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Leveraging Teacher Evaluations in Los Angeles

This coming Thursday, March 26th the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the union that represents its teachers, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) begin mediation.  On the top of the district's list will be teacher evaluations.  One of the big sticking points between the union and district over evaluations is the rating of teachers.  The district wants (needs) and has in place an evaluation with a three level indicator of performance.  The union was not properly consulted that the three levels of performance would be used in a teacher's final evaluation and won a lawsuit against the district.   In the meantime the district has appealed the decision and teacher evaluations stay as they were (3 indicators) until the appeal reaches the judges bench. 

But don't expect the district to back down from this issue; they need a final evaluation with three levels of performance.  Here's why. LAUSD is one of ten districts within the state of California to be granted CORE Waivers to No Child Left Behind.  One of the stipulations of being part of CORE is having a teacher evaluation system with three levels of performance. LAUSD gets around 40 to 50 million extra dollars a year to spend on supporting our neediest students in the district.  The money funds after school tutoring programs, summer school programs, transportation programs (for students exercising school choice options), and professional development for teachers, etc.  So you can see why teacher evaluations will be a hot point for the district and a huge bargaining chip for the union.

Now seeing what great potential we (teachers and union) have around teacher evaluations I thought I would look at what's happening locally and with districts of similar size across the country.  Locally almost all the big districts are part of CORE: Clovis, Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified.  I looked at Long Beach, Oakland, and Sacramento, and no surprises there, they all have three levels of performance for the final evaluation score.   If you're a Californian you might notice one of the big ones is missing from CORE, San Diego.  So what does San Diego Unified School District's evaluation look like? It has three levels too.  Guess they didn't want to be left out.  In San Diego a teacher can be rated as "Effective", "Requires Improvement", or "Unsatisfactory". 

So on a comparable scale of size to LAUSD you have to look at New York. Currently in New York, teacher evaluations have four levels of performance: "Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective."  In addition, student performance counts up to 40% of the evaluation (20% state tests, 20% locally determined tests). That said, New York's evaluation is currently under debate. Governor Cuomo is proposing to eliminate the local measure and increase state test results to 50%. Teacher colleagues in New York have another ideas.  But the debate doesn't include discussion on removing levels of performance. We will see how the debate shakes out as the budget negotiations come to a close later this month.   

Another big district that comes to mind, and one that current UTLA leaders model organizing efforts after is Chicago Public Schools.  The CPS evaluation also has four levels of teacher performance. CPS teachers are rated as "Distinguished", "Proficient", "Basic", or "Unsatisfactory."  Student achievement data counts for up to 30% of the evaluation, and a host of compensation packages and leadership development opportunities are also tied to student achievement.  

Chicago and New York teacher evaluations show a lot of creativity and encourage a huge trust in what their teachers can accomplish; and in return the teachers are encouraged to show the same amount of trust in their school administrators who evaluate them.  I know that level of trust does not currently exist in LAUSD with teachers or between teachers and administrators.  But that shouldn't prevent the union from leveraging teacher evaluations to their advantage.  The opportunity is there to negotiate for their priorities - smaller class-sizes, fully staffed schools, and a pay raise - if they are willing to accept three levels of performance.  I think the three levels are worth it, if it means better conditions for teachers and students. 

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