August 25 2012

Sacramento Politicians Putting their Heads in the Sand over Teacher Quality

Vicki E. Alger

Here’s the latest on a union-driven end-run around a 40+-year-old law at the expense of students and taxpayers. California's Stull Act was enacted in 1971 and requires all teacher evaluations include measures of student progress. As 4LAKids reported:

Five parents sued the Los Angeles Unified School District in Superior Court, claiming that for four decades it has refused to comply with a state law that it regularly evaluate teachers, "with data that reasonably measures, among other criteria, whether or not the students under an employee's charge are actually learning."… They claim that "groups of politically powerful adults," have obstructed the law since it was enacted in 1971.

Those powerful adults are the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the California Public Employment Relations Board. 4LAKids continues noting that the parents argue:

"There can be no dispute that the nation's second largest school district is a broken school system that has failed millions of children over the past 40 years and limited the future potential of the children and community of Los Angeles in large part due to the failure of the adults who are responsible for governing, managing and evaluating the district's certificated personnel, by failing to establish a lawful standard for satisfactory performance of certificated adults, which necessarily must be based, at least in part, upon student progress. The very purpose of the district has been turned on its head by adults focused on employment conditions and political power instead of individual performance assessment and accountability measured at least in part on whether or not children are actually progressing toward standards of expected achievement. It is simply unacceptable under California Constitutional and statutory law to ignore the plight of students any longer.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ordered in June that LAUSD use student test scores as part of teacher evaluations and comply with the law. According to the Wall Street Journal :

As the judge noted, something's amiss when 99.3% of teachers receive the highest grade on their evaluations, but only 46% of students score proficient on language arts state tests. The ruling set a precedent for parents across the state to demand that their districts also obey Stull. This has alarmed the unions, which ordered their friends in the legislature to supercede [sic] the Los Angeles court order and ward off more legal challenges. The Assembly has dutifully passed a bill [AB 5 by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), ironically referred to as Teachers: best practices teacher evaluation], which the Senate is now considering, that makes teacher evaluations entirely subject to collective bargaining. The bill would supposedly require evaluations to measure student academic growth, but that too would be subject to union negotiations.

Here's the kicker. Governor Jerry Brown and state Superintendent Tom Torlakson think they can sell this legislation as genuine reform to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who should know better. According to Mr. Torlakson, the bill would make the state's application for a No Child Left Behind waiver "more attractive." Only in the eyes of the union beholders and beholden.

If California parents had more school choice—beyond the quality charter schools that are bursting at the seems and have mile-long waiting lists—they and their children would not be subject to strong-armed unions and weak-willed elected officials.

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