Letters for the week of October 27-November 2, 2004 

Kudos for our story about the TSA's crackdown on unions. An altogether different response to Chris Thompson on Oakland schools.

Page 2 of 3

Again, kudos to PLoS for providing scientific literature for free. It is a good thing. But just as we can't all have houses as clean as Martha Stewart's, because we don't all have millions to hire people to clean our home, we can't all be PLoS. Everyone would like to be able to do what they do, but not everyone can, and unless PLoS wants to share some of those riches, they should stop trying to force everyone else to do as they do.
Ellen Paul, executive director, The Ornithological Council, Chevy Chase, Maryland

"Teachers Can Only Blame Themselves," City of Warts, 9/29

Hillside teachers will quit
Chris Thompson's article is yet another anti-teachers' union missive. Why are we, as staunch union members, so universally reviled? How is it our fault that the health insurance companies have doubled their rates nationwide? And how are experienced teachers in the flatlands going to make up for lack of cash, decrepit schools, and all the other problems of the urban poor? If experienced teachers are forced to change their assignments at the will of the state administrator, and if many experienced teachers are reassigned to flatland schools, what happens to the children in the (formerly) higher performing schools who suddenly are faced with an abundance of inexperienced teachers?

Teaching is a difficult and stressful job. With the increased requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the proposed decreases in salary and benefits, and the constant public pressure to fix all social ills, not to mention the threat of forced reassignment (How frequently? What grade level?), soon there may be no more people willing to teach.
Celeste Fendell, Oakland

Flatland teachers will quit
Saying that the more experienced teachers are a part of the problem because they do not want to be involuntarily transferred to "flatland schools" is dead wrong. Teachers are fighting for seniority rights because if the district has no contractual obligation not to transfer teachers involuntarily, it is the teachers in the flatland schools who will be affected. It is they who will be transferred because the reason for transferring people comes up when/if schools fail to pass tests.

The issue of test scores is not one that plagues "hill schools." Their scores are usually pretty high. Without protections guaranteed by a contract, the new teachers in the flatland schools will find themselves "reconstituted," transferred, disciplined and, I might add ... fed up and leaving Oakland. A problem with schools in general comes from the fact that almost 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Many flatland schools have upwards of 30 percent new teachers EVERY YEAR. With high-stakes testing, and the pressurized atmosphere in the classroom promoted by Ward -- not to mention the takebacks in the contract -- there will never again be a core of experienced teachers in Oakland for any of the schools.
Michael Strange, Berkeley

Dedicated teachers will quit
In response to "Teachers Can Only Blame Themselves," California is now at the bottom nationwide in the amount spent per pupil for K-12 education. Does Mr. Thompson really think we should blame the teachers for this?

My sons have been educated by fine teachers at an Oakland public school for six years. Without exception, the women who have taught my children could have succeeded at any career they chose. I am grateful that they chose to teach. If Dr. Ward is successful in forcing them to transfer to any school of his choosing, dedicated teachers will finally give up teaching. Dr. Ward knows that the exodus of experienced teachers will help pay the bills. But it will be the children who pay them. If we want to attract and retain quality teachers, we have to compensate them fairly.
Karen E. Katz, Oakland

Veterans and newbies will quit
Here we go again -- yet another clueless opinionator weighing in on education. I don't know what Ms. Quintana said, and I really don't think her statements made much difference in the decision to bring in a state administrator other than to provide political cover for some in the legislature. Personally, I liked Chaconas and believe that he was committed to improving education, especially for disadvantaged children. The best thing he did for Oakland's students was to give the teachers a raise. For me personally, it meant that I really could consider staying in Oakland rather than moving on to a wealthier district. The raise put a stop to the annual bleeding of Oakland teachers.

We have a state administrator in Oakland not because of what was said about Chaconas by Ms. Quintana, but because of years of fiscal mismanagement. (I do not lay that at Mr. Chaconas' door.) We teachers had nothing to do with that. To blame us for the mess we're in is ridiculous.

What really got to me though was Mr. Thompson's assertion that veteran teachers desert flatland schools for hill schools because "no one wants to teach at ghetto schools." Where did he get this information? Did he actually talk to teachers? Has he conducted a poll? Or is this the bill of goods Ward is selling so he can bust the union? Talk to any veteran teacher and they'll tell you they have seen it all -- from phonics, to whole language, to phonics again. Name your flavor of the month, and I guarantee Oakland has tried it. The latest flavor is something called Results Based Budgeting. In theory, each school gets absolute control of its budget. In practice, this will mean that veteran teachers, because they are paid more, become less attractive employees. Principals could be put in the position of choosing between a twenty-year veteran and class size reduction or a library or enrichment, etc. Ward does not care where veteran teachers are teaching; he cares about paying back the loan. Eliminating seniority will give him the same ability to discriminate against older employees that is found in the private sector.

Not only will you see veteran teachers leaving in droves, you will see younger ones declining to come, or leaving after a few years. In other words, we will be back where we were before Mr. Chaconas came in. New teachers will get their start in Oakland, then leave after a few years. Already I am hearing from colleagues that are looking in Hayward and elsewhere, not because they want to desert "ghetto" schools, but because they can't get a fair shake in Oakland. (And believe me, people are not exactly beating down the door to replace them.)

I teach in a flatland school in the Fruitvale district, and I wouldn't teach anywhere else given the choice. I have seen veteran teachers leave -- many for retirement, others for other flatland schools, and still others for careers out of education. I want to stay in my school, but the district's plans may force me to leave. If I have to pay an ever-increasing amount for the privilege of working in Oakland, it will be with a heavy heart that I look elsewhere, and there are options out there. Recently, I ran into an acquaintance who left teaching to take up dog walking. Not only is her job easier, it pays more. I find it ironic that we value our nation's dog walkers more than our teachers.
Lauren Kayed, Berkeley


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