Mayor Villaraigosa and the War on Those Old, Inept, Do-Nothing Public School Teachers

06/22/2010 07:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dennis Danziger Working on memoir, "5 Shows a Day - Dispatches from the War on Education."

On June 15, 2010, on this very site, Mayor Villaraigosa called upon the Board of Education, the ACLU, Public Counsel, the State Board of Education and UTLA to find a way to end the teacher union's seniority system. His blog, "Good Teachers Make All the Difference" sounded the alarm: It is a time of budget cuts, and we have the answer to our education woes.

I'm an LAUSD teacher, an 18-year veteran, and I want the Mayor to know he can count me in: I'm all for hiring energetic young teachers and booting out the old, mediocre ones.

I'm all for streamlining the firing process to rid our classrooms of crummy teachers.

I'm all for rewarding tenure after seven years instead of two.

I'd even support Mayor Villaraigosa in taking over not just a handful of schools but every school in the District.

Heck, I'm even for merit pay.

There's just one thing I want to know, and that is this:

What system will the mayor and his educational reformers use to prove which teachers make the grade and which don't?

I feel certain the mayor's group will decide to judge teachers based at least in part on their students' standardized test scores. President Bush loved that idea; so do President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. These guys love linking students' bubbled-in correct answers to their teachers' effectiveness.

That's what worries me.

Let's use me as just one example.

For 14 years, from 1995 - 2008, I taught English at Palisades Charter High School; in those years it was an LAUSD school. The other night I returned there to announce the winners of the Dillon Henry Memorial Scholarships, awarded to 10 seniors who, like my student Dillon, have selflessly dedicated enormous time and energy to volunteer work.

At Pali Hi I saw many of my former 10th grade honors English students; those kids, come fall, will be attending Wellesley, Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, Kenyon, Bard, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin (two on full academic scholarships), USC (a full academic scholarship), Wake Forest, UCLA and UC-Berkeley.

Trust me, these kids know how to bubble in the correct answers. I've seen them do it.

The next day I attended graduation ceremonies at Venice High School where I have been teaching for the past two years. Of the 87 students crammed into my two classes of senior English this semester, 29 will not graduate because they just quit coming to my class; nine won't graduate because they didn't do enough work.

Of these 87 kids, 38 aren't even graduating, and few of these kids test nearly so well on standardized tests as did my former students. I'm pretty sure at least part of the reason is because some of my students at Venice and their parents do not consider regular attendance in school a high priority.

But here's what I need to know from Mayor Villaraigosa and his council:

Am I a brilliant teacher who inspired and shepherded my students into some of our nation's most prestigious colleges?

Or am I a lug, deadwood, a card-carrying AARP and UTLA member whose teaching style is so ineffective my students drop out by the busload?

Oh yeah, there is this: Recently, within a three-day period, one of my current students at Venice High won a prestigious city wide creative writing contest and a $1,000 college scholarship; two of my former VHS students were convicted of armed robbery (13 years) and attempted murder (22 years).

So what is it, Mayor (and President Obama, and Secretary Duncan)? I'm dying to know if I'm in line to receive merit pay or if I should start looking for another job.

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