Lawsuit: Evaluate teachers on how much students have learned

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, a group of parents and taxpayers sued the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to make the district follow the law, by evaluating teachers based on how much their students have learned. The judge said in effect that, since this suit was a long time in coming, he would allow the district some time to prepare its response. Therefore, the judge decided not to grant a temporary restraining order. At the same time, he re-stated the contentions of the plaintiffs (technically, petitioners) in a way that shows he has a solid grasp of what is at stake in the suit, and he decided that the case would receive expedited consideration.

LAUSD is being sued by a group that includes Alice Callaghan, a member of the Episcopalian clergy and the manager of Las Familias del Pueblo, a community center for the poor and homeless in downtown Los Angeles. Back in 1996, Callaghan organized 70 Spanish-speaking immigrant parents, who boycotted the Ninth Street Elementary School — calling for an end to failed bilingual-education methods and instead demanding that the school system teach the children of immigrant garment workers academic English as soon as possible.

Callaghan and this different group of parents are suing to enforce the Stull Act.  The law goes back four decades and says that the board of trustees of each school district shall evaluate teachers, at least in part, as reasonably measured by their student’s performance on the state’s standards-based tests. The law says “shall,” not “may.” It is mandatory that each district do this.

(The law is named for its sponsor, now-deceased Republican Assemblyman John Stull of San Diego, who received bipartisan support at the time for this statutory requirement that teachers be held accountable for the academic achievement of their pupils.)

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Kyle Kirwan, a prominent Los Angeles litigator, and Scott Witlin, both partners at the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg.  Their request for a court order was drafted in consultation with EdVoice, a Sacramento-based education-advocacy group.  Before going to court, the plaintiffs sent a letter on Oct. 26 asking the district to comply. The letter stresses that for years the district has engaged in wanton lawlessness. In the letter, the plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the district “refuses to implement the Stull Act in complete abdication of its responsibility to its students, their parents, and the taxpayers of the district.”

The letter says that the district has never evaluated the teachers using student test scores, and, as a consequence, has never told teachers where they stood and counseled them on how to improve in terms of increasing their students’ learning – all of which are required by the law.  “In short, the district has never complied with the Stull Act.”

The letter also points to the involvement of the teachers’ union United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) in this lawbreaking. Compliance with the law, the letter says, has been “deliberately evaded” through a series of “complicitous” collective-bargaining agreements between the LAUSD and UTLA, at the expense of students — who deserve effective teachers.

Specifically, the district has been pretending that it can avoid compliance with the Stull Act by making collective-bargaining agreements with the teachers’ union that overrule a statute (the Stull Act) passed by the state legislature.  It doesn’t work that way.  Valid contracts are written under and within the law, not in violation of the law. The lawsuit seeks to end this make-believe in the service of lawbreaking.

In their Nov. 1 petition for a court order, the plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the UTLA has treated the public school system in Los Angeles as “a taxpayer-funded jobs and entitlement program” for adults, even when a teacher‘s performance would be considered “demonstrably unsatisfactory” when judged by pupil results.

The petition described how the teachers’ union adopted a strategy of “stonewalling” when it came to putting the Stull Act into effect. “In collusion with the District‘s governing boards and superintendents,” the petition says, the teachers’ union has blocked lawful evaluation of teachers and the “corrective action” needed to ensure that students get effective teachers.

As a consequence, “the adults‘ collective employment and political interests” are turning the children’s opportunity for learning while in school “on its head” and instead the system is providing job guarantees to teachers as well as “preserving the political power of the Board and the Superintendent.” All of this comes at the expense of children — particularly the “socio-economically disadvantaged.”

These shenanigans by the district and the union have been presented to the public in a way that is designed to pull the wool over people’s eyes: “The result has been a perversion of the evaluation system and a knowing effort to deceive the public using educational jargon.”

Witlin, one of the attorneys, told education policy analyst and blogger  RiShawn Biddle: “The school district is supposed to exist for the benefit of the children and not for the adults.”

The teacher evaluation program that is in place in Los Angeles, according to the petition, “does not comply with the Stull Act” and “perpetuates a fraud on the community” by letting teachers get high evaluation ratings whether or not their students are learning the material listed in the curriculum-content standards.

The petition cites damning statements from LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in which he condemns his own evaluation program for teachers. For example, he recently said: “I would argue that nobody has told me that the current system of evaluation, which is performance review, helps anybody. It is fundamentally useless. It does not actually help you get better at [your] work and it doesn‘t tell you how well you’re doing.”

Superintendent Deasy also stated: “One would have to argue: ‘So … there are schools where 3 percent of the students are proficient at math and 100 percent of the teachers are at the top rating performance.’ That doesn‘t make sense to me whatsoever. And it doesn‘t make sense because the rating performance does not actually help teachers get better.”

In terms of what actually happens, the district is condemned out its own mouth.

Back on March 13, 2011, retired Los Angeles school district teacher Doug Lasken and I wrote an opinion column for the San Francisco Chronicle about non-compliance with the Stull Act in Los Angeles and other California districts – so I could not be happier about this lawsuit, which may finally bring some justice for Los Angeles schoolchildren after years of the district’s deliberate dodging of the law.  Success in Los Angeles will mean that districts across California will have to begin evaluating teachers properly and getting struggling employees the extra help they need to become effective teachers.

LAUSD has been negotiating with UTLA to try to put in place a pilot program with three percent of district teachers, who would be evaluated in part on student performance on the state’s standards-based tests. But these negotiations are deadlocked because of the refusal of UTLA to even study the idea of complying with the law.

