Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Time’s coverage of news of its own making continues: LAUSD BOARD MAKES FIRST STATEMENTS ABOUT TEST SCORE ANALYSIS OF TEACHERS

By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times – one of  the reporters who made the news

Most say the current way of evaluating teachers needs to be reworked; some add parents deserve more information about their children's teachers. Some criticize Times' publication of database.

September 1, 2010 | Los Angeles school board members made their first public statements Tuesday about evaluating teachers partially by analyzing student test scores, with most saying that the current system needs to be reworked and some adding that parents deserve more information about their children's teachers.

"As a parent, I think I have a right to know," said board member Nury Martinez, who added that she did not believe that the general public should be able to see a teacher's entire review.

Martinez also acknowledged that the district has lagged in updating its evaluations.

"I also believe this conversation has taken way too long. I think we're talking years and years and years," she said. "We need to get the ball moving here."

During a presentation to the board, recently appointed Deputy Supt. John Deasy said the district would move quickly and planned by October to begin issuing confidential scores to employees that would be based on a "value-added" analysis of student scores on standardized tests. He also said the district would include value-added scores for schools on campus report cards that are issued to the public.

Deasy said he believes that value-added should be one measure in teacher evaluations. He has said in the past that he believes that it should comprise at least 30% of an instructor's review but that the majority of the evaluation should come from classroom observation.

"You wouldn't not use student achievement over time," Deasy said. "You can't ignore it."

Value-added analysis uses the change from year to year in a student's performance on standardized test scores to estimate a teacher's effectiveness. The method is controversial, particularly with teacher unions, but has been embraced by a growing number of school districts nationwide and the Obama administration as a way to bring an objective measure to teacher evaluations.

The board as a whole has remained silent since The Times, three weeks ago, began publishing a series of stories based on a value-added analysis. The newspaper conducted the analysis using seven years of standardized test scores obtained from L.A. Unified under the California Public Records Act. The paper earlier this week also published a database that ranked about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers based on their value-added scores.

Some board members have been anxious to start shaping a new evaluation system that would use value-added scores as one of several measures of a teacher's effectiveness.

Los Angeles teacher union officials have been highly critical of value-added analysis and of The Times database, saying they believe that the method is based on flawed standardized test scores. But they also have said that they are ready to begin negotiations with the district over the issue.

District officials and union leadership have had informal discussions about teacher evaluations. But the school board has not yet voted to authorize formal talks.

Board members deferred until at least Thursday any formal vote on that question.

Some board members wanted an emergency meeting on the issue last week. At Tuesday's session, board member Yolie Flores attempted to have a vote on a motion that would have instructed the superintendent to begin negotiations immediately and clarified the board's stance on value-added.

"I'm always frustrated at the pace of things," Flores said. "I also have a sense of the public waiting to hear from the board. We … have not spoken of the events of the last two, three weeks."

Flores' motion also echoed the recommendations made by a board-appointed task force during the spring, which recommended using multiple measures, including student test scores, to evaluate teachers and giving instructors more feedback.

Several board members expressed surprise at Flores' move. "This was an innovative way … to bring an item forward," board President Monica Garcia said.

After a flurry of quick meetings with a district lawyer, the board decided to delay a vote until Thursday because Flores' motion had not been included on Tuesday's agenda.

Some board members also criticized The Times' decision to publish the database, which ranked the teachers on a scale from "least effective" to "most effective."

"There is a recklessness to putting out a database that is incomplete even by your own standards," Steve Zimmer said. "I'm outraged, I'm appalled, I'm revolted."

And Richard Vladovic said he recently spoke to some teachers who told him that they felt like they had a "scarlet letter" on their foreheads.

The Times has said in its stories and in the database that value-added scores reflect only a teacher's performance at raising, or lowering, student scores on standardized tests of math and English and as such captures only one aspect of a teacher's work.

State Legislature: SINE DIE*

from the Sacramento Bee Capitol Alert

8PM Aug 31 |In case you missed it:

On the last day of the legislative session, lawmakers sent a bill targeting massage parlors to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. But they didn't strike a budget deal. As expected, dueling spending plans fell short in votes in both houses.

They also gave final approval to a bills aimed at cracking down on paparazzi, "pension spiking" and parents who allow their kids to skip school.

Lawmakers also passed a bill to prohibit employers from using credit reports in hiring decisions, allow oil rigs to be converted into artificial reefs for fish, roll back the cut off date for children to enter kindergarten and release from prison some inmates who are medically disabled.

A bill to ban the use of BPA in children products failed to get the votes it needed to pass.

And an Assembly committee killed legislation championed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that would have changed how districts lay off teachers.

*Does not mean “good riddance” or “without a clue”. Adjournment sine die (from the Latin "without day") means "without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing"


Sidebar from the Contra Costa Times/LA Daily News Story describing “mishandling” of funds.

LAUSD: Misuse of money

An LAUSD audit of New Academy Charter in Canoga Park identified the misappropriation of $1.7 million in public money and an additional $1 million of questioned costs between July 1, 2007, and Nov. 30, 2009.

The findings include:

•The withdrawal of nearly $1.1 million by former Principal Edward Fiszer, who used cashier's checks deposited to his personal Ameritrade investment account.

•$106,350 from the Los Angeles County Office of Education that was untraceable to any of New Academy accounts.

•$55,500 from LAUSD that was untraceable to any of New Academy accounts.

•$382,000 in "unsupported expenditures."

•$142,000 in cashier's checks drawn from New Academy's general fund without adequate support.

•$400,000 for professional services/consultants without a valid contract.

Source: Office of the Inspector General

UPDATE: Audit finds nearly $3 million fraud at San Fernando Valley charter school

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC

<<New Academy Canoga Park Elementary School.

6:13 a.m. |L.A. Unified School District administrators say they’re taking steps to possibly revoke a charter school they approved several years ago after an audit uncovered fraud of nearly $3 million.

L.A. Unified’s Office of Inspector General audited the 2007–2009 financial records of New Academy Canoga Park Elementary school. Investigators found that the principal had withdrawn more than a million dollars in school funds – and had deposited the money into his personal investment account. Auditors also couldn’t find $106,000 in student attendance funds from the L.A. County Office of Education.

"We take these findings very seriously," said Jose Cole-Gutierrez, head of the office that monitors this and nearly 200 other L.A. Unified-approved charter schools. Annual audits submitted by the board of New Academy Canoga Park Elementary didn’t indicate that any money was missing.

"Obviously these monies are to be spent in honor of the public trust and to educate children," he said. Cole-Gutierrez said L.A. Unified’s moved swiftly to close charters that fail to meet academic or financial standards.

The district superintendent has taken the first step toward revoking New Academy Canoga Park Elementary’s charter. New Economics For Women – a 26-year old non-profit housing developer that seeks to strengthen the family unit – founded and built the school. Campus administrators were not available for comment.

Stephanie Farland studies charter school policy for the California School Boards Association. She doesn’t believe that fraud runs rampant at charters, but she said it’s common for them to lack effective oversight. "A lot of these little charter schools just don’t have sophisticated boards and they don’t have the proper training, quite frankly, in how to govern a school," Farland said.

State law allows charters to set their own curricula and budgets. Many of the state’s charter schools are run by multiple-campus companies that do have the money to closely supervise individual schools.

Former L.A. Unified Board Member David Tokofsky says charters should continue to experiment free of school district control to determine the best approaches to teaching and learning. "I still think we’re living the romantic period of the charter initiative, sort of, let a thousand flowers bloom," he said. But he adds that these schools need stricter financial regulation.

$2.7 MILLION IS MISSING AT CHARTER: L.A. Unified moves to close charter school over alleged misuse of funds.

Audit discloses alleged financial misconduct.

District’s Inspector General has complicated relationship with school.

An audit finds that the founding principal at NEW Academy Canoga Park allegedly misused or misappropriated money, depositing funds into an Ameritrade account and claiming payments to a nonexistent company.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

August 31, 2010 - Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has moved to shut down a San Fernando Valley charter school over the alleged theft or misuse of as much as $2.7 million by the school's founding principal.

The problems at NEW Academy Canoga Park turned up in an audit released Monday by the inspector general's office of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

More than "$2 million of misappropriated and unaccounted public funds is egregious," Cortines wrote in a letter to the board of the school. "Students have been inexcusably deprived of funds that were designated solely to further their education."                 >>>continues after jump>>>


additional coverage

AUDIT: Principal of Canoga Park charter accused of misusing $2.7 million.

