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Beware of School Reconstitution

Under a process known as reconstitution, all teachers in persistently failing schools are required to reapply for their jobs. This strategy is based on the assumption that teachers are the No. 1 reason the schools in question are underperforming ("Hearing opens on Crenshaw teachers' claims of anti-union bias," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 11).

For nearly five decades, Crenshaw High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District was known for its academic quality.  But as the neighborhood around the school slowly changed, Crenshaw posted the district's lowest Academic Performance Index score. In 2005, it lost its accreditation. Enrollment fell thereafter, despite the school's efforts to improve.  

When John Deasy became superintendent, he decided to break the school up into three magnet campuses in 2012.  All teachers were required to reapply for their jobs.  Twelve teachers were not asked to return.  It just so happened that one of them was Alex Caputo-Pearl,  currently president of United Teachers Los Angeles.  

The district adamantly denies that the firings were retaliation and discrimination.  Instead, it said that differences in ideology, a refusal to commit to additional training, or a connection to failing programs were the cause.  I'll leave it up to readers to decide if this explanation passes the smell test. But it's clear to me that the teachers were on the superintendent's hit list because they were outspoken.  

If a direct connection could be demonstrated between the firing of these 12 teachers and what followed, then I would revise my opinion. Although attendance has risen, suspensions have dropped, and accreditation has been extended for three years since Crenshaw was converted to a magnet school, these positive results have nothing to do with the departure of the 12 teachers. They rightly have filed an unfair labor charge with California's labor oversight board, which in turn has led to a hearing before an administrative law judge.  

Whether they will prevail in their complaint is hard to predict.  But what is quite clear is that they have been made scapegoats for factors beyond their control. If they lose, then outspoken teachers in other districts will be at the mercy of superintendents.  It's a bleak picture, which will only get worse as teachers' unions lose power.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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