LA teachers devalue evaluations

Under union pressure, Los Angeles Unified has gutted teacher evaluation, writes Thomas Toch, founding director of the Center on the Future of American Education at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, in Education Post. That will hurt students — and teachers — he argues.

The nation’s teacher unions used their lobbying muscle to make sure the new Every Student Succeeds Act ended the Obama administration’s pressure on states and school districts to evaluate teachers more meaningfully. And now, with the federal government no longer blocking their path, the unions are moving to weaken state and local evaluation reforms introduced in the Obama era, as is the case in Los Angeles.

The new agreement in LA diminishes the role of student progress in evaluating teachers’ effectiveness, writes Toch. The pact eliminates the “highly effective” category which will make it “more difficult to use evaluations to establish master teacher positions, career ladders, or performance-based pay.”

Experienced teachers will face evaluation as little as once every five years and formal classroom observations will be limited.

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“The new pact also slims from 15 to seven the number of performance objectives each teacher must meet and allows teachers to file grievances if they’re placed in the lowest overall evaluation category,” reports Education Week.

“The Los Angeles Times played into the union’s hands when it published individual teachers’ student testing results in 2010 and 2011,” writes Toch. Scores alone, without information from classroom observations and other measures, aren’t very dependable.  The Times created a backlash that’s weakened the city’s teacher evaluation system. It will be “more difficult to know who’s doing a good job, who isn’t, and why.”

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, “educators will have a partner in the White House” and a “seat at the table,” she told the National Education Association convention. The NEA endorsed her over Bernie Sanders.

Unions win on dues, may lose on tenure

Unions breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition in to rehear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, reports Louis Freedberg on EdSource. The court had issued a 4-4-opinion in March upholding mandatory “agency fees” for non-union members.

“If the plaintiffs – Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers – had won, it could have inflicted a potentially devastating financial blow against the CTA, and by extension all public employee unions,” writes Freedberg.

Plaintiffs will have to file a new lawsuit in a lower court to get back to the Supreme Court.

Unions won a victory in April in Vergara v. California, a 2012 lawsuit that challenged the state’s teacher-tenure laws. However, copycat cases in New York and Minnesota “have a much better chance of success,” writes Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. in Education Next.

. . . the Vergara plaintiffs concocted a clever but dubious constitutional rationale against the tenure laws. They contended that California’s brief 18-month window for awarding tenure, onerous teacher- dismissal policies, and last-in, first-out requirements adversely affected minority students. This alleged “disparate impact,” they claimed, violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The unions suffered an embarrassing defeat when the plaintiffs won at trial—but the judge’s ruling was heavy on political rhetoric and light on legal reasoning (see “Script Doctors,” legal beat, fall 2014).

A California appellate court overturned the trial judge because “the plaintiffs only showed that the teacher- tenure protections potentially harmed all students,” not just minority students, writes Dunn.

In New York and Minnesota, plaintiffs are using the strategy pushed by teachers’ unions in suits challenging the adequacy of education funding, he writes. In New York, they have to show “the policies deprive some students of a sound basic education,” he writes, while the Minnesota suit relies on the state’s guarantee of a “thorough and uniform” education.

Union v. charters in Los Angeles

A Broad Foundation plan to double the number of Los Angeles charter schools has sparked fierce pushback by the teachers’ union, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

The $490 million proposal, which aimed to enroll half the district’s students in charter within eight years, was leaked last fall.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers of Los Angeles is using the plan “to pursue the national anti-charter theme of billionaires trying to privatize public schools,” writes Whitmire.

Teachers voted a big increase in union dues to fight charter expansion.

Los Angeles charter schools “are among the best in the nation at helping low-income minority students succeed in school,” Whitemire writes.

In 2014, Stanford’s CREDO found that L.A. charter-school students, on average, gained the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning per year in reading and 79 additional days in math, compared to district school students.

Currently, about one in five students in the district goes to a charter.

