Wednesday, October 31, 2012

California’s Cheating Scandal: NCLB-Gate, Yet Again

First there was Michelle Rhee’s cheating scandal in D.C. Then there was the Georgia cheating scandal. Since then, there have been numerous other cheating scandals across the nation, all driven by the same force—No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

With the threat of slashed federal revenues, school closures, mass firings of teachers, compulsory conversion to charter schools and numerous other onerous consequences, schools, districts and entire states are under phenomenal pressure to raise test scores. Under such pressure, it is not surprising that many are resorting to cheating.

Now California has been implicated in its own cheating scandal. 23 schools are being stripped of the state rankings for cheating or misconduct related to the state standardized exams, according to the Los Angeles Times. The infractions include helping students correct mistakes or giving them the test questions in advance.

The percentage of California schools that have been caught over the last three years is relatively small (only a couple dozen out of over 10,000 schools). Yet, in order to be stripped of their rankings, the schools had to have irregularities for more than 5% of their population, something that suggests a school-wide problem. It is also quite likely that the number of schools involved in cheating is much higher, since we only know about the ones that have been caught.

These cheating scandals reflect two fundamental problems with high stakes exams that testing proponents refuse to acknowledge:
  1. While it is certainly reasonable to hold teachers accountable for good teaching, high stakes exams do not do this. The tests are essentially a measurement of students’ literacy, academic maturity, and their ability to sit still and focus on multiple choice questions for extended periods of time. Students who have these skills tend to do well on the tests, regardless of their teachers’ ability in the classroom. Conversely, an excellent teacher who has a large percentage of students who are reading far below grade level or who do not do homework or come to class regularly would likely see low test scores, despite her skill in the classroom.
  2. Student test scores are far more dependent on outside-of-school factors like students’ socioeconomic status than they are on the quality of their schools and teachers. This significantly limits how much improvement schools can squeeze out of their students. Thus they are being held accountable and punished for something over which they have very limited control. Under these conditions, cheating should not only be expected, but could even be rationalized as a precaution against a school’s closure or the mass firing of its teachers, something that would likely do more harm than good for the students.

Of course most would probably argue that teachers should have more integrity and refuse to participate in cheating, even when pressured by their administrators, as is often the case (see Crescendo Charter School cheating scandal). But this is asking a lot when teachers are being laid off for far less than insubordination and job prospects continue to be dismal. I would rather see more teachers refuse to participate in the tests in the first place, since the tests are incapable of improving student learning or ensuring good teacher quality and they only serve to increase the stress and anxiety that already exist in schools, for both students and teachers.

Today in Labor History—October 31

Paris Communards at the Barricade, March 1871

October 31, 1870 – French national guards revolted on this date during the siege of Paris. There was also a massive demonstration in front of the Town hall supporting the Paris Commune. (From the Daily Bleed)
Seattle's Hooverville
 October 31, 1931 – Occupy Seattle was inaugurated. Led by unemployed lumberjack Jesse Jackson, the first Hooverville was built on vacant land owned by the Port of Seattle near Pioneer Square. Within two days over 50 shacks were erected and by 1934, 600-1000 people were living in them. By 1941, Seattle's “Hooverville” covered 25 blocks. Hoovervilles eventually spread throughout the country. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 31, 1978 – 30,000 oil workers in Iran struck against the repressive rule of the Shah. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 31, 1989 – In El Salvador a bomb killed 10 trade union leaders at union headquarters. A major FMLN offensive followed. (From the Daily Bleed)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Former Porn Actress Appealing Her Firing as a Teacher

Stacie Halas was a science teacher at Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School, in Oxnard, California, until she was fired for having once been a porn actress. Her school board argued that her past was disruptive to the teaching environment. Halas is now appealing her dismissal.

Halas acted in pornographic films for 8 months from 2005 to 2006 because of financial duress, her attorney told a panel of judges last week, but she never acted in any pornographic films during her teaching career, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Nitasha Sawhney, one of the attorneys representing the school district, said the case was about “whether the students of the Oxnard School District are required to incorporate into their learning environment the choice Ms. Halas made to be a porn star." This, of course, is an absurd argument. No one is forcing any student to incorporate anything about Halas’ past into their learning environment. Her past shouldn’t be any of their business, so long as she hasn’t been convicted of abusing children.

