SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

SCTA is the problem

Editor’s Note: In the continued interest of fairness and facilitating communication, we print this letter in support of Teach For America, brought to you by a concerned SCUSD parent.

(sent to SCUSD Board Trustees March 18, 2010)

I am a parent of two children in SCUSD and urge you to support Teach for America. SCUSD must support the development of new teachers, regardless of their place of origin. The current system of education is stagnant and our children must have the benefit of new ideas and new people, especially people from outside the region, who can bring different perspectives that will enrich their education.

There are people who believe Teach for America will displace local graduates and/or displace current teachers. This is a misguided belief. Teach for America is not the problem. The current system maintained by the Sacramento City Teachers Association is the problem. SCTA has been unwilling to make any concessions that would protect newer teachers from annual layoffs nor are they willing to protect our children from larger class sizes (which affect younger students now, but also have an impact on learning through high school) and ridiculous hiring practices that can mean newer teachers are displaced several weeks or months into a new school year by teachers with more seniority. This happened to my kindergartner at Theodore Judah in the 2007-08 school year. If we really care about learning, why would it ever be acceptable to change a child’s kindergarten teacher 6 weeks into her very first school year? This flies in the face of common sense and shows flagrant disregard for research about how young children learn–but it doesn’t matter because the SCTA is more concerned with protecting teachers with seniority than creating a learning environment where all children can be successful.

Sacramento children MUST be the district’s top priority, not protecting health insurance co-pays for teachers. These co-pays and other benefits are completely out of line with the private sector and also completely out of line with our current economic climate, where most workers have accepted pay cuts, reductions in hours and more to preserve their jobs and the services they provide. Middle and upper-middle class teachers can afford to pay more and they should. Do we value protecting the status quo for teachers more than we value the education of the many low income, under-performing students in Sacramento who will suffer more in larger classes?

Teachers should be compensated fairly, but they should also be held to high performance standards. Years of service do not always equate to a quality education. Teachers should be evaluated on performance and they should be hired and fired accordingly. We should make it easier for administrators to identify and reward excellent teachers and remove teachers who are not performing. New teachers should not automatically be pink-slipped each year in favor of veterans. In the private sector, performance matters, but my experience as a parent with two children in the SCUSD has proven that longevity is what matters here in Sacramento.

My children attend one of the best schools in the district, Phoebe Hearst, and I have been mostly disappointed, and at times appalled, by the quality of their individual teachers. My children are bright and my husband and I are involved parents and still we have seen our children hurt by ridiculous personnel practices that have derailed their education and hurt by teachers who seem to be detached from how children learn.

I urge you to consider any innovative options that will bring new ideas and new education strategies to our struggling district, including Teach for America, high quality charter schools and other options that enable parents to exercise educational choice. Our precious tax dollars fund this system and we have a right to a voice even though we don’t have Union representation.