Parent Revolution, an advocacy group, has launched Choice4LA to help low-income parents apply to charter and district schools.

In some cities, parents can fill out one application to apply for district and charter schools. Superintendent Michelle King is working on “creating a unified application system for district schools only,” reports Ed Week.

Twice as many charters in LA?


Los Angeles teachers protested the Broad Foundation’s charter plans at the opening of the Broad art museum. Photo: Ed Mertz, KNX

Charter advocates hope to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles with space for half the district’s students, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and others want to raise $490 million to double the number of charter schools and add 130,000 students in the next eight years.

Currently, 16 percent of LA students are enrolled in charter schools.

There will be plenty of political opposition, of course. The school board is divided. The teachers’ union picketed the opening of Broad’s new art museum in protest.

Tenth grader Jasmine Payne, 14, in class at Animo College Prep on the campus of Jordan High School in Watts. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Jasmine Payne, 14, in class at Animo College Prep on the campus of Jordan High in Watts. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Billionaires should not be running public education,” said United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said.

In an editorial, the Times endorsed the idea, citing Stanford studies that show “significantly better academic outcomes” for Los Angeles charter students compared to similar students in traditional district schools.

Creating so many schools so quickly will be a huge challenge. Where will they find 260 principals capable of launching new schools? Can they find enough good teachers? I have a feeling the grand plan will need to be scaled down.

Support slips for Core, other reforms

The 2015 Education Next poll shows slipping support for a variety of reforms from Common Core standards to school choice, merit pay and tenure reform.

Public support for annual testing remains high, while teachers split on the issue.

Two-thirds of parents — and the public as a whole — support the federal requirement for annual testing, while teachers are split on continuing the policy.

Since 2012, there are more supporters and opponents of testing with fewer people choosing the neutral position.

Only a third of parents and teachers and a quarter of the public support letting parents opt their children out of testing. ednext_XVI_1_poll_fig07-small

The federal push for “no-disparate-impact” disciplinary policies — linking suspension and expulsion rates to race and ethnicity — is unpopular with the public and teachers, the poll found.

Among whites, only 14 percent favor the federal policies, while 57 percent oppose them. A plurality (41 percent) of blacks favor the policies with 23 percent opposed and 36 percent neutral. Forty-four percent of Hispanics support the policy and 31 percent oppose it.

In 21 states and the District of Columbia, teachers’ unions can charge an “agency fee” to non-members to cover collective bargaining costs.

Surprisingly, half of teachers — and a plurality of the public — “requiring teachers to pay a fee for collective bargaining services even if they do not join a union.”

Only 52 percent of union teachers and 25 percent of non-union teachers support the agency fee.

However, 57 percent of teachers surveyed say unions have had a positive effect on schools.

Teachers as ‘social justice warriors’

Teachers have no right to indoctrinate students, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

If he’s asked his opinion, he’ll answer — if it doesn’t get in the way of a math lesson.

But teachers who think they should turn their students into “agents of change” or some similar term, that seems a bridge too far for me.  Should teachers be requiring students to write letters to legislators or executives  about specific proposals?  In most cases I’d probably say no.  Teaching kids that they should work for change in their communities–why, exactly?  You may think the community needs changing, plenty may not.

“With the election season in full swing, expect a tide of union-led anti-reform, anti-choice and anti-Republican politicking in our kids’ classrooms,” warns Larry Sand, a retired teacher. At the recent National Education Association convention, Sand notes, Executive Director John Stocks told NEA members they should become “social justice warriors.”

cantbeallyoucanbe.jpgA West Point graduate, Darren has his alma mater’s posters and pennants from the other service academies hanging in his classroom, as well as pictures of President Reagan, President Bush and Queen Elizabeth II. He was horrified by another teacher’s anti-military poster, he writes.

The poster showed gravestones with the text: “You can’t be all you can be if you’re dead.”