If the students somehow learn about her past (as it seems happened), this could lead to disruptive behavior. However, teachers are regularly required to quell disruptions and maintain a productive learning environment. Good teachers are able to do this effectively and appropriately, even when issues around their personal lives are involved.

Students are often curious and ask about teachers’ marital status, hobbies, personal interests, political views and sometimes even their sexual identity. Teachers may even have been arrested for civil disobedience or may have had a past problem with drugs or alcohol. Any of these could lead to disruptive behavior in students, but none are reasonable justification for firing the teacher, particularly if the teacher handles them appropriately.

The fact that Halas’ past was at all controversial is indicative of how puritanical our society still is and how much society still expects teachers to be flawless saints. Teachers are no longer being fired for getting pregnant or for cavorting with men, but they are still expected to live virtuous personal lives and they continue to be disciplined or fired for legal behaviors that occurs outside of school hours and that have nothing to do with their teaching responsibilities.

For an amusing spoof on this, please see, “Stripper Fired for Being A Teacher,” from the Students Last blog.

California Schools Not Providing Free, Safe Drinking Water

Several recent state and federal laws now require schools to provide free, fresh drinking water wherever meals are served or eaten. Free water in meal areas not only benefits students who cannot afford flavored beverages or who do not like milk, it encourages all students to drink water, which is a healthier choice than juice or soda. 

While providing free, fresh water in meal areas seems like a no-brainer, 25% of California schools are out of compliance, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A study of 240 randomly selected public schools was conducted in 2011 by researchers at UCSF, together with nutrition and health advocacy organizations California Food Policy Advocates and Change Lab Solutions. According to the study, the primary reasons schools did not provide the water was cost or ignorance of the law.

The good news is that the number of schools providing free drinking water in meal areas increased after passage of a recent California drinking water law. The bad news is that the law has no teeth: there are no consequences if a school fails to comply. Furthermore, schools can opt out if it would be too burdensome to retrofit cafeterias and lunch areas.

The problem is not just one of providing water. Some school districts are doing this, but the water they are providing is unfit for human consumption. According to the Chronicle article, the advocacy group Community Water Center found a total of 119 violations from 2005 through 2007 at 47 of the 146 schools it examined in the San Joaquin Valley, mostly for contaminants like bacteria, arsenic and nitrates.

The article did not discuss what percentage of schools provide bottled water for students to purchase.

Today in Labor History—October 30

October 30, 1916 –IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) members were forced to run a brutal gauntlet by vigilantes in Everett, Washington. A few days later, between 5 and 12 Wobblies would be shot dead by vigilantes during the Everett massacre. Tensions had been growing during a severe depression. The IWW had arrived to support a five-month long shingle workers strike. When a boat full of Wobblies arrived in Everett, the sheriff asked who their leader was. “We all are!” they shouted back. The sheriff said they couldn’t land and the Wobblies said, “like hell we can’t.” Someone fired a shot. No one knows who, but the majority of Wobblies were unarmed and the majority of subsequent rounds did come from the vigilantes on shore. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 30, 1986 – Attorney General Ed Meese urged employers to begin spying on workers in locker rooms, parking lots, shipping and mail room areas and even in the bars to try to catch them using drugs. (From the Daily Bleed)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cutting Services Okay, Except for Special Ed

"Education, It's Your Time to Go." (Image from Flickr by dullhunk)

As school districts across the country grapple with dwindling revenues and growing budget deficits, they are cutting more and more programs and services. So far, there has been a lot of whining and complaining by teachers and parents, but not much action.

Now, the California Department of Education is planning to investigate whether San Francisco Unified School District violated federal law by denying summer school services to students with special needs in order to save money. According to report by The Bay Citizen,  the district’s head of middle school special education, Lisa Miller, told teachers and staff to check with her before authorizing summer school for special needs students because it was too expensive.

The directive, sent to teachers via an email obtained the Bay Citizen, may have violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which prohibits school officials from denying special education services based on cost (though it does not provide sufficient revenue for districts to comply). The state Department of Education has been investigating SFUSD’s education plans for roughly 80 of its 6,000 special needs students for the past year, and has found that the district had violated more than 100 state and federal regulations.

