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UTLA President Responds to Members' Evaluation Push

I had a few moments the other day to speak to new United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher about an initiative by some of the city's teachers to quicken the union's pace with respect to developing a new teacher-evaluation system.

In brief, Fletcher said that he liked the ideas the "New Unionism" teachers brought forth, but timing continues be tricky because of legal disputes with the district over a pilot evaluation program.

"On the ministerial side we need to make sure this process moves forward. [The teachers] want this matter brought before the membership, they have an absolute right to it, and we're going to do it," he told me. "It's certainly hard to argue with the idea of a teacher-driven evaluation system, and it's certainly hard to argue against the concept that RIFs have done huge harm in our district the last several years. So this is something where the elements of it are all very fine elements."

But, he said, it's difficult to move on the issue right now, because the unions has filed an unfair-labor complaint over the city's pilot teacher-evaluation program, which was not bargained with the district. That pilot, you may remember, includes consideration of value-added, student-growth measures, which the union doesn't favor.

"When it comes to bargaining, we're all dressed up with no where to go," Fletcher said. "All we want to do is bargain, but there's a padlock on that door."

The district's point of view is that the pilot is voluntary, doesn't carry consequences for participating teachers, and therefore isn't subject to bargaining.

In the middle of all this, there is also a separate lawsuit underway by parents. They say the district and union have already failed to adhere to state law on the evaluations, which they argue must explicitly consider student academic growth. (Both the UTLA and an administrators' group oppose this lawsuit.)

One of the complicating factors still to be resolved here, it seems, is what will eventually be included in any new system. The "New Unionism" teachers who have pressed for the referendum weren't particularly specific about the composition of a new evaluation system.

It's one thing, in other words, to say evaluations should be a paramount issue of discussion, and another thing entirely to come to agreement on specific measures.

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