Contra Costa Times [Daily News] - Connie Llanos – 31 Aug

Los Angeles Unified officials said they might revoke the school's charter as a result of the audit. In addition to the money he deposited in his Ameritrade ...

LAUSD audit finds $2.7M fraud at Canoga charter

89.3 KPCC – 30 Aug

Los Angeles Unified School District auditors accused administrators of a Canoga Park charter school of gross mismanagement and fraud that could total nearly ...

from the LAUSD’S Inspector General’s website

Audit Report: NEW Academy of Canoga Park Elementary (Charter) School

This report contains the results of our audit of NEW Academy of Canoga Park Elementary (Charter) School (“NACP”). NEW Academy of Canoga Park Elementary School is a charter school located in Los Angeles, California that serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade. This audit was requested by the President of the NACP Board.           Document OA 10-432   Published August 18, 2010


As a charter school, NEW Academy is governed by its own board of directors, independent of L.A. Unified, which authorized the school. Los Angeles has more charters, public schools that are independently run, than any school district in the nation.

Virtually no local charter schools have been forcibly shut down by the district, although several have closed after officials failed to renew an expiring charter agreement, which typically lasts three to five years.

The elementary school of about 500 students faces a charter revocation hearing. The chairwoman of the school's board contends that NEW Academy should survive because students are thriving.

Although the school's scores are still in the lowest 30% of schools statewide, according to last year's data, its students' gains on standardized tests have been among the region's strongest each of the last three years.

"It is clear that our school has been a victim of fraud," board chair Maggie Cervantes said in a statement. "The school is taking aggressive and necessary steps to recover its assets and work to successfully resolve this issue. These steps have included terminating the employment of the former principal of the school."

The former principal, Edward Fiszer, could not be reached for comment. Although not identified by name in the published audit, Fiszer was the target of the inquiry, officials confirmed.

NEW Academy Canoga Park opened in 2005 as an unusual example of public-private collaboration using school bonds and other funding sources to combine a new school with low-income housing.

The school's visible face, Fiszer, the author of three education and motivational books, was once honored as a "Champion of Children" in a City Hall ceremony.

Among the auditors' findings is that Fiszer allegedly withdrew cashier's checks totaling nearly $1.1 million from school accounts between July 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2009.

"The former principal claimed that funds deposited into his personal Ameritrade account were not withdrawn, but were deposited and repeatedly lost," the auditors wrote, apparently as a result of unsuccessful investments.

One cost questioned by auditors was $62,247 paid to a company called Burgundy Bunny for science enrichment for fourth- and fifth-graders over a six-week period. "We performed an Internet search to verify the validity of the vendor," auditors wrote. "We noted that the address and phone number were invalid. The address shows as a vacant lot. In addition, the business entity name does not exist."

Auditors also allege that the principal paid a former teacher — who at some point married the principal — $129,450 for services as a grant writer, although a company was already being paid for grant writing.

The audit included a harsh assessment of the oversight by the charter's governing board and the outside company that provided accounting services.

Handling the audit became complicated because the school system's interim inspector general is a member of the board of directors of the charter's founding organization. Jess Womack is board secretary of New Economics for Women, whose acronym, NEW, is part of the school's name. Womack, a retired L.A. Unified attorney, recently rejoined the school system as inspector general. Womack recused himself from dealing with this audit, district officials confirmed.

The charter has a board of directors separate from New Economics, but there's overlap: Cervantes is executive director of New Economics and Loyola Marymount University Assistant Dean Marta Sanchez serves on both boards. A second NEW Academy operates near downtown.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it hasn't yet received the audit for review for potential prosecution.

The school becomes the second San Fernando Valley charter school facing allegations of impropriety. The founders of Ivy Academia face felony charges related to co-mingling private and public accounts. They have denied wrongdoing.

Monday, August 30, 2010



Informational Alert
August 30, 2010

Update on the State Budget


Before the Legislature adjourns tomorrow, the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate have agreed to take up votes on two budget plans - a plan that closely mirrors the Governor's May Revision, which includes deep cuts to education and children's services and no additional revenues; and the plan adopted by the Legislature's Budget Conference Committee. Although the Conference Committee plan rejects massive cuts to education and the elimination of CalWORKs and other health and human services programs, and recognizes the need for additional revenue, it calls for the suspension of Proposition 98, the constitutional funding guarantee for education.

The California State PTA, along with other members of the Education Coalition, rejects the Governor's proposal and remains opposed to the concept of suspension of Proposition 98, as proposed by the Conference Committee. Neither plan is expected to garner the necessary two-thirds vote for passage tomorrow.

Watch for new information as it becomes available.  Be assured that we are working diligently, on behalf of the more than 9 million children of California, to advocate for passage of a state budget that best serves their needs.


On Thursday, August 26, 2010 John Cromshow, host of KPFK’/90.7’s “Politics or Pedagogy?” interviewed teachers

  • Lisa Karahalios
  • Mat Taylor
  • Ingrid Villeda
  • Annette Scheer
  • 4LAKid’s Scott Folsom and
  • USC professor emeritus Stephen Krashen

as in-studio guests – with special interviews with

  • LAUSD boardmember Steve Zimmer and
  • UTLA vice president Julie Washington

– as well as call-in guests – on the subject of the LA Times Value Added Teacher Assessments and Evaluations.



Themes in the News for the week of Aug. 23-27, 2010 By UCLA IDEA staff

California spending graph

08-27-2010  -- As announced on Tuesday, and accompanied by great fanfare and skepticism, nine states and the District of Columbia secured the last remaining dollars from the Race to the Top pot. California advanced to the final stages in the second round but failed in its bid for $700 million in federal funding. That sum would have averaged about $111 per student for each of the state’s 6 million students. 

Although Race to the Top is billed as a competition among states, it is students who are the winners and losers. On Tuesday, most of the students in the country turned out to be losers. The winning students attend schools in Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio. Their states will receive anywhere from $75 million to $700 million to implement reforms that are in line with President Obama’s education plan to improve low-performing schools (Education Week).

Race to the Top was created last year as part of the country’s economic stimulus plan. States interested in competing for a slice of the $4 billion available created new laws, changed evaluation systems, adopted the recently released Common Core Standards and provided more support for charter schools. All the measures could provide extra points in the application process. Tennessee and Delaware were the only winners in Phase 1.

California did not reach very far in the first round and had to be prodded to reapply. The second round application was led by seven district superintendents, including Supt. Ramon Cortines of Los Angeles Unified. However, the competition judges responded negatively to the state’s overall tepid support for some of Race to the Top’s controversial measures (Los Angeles Times, Educated Guess). The teachers unions were unenthused and the majority of school districts did not participate. Less than a third of the state’s more than 1,000 districts—representing 1.7 million students—signed on. California’s inadequate data system also cost points in the competition (San Jose Mercury News, Educated Guess).

Each of the winning Race to the Top states already outspends California (see graph). The District of Columbia and Rhode Island spend more than twice as much on students as California spends. The new influx of federal dollars will further increase the disparity between California and higher spending states. California’s per-pupil spending dropped by more than $1,000 between 2007-08 and 2009-10. And though this year’s budget has yet to be approved, the current proposal calls for a $2.7 billion cut, or another $432 for each student.    

People continue to debate the Race-to-the-Top strategy for leveraging school improvement across the country (Christian Science Monitor, Education Week, EdWeek Politics blog). The administration’s theory is that even losing states like California are better off because they will change their laws in order to compete, they will learn from “successful” states, and they will become motivated to improve. Yet, there are few precedents for such a top-down federal strategy to succeed—especially one that demands a lot from local schools and, on average, offers so little support.  Although California is taking halting steps to align itself with federal education leadership, it is not clear whether its students will be beneficiaries or victims of Race to the Top (California Watch). What is clear is that the resource gap continues to grow between California students and students across the United States.


BY Arne Duncan | Op-Ed in the New York Daily News

  • Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education. This Op-Ed was condensed and excerpted from remarks delivered this week in Little Rock, Ark.

smf: When a statement by a public official begins “Everyone agrees…” it’s time for a show of hands. It’s like “Once upon a time” or “Based on a true story”. -- suspend your disbelief:   balderdash follows!

