The LA Times reports (here) that LA Unified and the teacher’s union will start “conversations” about improving their teacher evaluation system. The reform minded leadership of LA Unified has wanted to make changes to its evaluation system for a while. In fact, it included a proposal to incorporate value added test scores into its teacher evaluation system in the state’s application for Race to the Top. In that application, LA committed to a weighting of 30% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on value-added test scores. But at least to date, the union has fought these efforts. Randi Weingarten is now on the scene to help, so lets see in that will make a difference. It will be interesting to see if this LA Times threat to release data will change that. And, will this encourage other public record requests in other large urban school districts. If the school district is able to work with the union to overhaul their teacher evaluation system, will critics change their mind about the LA Times project?
These negotiations could move quickly in an attempt to come to a compromise prior to the Times releasing the individual teacher data. And, if a compromise is reached, could this actually result in the Times not releasing the individual teacher level data. There has been some speculation that if LA has a teacher evaluation system that incorporated teacher value added data, then that data would be confidential, and not available for a public records request or public release. (here) So, could it end up that the Times never actually releases the data, and LA Unified ends up with an improved teacher evaluation system. This would clearly be a huge step forward for the second largest school district in the country, and become a national model for forcing teacher unions to the table on this issue. This would raise the questions for reform minded critics like myself, would the ends justify the means?
Whether the evaluations negotiations are successful or not, John Deasy the new Deputy Superintendent has committed to releasing some school level summary of teacher value added measures in their school report cards. He should take a look at the proposal that I made last week around this issue (here). I would expect that other districts will soon be pressured to provide similar types of data especially in districts that are already incorporating value-added data into their teacher evaluation systems.
Other random thoughts
Do the analysis before you adopt the policy. It is disconcerting to me that the LA Unified administration has been openly advocating for teacher value added scores to play a significant role in a teacher’s evaluation system without have taken a close look at the quality of the data. The district committed in the state’s RTT application to use it as 30% of a teacher evaluation, but did not bother to analyze the data even though they report that they could have. Examples of policy proceeding data analysis are becoming too common place in education policy. For example take a look at the recent controversy around the Texas accountability system in which students scoring 0 on a state test can still be deemed on track. Also look at California’s interdistrict school choice policy that it adopted as part of its RTT application that in theory allows greater choice at its lowest 10 percent of schools, but instead identifies many schools that are above average and some above the state’s achievement target as choice schools. Its pretty much common sense – do the analysis before you adopt the policy because often the outcomes are not what you would expect. If you don’t unintended outcomes could result in an unnecessary backlash to a generally good policy.
Weingarten Proposes Parents Should Know Teacher’s Evaluation Rating. Weingarten surprised me last week when she announced that parents have a right to know the evaluation results of their teacher. Would this be a good thing for newly designed teacher evaluation systems? It might not be. It is difficult enough for a principal to have the courage to give a teacher an unsatisfactory evaluation. If parents were given information about a teacher’s quality, then you would quickly expect parents to be in a principal’s office requesting a transfer out of the struggling teacher’s class. This of course would make life difficult for the principal. Such public disclosure would likely continue or return teacher evaluations to the world where all teachers are excellent. It would also make it difficult for a struggling teacher to get the support that he or she needs to improve. It will be interesting to see if her proposal sets off a public disclosure surge.
The LA Times in Responsible, but LA Unified Gave it the Data. While the Times conducted the analysis, it must be said that LA Unified allowed it to happen. I will leave it to legal experts as to whether the LA Unified lawyers were correct in advising the district that they had to comply with the open record request. But, how a district complies with a public records request is left up to the district. It is likely that LA Unified could have strictly met the public records requirement in such a way that the Times could never have conducted the analysis. For example, the district could have provided a summary print out sheet of test results for each teacher for each year to meet the requirement. This would fulfill their legal requirement, but would have made it next to impossible for the analysis to be conducted. But, of course it was in the district’s best interest to have the data out there. Expect other districts to assist newspapers or think tanks to conduct similar analyses in other large districts in the near term.