L.A. Unified union, district at odds over best way to train teachers for Common Core

Both Los Angeles Unified officials and the union representing teachers agree that the bulk of one-time state money for the transition to the Common Core standards should be spent on teacher training. They disagree over how best to provide it.

Los Angeles Unified Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino outlines the district's plan for $113 million implementing the Common Core standards.

Los Angeles Unified Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino outlines the district’s plan for $113 million implementing the Common Core standards.

In a debate that will likely be repeated in districts across California, the district is proposing that a sizable piece of the $113 million coming its way should create a network of teacher specialists who’ll lead the charge for implementing the new English language arts and math standards. United Teachers Los Angeles wants all of the money sent to school sites for full-day trainings and collaboration. In an interview and in comments during a district school board meeting on Tuesday, UTLA President Warren Fletcher criticized the district’s approach and said he feared the creation of “another bureaucracy” that would siphon money from the classroom once the state money runs out in two years.

The Legislature included $1.25 billion for Common Core implementation in this year’s state budget – a signal of strong state support for the new standards at a time when some states have expressed ambivalence about moving forward. Tests in the new standards will be introduced in spring 2015.

Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown have given districts two years and wide discretion on using the money, which amounts to about $200 per student. Districts can spend it on educator training, textbooks or technology. The latter is important, since the new tests are designed to be taken on computers, and cutting-edge lesson plans and materials, many of them free, are all over the Internet.

Los Angeles Unified’s share represents about 10 percent of the state money. The district is committing money from school construction bonds to equip every student with an iPad loaded with texts and lesson plans and to hire technology specialists to oversee the new technology. As a result, it’s committing 75 percent – or about $85 million of the district’s Common Core allotment — to professional development, said Jaime Aquino, deputy superintendent of instruction.

UTLA opposes one of the biggest expenditures, $24 million to create jobs for 122 Common Core coaches or advisers – half in math and half in English language arts. They would form a network of specialists who’d work with principals and teacher leaders in developing Common Core-aligned lessons, sharing best practices and demonstrating an effective use of new technologies, according to the district plan. Over the past two years, the district has trained 300 “fellows” in the Common Core, who, along with other teachers, could apply for the positions.

Ideally, the district would have a math and English coach in every school, Aquino said, but a corps of advisers is an alternative best use of the money. In addition, the district is proposing $42 million over the next two years in release time for teachers and trainings on non-school days, whether weekends or summers.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher tells the Los Angeles school board that he opposes spending money to hire 122 teacher advisers.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher tells the Los Angeles school board that he opposes hiring 122 teacher coaches for Common Core.

But Fletcher, pointing to a survey of LAUSD teachers that found 62 percent of teachers felt their students were slightly or not at all prepared for Common Core, said that full paid days of teams of teachers working together, sorting through Common Core issues at each school, are critical if Common Core is to work. “There is nothing of this sort in the plan,” he told the board.

“LAUSD has a history of creating bureaucracies around everything,” he said. “It’s disappointing that the district is reverting to the old playbook.”

Board member Steve Zimmer said he shared Fletcher’s worry not to recreate “Open Court police,” a reference to the top-down approach to rolling out a scripted reading program that the district adopted years before.

“We are at a once-in-generational moment to relook and revitalizing how to do instruction,” Zimmer said, expressing support for Common Core. “The change must be inclusive and collaborative.”

The district plans to elaborate on plans for the $113 million and explain how the network of coaches would operate. Then it will be clearer if the differences in approaches between the district and the union are more rhetoric than substance.

The board will vote on the proposal next month.

Filed under: Common Core, State Education Policy, Teaching

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10 Responses to “L.A. Unified union, district at odds over best way to train teachers for Common Core”

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  1. Melissa on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:37 am08/21/2013 11:37 am

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    What a great reply! I love to see real thought backed up with some research. I think you’re on the mark here. What’s missing is a chance for teachers to be constantly learning, practicing, and bettering their skills.

  2. Doug Lasken on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:31 am08/21/2013 11:31 am

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    You’d think a teachers union would want a large windfall, such as CA’s Prop. 30 provides schools, to go towards hiring back laid-off of teachers, school nurses, librarians, and the accoutrements of teaching (aside: upon coming out of retirement to coach debate at my old high school, I find teachers have to buy their own copy paper!), but UTLA “demands” that LAUSD’s Prop. 30 money be spent on teacher training for CCS. This is the union’s idea of teachers’ rights. Some rights! I feel like going down to UTLA HQ and grabbing a ream of copy paper.