Sunday, August 29th 2010, 4:00 AM - Everyone agrees that our teacher evaluation system is broken. In many districts, 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory and most evaluations ignore the most important measure of a teacher's success - which is how much their students have learned.

That's a tragedy. Teachers want - and need - this information.

Teachers also worry that their job security and salaries will be tied to the results of a bubble test that is largely disconnected from the material they are teaching. No one thinks test scores should be the only factor in teacher evaluations, and no one wants to evaluate teachers based on a single test on a single day.

But looking at student progress over time, in combination with other factors like peer review and principal observation, can lead to a culture shift in our schools where we finally take good teaching as seriously as the profession deserves.

This is a complicated and emotional issue for teachers, and it just got more emotional in the past 10 days with a series of articles on teacher quality published by the Los Angeles Times.

Essentially, the Times took seven years of student test data and developed what is called a "value-added" analysis to show which third- through fifth-grade teachers are making the biggest gains. The results are about to be posted on the newspaper's website in a searchable database by teacher name - taking transparency to a whole new level.

Needless to say, concerns are running very high in Los Angeles - not only among teachers themselves but also among a wide spectrum of administrators, academics and reformers who question the validity of the scores and the value of the entire exercise.

Still others worry about parents with a limited understanding of what this information really means jockeying to place their children with the highest-ranking teachers.

I am a strong advocate for transparency. If it were up to me and the law allowed it, I would put out student attendance data and hold parents accountable. And while we're at it, let's put out funding and facilities data and hold school boards and politicians accountable.

Let's put out data on dropouts, college enrollment, college completion and every other kind of data that can help us highlight our remarkable success and help us better understand why too many of our children are unprepared.

The truth can be hard to swallow but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter.

There are real issues and competing priorities and values that we must work through together - balancing transparency, privacy, fairness and respect for teachers.

I appreciate how painful this may be for these L.A. teachers, and I also appreciate the fact that even the best data systems won't tell the whole story.

What is especially interesting about the L.A. Times series is the reaction of some of the teachers quoted in it - and one particular quote haunts me. According to the newspaper, one of L.A.'s most effective teachers is Nancy Polacheck, a fourth-grade teacher with 38 years of experience. She said something that was utterly heartbreaking.

"In the past, if I were recognized, I would become an outcast," she told the Times. "They'd say, 'She's trying to show off.'"

That shame of success has pervaded America's educational culture for far too long. We must stop highlighting only ballplayers and rock stars and start highlighting teachers who are our true heroes and role models.

Every state and district should be collecting and sharing information about teacher effectiveness with teachers and - in the context of other important measures - with parents. Teachers want the information. They want the feedback. And they want to get better.

Local school districts must decide in collaboration with their teachers how to share this information - how to put it in context. But we cannot shrink from the truth.

TEACHERS BLAST L.A. TIMES FOR RELEASING EFFECTIVENESS RANKINGS: The Times made public an analysis of L.AUSD 3rd-5th-grade teachers based on student test scores + NATIONAL COVERAGE

By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

August 30, 2010 | National and local teachers unions sharply criticized The Times on Sunday when the newspaper published a database of about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade city school teachers ranked by their effectiveness in raising student test scores.

"It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher's effectiveness," said a statement issued by United Teachers Los Angeles.

The database is part of a Times series that rated teachers by using a "value-added" analysis based on seven years of standardized test scores obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The value-added method looks at previous student test performance and estimates how much a teacher added to or subtracted from a student's progress.

By late Sunday afternoon, the database had generated more than 230,000 page views, an indication of the interest in the issue because Web traffic tends to be higher during the week.

Since The Times began publishing the series, L.A. Unified has moved swiftly to conduct its own value-added analysis and will give teachers their confidential score by October. The district has said the scores could be used to guide training for struggling teachers.

In addition, the district and the teachers union have agreed to begin negotiations on a new evaluation system. Top district officials have said they want at least 30% of a teacher's review to be based on value-added. But they have said the majority of the evaluations should depend on observations.

Some school districts across the country are doing just that, finding that the approach provides a measure of objectivity for teachers' performance reviews, which are overwhelmingly based on short, prearranged classroom visits by administrators and other subjective measures. Even the staunchest supporters of the value-added approach believe it should be only one part of a teacher's evaluation.

» Los Angeles Teacher Ratings

A teacher's value-added rating is based on his or her students' progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. The Times has rated about 6,000 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teachers using the method.

Los Angeles teachers union President A.J. Duffy has long said that teacher evaluations need to be overhauled, but he has been opposed to value-added because it's based on what he considers flawed standardized testing.

A group of education experts writing for the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute released a study Sunday that was highly critical of the approach but also found that it could be one of multiple measures of a teacher.

"Used with caution, value-added modeling can add useful information to comprehensive analyses of student progress and can help support stronger inferences about the influences of teachers," the group wrote.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had asked The Times not to publish the database. In an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," she criticized the paper for using value-added scores in "isolation."

In a later statement, she said the union is "disturbed that teachers will now be unfairly judged by incomplete data masked as comprehensive evaluations."

Weingarten recently told The Times that she helped negotiate 54 contracts in school districts where value-added counts for up to 30% of a teacher's review. But although she said parents should have the right to know whether their child's teacher received a satisfactory evaluation, she said the public should not have wide access to the scores.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, also interviewed on "This Week," has said he is in favor of giving the public access to teachers' value-added scores and providing more feedback to instructors, who are often left in the dark by administrators. He has decried the fact that many districts have not done more with student test scores.

"The tragedy in L.A. has been [that] teachers … desperately want this data and they've been denied it," Duncan told host Christiane Amanpour. "It shouldn't take a newspaper to give them that data."

Several teachers said in e-mail comments they were pleased that The Times had published the database, saying it could spur public debate and give valuable feedback.

"I think that if you are doing the best that you can at your profession, then you should have nothing to hide and your work should be public," wrote Mary Ann Debellefeuille, a fourth-grade teacher last year at Amestoy Elementary.

Many other teachers included in the database lashed out at the newspaper's analysis and its decision to make the information public. Teachers were given an opportunity to review their scores before they were released.

Elizabeth Ellen Snyder, who taught at Fries Avenue Elementary during the 2002-03 through 2008-09 period and was rated "less effective" overall, said in an e-mail: "Guilty as charged. I am proud to be 'less effective' than some of my peers because I chose to teach to the emotional and academic needs of my students. In the future it seems I am being asked to put my public image first.... How sad for all our children."

Others said they would use their scores as motivation.

"It is very sobering to see that you have been ranked one of the least effective teachers," said Monica L. Petit, a third-grade teacher last year at Woodcrest Elementary. "I guess it means that I have more room for improvement."

United Teachers Los Angeles officials warned that making the data public would create mistrust among schools and parents.

"The database will cause chaos at school sites, as parents scramble to get their children into classes taught by teachers labeled as 'effective' by a newspaper," according to the UTLA statement. "It could also have long-lasting impact on the careers of teachers."

The union has planned a protest in front of the Times building on Sept. 14. "We want to make a public statement about our concern for our members who are being singled out," Duffy said in an interview.


Los Angeles Teacher Ratings | click to enter

A teacher's value-added rating is based on his or her students' progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. The Times has rated about 6,000 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teachers using the method.



from google news

The Los Angeles Times evaluates every LA teacher

Dallas Morning News (blog) - ‎1 hour ago‎

The Obama administration wants to create a more direct link between teacher evaluations and the progress their students make in the classroom. ...

Mercury News editorial: Parents deserve more information about teachers, schools

San Jose Mercury News - ‎7 hours ago‎

The Los Angeles Times' decision to publish a statistical analysis of more than 6000 LA Unified teachers and their schools has sparked a fascinating and ...

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Study blasts popular teacher evaluation method

Washington Post (blog) - ‎19 hours ago‎

Student standardized test scores are not reliable indicators of how effective any teacher is in the classroom, not even with the addition of new ...

All-star roster of education researchers: Test scores unreliable, unfair and ...

Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) - Maureen Downey - ‎Aug 29, 2010‎

In the midst of a controversial LA Times series linking teacher performance in that district to test scores, a new briefing paper was released today by the ...

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United States

Let's unleash all data on teachers: US secretary of education asks, What's ...

New York Daily News - Arne Duncan - ‎Aug 29, 2010‎

Everyone agrees that our teacher evaluation system is broken. In many districts, 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory and most evaluations ...

