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Deasy: ‘One of the Biggest Adjustments Ever’

LA School Report | August 12, 2013

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deasyLA Unified opens its doors for a new school year tomorrow, and despite an especially contentious few months for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, he’s all optimism. 

In Part One of a two-part interview, LA School Report contributor Vanessa Romo talks with Deasy about his relationship with teachers, the challenges of pioneering the new Common Core curriculum and the possibility that district-wide test scores might fall this year.

Q: Despite the upward trend of metrics that suggest the district is making progress – rising API scores, increasing graduation rates, and a significant reduction in suspension rates – the vast majority of respondents* to a teachers’ union survey found your performance either “below average” or “poor”, especially when it comes to morale and spending money. How do you answer your critics?

A: I can make no sense of it whatsoever. I have a fantastic relationship with the teachers of this district. Our teachers are doing a phenomenal job. I’ve been calling on the Board to give teachers and all employees a raise. I admire them, and I’m not confused about my mission, which is to lift youth out of poverty.

If you want to get technical about it, I don’t spend money. I make recommendations, and the [school] board decides. So since my recommendation is that 96 cents of every dollar go to schools, I don’t even know how to respond to that statement. I’m looking for partners to do this work with the teachers union leadership. I would love to have a partner to advance this work and recognize great teaching.

(*About 27 percent of the union’s 32,000 members participated in the survey.)

Q: In a speech at the teachers’ union leadership conference, UTLA President Warren Fletcher said you have conducted a “witch hunt” on teachers, and that Los Angeles “has become the teacher dismissal capital of California. While LAUSD employs about 10 percent of the state’s teachers, the district accounts for nearly 40 percent of California’s teacher dismissal cases.” Are you on a witch hunt?

A: Of course not. The board recommends to dismiss teachers when they harm children. Like when they sleep with a child or do drugs with a child or strike a child or steal money from the system; that’s when people get dismissed. I think those are morally obligatory reasons to have no one working with a child.

I don’t criticize the union, and I don’t criticize their leadership. I think the record is explicitly clear, I’ve never actually had a criticism out loud of Warren Fletcher.  But I certainly hope he wants to be a partner for the new $30 million in federal money to honor classroom practice that’s in Race to the Top. I hope they don’t leave that money on the table again.

Q: California’s Department of Education has yet to develop materials to support the new common core guidelines. In fact, state lawmakers suspended textbook adoptions until a year after students take the first mandated test under Common Core standards. How do you prepare students for a test without textbooks?

A: We can’t wait for the state. We actually have to provide for our teachers already and that’s what we’ve been rolling out this summer. There are curriculum materials for every single grade in the subject in the common core in every classroom developed by our teachers. We just launched digital texts for English language arts K-12 that was developed for LAUSD, and all of the training being done by our own teachers. We call them Common Core Fellows. We are absolutely prepared for the new school year.

Q: Leaders of the California Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers have asked the U.S. Dept. of Education to temporarily suspend penalties on schools that score poorly on tests until teachers and students can “master this new approach.” Do you agree that a moratorium is necessary?

A: We’re making one of the biggest adjustments ever in education. People have been trying to make the case that teachers need time to train, and that’s absolutely true. I think the use of the test and accountability systems, [those] merit real pause as we learn to teach in a new way, and I’d like that to be two to three years.  But I don’t think we should have a moratorium on tests to let us know how students are doing.

Q: Do you have a strategy for managing the public-relations problem or morale problem that could arise when scores on the new tests look worse than those on the state’s current tests?

A: Test scores are going to change completely because it’s an entirely different system. You actually can’t compare California Standardized Tests to Smarter Balance. The scores themselves will be very, very different and what you’re doing is setting a new baseline. If you think that at one point you were at 80 percent, and now you’re 40 percent, so, therefore, it’s plummeting morale, it’s quite the opposite.

We were talking about this the whole week with Principal groups. People who care so much about this profession, their anxiety is up, and what we wanted to say is: Use the time to really focus on leading improvement of practice. Stop being so concerned about results until we actually learn how to do this.

Part Two of the interview appears tomorrow.

 Previous Posts: Defiant Deasy Says He’ll Push Targeted Spending Plan AnywayDeasy Skirmish With Board Members a Long Time ComingBoard Members Ask Deasy To Explain Himself

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