Here's Why L.A.’s New Changes to Teacher Evaluation Are Bad for Students and Teachers

The nation's teacher unions used their lobbying muscle to make sure the new Every Student Succeeds Act ended the Obama administration's pressure on states and school districts to evaluate teachers more meaningfully. And now, with the federal government no longer blocking their path, the unions are moving to weaken state and local evaluation reforms introduced in the Obama era, as is the case in Los Angeles. In the nearly 650,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, the local union, United Teachers Los Angeles, recently won changes that permit veteran teachers in the nation's second largest school system to be evaluated as infrequently as twice a decade; makes it more difficult to use evaluations to establish "master" teacher positions, career ladders, or performance-based pay by eliminating the top category of "highly effective;" and plays down the role of student achievement in teacher evaluations. Under the revisions, part of a new preliminary collective bargaining pact that rolls back reform, mandatory evaluations of experienced teachers diminish from once every two years to as infrequently as once every five years, administrators now have to notify teachers of formal observations in advance, and teachers are required to receive only a single formal classroom observation in years they're evaluated. California law requires that " pupil progress" be incorporated in local teacher-evaluation systems. But the new Los Angeles labor deal creates a more ambiguous role for student test scores in the city's teacher evaluations, leaving individual evaluators and the teachers they evaluate to sort out how to respond to the state mandate. The Los Angeles Times played into the union's hands when it published individual teachers' student testing results in 2010 and 2011, against the advice of testing experts who warned that testing results are much less dependable when they're used alone rather than in combination with other measures like classroom observations. Ironically, the new Los Angeles bargaining agreement claims that the changes to the city's teacher evaluation system will promote "educator development and support" throughout teachers' careers. In fact, the revisions make it more difficult to help teachers improve by reducing the amount of information available on teachers' performances. The new model streamlines the rating system for gauging teachers' classroom work and requires that raters give teachers timely feedback, which are positive steps. But taken together, the union-backed changes are bad for students and teachers. By watering down the comprehensive evaluation system enacted in the City of Angels in recent years, they make it more difficult to know who's doing a good job, who isn't, and why.
Thomas Toch is director of FutureEd, an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He is a former senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and director of the foundation’s Washington office. He is a founder and former co-director of the think tank Education Sector, a former guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he ...

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