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Highly Effective Teachers Don't Exist in My Evaluation Process

My union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), recently won a legal battle with our district, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) over the implementation of a four-year-old teacher evaluation system now known as the "Teacher Growth and Development Cycle" (TGDC).  One reason the administrative law judge ruled in favor of the union was the district failed to go through the bargaining process. I will spare you all the details of the 55-page ruling but I would like to discuss another issue in the ruling that I think we, as a nation, will start to discuss more and more and that is the rating of teachers as "Effective" or "Highly Effective."

It's an important conversation that many states have already had but not one that has happened here in California or specifically in LAUSD. For the last 30 years, three levels of performance have existed that teachers can earn in the district, "Meets," "Needs Improvement," or "No." I know I am stating the obvious when I say the three ratings are not very descriptive. 

The currently contested "TGDC" evaluation has four levels of descriptors in the rubric: "Ineffective", "Developing," "Effective," and "Highly Effective." (The rubric is based on Charlotte Danielson's Teaching and Learning Framework). The LAUSD version has four standards, broken into 61 elements, although teachers are only scored on 15 of the elements. In each element, teachers can score ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective ratings. Teachers end up with a summative rating of Meets Standards or Below Standard Performance. After all those scores and titles and stages in an evaluation process, the ultimate rating says little to nothing about a teacher's skill level. I bring up these ratings because I think that if a teacher earns the rating of "Highly Effective," they should be allowed to wear the moniker loudly and proudly. Right now it's like being given the rating of "OK."  For the most part, teachers' work very hard for very little money and they deserve more than just, "you're OK."  

With that said, please know that I understand and side with my union for fighting the implementation of this four-level rating system, because it was never decided how or what would happen if you earned any of these ratings. And as much as I want teachers to be able to announce loudly they are rated as a "Highly Effective" teacher, we need to have a long and lengthy discussion concerning how you achieve that ranking, what it means if you are rated highly effective, and what it means to be rated as any of the other rankings as well (i.e. ineffective, developing, effective).

This ruling presents a tremendous opportunity to create a robust and rich evaluation system for teachers, one that celebrates excellence while providing supports and guidance for those who struggle. Teaching is a labor of love and no one goes into it wanting to be a bad teacher. Once we begin to identify our highly effective teachers we can reward them in ways that don't necessarily involve paying them more.  What if we gave struggling teachers daily access to a highly effective colleague?  What if highly effective teachers were given a lighter teaching load so that they could work with new teachers and struggling teachers? What if we created a Highly Effective Teaching Corps who went into so called "dropout factories" and worked side-by-side with existing staff not for punishment but for lasting professional development that's ongoing and onsite? 

To my union and to my district I say, "Carpe diem!"  Seize the day, work together to create a multifaceted teacher evaluation system.  I think if we do this we can begin to win back the populations support of public education, retain more teachers, attract people into teaching, and create rich teaching and learning environments in the most challenging schools in the district.   

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