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Petition wants LAUSD to rescind TFA special education contract

Craig Clough | November 24, 2015

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Teach for AmericaA group of anti-charter school activists is circulating an online petition that calls for LA Unified to rescind a contract with Teach for America (TFA) intended to fill 25 special education teaching positions.

The petition points out that the teachers from the organization will be trainees but does not acknowledge that the district is allowed by law to hire a small number of special education teachers that are not fully credentialed.

Under the strict guidelines of the Modified Consent Decree (MCD), which oversees the district’s adherence to special education laws, 88 percent of LA Unified’s special education teachers must be credentialed. According to the recent independent monitor’s report, which oversees the MCD, 89.7 percent of the district’s teachers were credentialed as of Oct 15.

The online petition essentially calls on the district to go above and beyond what the MCD calls for and have 100 percent of its special education teachers credentialed. The petition says, “LAUSD senior staff needs to go back to the drawing board to create partnerships with reputable teaching programs to recruit teachers who will be qualified on Day 1 and are likely to remain committed to the teaching profession.”

The petition’s authors include a number of outspoken and well-known critics of charter schools, including Cynthia Liu of the K-12 News Network and Anthony Cody, a co-founder and board member of the Network for Public Education.

The petition points to the high level of Teach For America teachers who do not remain in the profession and the fact that the Broad Foundation, which is at the forefront of a new effort to expand charter schools in the district, has funded TFA. Several LA Unified school board members have voiced opposition to the charter expansion plan, and the board will be considering a resolution at its December meeting to condemn it.

“TFA is one of the tools that Eli Broad is using to attack our schools and undermine the very fabric of the public school system in Los Angeles (his foundation is a top funder of TFA). Our elected leaders just endorsed that by approving this contract. It should be rescinded immediately,” the petition states.

TFA is an organization that recruits recent college graduates to sign two-year contracts and teach in districts with a large percentage of students from low-income families. The recruits are not required to have majored in education and only receive a few weeks of training.

TFA responded to the online petition, saying it “does a disservice to the district’s students and to the dedicated TFA corps members working alongside their fellow teachers to expand opportunities for these students. Our program helps to meet local demand for teachers and long-term education leaders in public schools. We’re proud to be an ally in the special education community, working with families, communities, and partner organizations, and it’s disappointing to see the critical work of our special education corps members mischaracterized.”

Under the consent decree, which was the outcome of a settled class action lawsuit accusing the district of being out of compliance with special education laws, the district is not required to go above the level of 88 percent of its special education teachers being fully credentialed. With a teacher shortage currently striking California and the nation, finding credentialed teachers remains an ongoing challenge for LA Unified.

The independent monitor’s report did express some “serious concern” that the district was just above the cutoff point for credentialed teachers and said, “It is possible that this increase of provisional and intern teachers is due to the state and national shortages in qualified teachers.”

Sharyn Howell, the district’s associate superintendent of the Division of Special Education, acknowledged that finding credentialed teachers is a challenge but that she was not concerned LA Unified will slip below 88 percent.

“There is a shortage of special education teachers and providers across the nation,” Howell said, responding to questions about the independent monitor’s report, not the online petition. “The district has a rigorous recruitment, but it would be a false assumption on our part to say we could greatly increase the number of credentialed special education teachers on our staff because we just would’t find them.”

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