A district representative denied the allegations, saying that some staff were offering summer school to all special education students. While this may have been true, it should not be a problem. Anyone who wants to go to summer school should be able to go. Of course all schools should also have sufficient classrooms, teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, textbooks and lab equipment, which they do not.

The only reason to triage summer school students is when there is a shortage of classrooms and teachers, something that is essentially a byproduct of state budget cuts and dwindling property tax revenues. SFUSD may indeed be guilty of violating state and federal laws designed to protect the educational rights of special needs students. However, the state is really to blame for slashing education spending by over $20 billion over the past four years, thus forcing school districts to cut services and triage students, as are the feds, for providing only a one-time pittance to help bail out school districts during the recession.

Today in Labor History—October 29

October 29, 1918 – The Wilhelmshaven sailors’ mutiny in Germany, with sailors taking over a naval base, garrison and the city of Kiel. Soldiers, sailors and workers councils were established. The German government fell less than two weeks later. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 29, 1929 - This day became known as "Black Tuesday," as the Stock Market took its biggest crash in history, marking the beginning of the Great Depression, (From Workday Minnesota)

October 29, 1966 - The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in Chicago. (From Workday Minnesota)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Today in Labor History—October 28

October 28, 1898 – Two mine workers were killed in Virden, Illinois. (From theDaily Bleed)

October 28, 1921 – In response to attacks by employers and the government, Argentine workers revolted under the red and black anarchist flag. The uprising was quickly quashed by the army, which killed more than 1,500.  (From theDaily Bleed)
Enrique Flores Magon
 October 28, 1954 – Enrique Flores Magón (1877-1954) died on this date. Magon was a Mexican revolutionary anarchist who established short-lived revolutionary communes in Baja California, with the aid of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), during the Magonista revolt of 1911.  He also fought in the Mexican revolution and helped establish the Partido Liberal Mexicano and edited the anarchist newspaper Regeneracion. (From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Today in Labor History-October 27

October 27, 1904 - The New York City subway opened on this date in 1904. The first rapid-transit system in America ran its first route from City Hall to Grand Central Station, then west to Times Square and north to 145th Street. Over 100 workers died building the first 13 miles of the system. (FromWorkday Minnesota)

October 27, 1912 -- Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) was born on this date in Texarkana, Arkansas. Nancarrow was an avant guard composer, who also fought in the Lincoln Brigades against the Franco dictatorship, and an anarchist activist. He eventually fled the U.S.  to México City to avoid being arrested for his former Communist affiliations. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 27, 1920 – 40,000 Philadelphia textile workers were fired in an attempt to purge the factories of “radicals.” (From the Daily Bleed)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Today in Labor History—October 26

Nestor Makhno, 1909

October 26, 1889 – The Ukranian anarchist general Nestor Makhno was born on this date in Gulyai-Polye. Makhno led a large insurrectionary army of peasants and helped defeat the reactionary White armies. It was eventually crushed by Trotsky. Makhno died in exile in Paris, July 25, 1934. (From theDaily Bleed)
Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, c1900
 October 26, 1902 – Woman's rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton died on this date in New York City. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 26, 1905 – Workers in St. Petersburg formed the first workers' council (Soviet) to coordinate militant job actions and strikes. (From the Daily Bleed)
Mural of Sandino (image shot in 1987, by cromacom)
October 26, 1926 – Augusto Sandino took up arms against the Nicaraguan state. Sandino had been living in exile in México during the early 1920s, where he participated in strikes led by the IWW. Inspired by the IWW, he adopted the IWW's black & red colors for the Sandinista flag. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 26, 1956 – Russian tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators in Budapest, leading to armed resistance and a General Strike. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 26, 1949 - President Truman raised the federal minimum wage from 40 cents to 75 cents. (From Workday Minnesota)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Today in Labor History—October 25

October 25, 1990 - Workers were locked out at the New York Daily News, as the paper attempted to bust the unions. (From Workday Minnesota)

October 25, 1995 - The AFL-CIO had its first contested election ever, with John Sweeney eventually being elected president and Mine Workers President Richard Trumka becoming secretary-treasurer. Linda Chavez-Thompson of AFSCME took on the newly created role of executive vice president. (FromWorkday Minnesota)

October 25, 1997 – 200,000 Communists marched for a 35-hour work week in Rome, while here in America workers added nearly a week of work to their yearly total between 1990 and 2001. Meanwhile, workers in France and Belgium were more productive than American workers, despite only working 35-hours per week. (From the Daily Bleed)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

America Has World’s 4th Highest Level of College Attainment

Proponents of free market education reforms have been claiming for years that our schools are failing. One of their most compelling arguments has been that the dismal state of our K-12 public education system is responsible for our low ranking in college attainment compared with other nations.