Newspapers teacher ratings stir up controversy

eSchool News (subscription) - ‎1 hour ago‎

In a move that has many local educators seething, the Los Angeles Times has published an online database comparing more than 6000 elementary school teachers ...

L.A. Times Releases Teacher Effectiveness Database

Neon Tommy - Alexandra Tilsley - ‎6 hours ago‎

Parents of Los Angeles elementary school children have an extra task on their back-to-school to-do lists this year: looking up their child's teacher in the ...

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Los Angeles, CA

Teacher's Union Calls LA Times "Reckless and Destructive"

NBC Los Angeles - John Adams - ‎18 hours ago‎

The Los Angeles Times posted report cards for about 6000 elementary school teachers Sunday, and the teachers union fired back that releasing ...

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More on the 'value-added' method

Los Angeles Times

- ‎Aug 22, 2010‎ -

all 34 articles »

LA Unified presses union on test scores

Los Angeles Times

- ‎Aug 20, 2010‎ -

all 154 articles »

State Group Piloting Teacher Prelicensing Exam

Education Week News

- ‎15 minutes ago‎

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program. The time or date displayed (including in the Timeline of Articles feature) reflects when an article was added to or updated in Google News.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


from the answer sheet by Valerie Strauss  | WashingtonPost.com

August 27, 2010; 6:30 AM ET - Following is a letter about education policy being sent to President Obama from parents representing a number of organization across the country. It is a followup to a May letter sent about Obama's Blueprint for Reform, which you can find here.

Dear President Obama:

Several weeks ago, we wrote to you about our concern that your proposed “Blueprint for Reform” did not acknowledge the critical role parents must play in any meaningful school improvement process. We also expressed our serious reservations about some of the Blueprint's strategies.

Our goal is simple – to ensure that our children receive the best possible education. As parents, we are the first to see the positive effects of good programs, and the first line of defense when our children's well-being is threatened. Our input is unique and essential.

Recently, Secretary Duncan announced that he would require districts that receive federal school improvement grants (SIG) to involve parents and the community in planning for schools identified for intervention. We appreciate this response as a first step; however, more needs to be done.

First, leadership must come from the top. We would like to see meaningful, broad-based parent participation not just in our local districts, but at the U.S. Department of Education, where critical decisions are being made about our children's education.

Second, we need more than rhetoric to feel confident that only educationally sound strategies will be used in our children's schools. The current emphasis on more charter schools, high-stakes testing, and privatization is simply not supported by research. Disagreement on these matters is not a result of parents clinging to the “status quo,” as you have recently asserted. No one has more at stake in better schools than we do – but we disagree with you and Secretary Duncan about how to get them.

We need effective, proven, common-sense practices that will strengthen our existing schools, rather than undermine them. These include parent input into teacher evaluation systems, fairly-funded schools, smaller class sizes and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals, not seen as interchangeable cogs in a machine. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools.

More specifically, and urgently, we insist on being active partners in the formulation of federal school improvement policies. The models proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are rigid and punitive, involving either closure, conversion to charters, or the firing of large portions of the teaching staff. All of these strategies disrupt children’s education and destabilize communities; none adequately addresses the challenges these schools face.

We also insist on being active partners in reforms at the school level, with the power to devise our own local solutions, using research-based methods, after a collaborative needs assessment at each individual school.

Our voices must count. If you listen, you will make real changes in your School Improvement Grant proposals as well as your “Blueprint” for education reform.

We look forward to your response and a brighter future for our children and our nation.

Sincerely, Parents Across America (signatories attached)

Natalie Beyer, Durham Allies for Responsive Education (DARE), NC

Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate, CA

Pamela Grundy, Mecklenburg Area Coming Together for Schools, NC

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, New York, NY

Sharon Higgins, public school parent, Oakland, CA

Susan Magers, Parent Advocate, FL

Mark Mishler, active public school parent, former president, Albany City PTA*, NY

Bill Ring, TransParent®, Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Schiff, San Francisco public school parent, board member of Parents for Public Schools*, member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco*, "School Beat" columnist for BeyondChron, CA

Rita M. Solnet, President, CDS, Inc.; Director, Testing is Not Teaching, FL

Dora Taylor, Parent and co-editor of Seattle Education 2010, WA

Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, IL

*for identification purposes only



8/27/10 07:47 PM | TRENTON, N.J. (AP)  — Gov. Chris Christie fired his education commissioner Friday, days after it was revealed that a simple mistake on an application might have cost New Jersey a $400 million education grant.

The dismissal of Commissioner Bret Schundler comes after New Jersey became the top runner-up for the Race to the Top grants, missing out by only a few points. The Star-Ledger of Newark later reported that budget figures for the wrong years were supplied in one section of the application.

Christie had defended Schundler on Wednesday and blamed the U.S. Education Department for considering form over substance. Christie said this week that Schundler gave the federal government the missing information during a meeting in Washington this month. But a video released Thursday by the federal Education Department shows that wasn't the case.

"I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me by the New Jersey Department of Education and which I then conveyed to the people of New Jersey," Christie said in a statement Friday. "As a result, I ordered an end to Bret Schundler's service as New Jersey's Education Commissioner and as a member of my administration."

In an interview at his Jersey City home Friday, Schundler responded that he gave the governor's staff the right story.

He said he met with Christie on Wednesday before the governor talked to the media about the grant application error.

"I told him stuff that he had said wasn't accurate on Wednesday morning when he was telling me what he was going to say to you guys," Schundler told a group of reporters. "I said, 'Stop. Where you say I gave the numbers, I did not give them the numbers.'"

He also shared printouts of e-mails from Tuesday that he says show that he accurately told the governor's public relations office what happened during the meeting in question. On one, he writes an account that was backed up by the video: "All we could do was confirm that we had erred – the 2008 data was not included," he says.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said Schundler is misrepresenting what he told the governor's office verbally and misinterpreting the emails to try to cover up that he misled the governor."We regret that Mr. Schundler continues to sully his own image by engaging in revisionist history," Drewniak said. "Mr. Schundler was the Administration's only source for what occurred in the Race to the Top presentation. All of the Governor's statements were based on Mr. Schundler's account."

Schundler said he was asked to resign, but he requested to be fired instead so he could collect unemployment insurance.

"I have a mortgage to pay and a daughter about to start college," he said.

Schundler, who served as Jersey City's mayor for most of the 1990s, was an unconventional choice as a member of the governor's cabinet.

As a Republican, he broke ground to become mayor of Jersey City, a diverse city dominated by Democrats.

He's known as a policy wonk and an intellectual, a conservative from a big city and a long-winded politician who has trouble making soundbites. He was known for helping Jersey City become a major outpost for Manhattan's financial industry and for pushing charter schools.

He ran for governor in 2001 as a conservative antiestablishment candidate, and he pulled off a surprising victory in the Republican primary, but lost in the general election.

He later taught, then was chief executive officer at The King's College, a Christian liberal arts school housed in the Empire State Building.

He came to the education commissioner's job as one of New Jersey's most fervent advocates for opening up public schools to competition by expanding publicly funded charter schools and allowing taxpayer money to be used for scholarships for students to attend private schools.

It seemed he might also be a key player in supporting Christie in his campaign against the power of the New Jersey Education Association, the state's main teachers union.

But that's not exactly the way it turned out.

In May, just before the Race to the Top grant application was due, Schundler made some compromises on the merit pay components of the proposal to win the endorsement of the NJEA.

Christie rejected those compromises and submitted a grant application that didn't include them.

NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said Friday that firing Schundler amounted to making him a scapegoat for a mistake that she contends the governor had a role in creating.

Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, which advocates greater school choice, called Schundler's dismissal "dramatic."

"Bret is a grand champion for this agenda, for the education reform movement, as is the governor," Bradford said. "The agenda is still being advanced because it's bigger that any one person."

State Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, welcomed the firing.

But she says she's still moving ahead with a hearing Sept. 7 on what went wrong on the Race to the Top application.

"New Jerseyans deserve an honest accounting from Gov. Christie about what truly happened with this costly error," she said.

The state Senate is holding a similar heading Sept. 23 – and inviting Schundler.

On Friday, Christie named Assistant Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks to be acting commissioner while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement for Schundler.


