Letters for the week of January 18-24 2006 

No one wrote us any letters during the wet, cold holidays, so we return to teacher tenure, with a short biological detour.

"Fishy Business," Cityside, 12/7

Straight up, no chaser
Not only fear of litigation drives SFPUC. While $50 million are spent, they are putting chloramine -- a toxic chemical deadly to fish, frogs, turtles, etc. -- in the water. The water we drink, bathe in, and use in landscaping, this water runs into the creeks, all the way to the bay. In researching this "chloramine" problem I could not get any straight answers from any official. Perhaps steelhead enjoy a chloramine cocktail.

A. Heuken, Hayward

"The Case Against Tenure," Feature, 12/7

The case for tenure
"The Case Against Tenure" contains a number of factual errors I would like to clarify. If administrators documented their cases against incompetent teachers, the process would take less time and money to get to the CPC panel. I've sat on CPC panels where the outcome was a teacher dismissal. In other cases I have been involved in, I noted for the record that the administrators frequently forgot to work with the teacher, took incomprehensible notes, or missed timelines.

It is also mentioned in the article that protecting teachers has nothing to do with protecting children. I disagree. Can you imagine the effects of arbitrary and capricious teacher dismissal on the kids? Protecting teachers IS all about kids. The effect of frequent teacher change on students is the same as if they moved every year to a new school. And with finances being the way they are, there is an unspoken incentive for districts to remove senior teachers and hire newer teachers who have lower salaries.

I just hope that my brave colleagues in Oakland who wanted to surrender "tenure" had a backup plan. It's amazing how promises of cooperation, especially in a political hotbed such as the Oakland schools, can result in a sudden "Oops! I don't remember us talking about that." Or "This isn't working."
Michael J. D'Augelli, Hayward

More good than bad
I am sure that after your article in the Express that you have had a lot of e-mails from public-school teachers. I guess one more wouldn't hurt. Although most of your facts are correct in regards to how school districts go about eliminating bad teachers and the costs associated with this process, you have ignored the biggest obstacle facing teacher shortages and how to go about actually fixing education, which is substantially increasing teacher pay! And rebuilding the awfully rundown buildings that inner-city teachers have to work in.

Until I got into teaching I never realized how unequal our educational system is in regards to class and race. Teaching is a tremendous amount of work and I believe teachers deserve tenure after two years, especially in the inner city. I think you bring about very sensationalized cases of bad teachers and fail to focus on the very good teachers. And, believe me, there are more good teachers than bad. I have never met anyone that went into teaching to become a bad teacher. Yes, there are burned-out teachers who need to move on or even be fired, but for the most part good teachers are the norm in our CA educational system. I don't know if you have taught before, but you should try it, and then rewrite your article.
Juan J. Soria, Oakland

Stop the scapegoating
Mr. Gammon's article is one-sided and misses the mark. He begins by describing the California Teachers' Association as some sort of juggernaut. If CTA was really so powerful, why is public education so "wildly underfunded," as Mr. Gammon acknowledges at the end of his article? He goes on to make many allegations about "bad teachers," but gives no empirical evidence of how teacher tenure hurts students or how giving up teacher tenure helps students. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of attacking teachers, what California really needs is to support the teachers it does have and to attract quality new ones with decent salaries and benefits.

Mr. Gammon suggests that Schwarzenegger use a carrot-and-stick approach to end teacher tenure; however, recently it seems like the governor has only been using the stick approach, even though CTA has been making sacrifice after sacrifice. Yes, there are bad teachers out there, but tenure is not the problem Gammon makes it out to be. Let's focus on the real problems of severe concentrated poverty in our communities, the underfunding of our schools, and the growing financial disparity between the rich and poor instead of using teachers as scapegoats.
Eddie Lin, Oakland

Schools as bad as roads
"Haven't all of us had to endure at least one bad teacher?" Rather than shining light on the real problems of our education system, Mr. Gammon simply launches another brain-dead attack on the people who deserve it least. Lacking any concrete information on the state of teaching in California, the article builds a case on loose generalizations and one horror-story case that just points out an area of the law that should be fixed immediately.

Of course, Mr. Gammon did hedge his argument by paying lip service to the real problems our system faces. Teachers in places like Richmond are not paid enough, and teachers everywhere sorely lack the support they need to be effective educators. That reality goes a long way in explaining why so many burn out to begin with. Those that stay in the education system for a long time do so because they put children before everything else.

The fact is, our educational infrastructure is in as shoddy condition as our roads are in many parts of the state. We can thank a spending level per child that hovers around 45th in the nation, and lack of any meaningful ideas from the governor to remedy this situation. Instead, Mr. Schwarzenegger went after the most visible people in the education system: teachers.

Mr. Gammon does the same, using anecdote, horror story, and broad generalizations to create an easy scapegoat for a difficult problem. This wasn't journalism, it was bad op-ed. How the same person who wrote this article also won an award in media excellence is beyond me.
Douglas MacLean, Oakland

In our January 11 cover story about the music recommendation Web site Pandora.com ("Pandora's Box"), we misstated how many children Chicago music fan John Weyer has; he has three.

Last week's review of Last Holiday should have been credited to Luke Y. Thompson.

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