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.
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.
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.