DeFalco reported from Jersey City.


by John Fensterwald in The Educated Guess

August 25th, 2010-- With an hours-old waiver from the federal government in hand, the state Board of Education on Tuesday approved spending $413 million to turn around 92 of the state’s lowest performing schools. That will include $100 million from a reserve that the feds now said could be divided among two dozen schools in Oakland, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and other districts that had argued they’d been unfairly excluded.

The vote ends the suspense for districts that started the school year having made commitments to hire teacher coaches, add programs and extend the school day without knowing whether they’d get federal School Improvement Grant money. Some had put off  critical planning for their school transformations during the summer because of approval delays. The larger schools will receive as much as $6 million over three years as long as they adopt one of four improvement models prescribed by the Obama administration.

Faced with time pressures, board members approved the grant recommendations of Department of Education staff with some sharply voiced misgivings.

  • The department revised the distribution formula somewhat to reduce huge grants for small and medium-size schools. But apparent inequities remained. Doug McRae, a retired test publisher from Monterey, pointed to “Golden Fleece” awards that he said indicated poor scrutiny by the department: $4 million for a 131-student charter school in San Diego with millions going to the district for oversight and possibly services and millions also going to the Coachella Valley district office for oversight of a high school on the list, among his examples. But Deputy Supt. Deb Sigman countered that all of the proposals had been independently vetted and warned that changing grant amounts for some schools could delay or jeopardize grants for all schools. It wasn’t apparent why that was true.
  • The same was true with  grants for thee charter schools. Board members would have eliminated all money for  them on the grounds that lowest-performing charters should be shut down, not rewarded. But the board backed off on Sigman’s advice. Board President Ted Mitchell said that the board should consider instead new regs for revoking charters of failing schools.
  • Board members from Los Angeles also questioned the department’s recommendation to deny any money to three Los Angeles Unified schools run by non-profit partnerships, , including Crenshaw High. The board heard testimony that in at least one case, Manual Arts Senior High, the school’s disqualification was caused by budget changes that the Los Angeles Unified district office made to direct more money to itself without informing the school. Board members promised to look into the dispute further but felt hamstrung to reject the recommendation.


Crenshaw Senior High


Significant discrepancies between the budget narrative and the budget summary. Not enough detail has been provided to justify many of the expenditures.

George Washington Prep. High


Significant discrepancies between the budget narrative and the budget summary. Not enough detail has been provided to justify many of the expenditures.

Manual Arts Senior High


Significant discrepancies between the budget narrative and the budget summary. Not enough detail has been provided to justify many of the expenditures.

budget detail added by 4LAKids

The $416 million allotment to California is a huge infusion of one-time money to improve failing schools. The federal government wanted states to put a quarter of it aside. But granting the waiver to use it now means that the additional 96 schools on the lowest performing list that didn’t get a SIG grant will have little  money to apply for next year. McRae had urged the board to set aside $50 million by capping how much district offices could take and by further restricting grants by school size, but the board adopted the department’s proposal intact.


from The Educated Guess by John Festerwald

How 5 Race to Top judges scored California

August 26th, 2010 - The five unidentified reviewers of California’s Race to the Top application generally praised the district-led approach that California took and expressed optimism that ceding control to districts committed to reform could succeed.

But what stopped them, with one exception, from giving the state winning marks were three areas that participating superintendents and state officials figured would be problematic: lack of union support for the application; a troubled statewide data system that lags behind other states; and uncertainty whether the state could deliver commitments to create more effective teachers and principals.

The U.S. Department of Education released the scores and evaluations of states in the second round of Race to the Top on Wednesday. It showed that especially in California, the numbers were all over the place. You’d have thought that two of the reviewers had read different applications.

(Read more and comment on this post)



Washington Post Editorial

Friday, August 27, 2010 | WITH RACE TO THE TOP money now awarded, it is clear that some states that lost out were more deserving than some that won the much-coveted grants. Yet, overall, the program has been a success in driving school reform.

When Congress allocated an enormous pot of dollars for K-12 education in the stimulus bill last year, the Obama administration sequestered about one-twentieth of it to distribute on merit rather than use the usual automatic formulas. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made clear that in this case "merit" would mean commitment to reform. This spurred states to make important changes in K-12 education, such as moving toward paying teachers based on their ability to raise student achievement. In the event, the competition was not staged perfectly. But it helped transform the national discussion on education.

The 10 winners of the second round of Race to the Top will share grants totaling $3.4 billion: the District of Columbia and Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Delaware and Tennessee had snared $600 million in round one. Some of the winners make total sense: Massachusetts, for example, which has been a leader in measuring and improving student performance, and the District, where Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is setting a new standard for change. But the selection of Hawaii, Maryland and New York, with middling records on reform, over predicted winners Colorado and Louisiana, which fought hard battles to change how teachers are evaluated, raised questions about the process.

The competition relied on a complex evaluation system, with outside judges examining 19 criteria and grading on a scale from zero to 500 points. Once he set the process in motion, Mr. Duncan was wise not to overrule individual judges to select candidates he deemed more worthy.

But it probably was a mistake not to have refined the judging system after the first round revealed its flaws. Much of the problem centered on discrepancies among judges; if their recommendations had gone to another, smaller panel for final review, the vagaries might have been reduced. It's important that such issues be examined in an after-action review because, even though Race for the Top is over, the administration aims to apportion more federal dollars competitively.

Even in states that failed to win additional money, students will profit from newly implemented reforms, and that's the most important result. Still, Mr. Duncan should find a way to keep faith with state leaders who fought valiantly to toughen academic standards, link student achievement to teacher pay or lift restrictions on charter schools.


by smf for 4LAKidsNews

I explored the database on The Times website and took it for a spin. Much if what I found confirmed my preconceptions and jumped-to-conclusions. Teachers I believe to be good, bad or indifferent turned up good, bad or indifferent – though not necessarily as I expected. 

But then again – I’m not in charge of evaluating teachers. And neither is the LA Times!

Schools that I know to be excellent – and are judged by API scores to be excellent – get favorably ranked by The Times.  But again – not universally. Wonderland Avenue hits it out of the park – but even they have one underperforming teacher if one is to take The Times word for it …and one shouldn't!

Mt Washington School and Colfax Avenue – similar schools to Wonderland – don’t fare  as well  – API Wonderful, LA Times Not-so-good.

Then it began to dawn on me – These LA Times scores are an awful lot like the Newsweek Best Schools in The Nation Issue: ranked 1-to-10 - based on a single criteria.

  • The Newsweek Best Schools Issue sells a lot of magazines.
  • The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue sells a lot of magazines …with very little swimsuits.
  • These data, as perceived by the Times Editorial Board, are ‘sexy’. As the marketeers like t0 say: They ‘attract eyeballs’.

I picked a random teacher – truly random, my first click. A teacher I don’t know - and looked at her scores

She teaches fifth grade at a pretty well regarded school in the valley. She scored “less effective” overall and in in math and English effectiveness – by The Times criteria she needs improvement.

Her name and school is now public knowledge – out there on the Internet for all the world to see. I’m not going to go there – teachers are not public officials or celebrities ar reality show contestants whose lives and careers should be exposed to such public scrutinty. But if you want to look her up she’s here

Here’s what The Times says about this teacher:

Compared with other Los Angeles Unified teachers on the value-added measure of test score improvement, [this teacher] ranked:
  • Less effective than average overall.
  • Less effective than average in math. Students of teachers in this category, on average, lost about 4 percentile points on the California Standards Test compared with other students at their grade level.
  • Less effective than average in English. Students of teachers in this category, on average, lost about 3 percentile points on the California Standards Test compared with other students at their grade level.

Here’s what she has to say for herself:

“I think that teachers should be evaluated and I agree that some teachers are more effective than others. But to base effectiveness solely on test scores puts too much emphasis on something that is really just one of the tools teachers use to improve instruction. Evaluating teachers in this way will only lead to teachers teaching to a test rather than a classroom of children.

“I teach at a high performing school. The students who come into my classroom have excellent test scores - proficient and advanced. Some even have perfect scores of 600. So, if those students maintain their perfect scores, that makes me an average teacher because they didn't improve. But if they miss one and score 580, or two and score 560... I'm considered less effective!

“My responsibility is to the whole child, not a test. My goal is to produce healthy, well-equipped students who are good problem solvers in the classroom and on the yard. In addition to our rigorous curriculum of reading and math, it is also my responsibility to teach art, drama, physical education, computers, health, social studies, and science. I strive to bring the curriculum to life and provide opportunities for students to explore visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. However, my first and foremost responsibility as a teacher is to foster the love of learning. As a result, I have a positive, hardworking, successful classroom filled with students who want to be there and enjoy learning.