“Imagine how you’d feel if, upon walking into a classroom, you saw one of those aborted/dismembered fetus posters that some pro-life protesters display,” he writes. “I’m sickened by this poster.”

Readers, what do you think? Is the anti-military poster out of line? What about a picture of President Reagan — or Obama?

California teacher challenges agency shop

“We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union,” says Rebecca Friedrichs in a Reason interview. A California public school teacher for more than 25 years, she’s the lead plaintiff in a challenge to the state’s “agency shop” law requiring her to pay union dues.

The Supreme Court will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in the fall session. If agency shop is held to be unconstitutional, it will affect 26 states that require all public school teachers to pay union dues, even if they’re not union members.

Unions wasted $1.4 million in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrates his re-election victory.  Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrates his re-election victory. Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Angered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school reform agenda, the Chicago Teachers Union and its state and national allies spent $1.4 million on his challenger, reports Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. They lost.

CTU chief Karen Lewis must “choose between continuing the union’s hardcore traditionalist stance that merely empowers Emanuel” or take a softer stand that risks alienating supporters, writes Biddle.

He predicts AFT President Randi Weingarten will “go back to embracing watered-down versions of systemic reform efforts.”

NYC union’s failing K-8 charter will close

Running a charter school is harder than the United Federation of Teachers thought. The New York City union will close its failing charter school’s elementary and middle school, but ask for authority to continue its high school.

Students read at UFT's charter school in 2013. Photo: Geoffrey Knox

A reading class at UFT’s charter school. Photo: Geoff Decker

“When the school opened in 2005, then-UFT President Randi Weingarten said its success would demonstrate that unions could play a starring role in efforts to improve the school system,” write Geoff Decker and Sarah Darville on Chalkbeat NY. Weingarten also hoped to show that a union contract was not an “impediment to success.”

The UFT Charter School has been one of the lowest-performing charters in the city.

“Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s new school-grading system, the school earned the lowest of four marks in all four categories, including the school environment and its success at closing the achievement gap,” write Decker and Darville.

Curiously, only 2 percent of the school’s students are English Learners and 10 percent –below the public-school average — have an Individual Education Plan.

Unions and charter schools don’t mix, writes Darren. Two California charters run by schools of education — UC Davis and Stanford — also closed due to poor performance, he observes.

Unite, teachers, to get rid of ‘stinkers’

Teachers should unite to get rid of the “stinkers,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teacher Empowerment Network in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Sand was a middle-school teacher in Los Angeles for 15 years. Most of his colleagues were competent to good, he writes. A few were “exceptional.”  But there were a handful who “shouldn’t have been allowed near children.”

Once they’d received tenure, after two years, they couldn’t fired.

He remembers a P.E. teacher who kept “hooch” in the trunk of his car. “By the end of the day — every day — this teacher was obviously pickled. . . . He finally retired after 37 years.

Another, who had no control over her classes, was referred to the “peer assistance review” program. It didn’t help. She’s still teaching.

An eighth-grade English teacher was sent to “teacher jail” at the district office for touching a female student.

Since firing him was not a viable option, he was transferred to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.

On average, just 10 “permanent” teachers a year in California are fired, writes Sand.

“Union members . . . are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals,” said Dennis Van Roekel, the former  National Education Association president.

“He has it exactly wrong,” writes Sand. “Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and . . . purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles.”

Rated “unsatisfactory” for six years in a row, a New York City teacher is still collecting her $84,500 a year salary, reports the New York Post.

Hearing officer Eugene Ginsberg upheld charges of (Ann) Legra’s “inability to supervise students,” excessive lateness and absence and poor lesson planning in the 2012-2013 school year.
But Ginsberg dismissed evidence that Legra was a lousy instructor, saying she didn’t get enough coaching.

Legra was suspended for 45 days without pay and reassigned from teaching first grade to a pool of substitute teachers. She’s “filed a federal lawsuit . . . charging discrimination based on her race, gender, national origin and medical disability” (asthma).