First, let me apologize for the radio silence. My husband is teaching at NYU Law School this semester, and the move from southern Utah to Manhattan has eaten up the week. I’ve finally unpacked my boxes and (full disclosure time) visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice. Meanwhile forty-one AP U.S. History essays have landed in my inbox. Maybe it’s time to get back to work.
In that spirit, I’d like to continue my posts on education reform around the country with a report from California. Here the news isn’t a new initiative, but rather an old initiative that survived a legislative challenge . . . and a defeat that may signal seismic shifts in the state’s education politicss.
As the LA Times reports,
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) had revived a long-dormant bill, AB 5, in the last few weeks of the legislative session to push forward his plan for a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system featuring more performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process.
But the bill, supported by the powerful California Teachers Assn., attracted a firestorm of criticism over the costs to financially strapped districts and the requirement to negotiate with unions every element of evaluations, including the use of state standardized test scores. (my emphasis). Teachers unions have vociferously argued that test scores are too unreliable for use in key personnel decisions.
As opposition grew — more than 45 education, parent, civil rights and business organizations fought the bill — Fuentes announced Thursday, the eve of the legislative session’s final day, that he would abandon his efforts.
So why, you might ask, would “education, parent, civil rights and business organizations” fight a bill to create a statewide teacher evaluation system? For that matter, why was the California teacher’s union fighting for this bill? (It has not exactly led the fight for more stringent teacher evaluations.)
Read a little further:
Bill Lucia of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based educational advocacy group that helped spearhead opposition efforts, said the bill had started out with good intentions. But changes, including the elimination of requirements to use state standardized test scores in evaluations and the lack of adequate funding, would have set back efforts in Los Angeles and elsewhere to develop a strong teacher evaluation system, he said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a voluntary evaluation program that uses state test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. Supt. John Deasy had said that the legislation would virtually end those efforts because the district would probably not be able to win agreement over it with United Teachers Los Angeles. The union is urging teachers not to participate in the program.
You won’t get the answer in the LA Times article, but other coverage of the bill’s demise gives more back story.
California has had a law around since 1972, the Stull Act, that puts test scores front and center in teacher evaluations but whose impact has been blunted over the years. In June, a Superior Court judge ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to start using standardized test scores in evaluating the effectiveness of teachers but did not specifically say how that should be put into practice.
The union interpreted the ruling to mean it was subject to collective bargaining. LAUSD Superintendent of Schools John Deasy said the ruling meant the school district could develop an evaluation system without negotiations.
After the court decision, AB5, which had originally surfaced as a bill in 2010 without union support, was retooled by Democratic Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes as a vehicle more attuned to labor’s sensibilities. But it failed to garner enough support to advance in the Legislature.
The really interesting question, to my mind: What happens next – in Los Angeles, and throughout the state? State law requires that test scores be included in teacher evaluations. Up until the recent court decision, this law has been largely ignored. Stay tuned.