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  36. Laura Gonzalez says:


    If you’re serious, check this out: http://www.nea.org/home/39774.htm

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  37. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @Grey Whitmore

    “Andrew Brennan is off his rocker.” Tasteless and perhaps indicative?

    LA Unified is not Santa Rosa City Schools or any other district in this county. While releasing a tenured teacher is indeed a time consuming process, it can and does work and should be utilized when necessary.

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  38. Laura Gonzalez says:

    @John Galt

    Whatever you might have had to say that might have been of value was washed away with your last sentence: “Save America and eliminate public education.”

    I highly suggest you (or anyone else reading this who thinks Mr. Galt might be right) read Diane Ravitch’s book as Andy recommended.

    “The market is not the best way to deliver public services. Just as every neighborhood should have a reliable fire station, every neighborhood should have a good public school. Privatizing our public schools makes as much sense as privatizing the fire department or the police department.

    American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?”

    “Our nation’s commitment to provide universal, free public education has been a crucial element in the successful assimilation of millions of immigrants and in the ability of generations of Americans to improve their lives. As we seek to reform our schools, we must take care to do no harm. In fact, we must take care to make our public schools once again the pride of our nation. To the extent that we strengthen them, we strengthen our democracy.”

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  39. Grey Whitmore says:

    Andrew Brennan is off his rocker.

    Take for example the following report on Matthew Kim and other teachers at L.A. Unified:

    About 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million a year, even as layoffs are considered because of a budget gap.

    For seven years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has paid Matthew Kim a teaching salary of up to $68,000 per year, plus benefits.

    Teacher Mathew Kim (wheelchair-bound with severe cerebral palsy) has been paid for 7 years while on administrative leave.
    His job is to do nothing.

    Every school day, Kim’s shift begins at 7:50 a.m., with 30 minutes for lunch, and ends when the bell at his old campus rings at 3:20 p.m. He is to take off all breaks, school vacations and holidays, per a district agreement with the teacher’s union. At no time is he to be given any work by the district or show up at school.

    He has never missed a paycheck.

    In the jargon of the school district, Kim is being “housed” while his fitness to teach is under review. A special education teacher, he was removed from Grant High School in Van Nuys and assigned to a district office in 2002 after the school board voted to fire him for allegedly harassing teenage students and colleagues. In the meantime, the district has spent more than $2 million on him in salary and legal costs.

    Last week, Kim was ordered to continue this daily routine at home. District officials said the offices for “housed” employees were becoming too crowded.

    About 160 teachers and other staff sit idly in buildings scattered around the sprawling district, waiting for allegations of misconduct to be resolved.

    The housed are accused, among other things, of sexual contact with students, harassment, theft or drug possession. Nearly all are being paid. All told, they collect about $10 million in salaries per year — even as the district is contemplating widespread layoffs of teachers because of a financial shortfall.

    Another teacher Thom Seldon, getting paid to relax.
    Most cases take months to adjudicate, but some take years.

    Kim, 41, has persisted the longest.

    He argued unsuccessfully in a lawsuit that he was the victim of disability discrimination. Born with severe cerebral palsy, he has limited use of his limbs, must use a wheelchair and requires a full-time personal aide (who is paid about $14 an hour by the district). He declined repeatedly to be interviewed, as did his attorney, Lawrence Trygstad.

    Kim’s long-term stay in paid professional limbo highlights how long it can take to move through the thicket of legal protections afforded educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest.

    “It’s a glaring example of how hard it is to remove someone from the classroom and how the process is tilted toward teachers,” said school board member Marlene Canter, who recently proposed — unsuccessfully — to revamp the disciplinary process. (Read more.)


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  40. chuck becker says:


    If you’re serious, here you go: http://captbecker.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/a-better-personnel-evaluation-system/

    As I mention in the “pushback” section, little doubt that you and other educators will, at first, resist. But if you ask some math teachers into the room, have them evaluate this proposal, and listen to their analysis, I believe the problem will be solved. Lucky thing for all of us that there ARE math teachers, eh?!


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  41. John Galt says:

    Thank you Mr. Brennan. You have clearly illustrated the problem.
    You are the problem.
    I read each word carefully, and I have an idea that may help you from the state of confusion in which you dwell, along with your kool-aid drinking comrades.
    Here in the real world, when a person displays incompetence at work, we dismiss them and replace them with someone who is competent.
    Not only is this efficient, it is best for all parties, including the person who was fired.
    Getting fired due to incompetence is impetus to improve ones’ self so that the next job they apply for they will be up to the task, and reap the rewards that come with self improvement.
    Simple? Yes.
    Effective? Yes.
    This will help you I am certain. Because after I’ve read this sideways logic I am certain you need the help.
    And please, at what point do the kids become important to you and your union pals?
    American has dumbed down in proportion to NEA membership growth.
    Save America and eliminate public education and unionized teachers.

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