LA teachers choose charter

Green Dot charter schools has persuaded a majority of tenured teachers at Locke High, a low-performing LA school, to sign a charter petition. Green Dot plans to turn Locke into 10 small schools. Principal Frank Wells, who criticized the district bureaucracy and backed Green Dot, was fired and escorted from the building. The LA Times reports:

“It’s a leap of faith, but if you believe in this partnership between Green Dot and Locke teachers, then you believe that we are trying to change education in Los Angeles by turning more attention to students’ needs and empowering teachers,” said Bruce Smith, an English teacher at the school.

Amid dozens of poor-performing middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Locke has long languished as one of the worst. At least one of every two students drops out, while the majority who remain score at or near the bottom on standardized tests.

Under state law, the school board has little choice but to let Green Dot take over the school by fall 2008. Teachers who want to stay at Locke would have to reapply for their jobs; they would work under a labor contract signed by Green Dot’s in-house union, which is far more flexible than the district teachers’ union contract.

The support for Green Dot by rank-and-file Locke teachers could undermine the authority of union leaders and their position as major power brokers in the district — especially if teachers at other schools follow suit.

“I’m going to urge teachers around the city to rise up and take control of their schools,” said English teacher Smith, who plans to speak at today’s news conference. “You can cross out Locke and put in Roosevelt High, or Dorsey or Crenshaw.”

In essence Locke’s teachers are willing to risk their jobs to change their school. They voting for Green Dot’s union and against the district’s far more powerful teachers union. They are voting for Green Dot’s reform promises and against the promise that LA Unified will reform its troubled schools. This is a coup in every sense for Green Dot.

About Joanne


  1. And let’s not forget this delightful confection:

    Brewer expressed frustration that Barr had “moved unilaterally without finishing that discussion.” He and Canter expressed hope that in coming months the district would launch an “innovation division” to help groups like Green Dot implement their reform plans in district schools, while keeping them part of the district.

    An “innovation division”.

    It’s liable to take a while to get the innovation division going. Getting the budget set up, finding personnel, developing procedures and implementing an innovation-oriented organization structure would all have to precede daily innovation operation.

    Are there any relevant state or federal law that might apply to an innovation department? How about court decisions? Need some research there so as not to run afoul of innovation-regulation.

    What about diversity? An innovation department would certainly have to take into account diverse perspectives and unique cultural norms. A lack of proper respect for all cultures and peoples might result in innovation polarization.

    I believe I know the appropriate district department to host the innovation division.

    The Department of Redundancy Department.

  2. wayne martin says:

    From reading the linked LA.Times article, it’s pretty clear this is all about the adults—there isn’t anything in this article that talks about the kids.

  3. Folks who haven’t read David Labaree’s wonderful book The Trouble With Ed Schools should run out and get a copy. What reminded me of it here was the power of the big district administration in this story. Labaree provides (among other things) a good brief sketch of the period of mass consolidation of school districts across the country in the mid-20th century in the interest of efficiency and scientific management. Small and agile districts were combined into massive district bureaucracies, the better to be controlled by “professional” education managers. We see where that got us; the charter school movement, like the residential college movement in higher education, reverses that destructive trend.

  4. Randy Childs says:

    As a teacher at the very same Roosevelt High School referenced by Bruce Smith in the LA Times, I have to call out the incredible arrogance of his comments. I wonder if he realizes how many teachers (and parents and students) he has insulted?

    Teachers at my school (as well as Crenshaw and Dorsey) are already working with parents and community members to fight for democracy and local control of our schools. Has Smith even heard of the Crenshaw Cougar Coalition? The Roosevelt School Community Reform Group? Progressive Educators for Action? Coalition for Educational Justice? These groups have all made strides in the fight for justice at our schools without buying into Green Dot’s union-busting privatization agenda.

    Charter school advocates talk a good game about cutting bureaucracy, but they deliberately conflate “bureaucracy” with teachers’ union rights – like the right not to be forced to work without pay. Notice how UTLA’s hard-fought contractual rights were a deal-breaker for Green Dot poobah Steve Barr. This is really about scapegoating teachers for the problems in public education.

