Tuesday, August 21, 2012

AB 5: Union Victory After All?

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
In a new twist to California’s teacher evaluation “reform” efforts, Assembly Bill 5 has been amended to require that all aspects of teacher evaluations be collectively bargained. The bill passed the assembly last week and is up for a full vote by the legislature later this week.

Many school districts believe that current law allows them to impose evaluation regimes on their teachers. Some, like Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD), already have plans in place to start using student test scores as part of their teachers’ evaluations, without the support of their teachers or their unions. AB 5 will still require the use of student performance data, but does not specify what kind or require that it be based on state exams. Furthermore, any changes to district evaluation systems will still have to be collectively bargained with local unions, allowing the unions to nix any attempts to tie teachers’ evaluations to test scores. (Contrary to the beliefs of many district administrators, the evaluation process had always been subject to collective bargaining—a fact they often ignore, resulting in numerous battles with their teachers’ unions).

In a rare moment of legislative lucidity, Ben Golombek, a spokesman for Rep. Filipe Fuentes, author of the bill, was quoted by the
Los Angeles Times saying, "We really can't have a teacher evaluation system without teachers being involved in the process. . . If you want it to work, they have to be at the table."

Needless to say, the California Teachers Association is strongly backing the measure. In fact, I just received an email from the CTA urging my colleagues and me to start contacting our legislators to vote for the bill.

The bill is a mixed bag, but the requirement that any changes to evaluations be collectively bargained should be seen as a victory for teachers, as it reinforces this important right and hinders attempts to undermine their contractual rights. Another positive aspect of the new law is increased training for evaluators. On the negative side, the law requires more frequent performance reviews, which can be an onerous imposition for teachers who must spend considerable time outside of their teaching duties collecting student work and other materials for their portfolios, attend meetings with administrators and suffer the stress and anxiety that often accompanies the evaluation process. It is also something that is unlikely to be done well, even with the extra training, considering that many administrators don’t have the time to make sufficient classroom visits as it is.

The bill also still requires the use of student performance data in teacher evaluations, though it does not require the use of standardized test scores. This could be problematic considering that student academic success depends more on factors that occur outside of school than on the quality of their teachers (even according to conservative scholar Eric Hanushek). So it shouldn’t matter whether standardized test scores or internal assessments like lab reports and essays are used—student performance is still heavily influenced by factors that have nothing to do with their teachers.

Another downside of the bill is Fuente’s proposal that the new requirements be funded with $89 million in unused funds that had been allocated to reduce class sizes in lower income schools. This seems like a gross misuse of limited funding. Children would benefit far more from reduced class sizes than from this new evaluation process, particularly considering that the biggest problem with evaluations is that administrators lack the time to do them well and sufficiently.

Critics are accusing the CTA of doing an end run around last year’s court ruling that LAUSD’s evaluation system was in violation of the Stull Act because it wasn’t using student test data. The CTA is denying that it wants to circumvent the LAUSD court ruling through the passage of AB 5. However, the LAUSD ruling was a major defeat for the union as it bolstered the district’s assertion that it could unilaterally impose the use of student test data in teacher evaluations, thus undermining existing collectively bargained contractual rights. No matter how one looks at it, AB 5 would nullify the LAUSD ruling and bring any evaluation reforms back to the bargaining table and make it more difficult for districts to impose the use of test score data.

According to John Fensterwald, writing for Ed Source, Fuentes could not have come up with the necessary funding for the bill without the CTA’s approval, since the money would be diverted from the Quality Education Investment Act, a $2.7 billion program established through a lawsuit settlement agreement between the CTA and Gov. Schwarzenegger to fund smaller classes and teacher training at some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

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