The plaintiffs in this case reject the proposed pilot program, which has no guarantee of ever having meaningful evaluations that actually count, even for the volunteer participants in the pilot. They point out that LAUSD has a record of “years of non-compliance” with the Stull Act and that there is no reason to believe that the pilot would even expand to the other 97 percent of teachers. “Sadly, the District has abdicated its duty to the children.” The plaintiffs demand instead that LAUSD comply with the Stull Act as soon as practically possible “in its entirety.”

(Bill Evers is a research fellow and member of the Koret K-12 Education Task Force at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development from 2007-2009.)

Comments

  1. Evaluating teachers based on student grades may be alright to a limited extent but to do so fairly will get complicated. To be sure there are some very good teachers in CA and there are some very bad ones, ones who have no business in the teaching profession. The problem lies in the fact that all teachers are not teaching the same students and so it is hard to make fair comparisons.

    Some teachers are much more impacted by students who don’t have a command of the English language. Some districts have high concentrations of students who speak mainly Spanish, or Vietnamese, or Chinese, or Tagalog, or any of dozens of other languages. This can be extremely burdensome and time consuming for a teacher to have to deal with such situations. And while they are trying their best to deal with it, the education of the rest of the class is suffering. Once again—-all classes and all districts are not equally impacted by this.

    A second problem that has arisen in the last several years is that CA has seen fit to include learning disabled children in with the children who are not so challenged. Does anyone in their right mind think that such a situation has not had an impact on the education of the rest of the students? Many of these learning disabled children are that way as a result of their parents drinking, smoking, and doping. And the rest of society and their children now have to suffer the consequences. Again—all classes are not impacted equally.

    A third problem: some parents think that the entire burden of education should fall on the state and the teachers —- they just dump their kids off at school and think that by magic their kids are going to become educated without any support from them. Education begins at home and the parents have to take some responsibility for educating those who they have brought into this world. In some districts you have very heavy parent involvement and in some districts their is virtually none —–and I guarantee you that the affect is huge. This involvement and teacher support varies greatly from district to district as well as from class to class.

    As I stated above, there are some teachers who do not belong in the teaching profession and it would be nice to cull them out. The problem, however, is not going to be easily resolved with fairness.

    • Bill Saracino says

      There are MANY teachers now in classrooms who do not belong in the teaching profession…and yes, it would be “nice” to cut them out….if you define “nice” as achieving something absolutely essential to the survival of the civilization. The problem isn’t “fairness”…the problem is that the thug unions defend even the most grotesquely incompetent teachers….they are interested in union dues…and the children in the classroom be damned. Until we break the backs of the parasite unions, this problem will never be solved…and generation after generation of California public school students will be condemned to mediocrity and ignorance….which come to think of it is the perfect recipe for breeding more liberals.

    • sidewinderaz says

      John your allegation that the language differences among the ethnic communities as being a cause is a red herring. For years now, the AZ school systems have been practicing “total immersion” in English and the students fare much better in the long run than they do in CA.

      If our childern are going to be able to compete in this world wide economy and business system they need a higher level of academic training and less of this “touchy feely” indoctrination now taught in its place.

  2. I have a neighbor who is a high school science teacher. I have personally reviewed some of her class assignments, which, in my opinion, are at the the level that should have been taught at a grade school level..(6th grade) She was nominated for “Teacher of the Year” by the principle, based on the overall grades in her class (she did not receive the honor, nor did she deserve it IMO, based on the subject level that she presented and taught the students in). I’m sure she also received accolades in performance incentives.
    In reviewing her students on-line comments relating to their teachers, a typical response for her class was “easy A”, which begs the question of “who sets the standards for what will be taught in the classroom at each grade level.”
    The vast majority of the district is middle to upper class and predominately white. (WASP) Accordingly, the norm for the district, in terms of social-economics, should not have a significant impact on the level of required academic subjects.
    I have a grown son (38) who is a product of the local public education system, and I am quite shocked at his lack of a “fundamentals” in his education. When he was in school, I tried to grasp some of the procedures being taught compared to when I was in school. For example, when I was a child, what is 1/2 of a fraction? Double the denominator. (we’re assuming that the original fraction had already been reduced to the lowest common denominator) Quite simple, easy to remember, and you can do it in your head!!
    The idea of a teacher’s evaluation being comprised of the result of test scores could be skewed by
    several factors, including the level of the subject being taught, (as in above, 6th grade science being taught in high school) or, as stated in a previous post, the proficiency and social/economic level of the students in the class, (several different languages spoken at several different levels of English, English comprehension) etc.
    In my opinion, English HAS to be the OFFICIAL language, Before any student is allowed to enter any public education system, they MUST be capable of speaking and have an effective comprehension of the English language. Anything less would result in a tremendous burden on the taxpayers, the educational system in general, including teachers, as well as holding back the English proficient students.
    What ever the answers are, the current system of tenure is counter-productive to the educational system in this state. The Almighty Teachers Unions have a stranglehold on Sacramento, buying legislation that suits their members, with no concerns regarding the taxpayers who have to pay for the current mess, as well as the students of the educational system, who are being deprived of their future by being robbed of their education.
    We need to take a stand, united as one, to address the problems with our educational system and those in charge of educating our children.
    Hopefully, the lawsuit in the Los Angeles school system will result in a move in the right direction.
    Political correctness be damned, if a child is 10 or 12 years old before he or she is proficient in the English language, so be it. That’s the age that they should be introduced into the public educational system. Hopefully, it would behoove the parents to make sure that their children speak and comprehend the English language, whether by friends, neighbors, or remedial English classes. If they intend on living in this country, they need to speak the English language. If they feel that their language takes preference, they are free and welcome to return to their country of origin.
    It’s scarry to think that people who are voting in our elections on critical issues that affect all of us can’t speak or comprehend the English language, thus we print voting ballots in several different languages. How can they have a comprehensive grasp of the issues that they are voting on??? What a country!!!!

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