Teachers Vs. Latinos

An open letter to UC Board of Regents

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: July 16, 2002

Teachers Vs. Latinos


Dr. Velma Montoya
Ms. Monica Lozano
University of California
Board of Regents

Dear Velma and Monica,

If you are at the Regents' meeting this week, I think it would be so beneficial to again bring up the issue of Latino non-achievement to your colleagues as they discuss the UCD proposed teacher training plan and the teacher "shortage" matter and thus you can effectively strike a blow for Latino education, 0-K-12-PhD and thereafter.

I don't have to tell you, of all people, of the high school dropout rates of 30% and higher among California Latino kids, the incredible percent of "graduates" from our high schools who either can't make it at all or need unprecedented remedial reading, math and other instruction just to survive in the college environment. They are being pushed out of our incompetent schools by incompetent teachers and overwhelmed and pressured principals and tolerated by greedy, unashamed unions and gutless school boards and ignored by a seemingly uncaring or unfocused Governor....not to mention a mostly apathetic or uncaring State legislature!

As it involves Latino kids and indeed most California schools in poorer districts and neighborhoods, the teacher situation is scandalous. The percentage of "non-certified" teachers in those schools is bad enough. Worse is the quality of teachers' subject knowledge and training versus the subject they teach in schools that are 70%-90% Latino.

Beyond those facts (U.S. Dept. of Ed., U.S. NCES, Title II reports, NEA, etc.) is a fundamental problem....getting "certified" and "credentialed" as a teacher in California is loaded with requirements for lots of mostly useless semester hours and tuition dollars as well as wasted teacher-training tax dollars for injecting would-be or existing "teachers" with courses that are purely "education" oriented and do little or nothing with getting more truly qualified teachers into professional-deprived classrooms. This felony is compounded by ridiculously inadequate academic standards which often lead to morally fraudulent "certification" that allows turning our kids over to the recipients for many hours daily.....during those kids' irreplaceable, formative years.


It is beyond doubt that leadership and much membership of the CTA and other power-driven teacher unions are motivated to keep the status quo. (The recent Goldberg Assembly Bill 2160, thankfully killed, clearly revealed at least the CTA's pervasive sentiment and intent.) Status quo says that "senior" teachers can avoid being assigned to "poor kids' schools", or they can point to total college semester hours rather than relevant training to receive raises and up-grading and they negotiate with wimpy and uninspired school boards for as little accountability as they can get away with, personally or as a profession........shameless!

Professor Thomas Sowell does a far more eloquent and knowledgeable job in his recent article on teachers than I can (! He cites a recent report by Secretary Rod Paige of the U.S. Department of Education on "Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge" which he categorizes as "scary". As I feared, when I delved into Secretary Paige's report and supporting data that Dr. Sowell calls "scary", California is indeed one of the perpetrators of remorseless acceptance of teacher incompetence (i.e. bottom quartile of subject knowledge OK or below national standards in math, for starters) as a base for "certification" to teach our kids and shape the future work force in our great state!

The bottom line is that they will probably tell you on Wednesday that UC Davis can, indeed, eventually turn out more teachers.....but more of the same is not nearly good enough.........there needs to be a cultural revolution in teacher "factories"; they must, instead, become "teacher development institutes" with the goal of inculcating that teaching is a profession requiring constant upgrading of skill and knowledge while working within one phase of the learning process. The need today is for teachers that would revolt at "social promotion" of kids, that would insist on testing as an evaluation tool, of their own skills or for design of remedial action and not as a threatening and necessary evil.

For sure, the issue of teacher salaries will emerge.....yet, what cannot be covered up is that the most current NEA data shows California third in the nation ($54,000) on teacher compensation...........yet near last or in the high 40's in ranking of the states for student achievement.........Am I missing something? The next excuse, I suppose, can only be that our kids are dumber than in the other Latino heavy states like Texas or Florida......try that one and try to keep your jobs--you teacher union executives! But, would you believe that Texas pays its teachers much less ($38,000) but somehow gets far, far better student achievement? What's happening here?

