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Removing Teachers at Will

Tying ratings of teachers to student achievement took a new twist on May 10 when the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District decided that all members of Huntington Park High School must reinterview for their jobs even though the school met improvement goals on standardized tests. The plan is expected to result in the replacement of at least half the faculty by July when the start of school for the year-round campus begins ("L.A. district plans shakeup at Huntington Park High," Los Angeles Times, May 10).

What makes the decision so controversial is that the school demonstrated progress last fall on the closely watched standardized tests. But board member Yolie Flores, who is an alumna of Huntington Park High School and who represents the area in which the school is located, expressed frustration over the pace of improvement. "This school has been waiting for decades, and people say wait a little longer. To me, it's a stall tactic. I'm tired of waiting," she said.

It's precisely this kind of capriciousness that has preoccupied teachers and their unions since the accountability movement began. If the school had not posted gains, Flores would have had a compelling case. After all, patience is not unlimited. But it did. Then to compound the unfairness, the board announced that the plan is intended to replace at least half the staff. This amounts to a quota without any stated justification.

The LAUSD's decision further confirms the need for tenure. If it is eliminated, which reformers demand, then what is to prevent the same kind of arbitrary move to single out individual teachers who for one reason or another have rubbed the board of education the wrong way? I'm referring to teachers who speak out about controversial issues. Without tenure, they will be effectively muzzled, much to the detriment of students.

Already Ohio, Indiana and Florida have adopted strategies that link teacher evaluation to test scores. (Illinois is in the process of doing the same.) As a result, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see similar scenarios playing out in the new school year because there is enormous pressure on schools to produce evidence of learning in the form of the value-added model.

No wonder there is widespread anxiety among teachers. When rules can be changed in midstream, what assurance do teachers have that they won't be let go? Teachers in Huntington Park High School, for example, were led to believe that if they produced hard data about progress, which is the essence of the value-added model, they would meet the expected requirements. It's not at all surprising that they feel betrayed and that morale is at its nadir.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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