    California’s public education system was the envy of the world in the 1970’s. Today California competes with Mississippi for having the worst schools in the country. What happened? Prop 13’s “tax reform” has starved schools of desperately needed resources, while big business and real estate speculators have laughed all the way to the bank. Meanwhile the destruction of tens of thousands of good union jobs in the Los Angeles area have pushed the parents of large sections of our student populations to the margins of survival.

    In a word, we’ve been robbed.

    Demanding that the hardest-working and lowest-paid of the college-credentialed professions sacrifice even more is no solution to the profound crisis in public education. Many of us are fighting for school reform without drinking the charter-school kool-aid. Bruce Smith needs to do his homework before he starts prescribing his “solutions” at other schools.

  5. Well said, Randy Childs….

    I wonder if you could elaborate.

    Are Green Dot teachers paid significantly less than UTLA teachers?

    What do you mean by the right not to work without pay? I imagine you mean being assigned duties outside the employment contract without compensation, yes?

    How much of that is going on in Green Dot schools?

    Why, in your view, did the Locke HS teachers approve the Green Dot takeover?

  6. James Brown says:

    Hey Randy,

    Or should I call you Mr. Poobah? How can you criticize an organization for Union Busting when Green Dot has set up it’s own Union in affilation with the Californai Teachers Union?

    How can you call it privatization when charter shcools are publicly funded, and accountable to the public?

    Talk to any teacher and Green Dot and ask if they feel “scapegoated.”

    In other words, do some homework before you spew any more malarkey out of your pie hole.

  7. Mr. Childs I don’t believe Mr. Smith was intentionally trying to insult the hard working and dilligent teachers in LAUSD. We are all given challenges daily. I think he was implying that we as teachers/parents/students need to seriously challenge the status quo and demand change in order for improvements to begin to take place. There are no easy answers.

    When you discuss Green Dot you mention that they…”Talk a good game about bureaucracy”, I believe we as educators need to do our homework when it comes to the charter movement. When LAUSD takes approximately 40% of our budget for overhead cost how can we not make the claim that there is a bloated bureaucracy downtown – and even in our own schools with duplication of services in every administrative office? When people make the incorrect statement that this is the “privatization of public schools” we tend to forget that charters have to be approved by the district or some governing body that is elected by the people. People cannot simply open and start a school as if they are opening a Starbucks.

    As far as unions – in particular UTLA is concerned, look around your school. How many of our colleagues perform at the level necessary for student achievement? We are not perfect – none of us are, but there are those who try their best to make the best of their situation daily and there are those who, unfortunately, are there for a paycheck and counting the days till a sunny retirement in the suburbs of LA.

    Mr. Martin. Please do not assume that those of us in the trenches are not thinking about the students DAILY. When you break it down, none of us would be employed if it wasn’t for the students. Again, PLEASE do not assume that the best interest of my 160 students (in 4 classes)is not at the forefront of my mind when trying to make public school reform a success. This is the WRONG business to get into if you want to make a quick buck.

  8. Randy Childs says:

    Wow, lots of replies. Larry first.

    In an interview with local radio station KCRW, Green Dot CEO Steve Barr stated that Green Dot offers a higher salary for new teachers than LAUSD, but also specifically explained that Green Dot tends to avoid hiring veteran teachers with higher salaries and “cannot afford” the same lifetime benefits (pensions and retiree health benefits) guaranteed under the UTLA contract. So overall, I would argue that Green Dot offers far less compensation, especially for people like me who intend to make teaching a lifelong career.

    The UTLA contract gives teachers protections from being compelled to perform extra duties, and the right to get paid overtime for such duties that a teacher chooses to perform. It has a specific clause exempting teachers from mandatory campus supervision (yard duty) except if there’s an emergency. In my research I have yet to find a copy of the entire Green Dot contract, but I did find a 2005 contract proposal from their union, the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos (AMU) asking for “a limitation of 2 hours per unit member per week in compulsory unpaid meetings, office hours, tutorial and other student supervisory activities.” This suggests to me that “compulsory unpaid” labor is a regular feature of Green Dot schools. (And if I were an AMU member, I would be pretty disappointed that 2 hours of unpaid labor per week is their starting point for negotiations.)

    Teachers already have plenty of work to do between classes and after school. If a school needs extra yard supervision (probably because it’s overcrowded) then they should hire people to do it. While they’re at it, we need more custodians, office staff, TAs, and cafeteria workers, too. After school tutoring (and the like) is a great thing, but it’s extra work, and we shouldn’t be forced to do it for free.

