Principals Should Have Freedom To Choose Teachers That Best Fit Their Schools

Board Members Nick Melvoin (left) and Richard Vladovic

Board Members Nick Melvoin (left) and Richard Vladovic

The LAUSD Board will vote on a resolution Tuesday to give principals more power to choose teachers that best fit their schools and to ensure that teachers are not forced to take assignments at schools against their wishes.

It’s long past time LAUSD ended forced hiring, and the Board should pass this resolution from Board Members Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Richard Vladovic (BD7) in order to help improve both school performance and teacher morale.

“I’ve heard consistently from parents and principals, they want the autonomy to choose the teachers that are right for that school,” Melvoin told Speak UP. “The most important factor in the quality of a kid’s education is the quality of the teacher. School site leaders have a vested interest in making sure they have effective teachers. If you just empower that group of people and let them choose great teachers, instruction will improve.”

The Board already recognized the importance of hiring the right teachers to turning around low-performing schools when it decided last June to exempt the bottom 25 percent of schools from being forced to accept must-place teachers they didn’t want. But there are many schools above the bottom 25 percent where students are also struggling to succeed. No school should be forced to accept teachers that are not a fit, and this resolution would codify the policy across the entire district.

Melvoin also believes that happy teachers are more effective teachers, and principals at low-performing schools have confirmed that teachers who are forced to work at a school against their will rarely do a great job. Principals often prefer substitutes to must-place teachers.

“The idea is to respect teachers as professionals and not put them where they don’t want to be teaching,’ Melvoin said. “A teacher is going to be happier if they’re at a school they want to be at. Happier employees are usually more productive.”  

Some parents of students at the highest-need schools are worried that there may not be enough teachers who want to work with their kids. Melvoin plans to offer an amendment to his own resolution Tuesday to address this issue. He wants to use incentives such as pay bonuses to encourage more teachers to work in the lowest-performing schools. He also wants to allow early recruitment of new teachers fresh from training programs or Teach For America to work at low-performing schools.

This isn’t the first time Melvoin has attempted to end forced hiring of must-place teachers. When he raised the issue last June, Board member Kelly Gonez (BD6) expressed concerns about cost. State law guarantees tenured teachers a job, but if they’re not working in a classroom, they cannot be evaluated and dismissed.

Warehousing teachers that no school wants to hire can be expensive. In 2016, LAUSD spent $15 million paying teachers accused of misconduct to do nothing.

The district, however, has been working hard to get teachers retraining or the credentials they need to attract the interest of principals -- or to encourage them to move on, Melvoin said. Because of that, the pool of must-place teachers has shrunk since last June when 211 of 708 displaced teachers had been on the must-place list for more than a year.

“This isn’t about a teacher displaced by enrollment loss,” Melvoin said. “Good teachers will get picked up by principals who want good teachers. But there’s some period of time, -- a year or 12 interviews -- if you haven’t been picked up, why should we be spending taxpayer dollars to pay that person when we know we need resources for other things, including supporting our classroom teachers?”

Those teachers who cannot find a position after a certain period of time can potentially be deployed to school as support staff to work with kids in small groups, assisting a lead teacher, and reducing the teacher-student ratio, Melvoin said. The district could then send in a team to evaluate them in these support roles and “exit” them if they are ineffective in these support roles, too.  

 With a budget crisis and teacher layoffs looming, it’s more important than ever that state law be changed so that schools can make decisions to lay off the least effective must-place teachers first, rather than cutting great teachers who lack seniority. In the meantime, though, this resolution is a good first step toward giving school leaders the freedom they need to best run their schools on behalf of their students.

 “Getting strong principals and empowering them is probably the reform strategy I want to spend the most time on,” Melvoin said. “To tell a principal, ‘you’ve got to turn around a school, but oh, by the way, you don’t get to choose your faculty,’ is like telling a football coach, ‘go turn around the Cleveland Browns, but you can’t hire or fire any players.’ You can definitely make some marginal improvement, but you need to have the right people.”