By Sarah Knopp
In the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who argued that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws," the 47,000-strong United Teachers Los Angeles has defied both the law and Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education orders on at least three occasions since the state budget crisis began to unfold and the district began stonewalling employees in negotiations. More than 80 percent of teachers in the nation's second-largest school district struck illegally on June 6, 2008, for the first hour of school (students arrived late or were supervised on school yards by administrators.) Fifty parents and teachers occupied the LAUSD board room in March 2009, trying to disrupt the board's vote to send pink slips to over 9,000 employees by shutting down their meeting. (As it turned out, board members snuck into a different room away from the public and took the vote anyway.) And this January, UTLA members began boycotting district-mandated "periodic assessments"?called benchmark assessments in many districts?in tandem with a boycott of after-school faculty meetings.
Immense solidarity, not to mention solid footing on moral high-ground, has saved teachers from much punishment. We sacrificed a paltry hour of pay for the one-hour strike, the board refused to arrest those of us illegally occupying their boardroom in March, and to the union's knowledge, the district has not followed through on threats to write up any teachers for failing to turn in assessment data.
When Superintendent Cortines sent out a message to teachers warning that they would be punished for not turning in test data, UTLA hit back with a letter promising not to sign any contract that did not include a no-reprisal clause for participation in union-sanctioned actions. (See the letter at http://utla.net/system/files/duffy_response_20090127.pdf.) When Cortines wrote a letter to parents claiming that we were robbing children by not giving the tests, teachers refused to distribute it. Instead, the union printed letters for us to send home to parents explaining that we are boycotting tests because they "are not designed by teachers at our school who work with your child every day, the content is usually not aligned with [my] classroom lessons. Many of the tests have to be sent off-site to be scored, and the results often come back too late to help guide [my] lesson plans. These tests are produced by outside consultants and cost the school district millions of dollars without benefit to students." (See the letter to parents at http://www.utla.net/system/files/Explanatory_Ltr_To_Parents.pdf.)
The boycotted tests are not required by federal No Child Left Behind mandates or state education codes. They are district mandates that press down on classrooms already saturated with other standardized tests. They are called "periodic," because in secondary schools they are given quarterly in math, English, science, and social studies classes. They therefore act to enforce standardized pacing. They are written and scored by Princeton Review. (At the elementary level, teachers have boycotted McGraw Hill Open Court pacing plan tests.)