Written by scusdobserver

March 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm

11 Responses

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  1. I also want to add, that I understand where the parent who wrote this letter is coming from…I decided to chuck my old life (a fairly comfortable one financially) and become a classroom teacher partly as a result of my experience as an engaged parent of a student here in Sac City (my son graduated in 2001 from Sac High). I was often frustrated by the decision making in this district…and I could tell stories from my parent experience that would shock most people, even the hardy readers of SCUSD Observer.Once in the classroom however I gained a wider perspective…I came on just as both NCLB (nationally) E21 (here in Sac City) were conceived and implemented. Both used the rhetoric of innovative change and new strategies, all couched in the language of civil rights.Unfortunately, from this teacher's classroom view, what we actually got was a strangling focus on narrow test score results thanks to NCLB, while E21 here at home seemed to be about chasing foundation bucks so that vision, innovation and strategies took the form of throwing stuff at the walls (the stuff being whatever Gates or Carnegie said it was) to see if anything stuck. At the high school level this resulted in bond money building small schools (most still underenrolled), SLCs for all (some places they work, some places they don't and never will and the reasons why are really very clear for those who care to see), charters, and the tragedy of an even higher transiency rate for high risk students as test-score obsession more and more causes schools to counsel-out (or even just kick out) struggling kids and push them onto others.Most of the dedicated great teachers I work with desperately want to talk about innovation and ideas, but they've also seen–probably more than any other group–what ill-thought-out change and innovation does to our kids and our schools (especially the kids from educationally- and socio-economically-disadvantaged backgrounds). Now, we can add to the mix an national and global economic collapse…with California and Sacramento ground zero. Massive layoffs and weakening worker protections and rights may seem necessary and unavoidable to those at the local level paying the piper for years of destructive and asinine decisions from the lords of finance and their enablers in DC and the state capital here. Unfortunately, they absolutely will not get us out of this deflationary cycle and they will not do a darn thing to improve the lot for the larger middle class, which continues to wither away in this era of trillion dollar bank bailouts. In fact, they will only feed it. Solutions like TFA may seem innovative–but they are also now being used, whether intended or not, in the service of the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess: ever lower corporate taxes; privatization of the public sector (and to be sure our public schools are among the last piece of the old public trust still largely in public control); and a bottom line mentality of reducing labor costs AT ALL COST–which means lowering salary and benefit obligations by embracing a short-timer work force. Our teachers' union, with all its faults, is an ever-more-lonely bulwark against all of this. Stepping off my soapbox now (and with deep affection for the engaged, sometimes rowdy, but never passive crowd of parents, teachers, community activists and just plain folks who still care enough about public education to argue and debate and blog and twitter and facebook and show up in large numbers at school board meetings…)

    L. Jablonski

    March 20, 2010 at 5:13 pm

  2. Hi Sac City Observer, A bit more info regarding lay-offs. Lay-offs can be issued by skipping certain groups of "specially-trained" in Sac City, for instance, that meant this time pink-slips did not go to those trained in Montessori or Waldorf methods; and math and science were saved (at least those currently teaching in a math or science assignment, for the most part…those with math supplemental credentials or math as second or third credentials were still pink slipped). There was talk of skipping all those with Advanced Placement training although ultimately that did not happen. If TFA comes on board here, they will be deemed specially trained and will be skipped (obviously, the board always could say otherwise, but if they vote to bring them on with millions of privately-raised money on the line and with so much riding on proving their decision sound why would they do this?). Finally, I thought the answer about pink slipping in LA by the TFA presenters was as slippery as the rest of the presentation. From what I recall, the gentleman said that TFA teachers have received pink slips…he didn't say that TFA teachers currently teaching as part of their TFA commitment and as part of the contracted TFA program have received pink slips. TFA teachers could very well have meant those TFA teachers who stayed on beyond the two years, beyond the terms of the program…in other words, year three, four, five…TFA teachers (those who went through TFA for their training and their first two years but are now simply school district employees with the same rights as everyone else). It simply makes no financial sense to the districts bringing on TFA or to the TFA program to expose intern teachers that have two-year commitments to lay-offs It is not part of the business model for either TFA or the school districts now turning to TFA as a money-saving "replacement worker" teacher option (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Miami-Dade, etc. etc)

    L. Jablonski

    March 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm

  3. Lori, just to set the record straight, it is not correct that TFA is immune from layoffs. In LA last year many TFA teachers received pink slips.

  4. Just wondering — what can a TFA greenhorn possible do that a veteran, experienced, community-immersed, multi-degreed, fully-credentialled teacher cannot?


    March 20, 2010 at 3:13 am

  5. I echo SarahB, Xiong and Anonymous above regarding SCTA's position about concessions and negotiating around a contract and that went into achieving that. Actual contract negotiations will begin next year. Even so, SCTA currently at least four specific items before the district that if accepted would fill the $4 million dollar or so deficit that remains for the coming budget year. Alice Mercer makes very important points about the TFA proposal and the bumping issues and where they originate. The adage "be careful what you wish for" comes to mind because TFA would indeed take out the newest teachers…and TFA teachers would be immune from any future layoffs themselves, which most people believe are certainly a possibility. While TFA teachers would not go to Phoebe Hearst, bringing them on-board could easily result in a spill-over effect of newer and not so newer Phoebe teachers being laid off instead of the TFA interns.