The problem with this argument is that it is not true. The U.S. actually ranks fourth internationally in college attainment.

The commonly cited data is that the U.S. ranks 13th out of 34 OECD nations in terms of college attainment. However, this data only refers to the proportion of 25-34 year olds who have received a tertiary education, not the total number of people who have attained a tertiary education. When 25-64 year olds are included, the U.S. ranks fourth in the world, according to the Shanker blog. The rate of college attainment for American 25-64 year olds is 42, which is very close to Japan’s 45 (ranked 3rd) and Israel’s 46 (ranked 2nd). Canada is ranked #1, with a rate of 51.

However, even if we only look at college attainment rates for younger Americans, the numbers are still far better than critics claim. According to the OECD data for this age group, the U.S. ranking of 13th is based on a college attainment rate of 42. This was only 2 points lower than the 8th-11th ranked nations and only 6 points behind the 4th ranked nation. If all the nations with a college attainment rate of 42-44 are grouped together, the U.S. is tied for 8th with 7 other nations, and if those with a rate of 42-46 are grouped together, the U.S. is tied for 6th.

In reality, the U.S. is actually one of the most educated nations in the world and our education system should be seen as a success, not a failure.

It is true that our relative ranking has been declining, but this is because the college attainment rates in other OECD countries has been growing at a faster rate than in the U.S., according to the Shanker blog, not because American schools are getting worse.

Should we be concerned?

Of course there is always room for improvement in education. Even if we were number one, it would still be worth considering better ways to educate people. On a more urgent note, the skyrocketing cost of tuition, the stagnant wages for professors, and the declining course offerings and admission rates could all conceivably lead to declining levels of college attainment in the future. Yet teachers (indeed most American workers) have been steadily increasing their productivity in spite of declining wages. So it is entirely possible that teachers and students, alike, will simply accomplish the same with less.

That other nations have been improving their college attainment rates more quickly than us is most likely due to the fact that we already had fairly high rates of college attainment and it is much easier to make large gains when you are far behind.

Considering that many European nations offer free higher education, it is remarkable that we’ve stayed as close to the top as we have. One possible explanation for this is that Americans recognize the value of higher education and are willing to make large sacrifices and saddle themselves with tremendous debt in order to get it.

Another reason is that many European nations still have K-12 systems that track students into vocational versus university programs. In the U.S., a late bloomer who does not appear college ready by high school does not have to go directly into an apprenticeship program or blue collar trade. She could go to community college, beef up her GPA, and transfer to a four-year college later. Likewise, many students who lack the money or readiness for college at age 18-19 (e.g., young mothers) go to work right out of high school and later enroll in college. This may be why the U.S. ranks so much higher than other nations when college attainment is measured for 25-64 year olds.

Today in Labor History—October 24

October 24, 1892 – Black and white teamsters, salesmen and packers struck together in New Orleans, paralyzing commerce throughout the city and quickly turning into a General Strike. Workers were fighting for a 10-hour work day. They were soon joined by non-industrial workers, such as musicians, clothing workers, clerks, utility workers, streetcar drivers and printers.  (From the Daily Bleed and Jeremy Brecher’s  Strike!, page 65.)

