This past week, Leonard Isenberg (at left in his Facebook photo), a high school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who was removed from his classroom in February 2010, by LAUSD police officers, in handcuffs, and who has been on full pay and benefits since then, doing nothing, has had his administrative hearings on whether or not his teaching career, at least in Los Angeles, will resume or end. Isenberg's initial failings appear to be "an attempt to unmask the academic fraud of awarding high school diplomas to students who had not met the [state's] standards of graduation."
Only Dr. Jim Taylor, writing on SFGate, has covered the case this week (and his coverage includes interviewing several other teachers in the LAUSD for confirmation on some of Isenberg's allegations). We picked the story up from Scott Folsom, blogger on 4LAKids.
Taylor's SFGate piece, "A School District Out of Control?," was posted Wednesday, during the first of Isenberg's "disciplinary hearings."
The teachers with whom I spoke received little to no support from school administrators for disciplining students, without which the environment necessary for teaching cannot exist, contrary to California state law, school district policy, and the LAUSD/UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) collective bargaining agreement. Tardiness, truancy, profanity, violence, talking in class, use of electronic devices, lack of responsiveness to teachers, refusal to do assignments, and disregard for authority are a laundry list of offenses that were common in classrooms and for which teachers could not count on school administrators to take appropriate action. One assistant principal told a teacher, "You have no right to suspend students no matter what they do. The District doesn't like suspensions." Teachers were threatened with disciplinary action even if they called campus security.
Students were routinely admitted to classes without adequate screening (e.g., past violent behavior, gang affiliation) or legal notice as required by law. In one incident, one such student stabbed another student. Mr. Isenberg had numerous fights broke out in his classes and disruptive behavior of defiant students was the rule rather than the exception. Administrators blamed him for the problems and required him to take a "classroom management" course, where the retired teacher who gave the course told Mr. Isenberg that, "The problem with discipline is that the LAUSD doesn't enforce it."
School administrators forced teachers to accept students into higher-level courses, such as algebra, despite the students' complete lack of mastery of basic subject skills, for example, many of Mr. Isenberg's students didn't know their multiplication tables. According to Mr. Isenberg, this practice is LAUSD policy and instituted district wide. Teachers were then told to give the students passing grades or suffer unspecified consequences. This practice served two important purposes for the administration. It gave the appearance of academic progress for students who were going nowhere in school. And it ensured that seats would continue to be filled for funding purposes.
Particularly egregious behavior on the part of administrators could be best described as "administrative terrorism," in which principals and assistant principals conduct reigns of terror on teachers who don't tow the party line. Said one teacher with whom I spoke, "Teachers were terrified of the principal and her staff. They just did what they were told so they could keep their jobs." Certainly, Mr. Isenberg's treatment exemplified this strategy of coercion and control. Frequent classroom evaluations by administrators, bogus and trumped-up charges, parents and students pressured to give incriminating statements against teachers, teachers moved from school to school without notice or rationale, and long delays in due process hearings are just a few of the ways in which school administrators use threats, fear, and intimidation to maintain power and keep teachers in line.
The teachers I spoke with also described what appeared to be widespread fraud.
Most evident was the manipulation of Average Daily Attendance (ADA), which is the number of filled seats in a school each day (in contrast to the number of students enrolled at the beginning of the school year). ADA is the basis for school funding from the state; the more seats that are filled, the more funding and the more funding, the safer are administrators' and teachers' jobs who are willing to not rock the boat. Yet, there can be a huge discrepancy between ADA and enrollment, what Mr. Isenberg calls "construction of a paper school." It is common, for example, to have 35 students enrolled in a class, but only 12 actually attend class. I was told there are two often-used strategies to modify the ADA. First, school administration includes students who rarely attend class or show up late and are still counted present for purposes of ADA. And clerical staff are ordered to change the attendance reports submitted by the teachers under pressure from the principal. "Gaming the ADA system is common at my school," said one teacher.
Other forms of fraud were also described by teachers. Administrators purportedly ordered textbooks that were never delivered or used. They created "ghost" classes and assigned teachers who didn't teach them and students who didn't attend them. Courses were taught by teachers who were not credentialed to teach the specific subject, violating state law. And the employee payroll was padded with people who never showed up for work, but who were still paid. Not surprising given that $200 million dollars of LAUSD payroll money were "lost" last year.
Mr. Isenberg's commentary on his hearings can be read on his blog Perdaily.com.