    L. Jablonski

    March 20, 2010 at 2:18 am

  6. My understanding of SCTA's position on the question of co-pays is that that is something that can be negotiated next year, when we're renegotiating the contract. It is NOT something that should be brought up in the middle of a signed, agreed-upon contract. That position makes sense. Unless the district wants to give us the salary increases we declined in order to keep our benefits, they have no right to now ask us to give up a contracted benefit.Further, SCUSD IS NOT IN A FISCAL CRISIS. The State of California is. SCUSD is not.


    March 19, 2010 at 6:48 pm

  7. I am a co-worker of Sarah B and share her views. Let me add that some parties are portraying the CTA to be the boogeyman which is not the case. These sneaky parties issue layoffs then pass the buck to CTA and say "its all up to you". CTA does not make concessions easily because it feels it will set a precedent for future layoffs and that employees will gradually lose their rights and priveleges. Despite its weaknesses, I must admit that CTA has remained an honorable bastion of defense.


    March 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

  8. I and the rest of my colleagues in a SCUSD school are not fanatics of the CTA BUT we know for a fact that CTA has done its part in protecting our rights and privileges. Skeptics say: "why doesnt CTA agree to concessions to prevent or reduce layoffs"? This misleading because it gives the impression that the ball is in CTA's court. Remember: CTA does not have anything to do with causing layoffs. It is the SCUSD leardership that pens the resolutions to layoff.


    March 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  9. I agree with Devin. The problem of teachers getting bumped out of their current positions will not be solved by adding more teachers. That doesn't even make sense. It is easy to lay blame on the teachers, because they are always the ones to be blamed. The real problem is more of a combination of things. First, I agree that the union should negotiate with the district. If higher co-pays mean my co-workers, other teachers or classified staff, get to stay then I think MOST teachers would be willing to do it. I don't hear ANYONE of my colleagues not wanting to pay higher co-pays; that's the union mis-speaking for us again.Second, lets just take the union out of the equation completely. They are ineffective and I resent paying $100 a month to a political machine that has no interest in helping "good" teachers. Once the union is gone, tenure MUST end. There is DEAD WEIGHT at most school sites, and what I mean by that is, ineffective teachers that hide behind the union, only to use "our" dues to protect them from lawsuits. If we got rid of tenure principals would be able to have more control over their school sites and overall performance.Next, we need to make sure our money goes to servicing children!! It is unthinkable that our district office has better computers/technology, furniture, food services, heating/air conditioning, and supply than their very own school sites. We must not allow the closed-door deals that only benefit the adults at SCUSD (benchmark testing, Teach for America etc…); the nepotism needs to end. We must no longer allow "bad" teachers and administrators to be "moved to the district office" when they can't succeed at a school site, only to make more money. Additionally, I don't see upper middle class teachers in our district. That statement is completely unfounded. Has the writer seen the salary schedule for SCUSD? That's after a B.A. and a teaching credential. For many, that means the repayment of loans. I didn't even mention continuing education that's required to even get paid a decent wage as a professional. And that's not to mention the out of pocket expenses that teachers pick up for the students daily or the unpaid hours they work.


    March 19, 2010 at 4:28 am

  10. TSA is not being discussed for Phoebe Hearst. I imagine that, this parent aside, it would be pretty controversial to have them there with the community. They are being put in low-SES schools. What they will do is "bump out" the very low seniority teachers that the parent laments losing. so it will provide the opposite to the solution this letter writer desires. The "leveling" schedule is "set" in the teaching contract, but are not necessarily what the union would want, but what they get from administration. In other words we have it there so that they can't drag out having oversized classes until November or December.

    Alice Mercer

    March 18, 2010 at 11:25 pm

  11. It seems to me the alleged problem and the proposed solution are not really connected.Aside from whether or not one agrees with the assertions, the writer is saying that there are ample new, local, qualified teachers that are being displaced.The answer to that problem would hardly be to bring in more teachers to further displace those teachers.


    March 18, 2010 at 7:39 pm

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