October 24, 1940 – The 40-hour work week went into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, only to be routinely ignored by bosses and constantly whittled away at over the next 70 years. (From the Daily Bleed
Soviet Tank with Hungarian Flag, 1956 (Image by Takacsi75)
October 24, 1956 – The first Russian tanks entered Budapest to suppress the uprising, as the movement spread throughout the country. (From the Daily Bleed

October 24, 1987 – The AFL-CIO readmitted the Teamsters Union, which had been expelled in 1957. The 35-member executive council of the AFL-CIO voted unanimously to readmit the 1.6-million member Teamsters Union despite the federal investigation into the union's links to organized crime. (From the Daily Bleed

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lack-of-School-to-Prison Pipeline

Image from Flickr, by aclu.socal

We often hear of the school-to-prison pipeline, where kids exit our public education system poorly educated and without a diploma or skills, leaving them vulnerable to unemployment and a future life of crime. While this is clearly a bombastic overstatement, it is true that prisoners tend to be less literate and educated than society at large. Indeed, some estimates indicate that as many as 66% of California’s inmates are reading below a 9th-grade reading level, more than 50% below a 7th-grade level, and 21% below a 3rd-grade level, suggesting that there is a link between education and incarceration. However, the majority of inmates are also poor and, since there is also a link between wealth and educational success, it is likely that poverty is the cause of both their incarceration and illiteracy.

Even if poverty is ignored, there is another significant connection between education and incarceration: the large transfer of public resources over the past several decades from public K-12 and higher education to support the growing prison system. This has not only reduced the ability of schools to provide a decent education to all of their students, but it has also stripped away many of the extra resources necessary to support their lowest income students. Furthermore, with the defunding of the state’s prestigious UC and CSU university systems, and the concomitant skyrocketing cost of tuition, it is becoming harder and harder to afford a university education, even for those students who are reading at grade level. Since 2007, tuition at UC and CSU has more than doubled, while community college students have seen their fees increase 80%.

Lack of a college education decreases people’s earning power and their ability to obtain a job in the first place. This does not necessarily lead to criminal behavior or incarceration, but it does contribute to the growing wealth gap and to the overall decline living standards. The defunding of the universities has also made it nearly impossible for young professors to obtain tenure or to earn sufficient wages to support themselves in the expensive cities where most of the universities exist, forcing some to abandon California for other regions or to leave teaching altogether.

The problem is not purely one of insufficient tax revenues, though this is certainly a big part of it. The state also has a problem with irresponsible spending that panders to the powerful Correctional Officers union, at the expense of the general public. Consider that California spent 13% less on higher education in 2011 than it did in 1980, after adjusting for inflation, while prison funding increased by 436% in that same time period according to California Common Sense (CACS), a non-partisan policy organization. The CACS report, called “Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California,” says that the state now covers only 25% of the costs of its universities, compared to 1980, when it paid for 66% of the costs of higher education.  

Over the past three decades, California’s population has grown by more than 57% to reach its current population of 37.3 million residents. Student population growth during this period roughly kept pace with the overall growth of the state population, yet the incarceration rate increased at more than eight times the rate of the state population. This was largely due to the “3 Strikes Law” and irrational crack cocaine sentencing laws that have led to long prison sentences for thousands of nonviolent offenders, or Proposition 21, which made it easier to try juveniles as adults. These laws were all heavily supported by the prison guards union and have provided the justification for bloated prison budgets and bloated prisons.  Despite the fact that the state’s crime rate has been declining since the early 1990s, its prison population increased by 42% since 1992.The report notes that 60% of the increase in Department of Corrections (CDCR) costs between 1980 and 2012 is due to this increase in prisoners.

Even with a massive prison construction program, the state still could not keep up with the rapid influx of inmates, resulting in prisons that were operating at up to twice their capacities. The state is now under federal mandate to reduce its prison population to a mere 137% of capacity within 2 years.  Gov. Brown has addressed the problem by releasing state prisoners into county jails, further stressing county infrastructures and budgets. In reality, the state has thousands of people incarcerated who have committed only minor nonviolent infractions and these prisoners could be released into the general public with virtually no risk to public safety, thus saving the state millions of dollars.

At the same time that California has been expanding its prison system, hiring more guards, and increasing their pay, it has been slashing programs and services for its college students. Over the past thirty years, the ratio of staff (including faculty) to students has declined. In 1980, there was one faculty member per 16 students at UC, and one faculty per 21 students at CSU. By 2010, the ratio was one faculty per 21 students at UC, and one faculty per 32 students at CSU. At the same time, middle management at UC has been growing dramatically, now comprising 20% of its budget.