    I’m serious about Prop 13 and school funding. Instead of the constant pressure that teachers feel to do more for less, we need to change the priorities of our society. Instead of spending billions of dollars on prisons and war and tax cuts for the rich, we should use that money to give our children everything they need and deserve at school.

    I know this and my previous post have been pretty long. I’m not trying to grandstand. I appreciate the thoughtful replies. There just seems to be so much about this issue that never gets said in the public debate.

  9. Thanks for the response, Randy….

    I think I might have heard that same KCRW piece but just didn’t remember the details.

    I’ve been an LA Unified Teacher (and UTLA member) since the early 1990s and have seen so much waste, stupidity, and destructive arrogance that it is difficult for me to dismiss any alternative, however suspicious I might be.

    I’ve met charter school teachers from South Central (where I teach) but none from a Green Dot school. Those charter school teachers with whom I’ve spoken have expressed satisfaction with salary, benefits, and the fairness of their administrators. None of these teachers are veterans, however, and so, as you point out, their salaries are competative for now but won’t be if they stay for ten or fifteen years..

    I wonder, though, if LAUSD did not have such a problem retaining teachers, if most of them did survive and work until they had reached the top of the pay schedule, would the district be able to afford it?

    In other words, isn’t it possible that the reason LAUSD can pay vets more is that we are a statistical minority?

  10. Randy Childs says:

    SouthCentralLATeacher asks me “how can we not make the claim that there is a bloated bureaucracy downtown?” This question misses the mark. As a UTLA rep at my school, I talk about the bloated Beaudry bureaucracy on a daily basis. Anyone who is confused should re-read my original post. Nowhere did I argue that there wasn’t a bureaucracy, instead my argument is that charter school advocates tend to be less than sincere when they emphasize the bureaucracy in their rhetoric.

    All interested parties will benefit from closely reading the original LA Times article. Green Dot was on the verge of cutting a deal with LAUSD officials (a.k.a. THE BUREAUCRACY) until the question of the UTLA contract came up. When charter school leaders talk about bureaucracy, more often than not it turns into a bait-and-switch attack on teachers’ union rights.

    Everyone who cares hates bureaucracy. Savvy politicos like Steve Barr (read his bio on the greendot website) know this and use it to promote their agenda. But they have a very different idea of “bureaucracy” (which, for the record, is a rather difficult word to type over and over again :0P) than most of us. For Steve Barr (and many other self-styled education “reformers”), union rules that protect veteran teachers from being unfairly squeezed out by principals who prefer to intimidate more pliant new teachers is “bureaucracy.” For me, a District apparatus filled with empty suits who shuffle memos, impose one-size-fits-all mandates, and never set foot on a school campus is a bureaucracy.

    The way to get rid of that bureaucracy is … to get rid of the bureaucracy. Fire them. Close the redundant offices. We don’t need charter schools that want to rip up our union contracts (won through years of fighting battles against the bureaucracy) in order to cut the bureaucracy.

  11. Randy Childs says:

    I think you’re right on the money, Larry, and I think that LAUSD *does* depend on its high teacher burn-out rates to keep labor costs low. So, perversely, LAUSD has an incentive to allow school conditions to deteriorate, because those crappy conditions are the #1 reason why half of all new teachers quit in their first five years.

    But to me the deeper issue continues to be that the “poverty” of LAUSD and other school districts is completely artificial. Prop 13 was sold as a way to protect homeowners. (Would these be the same homeowners who, after getting hammered for years by “flexible” interest rates, now find themselves owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth now that the bubble is deflating?) In reality, Prop 13 has been primarily a giveaway to millionaires and corporations. California could easily afford to lavish its schools with the resources they need without pauperizing teachers in the process. But it won’t happen as long as the people who reap the most while contributing the least to the California economy continue getting a free ride from the tax man.

    Tax the rich. Fund our schools.


  1. […] teachers at Locke High School in Los Angeles petitioned to turn their troubled school into a Green Dot charter school. Now teachers at two other high […]

  2. […] you want some other perspectives on this issue, check out this post I found on Locke High School Teacher Union CharterShare […]