By Lisa Stevens, special education teacher at LAUSD’s Sotomayor Center for Arts and Sciences
I recently had the honor of facilitating a working group of parents and teachers that Speak UP convened to collaborate on a vision for a new teachers contract that values our teachers and also puts kids first.
When we first came together, we didn’t know if that would be possible. Parents and teachers came to the table with a variety of perspectives and experiences shaping their priorities and views. And our group was diverse. The parents have children from across the district of every race, socioeconomic level and ability, including English learners and students with special needs. Nearly all of the teachers in our group have taught in traditional LAUSD schools, while some have taught in pilots or charters. One teacher also taught in Oakland Unified and New York before teaching in Los Angeles.
We reached across these lines that so often divide us, and what we found was surprising and encouraging. There was a remarkable degree of mutual respect and common ground. Despite tackling some tricky issues, there was very little conflict because it was clear that we all share the same good intentions: to help our children succeed. That’s why teachers teach. That’s what parents most want for their children. We all agree that schools and school districts function best when there is a sense of community and that community is fostered when all stakeholders are valued, involved and working side by side.
In order to create a safe space for all viewpoints, teachers and parents met both separately and together on multiple occasions over the course of a month. This week we shared our preliminary findings with the LAUSD Board and Superintendent Austin Beutner. We are also grateful to LAUSD’s senior executive director of finance and policy, Pedro Salcido; chief of staff to Board President Monica Garcia, Lizette Patron, and Allison Holdorff, senior advisor and director of community engagement to Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, for joining us Monday night for our initial presentation of our findings at a meeting in Boyle Heights. We are also grateful to Moms In Action for providing space for our group to meet and to its members for attending the event.
So what would it look like to have a teacher contract that values teachers and puts kids first? It’s very different from what we have now. We will present a more formal report in coming weeks, but we’d like to highlight some preliminary findings while contract talks between LAUSD and its teachers continue.
We limited our work to non-fiscal portions of the contract that affect teaching quality, focusing on the following five contract components:
1. Teacher Evaluations
3. Teacher Compensation Policies
4. Teacher Assignments
5. Teacher Leadership Roles
What we discovered is that the first item, the process for and frequency of teacher evaluations, is integral to the other four. Teachers and parents agreed that seniority alone should not be the single most important factor that determines teacher compensation scales, displacements and layoffs, school and classroom assignments, or leadership roles. Below are a few of our key findings.
No. 1: Both parents and teachers in our group believe that LAUSD teachers should be evaluated and given constructive and meaningful feedback more frequently and consistently. There is a misperception that teachers find observations and evaluations onerous and unwelcome. Several of the teachers in our group said they crave constructive feedback more often so they can improve their teaching practices and better help their students. They want those evaluations to be tailored to their specialty area. Parents and teachers want evaluations to incorporate both stakeholder feedback and also student growth, which does not necessarily have to be measured by test scores alone.
No. 2: Parents and teachers in our working group agree that teacher compensation should be tied at least in part to performance, and that excellent teachers should be rewarded for their excellence. Teachers who are doing a great job should be able to move up the pay scale more quickly without having to pay for classes that have nothing to do with the subjects they teach. We’d like to see professional development focus more on helping our most vulnerable students, such as English learners and students with special needs.
No. 3: We’d like to see less of a focus on seniority and more of a focus on teacher quality in teacher assignments and layoffs. And teacher leadership roles should also reflect performance evaluations and leadership abilities rather than be tied to teacher votes.
In sum, we all believe that quality teaching is one of the most important factors in a child’s success, and the teacher contract should be designed to ensure that every child receives the highest-quality teaching possible. We also believe that parents, principals and teachers should all have a voice in education policy, and we should all work together as a community on behalf of what’s best for kids. We hope this is just the first of many issues that our collaborative working group tackles. When we work together, we can accomplish a lot.