LAUSD, State Education Policies Flawed, Study Finds

By Richie Duchon, City News Service

The Los Angeles Unified School District needs critical reform in teacher evaluation, tenure and teaching assignment policies, according to a national study of the district released Tuesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan, privately funded research organization based in Washington, D.C., studied five key policy areas— staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedule.

The study, sponsored by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, says state and local policy failures in those areas pose huge obstacles to the nation’s second-largest school district.

“The sheer size of LAUSD is reason enough to view its prospects for reform daunting,” the report’s authors wrote. “Add to that mix the state’s extreme financial turmoil and it becomes even harder to envision a successful turnaround strategy.”

The release of the study, which surveyed more than 1,500 teachers and principals for input on its data findings, comes as the district continues to struggle to keep its on-time graduation rate above 50 percent and is still at the mercy of a state budget crisis that threatens more layoffs if the economy worsens.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents the district’s teachers, criticized the study, calling it misguided and performed by non-educators.

“The approach of this study is all wrong,” Duffy said. “It does nothing to reinforce the profession, the quality of people we’re bringing in, ongoing training for administration, and creating quality professional development.”

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said he welcomed the report.

“As an agency that receives public funds in exchange for the privilege of educating nearly 700,000 students in this district, it would be irresponsible not to welcome this analysis,” Deasy said.

The 58-page report titled, “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD,” cited problems with the district’s practice of assigning teachers to schools during the hiring and transfer processes. It said the district’s policies exacerbated a faulty hiring system during recent years when the district experienced significant downsizing.

The district requires principals to first look at a “priority placement” list when hiring teachers, the study found.

“LAUSD principals are often pressured to hire teachers who lost their position at one school who then land on the `priority placement’ list, commonly known as the ‘must place’ list, before they are allowed to consider other applicants,” the authors wrote.

However, three-quarters of principals surveyed said teachers hired from the priority placement list are rarely, if ever, a good fit for their schools.

The study’s recommendations focused heavily on teacher evaluation. It said teachers should be evaluated annually, and student achievement should be the main criterion on which teachers are evaluated.

The district recently announced that it would try evaluating some elementary school teachers based on yearly student performances. The teachers union challenged the plan at the state level, but its complaint was rejected.

The report also recommended an overhaul of the district’s seniority-based system. California is one of only 12 states that mandates layoffs be conducted in order of reverse seniority. Arizona, Florida and Idaho have outright banned consideration of seniority as the primary determinant in layoff decisions, the report stated.

A recent court case protected some of the city’s lowest performing schools from seniority-based layoffs, but the settlement “falls short of a more permanent solution to the staffing problems created by seniority-based policies,” the report found.

“I firmly believe the way we get to 100 percent graduation is by strengthening the teaching profession,” Deasy said. “LAUSD remains deeply committed to supporting and developing a process by which we learn from places where exceptional teaching is taking place and provide meaningful growth opportunities for teachers who need it.”

The study attacked the state’s required tenure system, which mandates that teachers be considered for tenure after two years on the job.

The roadmap recommends, at minimum, extending that to four years. It found the district is moving in the right direction by requiring principals to sign off on tenures, but added that a more substantial tenure review would be the most successful policy.

It is wrong to talk about reforming the evaluation or tenure systems without talking about how teachers are trained, Duffy said.

“We need to sit down with universities and colleges and say, ‘We’re going to stop taking your product, because it isn’t a good product. Stop being money-making mills and understand that if education is very important, you have to have a standard by which you take people,”’ Duffy said.

The study also recommended phasing out salaries based on continuing education. Instead it recommends giving higher salaries to the top 5 percent to 15 percent of teachers who consistently score well on evaluations based on student performances.

Duffy called the salary recommendations ludicrous.

“Stop paying people for going back to college to get better at their skill or craft?” Duffy said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has clashed with UTLA in recent months, called the study thorough and thoughtful.

“I look forward to turning their research into reality by continuing to work with the leadership at LAUSD until all students have access to the effective education they deserve,” Villaraigosa said.

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June 9, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


One Response to “LAUSD, State Education Policies Flawed, Study Finds”

  1. Luis Sanchez on June 10th, 2011 10:09 pm

    The sad thing is that the leadership at LAUSD does not have (recent) teaching experience or have forgotten what it is like to teach day in and day out.

    The reality is that many students in secondary schools read far below their grade level and are not required to pass their classes to go on to the next grade level. The lack of requirements / standards that students are actually held accountable to will forever result in a much higher drop out rate than if students were held accountable.

    If students in underdeveloped nations where they have outdoor classrooms are held accountable through exit exams to pass to the next grade, there is no reason why an industrialized nation like our cannot hold our own students accountable.

    It’s time to stop babying, victimizing, and making excuses for students. Have standards that students have to meet will help them learn responsibility at an earlier age.

    Having not standards to meet results in people learning to be irresponsible with no consequences. This is dangerous. This must stop.

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