The Los Angeles United School District teacher union is boycotting the L.A. Times for publishing analysis of elementary school teachers’ effects on their students’ learning.  For years the local school district has decided not to analyze the impact of a teacher on students’ test scores — despite the fact that the superintendent claims they have some of the best data in the country.  This decision was due in large part to pressure from the union.  The L.A. Times conducted their own analysis of data covering over 6,000 elementary school teachers from seven years.  The method they used accounted for outside influences on test scores such as family background and poverty.  It has even been embraced by the Obama Administration and L.A.’s superintendent and deputy superintendent.

Introducing the alternative evaluation system provides Los Angeles with a measure of teacher effectiveness that opens up a whole new discussion of education reform to improve student achievement.  By determining the actual value added or subtracted by a single teacher, the school district is equipped with a powerful tool to assess how their schools are actually doing.  (Under the current evaluation system in L.A., nearly all teachers in the district received passing grades last year.)  The Times revealed that students had better test scores after a year with teachers ranked high in effectiveness, yet those same students would do significantly worse after a year with an ineffective teacher.  The results and the teacher’s names have been published in an online database.  (How dare they!)

The union boss in L.A. calls the newspaper’s reports “an irresponsible, offensive intrusion into your professional life that will do nothing to improve student learning.”  It’s truly unfortunate that teachers unions stand adamantly against transparency and accountability efforts by school districts and activists to weed out bad teachers or reward good teachers (See “California Teacher Union Rallies Around Bad Ideas“).  I applaud the Los Angeles Times for standing up to the union and publishing a series of revealing reports that the school district has neglected to do itself.  The Times has initiated a discussion about education reform that is long overdue.