The Los Angeles Times has stirred up a hornet’s nest by going undercover and grading the teachers in L.A.’s abysmal public school system. The union and school district are predictably outraged (union leaders are calling for a boycott of the newspaper), but I’m giving the LAT an A.
Slate’s acerbic media reporter Jack Shafer also finds that the LAT has done its readers a great service:
The Times findings, which took bravery to express in liberal, union-enslaved Los Angeles, are hardly incendiary. The paper found that effective teachers “often go unrecognized”; that the school district does not act on the information it’s gathered to fire ineffective teachers because it basically fears the union; that the best teachers are scattered throughout the system, not concentrated in the rich neighborhoods or the “best schools”; that parents are denied “access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets”; that seniority determines pay and job protection; and so on.
The expose bolsters one of my favorite points about public education: It’s not the money, honey.
It almost seems that the more a district throws at education, the worse the schools are. This is certainly the case in Los Angeles. As a fine piece in today’s Wall Street Journal notes:
Since 1990, K-12 education spending has grown by 191% and now consumes more than 40% of the state budget. The Cato Institute reports that L.A. spends almost $30,000 per pupil, including capital costs for school buildings, yet the high school graduation rate is 40.6%, the second worst among large school districts in the U.S.
After decades of measuring education results only by money spent, with little to show for it, parents are finally looking for an objective measure to judge teacher effectiveness. Taxpayers also deserve to know whether the money they’re paying teachers is having any impact on learning or merely financing fat pay and pensions in return for mediocrity. The database generated 230,000 page views within hours of being published on the paper’s website, so the public would appear to want this information.
It is difficult to evaluate teachers. That’s a given. But, as somebody who is grateful to have grown up in the era of starchy old-maid teachers who took sadistic delight in forcing us to diagram sentences, I’m appalled that we now have teachers who themselves can’t conjugate a verb. Something must change. The WSJ points out:
Currently, less than 2% of teachers are denied tenure in L.A., and teacher evaluations don’t take into account whether students are learning. [American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten] Weingarten prefers to continue a system of meaningless teacher assessments that almost never result in an instructor being fired for performance. So she wants to shoot the messenger for telling readers things they clearly want to know.
Focusing on the quality of teaching, not just the $$$, is a first step towards ensuring that kids whose families can’t send them to private schools (but on whom the public system spends more than it would cost to go to a good private school) will have a chance at acquiring the skills that make for a good life.