“I'm afraid this article will just discourage teachers who put their heart and soul into their job while facing increasing class sizes, limited professional development, and diminishing resources.”

Very well put. Good luck this year.

THE TIMES DATABASE PAGE INVITED ME TO OTHER DATABASES THEY’VE PUBLISHED – including a list of all City of LA employees and their salaries.  Fair is fair; remember …last year? The Daily News shared the list of all LAUSD employees and their salaries.

Except The Times list doesn’t include the employees names – only their job descriptions!

What, gentle readers, is with that?


from the LA Times website

smf: It’s working now!





to see  if  it’s working.

Friday, August 27, 2010


One number can't illustrate teacher effectiveness: The Times' analysis illuminates cross-school differences in L.A. Unified, then ignores classroom factors beyond a teacher's control.

By Bruce Fuller and Xiaoxia Newton | LA Times Blowback Op-Ed

August 25, 2010 - Imagine opening the morning paper over coffee and spotting your name on list of fellow nurses or lawyers, musicians or bus drivers. Beside each name rests a stark, lonely number said to gauge the extent to which you advance the growth of your clients or customers.

For the record:: A previous version of this article referred to the "the RAND statistical procedure" for evaluating teachers on a value-added basis. The analysis was not a Rand project, but was done by a Rand researcher on a private basis for The Times. There was no Rand overview of this work.

Orwellian, perhaps. But 6,000 Los Angeles teachers will soon find their names on such a list.

The Times has already published a few "value added" scores for illustrative teachers, detailing the eye-popping variability in learning curves of third- to fifth-graders spread across the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Times claims these scores can validly peg the discrete effect of each teacher on their students' growth. These journalists draw on a complicated statistical model built by a single Rand Corp. analyst, Richard Buddin, which has yet to be openly reviewed by scholarly peers.

Meteorologists can accurately estimate the average weather pattern for Sept. 1 over the past century, but their predictions for any specific Sept. 1 are much less reliable. Yet wise editors at The Times apparently believe they can magically set aside confounding factors and pinpoint the discrete effects of individual teachers on students' learning.

The Times published a simple graph on its Aug. 15 front page as a way to publicly "out" a teacher whom its value-added study deemed ineffective. The graph showed declining raw test scores for the teacher's students over two years. But this fails to take into account differences in student background, including English proficiency, parents' education levels or home practices that affect children's learning. Hospitals wouldn't fire a doctor or nurse who focused on caring for the elderly or poor because his patients die at higher rates.

This is why the Times rightfully asked a qualified researcher at Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank, to devise a sophisticated statistical model in an attempt to isolate the discrete effect of pedagogical skills on student growth. But as the National Academy of Sciences pointed out last year, successfully doing so requires exhaustive data on each teacher and the contexts in which instruction occurs.

We know that student learning curves are flattened by lousy teachers. The Times' analysis usefully illuminates the wide variation in the test scores of students across classrooms and schools. What's risky is moving from a complicated statistical model to estimating the discrete effect of individual teachers, precisely the leap of faith being made by The Times.

Buddin's statistical procedure, while competently carried out in general, fails to take into account classroom and school contexts that condition the potency of individual teachers. For example, if a teacher is assigned low-track students — those with weaker reading proficiency in English or lower math skills — negative peer effects will drag down student growth over the year, independent of the teacher's pedagogical skills.

Or if parents self-select into higher-quality schools, as detailed in one Times story, the presence of students with highly dedicated parents will have a positive impact on student growth, again independent of the individual efforts of a teacher. By setting aside contextual effects, The Times overestimates a teacher's effects — positive or negative — on student growth.

Furthermore, many students are not taught by a single teacher. Some have special reading instruction or oral language development. What if these activities are strikingly effective or make no difference at all? Under The Times' model, such effects are attributed to the student's main teacher.

The Times' study fails to recognize that test score across grade levels cannot be compared, given the limitations of California's standardized tests. For example, third-grade scores across L.A. Unified were largely flat during the period that students were tracked, while fourth- and fifth-grade scores were climbing overall. Even ranking student scores across grades may be driven by differences in test items, not a student's skill level. So, when The Times tries to control on family background with a third-grade test score, it does so inadequately — again overestimating the discrete effect of the teacher.

Given analytic weaknesses, the ethical question that arises is whether The Times is on sufficiently firm empirical ground to publish a single number, purporting to gauge the sum total of a teacher's effect on children.

Based on a generation of research, we know bad teachers drag down student learning. Teachers unions continue to protect their poorly performing members in many cases. But this situation calls for careful science and mindful behavior by reformers and civic leaders, including The Times. Imprudent efforts could discourage strong teachers from working with low-achieving students, now judged on simplistic value-added scores. Dumbing-down the public discourse does little to lift teacher quality.

Bruce Fuller and Xiaoxia Newton are professors of education at UC Berkeley. University of Washington professor Dan Goldhaber, UCLA professor Meredith Phillips and UC Berkeley professor Sophia Rabe-Hesketh contributed to this article.

Times reporters respond to Blowback critical of 'Grading the Teachers' series

Below▼ is a response by Times reporters Jason Felch, Jason Song and Doug Smith to the Aug. 25 Blowback article by UC Berkeley education professors Bruce Fuller and Xiaoxia Newton.  from Opinion LA in the LA Times Online, Posted to the left◄

Note: In their piece (left), Fuller and Newton say The Times' "value added" method of evaluating teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District ignores classroom factors beyond an instructor's control.

August 26, 2010 |  4:45 pm - We’re happy to have credible experts debate the reliability of our statistical approach, but we would hope in doing so they would exercise the same care in their critiques as we have in our publications. Bruce Fuller and Xiaoxia Newton make several points that we’d like to respond to.

The authors say Richard Buddin’s approach “has yet to be openly reviewed by scholarly peers.” In fact, the reason we chose Buddin is because he has published several peer-reviewed studies using data from the Los Angeles Unified School District in major academic journals using the same "value added" approach he employed for us. Buddin’s methods paper is not a formal academic publication. Nevertheless, we asked leading experts to review that work before choosing Buddin, and asked several other experts, including skeptics, to review his methods paper.

The authors say our approach and graphic fail “to take into account differences in student background, including English proficiency, parents' education levels or home practices that affect children's learning.”  L.A. Unified did not provide student demographic information for this study, citing federal privacy laws. Demographic factors do have a large effect on student achievement, but these influences are largely included in the students' prior-year test scores. Prior research (including Buddin’s own using L.A. Unified data) has shown that demographic factors are much less important after controlling for a student's previous test scores. The technical report used results from Buddin’s previous Rand Corp. research to show that student demographics had small effects on teacher value added as calculated in this study. This earlier study (Buddin and Zamarro, 2009) ran through 2007 instead of 2009, but this pattern is likely to persist. The approach and results are discussed in the subsection of the technical report "How does classroom composition affect teacher value added” that begins on page 13. The key empirical results are in Table 7.

The authors cite the National Academy of Sciences report urging caution. We cited the same report in our story. There is a variety of other research available that suggests these estimates are reliable. See Kane and Staiger’s 2008 random assignment validation of value-added approaches, which found value added were “significant predictors of student achievement” and controlling for students test prior scores yielded “unbiased results.”   

The authors claim our analysis “fails to recognize that test score across grade levels cannot be compared, given the limitations of California's standardized tests.” California Standards Test scores have been used by many researchers in peer-reviewed value-added analysis for years. The district’s own researchers concluded the test was appropriate for such estimates, as the story mentioned. See this L.A. Unified report.

The authors claim, incorrectly, that The Times plans to “publish a single number, purporting to gauge the sum total of a teacher's effect on children.” In our stories and Q&As, we have repeatedly made clear that value added should not be the sole measure of a teacher’s overall performance. And our database does not present a single number for anyone.

Finally, the authors point to various limitations of the value-added approach. These are well known and have repeatedly been disclosed by The Times. What the authors fail to note is that leading experts say value added is a far more thoroughly vetted, peer-reviewed and provably reliable tool than any other teacher evaluation tool currently available. Rather than comparing value added to a Platonic ideal of a perfect teacher evaluation, it should be weighed against classroom observations by principals, student surveys and the other “multiple measures” that are being considered. Under this analysis, most scholars agree that, warts and all, value added shines.

