Los Angeles School District Spends $500 Million a Year on Policy That Doesn't Improve Education, Rep

The Los Angeles Unified School District is wasting approximately $500 million per year by giving extra pay to teachers who take additional college coursework, the Los Angeles Times wrote in a stinging June 13 editorial.

In the lengthy editorial citing information from the "Teacher Quality Roadmap" produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality and United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Times wrote:

"Giving raises to teachers who take additional college coursework is a waste of money. Studies have confirmed that taking extra classes has no effect on teachers' instructional skills. Yet in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone, pay raises awarded for such courses, which don't even have to be related to the subject the teacher teaches, cost more than $500 million a year. That money could be used for a thousand more useful purposes, such as hiring more faculty or raising the salaries of great teachers.

"It's not just that throwing away $500 million every year strains school finances. It's also that the teachers are wearing themselves out taking these extra courses in their off hours, according to a recent report, because it's the only way they can get a significant salary boost after a certain point in their careers. They are even granted an additional raise if they take the same course over again, as long as it's not within five years."

The paper added, "Sometimes, as in this case, the truths that emerge about wasteful, counterproductive public school practices are stunning."

The report on the state's largest school district includes many findings and recommendations that could help guide efforts to improve public education throughout California, including:

• Most candidates for teaching jobs are not assessed on the skill for which teachers are presumably hired: their ability to teach. According to surveyed teachers hired since the 2006-2007 school year, 89 percent were interviewed by their principal as part of their application process for their current position, but only 13 percent had to teach a sample lesson as part of their interview.

• Too few principals are aware of their right to refuse to hire a teacher transferred as part of the "priority placement pool" system. The report said LAUSD "should take a page from the UTLA (teachers' union), which does a good job of informing teachers of their rights, such as how to file a grievance … ," and added, "The district administration need to provide similar guidance to principals on how to utilize the flexibility and tools available to them."

• "Teachers are assigned one of two ratings on the final evaluation: 'meeting standard performance' and 'below standard performance.' Teachers are rated on individual indicators using three ratings: 'Meets,' 'Needs Improvement' and, oddly, 'No.' This reductionist approach does not differentiate between teachers whose weaknesses could be remedied with more professional support and those who are fundamentally ill-suited for the profession. Furthermore, it fails to differentiate truly outstanding teachers from those who are merely competent."

• A survey of teachers found that 68 percent said there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance, and 34 percent of principals surveyed said that they did not even try to dismiss a poor performing teacher because the process was unlikely to result in dismissal (66 percent of principals admitted to encouraging teachers to voluntarily transfer to another school rather than attempting to dismiss them).

• "A teacher's effectiveness only matters nominally in LAUSD tenure decisions."

• "Unused sick leave carries over year to year and accumulates without limit, a common but costly practice in many school districts."

(Sources: Los Angeles Times, June 13; "Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD," National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2011.)

California Tax Foundation   |   1215 K Street, Sacramento, CA 95814   |   916.441.0490   |   foundation@caltax.org