• Entirely Secondary: Evaluating Teachers

    Columnist Jerry Heverly talks about different ways teachers have been evaluated and how it ties to the state's No Child Left Behind waiver application.

    (Editor's note: This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.)

    By Jerry Heverly

    California had a homework assignment due today, September 6, 2012. She didn’t make it.

    The people who will be punished for this lapse, however, are probably going to be individual school districts like San Leandro.

    Like many of my students California didn’t like the assignment she was given so she decided, without consulting the “teacher” (Education Secretary Arne Duncan), to hand in her own interpretation of the teacher’s instructions.

    I’ve written before about the draconian requirements of the No Child Left Behind law of 2002. NCLB said, among other things, that 100 percent of California students had to test “proficient” on state tests by the year 2014. Failure to achieve this goal could result in drastic changes to schools all over the state costing billions of dollars.

    It wasn’t long after NCLB passed that people began realizing that very, very few schools would ever make that 100 percent level.

    Mr. Duncan noticed this, too. So he decided to offer each of the fifty states a way out.

    The Secretary saw that NCLB had a provision for him to extend “waivers” to states or other educational entities, excusing them from provisions of the act. He decided to offer these waivers — but he attached conditions.

    It was one of those conditions that the Golden State found objectionable. Mr. Duncan insisted that he wouldn’t come across with one of those succulent, delicious waivers unless the state agreed to change the way they evaluated teachers.

    He wanted a portion of a teacher’s evaluation to include state test scores. 

    State after state went along with Duncan’s program. The education pages were filled with stories of states tying teacher evaluations (and in some cases salaries!) to state test results.

    Jerry Brown said he wouldn’t submit.

    But there was one place in this state that threw a monkey wrench into the works.

    Two years ago the Los Angeles Times, on their own initiative, published what they called “value added” scores for third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

    The Times took previous test scores and came up with a prediction of how each student should do on the 2010 tests. Then they compared their predictions with the actual results. Every teacher got a score based on how the 2010 scores compared with the projections.

    Anyone could then tap into the Times webpage and see how Teacher X had fared.

    Then a group in Sacramento, EdVoice, got involved. They joined with some Los Angeles parents to sue the district. There was a law, called the Stull Act, passed in the 70’s, that dealt with teacher evaluations. In 1999 that act was modified to stipulate that test scores should be a part of teacher evaluations. Nobody seems to have paid much attention to this at the time, but EdVoice showed this to a judge.

    The teachers’ unions protested. They pointed out that they had contract language that specified how teachers were to be evaluated.

    In May the judge sided with EdVoice and the parents. Things aren’t completely settled yet, but it looks as if test scores will soon be a part of the evaluations of LA teachers.  

    The state teacher’s union went to Sacramento to stop this juggernaut. They supported a bill to overturn the judge’s decision. They wanted all teacher evaluations in California to be negotiated between unions and local districts.

    The bill died this week.

    Meanwhile Secretary Duncan has kept completely silent about California’s NCLB waiver application.  Everyone assumes he won’t grant it.

    That means California will be stuck with a handful of other states in the grip of NCLB sanctions. 

    California could have changed its application, agreeing to the test score teacher evaluations. The deadline was today.