MEET THE REPORTERS WHO ANGERED THOUSANDS OF TEACHERS: The KPFK interviews of LA Times reporters Jason Felch and Jason Song by LA Times reporter Howard Blume

Friday, 27 August 2010 | Deadline L.A. with Barbara Osborn & Howard Blume on KPFK 90.7

Howard Blume writes on the KPFK website

podcast/Quicktime mp3  | download/RealAudio

Today, Aug. 27, on Deadline L.A., I'll talk with Jason Felch and Jason Song. They are the L.A. Times reporters who authored the controversial series, Grading the Teachers. In that ongoing series of articles, they assert, in essence, that teachers can and should be evaluated based on the standardized test scores of their students, through a system called "value-added."  Value-added looks at the past performance of individual students and then measures the amount of learning a teacher has achieved with their students over the school year. The system tries to account for students arriving into a class at different academic levels by measuring individual student progress. But there are complexities and complications.

The Times hired a respected researcher to calculate "value-added" ratings for some 6,000 teachers in grades three, four and five. The newspaper plans to release ratings for each teacher in the next few days, an intention that has infuriated union leaders and many teachers.

On the show, Song and Felch review their findings and defend the paper's decision to release ratings for individual teachers.

Many listeners know that I'm an education reporter for the L.A. Times. As it happens, I did not have a role in creating, writing or internally assessing the value-added series.

Next week, in Part 2 of this interview, [Friday 3 Sept 3;30 KPFK 90.7 FM] the reporters will talk about how they got inside the classrooms of teachers they knew they were likely to describe as ineffective. We'll also discuss the challenge of describing a classroom when you know in advance you're looking for elements of ineffectiveness.


letters to the LA Times | 27 Aug 2010  | more - from other dates - follow

Re "L.A.'s leaders in learning," Aug. 22, and "LAUSD presses union on test scores," Aug. 21

The Times made a good case for its statistical methods and analysis, and also made a good case to justify the release of this information to the public.

If I were a good teacher, I would welcome this information. If I were a not-so-good teacher, I would have certain misgivings about having the data published.

I took me a few days but I finally realized where I come down on the issue of publicizing the data: The effectiveness of a given teacher is essentially a personnel matter, and personnel matters are generally kept confidential. So I would urge The Times to resist posting the teacher effectiveness ratings at this time.

Joel Robbins

North Hollywood

I taught in middle and high schools on a full-time basis beginning in 1962 and part time at community college starting in 1975. I retired from both in 2004.

Not long ago, I happened to watch the Indianapolis 500. I admired the cooperation between the driver and the pit crew. I also watched the preparation that went into the race. Delays at the pit stops or mechanical failures were important factors, and many times the experienced and seasoned driver could not compensate for the shortcomings.

What about the educational process? Wouldn't it be great if all parties concerned — parents, students, teachers and administrators — were willing to work hard to provide the best possible educational process? Is it wishful thinking? When some problems occur, should we all try to work it out, or chose the easy way by blaming the driver?

Ertuvan E. Kanatsiz


Thank you so much for your careful, comprehensive series on testing scores and teacher effectiveness. As the parent of two L.A. Unified elementary students, I encourage you to launch a second, similarly intensive look at an equally important area: the chronic underfunding of public education in California.

That, to me, is a question of greater and more urgent significance.

Kit Troyer

Los Angeles

I am sorry that The Times has taken up the cause of evaluating teachers based on improvement in student test scores. I submit that it is a bogus method of measuring teacher performance and will have a destructive influence on education in our classrooms.

Benchmarks of true education include a student learning to read and write well and taking responsibility for his or her own learning. Students need to carve out an area of interest, and have a drive to excel in it. This requires a nurturing and relaxed environment in which students can learn to think for themselves.

I don't see that an emphasis on test results will help achieve these educational goals; rather, it will detract from them.

Ralph Kottke


Before The Times essentially "outs" the teachers, perhaps it should study the "value added" by the thousands of L.A. Unified administrators who never set foot in a classroom yet are paid more than many of the best teachers in the district.

The accuracy of your measurement of teacher quality is arguable. Your dedication to avoiding criticism of the district's administration is not.

Paul Cervantes

West Hills

Thank you for your excellent series on the use of "value added" analysis of student test scores. The conclusion that the most important factor in a child's education is the teacher is spot on. Unfortunately, it can take years for a student to recover from a poor teacher.

As your article shows, the principal is a crucial element in excellent schools. The leadership at each school is an often-overlooked factor in student achievement. A principal needs to act like any other boss, providing the tools and insisting that employees perform their jobs professionally.

The reaction of some teachers and union officials that value-added analysis might be used to fire teachers puzzles me. Use the information to become a better teacher. Firing any employee, whether in the private sector or at a public school, is a last resort.

Maureen Dearden


I am a retired L.A. Unified teacher, and before retiring, I tried for 10 years to get the STAR test results for my students to see if there was any improvement during the time I taught them.

At the beginning of each school year we were inundated with test data, but I was never able to get specific data on the students I taught the previous year to see how effective I had been. Over time, I developed pre- and post-tests for my students and informally tracked their achievement.

I think the district is moving in the right direction, but it is so slow. Perhaps information will be more accessible to teachers now that your reporting has shed light on the situation.

June Thompson

Los Angeles

Teaching is a two-way street, and many students do not want to learn.

Here's an idea: How about publishing all the names of doctors whose patients didn't get better because they wouldn't take their medicine?

Andrea Barer

Valley Village

I am one of those parents who spent the night outside Wilbur Avenue Elementary School. Factors that brought me to Wilbur were a full-time music teacher, a full-time art teacher, a science lab, an up-to-date computer lab with a teacher, amazing parent involvement, an after-school program with 30 classes to choose from, before-school care for working parents, lots of field trips, guest speakers, a beautiful environment and responsive teachers. None of these factors is reflected in value-added test scores.

At Wilbur, my daughter's test scores have always been advanced. Though test scores are important, they aren't the only measure of a school's worth — otherwise, my kids would be attending Lanai Avenue Elementary, which has a higher API.

I'd spend the night outside again to keep my kids at Wilbur.

Lori Howe


Letters from August 26, 2010

Teachers and parents

Re "Parents have the right to know," Column, Aug. 23

Indisputably, we teachers serve the public. Parents have a right — nay, a duty — to know what's going on in the classrooms and on standardized measurements.

But let's not confuse teacher efficacy with test scores. A teacher's real job is to humanize our students through academics, arts, humanities and self-discipline. We steer kids through the myriad horrors of growing up in the

21st century, and inspire them to be lifelong learners

any way we can.

If people want higher test scores, they'll get higher test scores. I just hope they don't complain when that's all they get.

Richard Mandl

Canoga Park

At the outset of his column, George Skelton says that "grading teachers based on how much their students learn should be a no-brainer."

He assumes it's English and math — in quantifiable form, of course. Who decided that? Certainly not the students. That wonderful desire to learn we see in every youngster, and their enjoyment when they do, is slowly denied them by the threat of flunking out. By middle school, many are ready to drop out.

When are we going to allow students to have a say in what they learn, when and how much — if, that is, it's quantifiable?

Tom Robischon

Los Angeles

Skelton has a valid point regarding measuring a teacher's effectiveness by comparing students' grades on standardized tests this year with last year.

Care must be taken, however, that this "accountability factor" does not become the primary factor in measuring a teacher's effectiveness. Student motivation to improve has to come from the student, and is derived primarily from the parents. No teacher can instill that desire without the parents' willingness to work with the kid.

I am not a teacher, but I know and volunteer with many of them. Their often-stated complaint to me is that they cannot get parents interested in their children's education. If mom and dad think a teacher's job is to baby-sit their offspring, that is what they will get.

Tom Reinberger


If you want to use a child's test scores to evaluate a teacher, then that evaluation must show the entire picture of the child to determine accuracy.

I suggest to you a report as follows: To the Parents of Johnny Cal: Your son, who is a first-year English-language learner, in his fifth-grade class of 38 students, including 13 students who speak other languages, with five special-education students (whose assistants were not in class with them), who was absent an average of three days a month, who never turned in any homework, whose parents never came to any school activities, responded to any school notices and may or may not be able to help him with schoolwork, scored in the 50th percentile. Please understand your teacher used a curriculum she did not design but is mandated to use, and followed a pacing plan imposed on her. The testing company was very impressed with his dot-to-dot pattern on the response sheet that resembles a happy face.

