Monday, May 23, 2011


Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy appeared to have momentum in the effort to revise educator evaluations in the LAUSD, but the teachers union is digging in its heels.

By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times |

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy at Quincy Jones Elementary

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy -- pictured before becoming superintendent in January 2010 at Quincy Jones Elementary School in Historic South-Central -- seemed to have momentum to change how teachers are evaluated in the district. But the union is attempting to block a test of a new evaluation program. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times / January 13, 2011)

May 23, 2011 - Even before he officially took over the top job at the Los Angeles school district in April, John Deasy said one of his top priorities was overhauling teacher evaluations.

It appeared the new superintendent was in an ideal position. The school board had voted to reopen teachers' contract negotiations and to use student test scores as part of evaluations, something a growing number of districts around the country had been doing. The mayor was also calling for new educator accountability measures, and national teachers union leaders had begun accepting test data as one measure of educator performance.

But negotiations on teacher evaluations are now at a virtual standstill; the L.A. union sought a court order Friday to, among other things, try to block a voluntary pilot program to evaluate teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The stalled talks have led to an increasingly tense relationship between the union leadership and Deasy, who had a reputation of working well with labor in his previous jobs.

"Everything I've heard about John Deasy is that he's a collaborator. This is not the John Deasy I've heard about," said A.J. Duffy, the outgoing president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Using test scores to evaluate teachers is one of the most controversial topics in education today, so the impasse isn't surprising, especially given the union's long reluctance to do it, educators and others said.

But some disagreed with the union's tactics.

"Stopping the whole train seems shortsighted to me," said Ted Mitchell, the former president of the state Board of Education who also headed a district task force on teacher effectiveness. "I understand why they want to [take legal action]. If they stop it now, there's no chance the district will implement new evaluations" soon.

L.A. Unified and UTLA have been discussing retooling teacher evaluations for several years. The district created a task force in 2009 to make recommendations for a new evaluation system that included outside experts and union officials.

Duffy and other union leaders agreed that the evaluation system was in need of an overhaul. In L.A. Unified, as in many places, teachers were evaluated on subjective measures — an administrator made a quick visit to a classroom and filled out a form. Nearly 99% of L.A. teachers received a positive rating. Still, the union consistently objected to using student test scores to make high-stakes moves, such as hiring and tenure.

But after the Los Angeles Times released a database containing "value-added" scores for teachers last summer, the school board voted to begin authorizing a new evaluation system that included student data.

Value-added analysis uses a student's past performance on standardized tests to estimate whether the teachers added to or subtracted from students' growth. Supporters say it provides a measure of objectivity and accuracy to evaluations, but critics contend that it is too unreliable for personnel decisions.

Deasy and other district officials announced that they would start a pilot evaluation program next year and begin using it throughout the nation's second-largest school district in the 2012-13 school year. The union contends the new system must be approved at the bargaining table.

More than 900 teachers and administrators offered to take part in the voluntary effort. In exchange, they were also offered a $1,250 stipend, paid professional days and detailed feedback.

Union lawyers filed a complaint alleging unfair labor practices and on Friday asked for an injunction in Los Angeles County Superior Court to halt the new evaluation program. (The union also issued a news release that day accusing Deasy of negotiating improperly for unpaid furlough days by issuing public statements about issues that are being discussed confidentially.)

Deasy said he was surprised that the union filed a grievance, especially since there were no stakes attached to the program and there appeared to be widespread interest.

"I think there is a large disconnect between what the leadership has done and what the rank and file is saying to us," Deasy said. "They're not only excited about the evaluation system, but they're chomping at the bit to use it."

UTLA's position stands in contrast to many other districts and labor groups. The nation's two largest teachers unions have either accepted using value-added scores as one measure in evaluations or helped unions and districts negotiate contracts that incorporate value-added scores.

"California, and [Los Angeles] in particular, has been an anomaly when it comes to this kind of work," said Arun Ramanathan, the executive director of the Education Trust-West, a nonprofit education advocacy group.

Board of Education member Steve Zimmer, who said he understands Deasy's urgency and the union's reluctance over evaluations, said: "The context is really negative right now.... It's a very frustrating moment."

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