So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

New study: LAUSD's poor, Black and Latino students get the worst teachers

Students test-taking.

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Students taking a test.

There are lot of studies coming out these days that look at the impact of a teacher on their students, including one recently released by Harvard and Columbia economists.

This week an Oakland, Calif.-based organization added to the mix, The Education Trust — West published findings of a two-year long study examining the nation's second-largest school system: Los Angeles Unified School District. The organization took the district's raw teacher data and created their own value-added model using experts to analyze how teachers affect students and how they are currently dispersed among schools.

Its findings have been the talk of multiple briefings over at LAUSD headquarters, said board president Monica Garcia today.

Some key findings from the 17-page report include:

  • The top 25 percent of teachers can dramatically accelerate student learning — an English-Language Arts teacher gives the average student an extra six months of learning and a math teacher an extra four months — compared to the bottom quarter of teachers.
  • Effective teachers are not equally distributed in LAUSD. Teachers in the top 25 percent are less likely to instruct lower-income students and students who are Latino or African-American. These teachers are also more likely to leave the district's highest need schools.

According to the data, low-income students are twice as likely to have a low value-added English-Language Arts teacher and 66 percent more likely to have a low-value added math teacher. Latino and African-American students are up to three times more likely to have a teacher from the bottom 25 percent.

"The inequities we're seeing are pretty startling," said Carrie Hahnel, who is the director of research and policy and co-authored the report.

And the more effective teachers in schools often end up instructing certain classes of students, such as honors classes, Hahnel said.

  • Common measures used to evaluate teaching quality, such as experience, is usually a poor predictor of effectiveness in the classroom. In fact, quality-blind teacher layoffs in 2009, the paper finds, resulted in the removal of high value-added teachers from the highest need schools. If the district had laid off teachers based on effectiveness, only about 5 percent of the English teachers and 3 percent of math teachers let go, would have been actually cut.

LAUSD has been making strides in teacher evaluation efforts, Hahnel said. It published value-added data for students for the first time last year. It also has created a Teacher Effectiveness Task Force that put out a set of recommendations in 2010 on how to improve student success with more effective teaching.

"So much of California policy is based on teacher experience," Hahnel said. "We lay off based on experience, tenure is based on experience. But we wanted to see how much it is related to teacher effectiveness in a classroom. While a teacher does get better in the first few years, after that their growth levels out. At the end of the day, knowing how long a teacher's been teaching doesn't tell us about the quality."

The report recommends LAUSD invest in high-quality evaluation systems to identify effective teachers and those failing to improve student performance. It also suggests creating incentives — developing policies and programs to attract and retain the best teachers at schools with the highest need. Hahnel said that could include monetary and nonmonetary incentives such as professional development programs. (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed Thursday a merit-pay system that would award top performing teachers.)

Utimately, the report calls for changing state policies that rely on seniority for necessary layoffs. Hahnel pointed to Arizona, which specifically requires performance to be considered in any layoffs, not seniority. Other states, she said, require a variety of data to be considered in such a process.

A 2009 study conducted by The New Teacher Project found that more than 99 percent of LAUSD teachers were evaluated as "meets standards," Hahnel said.

Hahnel said the organization is developing a series of policy recommendations for the 2012 legislative session, and are working to inform parents of their findings.

"This report reminds us of what we know already," said LAUSD board member Monica Garcia today. "We just can't wait, we need a new evaluation system. Quality, quality, quality."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email or on Twitter (@LATams).

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