Lucia Arias


Skelton wrote: "Children are being graded. Their teachers should be too."

In the name of fairness, how about grading parents? As a teacher, I observed a world of difference in the success of children who had been taught respect for adults. They took responsibility for their actions in class, knew how to listen and were on time. They became successful students.

Yes, their test scores represented good teaching plus their receptiveness to what was being taught.

There must be new technological "toys" invented to measure successful parenting. Fair judgment demands this.

Tamara Lipson

Long Beach

As a former L.A. Unified teacher who was "in the know," your article was spot on. Parents, students and Socratic-type teachers are not allowed to state baldly that teachers are not equal (gasp!).

The teachers union has a dilemma. The problem rests with trying to protect poor to useless teachers while forgetting the goal of educating most of the students.

We must teach children to read and to think. Learning is up to the children, with boosts from the parents and the community. I once heard a brilliant teacher comment: "I teach; it is the student's job to learn."

Patricia Watson

Los Angeles

Bringing the classroom to life/Letters from Aug 24
Re "The art of teaching," Opinion, Aug. 19

Congratulations to Sue Horton. Her article does an excellent job of emphasizing the importance of creating an enriched learning environment while ensuring that students also master all of the basic skills. Test scores are only part of the picture, but an important part.

As a retired elementary school principal, I was fortunate enough to work with many educators capable of successfully integrating both.

Joanie Freckmann


Horton's lovely memories of her fifth-grade teacher reminded me of my own wonderful memories of high school teachers who were both an influence on and an inspiration to me.

However, today's robotic "teaching to the test" curriculum would never allow any of those lovely intangibles such as tea ceremonies or leaf pressing.

Sadly, there's no room for people like Mrs. Gibbs and my high school teachers in today's educational system, which views students as widgets and teachers as factory workers, and there's a big "you're not welcome" sign out to any kind of creativity.

Kathleen Resch

Temple City

For seven years in the '80s, I served on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. We often made assessment visits to schools. I recall one high school visit in Southern California where I was assigned to interview the chair of the history department, who turned out to be a real gem, not unlike Horton's Mrs. Gibbs.

Thoroughly impressed with the description of the program and learning that many of the quite innovative activities were his doing, I indicated that my university had a large teacher training program and that I would be grateful if he could identify what he considered to be the greatest deficiency in beginning teachers.

"Easy," he replied. "They don't love their subject."

It's good to be bright, imaginative, organized and funny, but without love, one is sounding brass.

How do you test for that?

David L. Levering


The writer is a professor of history emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona.

Analyzing data about teacher performance in the Los Angeles Unified School District; United Teachers Los Angeles' call for a boycott of The Times

Letters: August 17, 2010

What we can learn

Re "Who's teaching our kids?," Aug. 15

My wife and I are both retired California public school educators. We want to commend The Times for its investigation into the effectiveness of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. You have brought much-needed light.

Though our respective careers were far different — my wife taught in elementary grades; I worked in secondary grades — we often had to evaluate ourselves because there was no way to compare our performance with other teachers'. Conceivably, we both might have been in need of great improvement, but we had no way of knowing.

For the sake of today's generation of students and those still ahead, there has to be a better way of judging how good each teacher really is. Your series can only be a help in that direction.

Robert Wakefield


Picture this: You have a career in a respected profession that you have been in for years. Once a year you are tested and compared with your peers. You have no input on the testing process, and the results are unknown to you.

Then, a respected newspaper gets information from your employer about the results of these tests and allows a reporter to interview you about your results — which, unbeknownst to you, are not on par with a fellow employee's. You are now identified in the newspaper as an "ineffective" employee, while your colleague is "effective." Who would want this job?

Free public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. Attacking dedicated teachers who have missed the bar on teaching to standardized tests will only discourage people who are considering teaching as a career. Shame on The Times for publishing this series, and shame on L.A. Unified for sharing its testing information.

Teresa Nield

West Hills

I thought it was the job of newspapers to report facts to the public without malice. I don't believe that has been done in this case.

I have been teaching with L.A. Unified since 1985, and have two teaching credentials, a specialist's certificate and a master's degree in education. Yet I am constantly working and evaluating what I do. Most of the teachers I know do the same. Our administrators take the evaluation process seriously.

I have lost respect for this newspaper. The Times has lost me as a subscriber.

Diane Moss

Westlake Village

As a long-retired teacher, I was aghast to read this piece. Much of the information was good. The problem was The Times listing names of poorly performing teachers and publishing their photographs.

My heart bled for Karen Caruso. It is obvious that she does all in her power to be a good teacher. For her to be called out as an ineffective teacher in The Times will do untold damage to her and the children she teaches. The same is true of John Smith.

I was considered a very good teacher, and I would have been devastated if I had been treated this way.

Silvia Barger

Long Beach

As I scour my just-released test scores from the past school year, I am struck by the student who shot up 84 points in my eighth-grade honors English class. Oops, I also see a kid who dropped 44 points.

These are two girls, in the same period, the same learning environment, taught the same standards-based curriculum and given the same homework assignments.

Why the discrepancy? Is it me? Am I to be held accountable for such disparity in test scores within the same class?

Looking at each of my classes, I see the same thing. My conclusion? Teenagers are teenagers. They are inexplicable, as are student test scores.

Naomi Roth

Marina del Rey

The Times must be as qualified to judge good teaching as I am to judge good journalism.

That being said, here's my take on your article: You posit that raising student test scores equals good teaching.

No. Or at the most, maybe.

Raising student test scores equals getting students to raise their scores on a state test. When somebody can prove that high test scores produce good citizens, critical thinkers and productive members of society, then and only then can we say the teachers who taught those kids were "good."

Steve Franklin


The writer, a teacher at Sun Valley Middle School, was named a 2004-05 LAUSD and L.A. County teacher of the year.

Let's grade the editors, reporters and staffs of major metropolitan newspapers. What was the circulation of your paper when you started? What is it now? Who's responsible for its slide? Oh, not you?

You're saying there are many other factors why some papers are slipping while others are doing better at holding readers? That you can't judge the work of a professional by a single metric, and that to imply otherwise would be misleading at best?

Steve Kaplan


The Times' methodology is sound, but it ignores one fundamental thing: The results make no distinction between teachers who educate and those who "teach to the test."

In today's high-pressure environment, it is practically impossible to do both.

An "educator" who receives children who have been previously taught by a series of "testers" will almost certainly see her English and math scores decline.

Does that mean she is a bad teacher? Does that mean the children are worse off?

My wife used to be an "educator," and she has always been very highly regarded by parents, principals and her peers. She is now forced to become a "tester." Her pupils show the necessary "improvement," but they certainly are losers, as they now lack true education.

Laurie Pane


Congratulations to The Times for its commitment to focus on the most important issue facing caring citizens: public education.

I am not an expert on education, but it doesn't take an expert to understand that the outrageous dropout rate in our public schools will lead us to second-rank status.

Hopefully your series will be a spur to change.

Gil Garcetti

Santa Monica

Union calls for a boycott

Re "Union urges Times boycott," Aug. 16

That United Teachers Los Angeles has called for a boycott of The Times only proves that newspapers are neither obsolete nor irrelevant. Good work!

Catherine Cate

Santa Ana

My wife is an L.A. Unified teacher with more than 20 years of service. She and I had a spirited discussion Sunday morning about the "value added" analysis of teachers undertaken by The Times.

Mere hours later, our phone rang with a pre-recorded message from UTLA President A.J. Duffy urging union members like my wife to respond by canceling their subscriptions to The Times.

Just how this otherwise irresponsible and cowardly call to action will help solve the education crisis that is LAUSD I am uncertain, but I am considering getting a second subscription for myself and my family.

David Tilles

Mar Vista

Cheers for your reporting on teacher effectiveness. Boos and hisses to Duffy for his "shoot the messenger" response.

If Duffy has data showing how students benefit from the current seniority system, he should share that data; otherwise, he should pay attention to what The Times has to say. He might learn something.

Even the two "ineffective" teachers you identified in Sunday's article showed more concern for the success of students than Duffy seems to have.

I hope teachers ignore his boycott idea. In case they don't, I'm sending in $100. I hope you can use it to get extra copies of The Times to schools and libraries in the LAUSD area.

Thomas B. Gage

San Dimas