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New Teacher Evaluation Plan Deserves a Fair Chance

Recognizing that the teacher evaluation system in place in the Los Angeles Unified School District is hopelessly flawed, school officials are testing a new version consisting of detailed observations, student and parent feedback, and standardized test scores ("Los Angeles teachers test a pilot evaluation program," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 15). If the strategy, which is underway at 104 schools, passes muster, it will be implemented by the 2012-13 school year.

United Teachers of Los Angeles immediately requested an injunction, claiming that the LAUSD failed to negotiate the plan. Regardless of what the court rules, UTLA still demands the names of teachers involved in the pilot program in the event that they suffer job discrimination in the future.

I've long supported teachers unions, but I think UTLA is making a mistake in this case. Its actions will be rightly seen as obstructionist by any open-minded person. UTLA attacked the use of standardized test scores, arguing that relying inordinately on them presents a distorted picture of teacher effectiveness. I agree with that view. But the new teacher evaluation program involves multiple measures. Why does UTLA oppose this plan? Its claim that the pilot program was not negotiated is correct, but it is a technicality that it not persuasive.

In training doctors, medical schools film interactions between their students and actors who are hired to play the role of patients ("These Troupers Take Dramatic Turns at the Hospital," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16). Medical students are then evaluated on the basis of their techniques. The feedback is an invaluable part of medical education and is welcomed by medical students. If these future practitioners don't feel threatened, why should classroom teachers?

There is one flagrantly missing feature, however, that is extremely troubling. According to the Los Angeles Times, each teacher will be evaluated by "an administrator and another person, who could be a fellow instructor." The lack of specificity has the potential to make a mockery of the system. In every profession, peer review is the sine qua non. Yet once again in K-12, it is assumed that an administrator, who is not credentialed in the subject being taught, somehow has the expertise to evaluate a teacher.

This is absurd. How can a principal who does not know Spanish, for example, be expected to know if the teacher being observed is correctly teaching the use of the subjunctive? The same criticism applies to allowing a teacher, who is licensed in another subject, to evaluate a Spanish teacher. Evaluators must be licensed in the subject for their ratings to be respected.

If this flaw is corrected, then I believe that the pilot program can help teachers improve their instruction. I hope that UTLA and other teachers unions embrace the change. It would go a long way toward helping establish support at a time when it is desperately needed.

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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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