Tenure at L.A. Unified; Brazil’s military buildup; the state’s expensive bond issues

Grading the teachers

Re “L.A. schools to cut weak new teachers,” Dec. 18

Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines admits, “This district can rightly be criticized for the promotion of ineffective teachers over the years” but goes on to say, “We do not owe poor performers a job.”

If that’s the case, then he should devote every waking hour of his day to working out some kind of deal with the teacher unions to remove these teachers from the classroom.

If nothing changes, his administration and the unions should be held accountable for thousands of future students being condemned to a substandard education over the next 30 years.

Troy Garrett
Long Beach

The Times missed the bigger picture in trumpeting L.A. Unified’s decision to cut “weak new teachers.”

There are (or soon will be) virtually no new probationary teachers left to cut. Thanks to the district’s misplaced priorities, which value out-of-classroom administrative spending over hiring and retention of outstanding, younger teachers, we are losing an entire generation of new, energetic and highly qualified teachers. The results will be devastating.

Mike Stryer
Pacific Palisades
The writer is a teacher at Fairfax High School.

Re “Bar set low for a lifetime job in L.A. schools,” Dec. 20

In California public schools, teachers are not tenured for life. Rather, after successfully teaching for two years, they receive permanent status, which means their district must follow specific guidelines for dismissal.

In my own first two years of teaching, I was evaluated each year with both formal and informal observations by my administrator. Others also dropped by, including my department chair and the dean of girls, who both gave encouragement and guidance to improve my performance.

The evaluation process is lengthy. The administrator takes specific, detailed notes of classroom observations, including the teacher’s management and knowledge of the subject matter.

If poor teachers gain permanent status, the blame falls upon site and district administrations who have not done their jobs. Also, many probationary teachers would benefit from support from administrators to enable their teaching success.

Jeanette Davis
The writer is a retired teacher, Chino Valley Unified School District.

Ten years ago I and a fellow teacher were hired as mentors by an LAUSD middle school. We were retired classroom teachers with over 60 years of teaching experience between us.

During our workday we observed and critiqued three to five teachers each. These teachers were in their first or second year of teaching. We knew when we saw good teaching and bad teaching, and it was our job to help the latter and improve on the former. The good news is that 80% to 90% of the teachers we worked with were more than acceptable for tenure.

Our observations were confidential. If we felt that a teacher was not tenure-quality, we strongly suggested that an administrator visit and evaluate. From the teacher evaluations submitted at the end of the year for the last 10 years, it was evident that it was a successful program. The bad news is that due to the LAUSD budget crisis our position was terminated in June.

Morton Miller
Los Angeles

It is unfortunate that many principals give new teachers only a cursory evaluation, as your investigative report clearly established. But what is truly a shame is that L.A.'s union rules oblige teachers to serve only two years on probation before being granted tenure, the practical equivalent of lifetime employment.

Yes, under the existing system, administrators should use those two years to weed out incompetents when possible. However, the larger question is why tenure should exist in K-12 schooling at all. As your article pointed out, it is possible for a teacher to put on a good show while on probation, only to become a slacker upon winning tenure.

A longer probationary period -- five years, say -- would help a little, but the real solution is to abolish tenure, a policy relic that seriously harms a child’s chance of getting a decent education in a public school.

Robert Holland
The writer is senior fellow for education policy at the Heartland Institute, a research organization.

Look familiar?

Re “Resource-rich Brazil puts up its guard,” Dec. 18

Great. A developing country with so many impoverished citizens chooses to spend tens of millions on upgrading its military, while people go hungry, sick and uneducated. I wonder what first-world country Brazil is trying to emulate.

Joseph DeMello
Long Beach

California’s financial straits

Re “A reality check for California,” Column, Dec. 17

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s report that California is facing an ominous financial future comes as no surprise -- but it does put into focus the very serious crisis facing the state.

Many of our financial problems are a result of initiatives greenlighting worthy projects that, unfortunately, have been approved by voters without any regard to how we will pay for them.

It may be appropriate to offer a new initiative that reverses some of the projects already approved. One that comes to mind is the high-speed rail project, which is to be funded by a $10-billion bond approved by the voters last year. It is probably a worthy project, but is it more important than fixing our deteriorating roads, water infrastructure or schools?

Let’s explore the idea of overturning some of the previously approved bond issues and direct the savings to things we really need to move the Golden State ahead.

Mike Reardon
East Fallbrook

Lockyer needs to step up and hold a well-advertised press conference to air all the dirty laundry, perks and pork still flowing freely.

He needs to offer names and anything else he knows. Testimony at a “sparsely attended committee meeting” and an article in The Times aren’t direct enough!

W.V. Watson
West Hollywood

Green projects

Re “Climate pact hailed and derided,” Dec. 19

The limited nonbinding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions that came out of Copenhagen was much less than what is needed to keep our climate within safe bounds. It may, however, be as much as can be achieved for now, given that the U.S. Senate has yet to act on a climate bill.

President Obama deserves credit for getting China and India to make some limited commitments to reducing the carbon intensity of their economies. China and India apparently agreed to provide some assurance that claimed carbon reductions are real. It is a start.

In the U.S., we have many opportunities for efficiency measures and renewable-energy projects that will save us money, reduce oil imports and put people back to work. It is time to get on with it.

Al Sattler
Rancho Palos Verdes

Religious bullies

Re “Politician’s atheism draws a constitutional challenge,” Dec. 20

Why do those who feel the need for religion in their lives also feel the need to make sure everyone else does too? Are they afraid their supreme being cannot take care of the problem?

The furor surrounding City Councilman Cecil Bothwell of Asheville, N.C., who is an acknowledged atheist, reminds me of bullies everywhere who are so insecure that they need to lash out at those who march to the beat of a different drummer.

Bothwell has run on an ecumenical platform of conservation and has never been accused of being a criminal, yet the invective against him would seem to make him evil incarnate. What these critics need to do is bring in some proof that shows where Bothwell is wrong (the Bible doesn’t count).

Terry Snyder
Los Angeles