Slow to Learn

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Los Angeles public-school administrators and the teachers’ union should listen to the young people who usually must listen to them. The students, the very same ones who often would rather not get report cards, now are protesting because they can’t get their grades. They’ve walked out of some of their classes because their schools are working in slow motion during a contract dispute between the school administration and the teachers’ union. They’re saying: Enough, settle this and teach us. And they’re right.

Teachers want higher pay. The school administration says that it will give them more money, but not as much as the union wants as soon as it wants it. Specifically, the United Teachers of Los Angeles union wants a 12% raise in a one-year contract. The Los Angeles Unified School District is offering a 5.6% raise in the first year of a three-year contract, and a total of 17% over the full three years. Higher pay may be the obvious issue, but teachers have also long felt that they should be more involved in planning the curriculum and in helping to run the schools. School Supt. Leonard Britton has said repeatedly that he understands that need. So why can’t the two sides agree?

As a result of the dispute, the teachers’ union is withholding the services for which its members say they aren’t paid--like checking the playgrounds and filling out report cards. Now the students are getting involved. Hundreds of them have refused to show up for the first business of the school day--taking the roll in the home room. The school district’s income is based on the number of students who are present at the beginning of each class day. The students have found a tactic, a clever way of getting their point across, but chaos can too easily result.


The mid-year grades have become one of the focal points of the dispute. Students who are applying for college admission are concerned that they may suffer in the process if the colleges don’t have their grades. Admission officers undoubtedly will take the special circumstances into account, but there is enough anxiety involved in applying for college without adding this element of uncertainty.

This may be one of those times during contract negotiations when the public is justified in urging that the meeting-room doors be locked and that the bargainers not be let out until they reach an agreement. Until that happens, the students are pawns. They are tiring of that role, as well they should. It’s time for the grown-ups to be in charge once again. They aren’t now.