Deasy Putting a Stop to the ‘Dance of the Lemons’ in LA

If John Deasy cares about the outcome of the Los Angeles teachers union’s upcoming no-confidence vote, he isn’t showing it by acting less decisively. While appearing with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Deasy spoke about doing away with the notorious district practice called the ‘Dance of the Lemons’ – where underperforming teachers are transferred from [...]

If John Deasy cares about the outcome of the Los Angeles teachers union’s upcoming no-confidence vote, he isn’t showing it by acting less decisively. While appearing with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Deasy spoke about doing away with the notorious district practice called the ‘Dance of the Lemons’ – where underperforming teachers are transferred from school to unsuspecting school – by announcing that the district has taken steps to get rid of ineffective teachers much more quickly.

Although it’s easy to believe that the vast majority of LAUSD teachers are competent and good at their jobs, there are still reasons to suspect that a bad apple can hide in the district a lot longer than a similarly poorly-performing employee in a private sector might. Across the United States, between 2 and 6% of all employees are fired annually, yet in LA schools, only about .001% lose their jobs in any given year.

United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Teachers Association, with their enormous political influence at the state and district level, had fixed things so that even the worst teacher could tap a multistep appeals process that on average took more than a year and cost schools hundreds of thousands of dollars per case. Terrible teachers often were reinstated, so for decades, principals quietly transferred them to other L.A. schools — the “dance” that, when finally detailed by L.A. Weekly and other media, spawned intense criticism.

The difference is in the numbers. In 2005-06, a total of 6 teachers were fired in the district with an additional 10 persuaded to resign. The following year only three were let go outright, with 15 tendering their resignations under duress. But in the first full academic year after Deasy took over as head of the LAUSD in 2010, 99 tenured teachers were let go and 122 were convinced to resign.

Many were fired for misconduct — say, for sleeping in class, showing movies every day or touching a child inappropriately. Many others were let go for incompetence. Deasy, in his clipped way, calls it “dismissals for unsatisfactory performance.”

Vivian Ekchian, head of LAUSD’s human resources division, has worked under four superintendents — Deasy, Cortines, David Brewer and Roy Romer. She says they all cared about holding teachers to competency standards, but Deasy’s sheer intensity and willingness to put money behind it moved the ball forward for the first time.

The high numbers are thanks to a policy put into effect by Deasy while he was still the district’s #2 in October 2010. The new policy would submit for dismissals any teacher who was deemed unsatisfactory after two years.

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