LA Times Forces Schools’ Hand

It's been a wild couple of weeks for Los Angeles teachers.

By Julianne Hing Aug 26, 2010

The Los Angeles Times "Who’s Grading the Teachers?" database project is on the cusp of forcing the Los Angeles Unified School District to change policy to mirror the Obama administration education reform agenda.

The paper reports that LAUSD school chief Ramon Cortines addressed a crowd of administrators on Wednesday and announced that the district would adopt a "value added" system to track students’ test scores and therefore evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness over time. The method would then, Cortines hopes, comprise 30 percent of a teacher’s yearly job evaluations and possibly even determine their job security in the district.

The plan would have to be approved by L.A. teachers union before being implemented. When Cortines first raised the topic last week, United Teachers Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy hinted that the union was willing to open up a conversation on teacher evaluation issues, but has not indicated that they will approve the "value added" method.

It’s been a wild couple of weeks for Los Angeles teachers.

A quick recap: on August 15 the Los Angeles Times entered the national education debate by announcing a plan to publish the names and ranked scores of 6,000 third, fourth and fifth grade teachers later this month. The paper examined seven years of test scores for elementary school teachers using what’s called a "value added" analysis which tracks a student’s test scores through different grades.

The union president Duffy was furious. He called immediately for a boycott of the paper. While many teachers do back-of-the-envelope calculations of their students’ progress, teachers had never been shown actual statistical tabulations, and the district doesn’t incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations.

Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the newspaper for what it was doing–"What is there to hide?" he asked–and in a speech yesterday in Little Rock, Arkansas, he called out the city and praised the newspaper for joining the national education conversation. Duncan’s education reform platform has pushed for more strict measures for evaluating teachers. Duncan has advocated a model that allows districts to fire teachers if their students’ test scores do not improve satisfactorily.

In February, President Obama praised a Rhode Island district that fired every teacher in a high school that was deemed failing. (Those teachers were later allowed to keep their jobs through a concession deal.) In Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee fired 241 teachers this summer because more than half of them were not able to raise student test scores.

By Friday, the district had publicly announced that it would attempt to insert the "value-added" metric into teacher evaluations. Duffy responded by agreeing to a meeting, though he did not promise acquiescence.