LAUSD Questioned Over Positive Reviews for Teachers at Struggling Schools

LAUSD school busA new study raises fresh concerns about the giant Los Angeles Unified School District and whether it shows good faith in its dealings with struggling schools in poor minority communities.

The Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution group, which focuses on improving education and increasing educational opportunities for poor minority students, analyzed 44 LAUSD schools with weak test scores last school year. At these schools, only 20 percent of students met or did better than state math standards and only 28 percent in English.

Yet last school year, 68 percent of teachers in these schools were not subject to official evaluations – either through oversight or via exemptions ordered by their principals. Of teachers who were evaluated, 96 percent were found to meet or do better than district performance standards. Over the past three school years, the figure edged up to 97 percent getting positive evaluations – meaning only about one in every 30 evaluated teachers is found wanting.

“We do see this in other districts, where almost everyone has a satisfactory rating and it’s disconnected from student achievement,” Seth Litt, Parent Revolution’s executive director, told the Los Angeles Times. “It shouldn’t be disconnected.”

The findings parallel those that emerged from the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which nine students from state public schools represented by civil-rights attorneys hired by the Students Matter group alleged five state teacher job protection laws were so powerful that they had the unconstitutional effect of keeping incompetent teachers on the job and funneling them toward schools in poor communities.

Evidence presented by the plaintiffs in the case showed that only 2.2 teachers on average are fired each year for unsatisfactory performance in a state with 275,000 teachers at its public schools.

The case’s primary focus was on Los Angeles Unified. In a twist that few expected, some of the most powerful testimony against the teacher protection laws came from then-LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. He testified in early 2014 that even if a teacher were “grossly ineffective,” it could cost the district millions in legal bills to fire the teacher.

Later that year, state Judge Rolf Treu agreed with the plaintiffs that the five teacher protection laws unconstitutionally deprived the students of their right to a good public education. Treu likened the laws’ effects to those of segregation before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Treu’s decision was overturned on appeal on the grounds that the trial failed to clearly establish a factual nexus between student performance and the job protection laws.

3 state justices wanted to hear teacher tenure case

But education reformers were somewhat heartened by what happened next. Three members of the California Supreme Court wanted to hear an appeal of the appellate ruling, suggesting at the least some interest in Treu’s reasoning, which was mocked as novel and weak by attorneys for teacher unions. While they were voted down by the state high court’s other four justices, they could be a factor in future litigation.

As for Los Angeles Unified, litigation over school practices affecting minorities and high-needs students has been common for decades. In September 2017, for a recent example, the district reached a $151 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over the improper diversion of Local Control Funding Formula dollars that were supposed to be used to help struggling students in poor communities, especially English-language learners.

LAUSD was also the target in 2010 of what a federal government statement called “the first proactive civil rights enforcement action taken by the Department of Education under the Obama administration” – prompted by what then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the district’s failure to adequately educate many Latino and African-American students. The case was settled in 2011 after the district agreed to make several substantial changes meant to improve these students’ performance.

But evidence presented in the Vergara case showed no subsequent gains by these student groups.

Los Angeles Unified has 640,000 students, making it by far the largest school district in California. Only the New York City school system, which has about 1 million students, is larger in the U.S.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com