L.A. Unified plans to fire more non-tenured teachers than usual


Los Angeles school district officials are planning to fire more than 110 non-tenured teachers this year based on their performance, about three times the number of probationary teachers dismissed annually in recent years.

The move comes after The Times reported in December that the Los Angeles Unified School District often grants teachers permanent status with little or no evaluation. About a week after the newspaper informed district officials of its findings, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines ordered that teachers, especially probationary ones, be more closely scrutinized.

The Times found that nearly all probationary teachers received passing grades on their evaluations and that fewer than 2% were denied tenure. Over the last four years, the school board has denied tenure to an average of 35 teachers annually.

All of the non-tenured teachers who are facing termination this year received one or more negative ratings on a recent job evaluation and have been sent letters indicating that they are being considered for so-called non-reelection.

The Board of Education could also dismiss about 40 other non-permanent instructors, including interns, this year for weak performance.

Probationary teachers, those who have two years or fewer with the district, are automatically granted tenure if administrators do not raise objections. Once they are made permanent, teachers are given job protections that district officials say have made it difficult to fire them, except in the most egregious cases.

This year’s targeted teachers have the option of resigning before the school board votes on their employment status in either March or June. They represent nearly 6% of all probationary instructors in the nation’s second-largest school district.

Nearly 230 teachers, primarily first-year instructors, have also received at least one “needs improvement” on their four-page reviews and could still be dismissed this summer or next year, officials said.

The dismissals and resignations could mean that other, higher-performing teachers could be spared if the district is forced to lay off instructors because of the impending budget gap. The district is facing a potential shortfall of up to $670 million.

Under state law, teachers are laid off strictly by seniority. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last month that he would push for a change in that law, but teachers union officials said it was designed to protect instructors from principals who write shoddy evaluations or are vindictive.

The higher percentage of dismissals in L.A. Unified “is almost certainly going to be a positive thing for kids . . . particularly when you have additional layoffs looming,” said Dan Weisberg, vice president of policy for the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for overhauling teacher evaluations.

L.A. Unified officials said they began going over teachers’ performance evaluations during the summer and found that almost 600 non-permanent teachers had received a “needs improvement” on at least one criterion of their previous review. Officials began holding training sessions for administrators in late October aimed at helping them identify and support struggling teachers or, failing that, reinforcing the dismissal process.

It’s unlikely that the training had much effect on the surge in recommended firings, said district officials, who instead cited increased accountability. L.A. Unified officials have also stressed that administrators do not need to show cause when recommending dismissal for a nontenured teacher.

Some people complained that the current evaluation system is so flawed that instructors who could still improve would instead be let go.

“We’re going to get rid of a lot of people who could be better with a little bit of help,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Duffy said that the union would do its best to represent the targeted teachers but that because they are probationary, they don’t have the same job security as permanent instructors.

An L.A. Unified task force that includes administrators, union officials and others is meeting to devise a new evaluation system. A subcommittee has suggested incorporating more measures of student achievement, including test scores, and more levels of teacher ratings when judging employees. District officials said they will continue to refine the system.

Ted Mitchell, president of the State Board of Education and chairman of the task force, said the total number of fired teachers shouldn’t be the sole indicator of improved evaluations.

“The effectiveness won’t be determined by the amount of blood spilled but by the quality of the decisions being made,” he said. “This is the first step in the process, not the last. Members of our task force are looking forward to working with the district to refine the evaluation system over time.”

Times staff writer Jason Felch contributed to this report.