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Why unions are livid about L.A.'s new teacher-evaluation experiment

The Los Angeles Unified School District is testing a pilot program for teacher evaluation that includes parent feedback and peer review. But unions are not happy.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / August 19, 2011

Los Angeles

After years of frustration with its own teacher-evaluation system, the second-largest school district in the country is pilot-testing a new idea against the wishes of its union.

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With the Obama administration offering incentives for school systems to revamp how they evaluate teachers' effectiveness, the episode with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) carries important lessons nationwide, analysts say.

The fresh approach in Los Angeles meshes with the Obama administration's efforts to use more systematic and data-driven approaches to evaluate teachers. It includes parent and student feedback, students' standardized test scores, and more detailed observations given by peers – who watch teachers and then type their observations and questions into laptop computers, then discuss their impressions the next day.

Two- to five-day training sessions have occurred throughout the district over several weeks, involving almost 1,000 educators who are paid to participate.

To some, the Los Angeles pilot program is a good one with positive lessons for the rest of the country.

“This is actually a great initiative in Los Angeles because rather than adopting a policy on teacher evaluation, they are actually developing one,” says David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent, nonpartisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California.

But union officials say they are disappointed that the LAUSD has moved forward without their input.

“They are plowing on without consulting with us first, which is very unfortunate,” says Marla Eby, spokeswoman for United Teachers Los Angeles.

She and others tick off a list of problems that include: the inclusion of teachers and evaluators who are not up to par, focusing on individual teachers rather than on collaborative approaches, computer programs involved in evaluations that need bugs worked out, and evaluation categories that are too broad.

“This should be about trying to improve teachers rather than evaluating and judging them,” Ms. Eby says. “Everyone agrees that the current system is no good, but they just unilaterally barreled forward on this without our input and paid people to participate. We are calling it a bribe.”


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