Saturday, September 08, 2012


By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, L.A. Daily News |

9/7/2012  | 7:35:18 PM PDT  ::  School board member Steve Zimmer is taking aim at two of the most contentious issues facing Los Angeles Unified, with separate proposals to exclude high-stakes test scores from teacher evaluations and to strengthen the oversight of charter schools.

Both resolutions on Tuesday's board agenda have generated heated debate behind the scenes, with critics worried that the proposals could delay or derail the progress that's been made toward long-awaited reforms.

In an interview Friday, Zimmer insisted that each of the issues has reached a critical stage, and that board members need to decide the direction they want the district to take.

The performance evaluation proposal is especially timely, with LAUSD under a court order to negotiate with union leaders on a system that uses student test scores to help gauge teacher success.

District administrators have long advocated the use of Academic Growth over Time - which uses a complex formula of test scores and demographic data - but union leaders say AGT is an unreliable measure of pupil progress.

Zimmer now wants his colleagues to endorse the use of multiple measurements - everything from periodic assessments to student portfolios - in the evaluation process.

"The reason to do the resolution now is that it might move us forward to a position that we're not necessarily comfortable with, but can live with," said Zimmer, whose district includes part of the San Fernando Valley, as well as Hollywood and the Westside.

"This is not the time for orthodoxy. It's a rare opportunity to seek compromise that will greatly impact the next generation of students and the quantity of growth and the quality of their learning."

While the district and unions disagree over the methods used to evaluate teachers, they agree that the ultimate goal is to raise the quality of the instructor to improve student achievement.

"When you look at simplifying the analysis of a teacher's work down to a single score - like the (health) grade you'd give a restaurant - that isn't going to help any teacher get better at their job," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

"Teachers welcome accountability, but we want it in a meaningful way."

Los Angeles Unified is using AGT in an experimental performance evaluation involving hundreds of volunteer teachers. It also factors in classroom observation, parent and student feedback and a teacher's contribution to the community.

West Valley board member Tamar Galatzan wants to know why the board is being asked to vote now on the AGT issue.

"We started down this path a long time ago, and that was the time to object," she said.

She also noted that the district is facing a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 4 for coming up with a new teacher evaluation, and is in sensitive talks with union leaders.

"The issue is being negotiated at the bargaining table right now," she said. "This resolution is an attempt to make an end run around the bargaining."

Galatzan was referring to the talks resulting from a ruling in Doe vs. Deasy, a lawsuit filed by the advocacy group EdVoice that challenged how the district evaluates its teaching corps.

EdVoice, the United Way and a number of other education advocacy groups are lining up to oppose Zimmer's motion.

"We believe that AGT and other educator effectiveness tools are key aspects to ensuring quality instruction for all Los Angeles children," said Ryan Smith, director of education policy for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Educators4Excellence, a group of classroom reformers, said the district needs to push ahead with its use of AGT.

"Putting the district's teacher evaluation system on hold while we wait years for a perfect measure of student growth data would mean another generation of teachers go without any meaningful feedback," said Ama Nyamekye, executive director of E4E. "We must move forward."

Zimmer also thinks it's time for the board to review the approval and oversight of charter schools, with more than 230 of the campuses housing 110,000 students within the 700-square-mile district.

"When you've crossed those kinds of thresholds, we need to take a careful and complete look at our role as authorizer," Zimmer said.

He plans to introduce a resolution on Tuesday directing Superintendent John Deasy to craft plans for monitoring the charters, sharing best practices and resolving conflicts in sharing district facilities. It also endorses the creation of a 13-member Charter Oversight Commission to advise the school board on individual applications.

Until those elements are in place, Zimmer wants the school board to postpone or refer new charter applications to the Los Angeles County Office of Education - a move that critics decry as illegal.

In a letter sent Friday to Los Angeles Unified, the attorney for the California Charter Schools Association said the Charter Schools Act requires the school board to "continue to accept, hear and take action on all charter petitions."

Corri Tate Ravare, managing regional director for the Los Angeles branch of CCSA, said the organization believes the moratorium would severely limit parental choice.

"It would be shutting the door on the parents of 10,000 children who are on waiting lists for charters," Ravare said.

She said she understands the need for district oversight of the schools, but said LAUSD's charter office has always worked professionally and collaboratively with the organization.

Jose Cole-Gutierrez, executive director of the district's Charter Schools Division, said the agency conducts an annual "deep dive" at each school, which includes a review of academic and financial records, teacher credentials and admissions of special-education students.

"We're the largest district authorizer in the nation and we believe we're among the best, but we're always wanting to improve and learn and increase student achievement," he said.

Galatzan, the Charter Association attorney and Deasy himself also worry about paying for the additional bureaucracy.

"I have great concern about how we'd pay for another layer of government," Deasy said. "We have zero ability to fund it."

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