Let's look at just a few more numbers. Texas had about 280,100 teachers in the 2000-2001 year; California had only a few thousand more, 284,600. Yet the percent of teachers "on waiver" (for certification) was 23% for California in "High Poverty Districts" (Latino?) but only 13% on waiver in "Low Poverty Districts. Thus if you are a kid in Santa Monica or Brentwood, the School Board (or parents that speak English and yell at election time!) allows you an almost fifty percent lesser chance of getting an uncertified teacher there, than if you live in Boyle Heights or Huntington Park! Yet in Texas, the difference is between 13% (high poverty) vs. 11% in low poverty areas. And, in Florida, it's an impressively low 6% in high poverty districts vs. only 3% (!) of "on waiver" teachers in low poverty areas. Got the message? California for low-income! All data is as provided by the states under Title II.

From the federal "No Child Left Behind" program, final numbers for today.....California has 1,009 (12%) schools (Total 8,566) that fail to meet Title I success criteria, thus allowing parents to transfer their children out...if they can find where to go. Florida has 248 failing poor area schools (Total 3,131) under Title I (8%). Texas has only 121 failing schools within a total close to California (7,395); Texas has less than 2% (1/6th of California!) failing schools with almost the same number of teachers and 1,000 less schools (and $18,000 lower annual median pay!). Where is our Governor? Where is our Legislature? Where is the professionalism in the unions; or are they overwhelmed by embarrassment? Where is the outrage of Latino legislators or, indeed, Latino "activists" or the traditional Latino Civil Rights establishment.......are they too busy getting rights and privileges for the undocumented? I don't begrudge them that, but what about the rest of the Latino community.......isn't it fashionable anymore to think about your total constituency!

Getting back to teacher requirements, if we dare. As they emerge from their own learning and training, why can't we require of teachers that they should be capable enough so as not to fear teacher competency assessment, geared to what their instructional specialties purport to be. They must somehow become teachers that recognize that the teaching-learning experience, for young and old, is a continuum......beginning at birth and, what should be for more, reaching a culmination only with a PhD, but at minimum, a B.A. or B.S. Acceptance of less and it's Burger King or Taco Bell, and not as owners, for our youth!

Someday, when I see those new kinds of teachers and new teacher thinking happening, when I see poor Latino kids that can read, that can get into UCD or UCLA or Cal Tech or even Cal State xxxxxx without hand-holding and props, I, for one, would accept a significant increase in my property taxes, earmarked for teacher salaries ......but I want to see performance, I want to see results, not whining. I never got a raise in all my 50 years of professional life when I didn't earn it and had to prove it! Is that too much to ask of people that work 9 or 10 months annually (or get extra pay) and want to be called professionals? I can assure you that there were no "uncertified" engineers or scientists where I worked in the past and I don't want "uncertified" doctors or lawyers advising me or making decisions for me! I sure as hell don't want my next surgeon to be "on waiver"!

And a good, properly certified teacher responsible for my child's future may be as valuable to California as my $300/hour lawyer!

As usual, you both need to make the difference at your meeting; sensitizing attendees again about our problems including Republicans or moderate colleagues like Monica, the student and alumni representatives and even Cruz Bustamante, if he shows up. Maybe you can shake up those financially proven Davis supporters who hesitate to tick off their benefactor/appointer by critiquing an Administration that touts that California is the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world yet blatantly tolerates the worst educational system in the nation, across the board, in learning achievement for Latinos! We, you there and we out here, must begin a new leadership for a bipartisan effort to "out" and pressure a guy who has sold out to the CTA for four years, and prior, as Chief of Staff to Jerry Brown. The answers are not in sheer money or in is in willingness of a governor to admit failure, to confront the weakest links in the system and somehow truly show caring and sensitivity for what is inexorably the future of this state.....our children......who are every day and possibly forever, increasingly Latino.

Fernando Oaxaca
Los Angeles

PS: I found it laughable, if it wasn't so sad, that our Mayor Jim Hahn, as reported in yesterday's L.A. Times, has suddenly discovered that our schools serving Latinos are lousy, especially in less-advantaged neighborhoods, and so he is moving out smartly to put together some "advisors" to "work" the problem. This....from the Mayor of the largest city in the metropolitan area with the largest Mexican-origin population in the world except for Mexico City! Where has he been? Mars? As our local radio host, Larry Elder, says.....uuunbeelievable!

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