Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LA Teachers Drink Kool Aid, Trade Souls For Layoff Moratorium

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Los Angeles teachers have approved an initiative calling for a new teacher-evaluation system and a moratorium on layoffs, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. The initiative was approved by 56% of the vote. However, only 11,412 teachers voted, or roughly one-third of the membership.

The initiative was sponsored by Teachers for a New Unionism (TNU), who immediately claimed that the vote indicated growing support by teachers for using student test scores to evaluate them, despite the low turnout. TNU, it should be pointed out, is not a true grassroots opposition movement within UTLA, but an Astroturf opposition supported by the Future is Now Schools project—a spinoff of Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter management organization that receives funding from the Gates Foundation and New Schools Venture Fund—and by NewTLA co-founder Mike Stryer (see Our Place in History and  LA Teachers Seek to Put Evaluations to Referendum, for more).

Additionally, the initiative made no direct mention of student test data. The actual text was:
"Shall UTLA’s contractual negotiations with LAUSD include a moratorium on all RIFs (Reduction in Force—AKA layoffs) for all UTLA bargaining unit members through June 30, 2014, as part of a revised, phased-in, teacher-driven evaluation system mutually agreed upon by UTLA and LAUSD?"

United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher endorsed the initiative and the union declined to submit a statement in opposition. Though Fletcher has opposed using student test scores to evaluate teachers, the union leadership has supported using such data to help teachers improve instruction—an irrational, copout position intended to mollify those who call the union an impediment to progress. Standardized test scores and improvement on the tests are dependent primarily on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and provide very little data on the quality of teaching.

While it is true that teachers can sometimes help some students improve their scores, this cannot be considered “improved instruction.” On the contrary, the biggest gains in test scores can be made by teaching to the test and giving students repeated practice with standardized test questions. This does little to improve students’ critical thinking, literacy or mathematical skills. It takes away class time from other types of learning and curriculum. It is also tedious and mind-numbing and could contribute to students’ alienation from learning and school.

Several Important Unanswered Questions
---What will a “teacher-driven evaluation system” actually look like, especially one that is mutually agreed upon by a district that has been pushing for the use of student test scores and a union that is so conciliatory?
---If LAUSD lacks the funding to retain all its teachers (a prerequisite for the moratorium), how will it resolve its deficit? Pay cuts? Furloughs? Shortened school year? Benefits cuts?

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