    • Gary Ravani on Aug 23, 2013 at 2:54 pm08/23/2013 2:54 pm

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      Mr. Laskin: You are confusing the new funding going to districts re LCFF/Prop 30 and special funds allocated specifically for implementation of CCSS (and SBAC).

  3. Paul on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:03 am08/21/2013 9:03 am

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    UTLA’s plan would be more effective than LAUSD’s, because it would directly involve every classroom teacher. Still, the article doesn’t reveal whether either side understands that Common Core readiness won’t magically occur after a little training (UTLA) or coaching (LAUSD) is provided.

    I wrote this in response to Dr. Merill Vargo’s July 21, 2013 article about a marketplace for Common Core readiness services:

    “Math teachers, for example, have to go through a period of introspection, checking whether their math knowledge goes beyond procedure and then beefing up their understanding where necessary. I’d go so far as to argue that working with a coach or attending an active workshop might prompt a teacher to hide gaps in his or her knowledge, for fear of being perceived as incompetent. What’s more, coaches and trainers can present information, but the recipient alone must do the work of receiving the information, thinking about it, practicing with it, and revising prior knowledge. This is a fundamentally individual process.”

    I have to laugh at the timing of this initiative, an initiative that LAUSD knew it needed, irrespective of the status of the NCLB waiver application (“CORE” consortium, not to be confused with “Common Core” state standards). The 2013-2014 school year has already begun in some places, and is set to start next week in most others. It’s too late to do anything before the year starts. Even if the training or coaching, and the individual work that I mention above, could be completed in a matter of months; even if this could be done while teachers were also doing their regular full-time jobs; and even if the iPads and new materials were fully deployed; changing standards, instructional plans, and curriculum after the school year has started is a harrowing experience.


    • Manuel on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:52 am08/21/2013 10:52 am

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      Yes, Paul, leave it to LAUSD Staff to try to come up with a program “on the fly.”

      In the spirit of “Common Core is coming!” the District has told its principals (OK, in at lest one region) to inform their teachers that they must reconfigure the seating arrangement in classrooms to facilitate the “collaborative and cooperative” style of learning that is central to Common Core. As a result, you had first grade teachers rearranging the desks so that “pods” of four students can “work together.” Yeah, right.

      Oh, well, another day in “educational methods by fiat from business managers”…

  4. David B. Cohen on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:52 am08/21/2013 8:52 am

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    The guidelines for effective professional development are pretty clear and uncontroversial, I think. Our professional organizations such as ASCD and Learning Forward (formerly the Ntl. Staff Dev. Council) have dealt with this for decades, offering a wealth of research and best practices to guide these kinds of decisions. And… I think the positions of UTLA and LAUSD, as presented in this post, are both a bit off. Yes, teachers need the opportunity to focus on their practice during some dedicated days of work, with collaboration to translate new learning into better teaching practices. And yes, having expert coaches available can help ensure good implementation. But the secret sauce upon which both approaches will depend is that teachers need continual learning and collaboration opportunities. So if UTLA puts too much faith in typical PD days and collaboration, without some assurance that those days will then guide and inform ongoing work (at least an hour per week in the Learning Forward guidelines), then the efforts may be ineffective. Similarly, if coaches come in now and then teachers may benefit from their help, but without ongoing opportunities to learn and collaborate with peers, the coaches’ effects on teaching are likely to dissipate. This seems like an obvious situation for labor and management to sit down and hammer something out together, based on some objective professional guidelines. Unfortunately, that kind of productive collaboration takes time to grow, and it must be cultivated. The history of problems and distrust springing from other issues may undermine their potential to work together in this situation.

  5. navigio on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:11 am08/21/2013 3:11 am

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    Would these new positions be represented by UTLA?


    • John Fensterwald on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:16 am08/21/2013 9:16 am

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      Assuming they would be, navigio, but have inquired.

  6. Paul Muench on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:04 am08/21/2013 3:04 am

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    Do ( or will ) teachers have access to online training for common core?


    • Maria Simani on Aug 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm08/21/2013 7:02 pm

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      Online training is already available through several Professional Learning Modules (PLM) prepared for the California Department of Education by the California Subject Matter Projects and other education agencies (e.g. County Offices). They are available for free at Brokers of Expertise (http://www.myboe.org).

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