As students head back to Los Angeles schools, district leaders and the teachers union continue their long-standing battle over teacher performance evaluations.
The newly imposed performance evaluation system, which is in its second year of testing, includes student standardized test scores in evaluating teachers and administrators. United Teachers Los Angeles has vigorously opposed the system, which would affect decisions on hiring, firing, tenure and pay increases.
Firing the latest salvo, union president Warren Fletcher this week told membership in a robo-call not to participate in the voluntary performance review, a move that Los Angeles Unified School District head John Deasy called “a real step backward” in relations between the two organizations.
This is not the first time Fletcher has requested teachers refuse to participate in the program — he made the same call to action last year during the initial phase of the evaluation process.
Deasy told AirTalk he was “very disappointed that we don’t seem to have a partner within leadership” at UTLA.
To further stir the waters, a bill that would impose collective bargaining on teacher evaluation discussions is up for review in the Senate Appropriations Committee today. AB 5, authored by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), has languished for over a year. Critics say its revival represents an attempt by California teachers to make an end run around the evaluation process, which a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge recently ruled is required by state law.
Deasy had three major criticisms to AB 5: he said it could result in the removal of the student achievement evaluation, something he does not see as “wise, good or appropriate”; it could continue to delay the process towards laying out a definitive evaluation system, and it would make everything within the process subjected to collective bargaining.
“Were districts in California unable to collective bargain [for the evaluation], does that mean we don’t have an evaluation process and we continue to stay where we are now?” he asked. Deasy said the current system is “a pitiful process that neither helps teachers nor identifies outstanding teaching or teaching in need of remediation.”
But Fletcher says the system LAUSD wants to implement is flawed beyond repair.
“There is a desire to reduce teaching to like a score on a restaurant — to an A, B or C — and teaching is a lot more complicated than that,” he said. “Although there are a lot of folks who would like to have a quick and dirty, ‘This person’s good, this person’s bad,’ based on statistical items, that’s not what teaching is and it certainly won’t help us improve.”
Fletcher reiterated the sentiment, repeating his belief that the system had a 25-percent error margin and ultimately, would do nothing to improve teachers’ performance.
“A school and a classroom is more complicated than scores and numbers,” he said.
But Deasy defended the evaluation system, saying the system Fletcher was referring to was not the one they were hoping to implement and it did not have a 25-percent margin of error. He compared the evaluation to an end of the year grade, much like the kind students receive after completing their courses. “If that’s all right for students why is it not for the adults who work with the students?” he said.
Deasy said he did not understand why any teacher would refuse to participate in the evaluation procedure, which is only a “tiny fraction” of overall, holistic teacher evaluation. This, he said, was about accountability.
“The overall majority of how you evaluate a teacher is classroom observation, feedback from parents and students, and a component — albeit a minor component that we’re putting forward — is how students do over time and how we’re accountable for how [they] do,” Deasy said.
Online and on the phones, there was a mix of support and opposition to the new evaluation program. But ultimately, what stood out was frustration with the public school system — a system that could ultimately determine the career and higher educational paths of students.
One caller, Richard from Bel Air, said the debate was, point-blank, “ridiculous.”
“It is UTLA and the teachers, who have for years, continually resisted, at all costs, any objective measure of teaching results,” he told AirTalk. “That’s what we’re paying for. I hate to say, I have four children who went through LAUSD, we’re paying for results. Teachers who don’t produce results ought to find another occupation … How well you’re teaching is evaluated in how well the students are doing or not. Stop trying to cloak it in all of these slogans and sayings. If you’re not teaching well, we have every right to test and every right to expect results.”
UTLA and LAUSD need to come to agreement soon; this December they must prove that student test scores are being used for evaluation in order to comply with a ruling from Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.
But as it stands now, UTLA and LAUSD remain at the bargaining table with the deadline looming overhead and no end in sight to their bickering.
What’s next for L.A.’s embattled schools?
John Deasy, Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)
Warren Fletcher, President, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)