In contrast to the situation at the state’s universities, the number of prison guards per adult inmate has been growing and is now roughly what it was in 1980, despite the large increase in prisoners. Services for prisoners, however, have not kept up. This means that there are fewer counselors, doctors, teachers and other support staff per prisoner, thus reducing the quality of health care, education and general safety of prisoners, as well as the chances that prisoners will be ready for life on the outside when they are released. Furthermore, the ratio of parole staff to parolees is at an all-time low (roughly 1.6 staff per 100 parolees), increasing the odds that a convict will end up back in prison. (California has a recidivism rate of 60%).

While being a college professor is generally considered more prestigious and higher status than being a prison guard, their salaries do not reflect this. In 1980, the average guard salary in California was $25,858 a year, while the average CSU faculty salary was about $29,015 annually. By 2006 the average guard salary had reached $94,518 annually, while the average CSU faculty salary was a mere $70,615. After adjusting for inflation, the average faculty salary in 2010 was less than it was in 1980.

In short, college professors, like most other members of the middle and lower classes, have seen their wages and living standards stagnate over the past thirty years. What is unique, but not surprising, is that prison guards have seen their wages increase over this same period, making them one of the only groups of wage earners to experience improvements in living standards over the past 3 decades.

From the perspective of the employing class, schools are still churning out sufficiently trained workers to keep most businesses in operation, despite the decrease in wages for educators and the overall funding cuts. In the areas where they are failing to do so (e.g., technology and science) they can always import workers from abroad, often at lower wages than they would have to pay native-born employees. Thus, slashing education budgets has not hampered their ability to make huge profits. On the contrary, the wealth gap continues to grow and California continues to gain new billionaires (currently there are more than 80 billionaires and over 600,000 millionaires in the state).

The increase in prisoners and prisons is an expense the wealthy can largely defer to the rest of us through a taxation system that allows them to pay an effective tax rate far lower than that paid by most middle-income wage earners. At the same time, many goods and services can be produced by prisoners at a cost that is competitive with the cheapest foreign labor since prisoners can be compelled to work for virtually free (the minimum wage law does not apply to prisoners).

Ultimately, the transfer of resources from higher education to incarceration is just another tool for increasing the portion of the wealth controlled by the richest members of society. Prison guards are generously rewarded for their support of this system, while poor people, who make up the majority of the prison population, pay for it with their very freedom. Professors and students pay for it with declining living standards and growing debt, and all working people pay for it in reduced services and public works.

Today in Labor History—October 23

Cover Art for Otto Ruhle's Illustrierte Kultur, Art by John Heartfield (from Justseeds Artists Cooperative)
October 23, 1874 -- Otto Rühle (1874-1943) was born on this day in Freiberg. Ruhle was a left council communist of the Spartacist League. Along with Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring, Ruhle help found the magazine Internationale. Ruhle opposed both world wars, Leninism, fascism, and Bolshevism. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 23, 1903 – The U.S. anti-anarchist immigration act was first tested with the arrest of John Turner who was detained on Ellis Island until his deportation.  (From the Daily Bleed)

October 23, 1956 – Pro-Polish demonstrations in Budapest signaled the start of the Hungarian uprising which was part of anti-Stalinist wave throughout Eastern Europe. 250,000 students, workers and soldiers demonstrated in Budapest in support of the Polish insurrection and demanding reforms in Hungary. Security police fired into the crowd, killing several. (From the Daily Bleed)

Monday, October 22, 2012

LAUSD Lays Down Hammer on Evaluations

Image from Flickr by r8r

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has filed a declaration of impasse, according to the Daily News, after failed negotiations with United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) over a new teacher evaluation system based on student test scores. LAUSD is under court order to revise its evaluation system by December 4. However, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has mandated that the district negotiate with the union over the new system.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said last week that his 40,000-member union was engaged in "good-faith bargaining with LAUSD officials over developing a fair and effective teacher evaluation system.” This, of course, is typical union mumbo jumbo meant to convince the public that the union was playing by the rules and trying to do right by the students and that any blame for the stalemate lies squarely on the shoulders of LAUSD.

While Fletcher’s quote may sound good to the press, it is patently untrue. If UTLA was really interested in creating a fair and effective teacher evaluation system they would refuse to accept any use of student test data in their evaluations, as such data is unreliable, inconsistent and leads to many false positives and negatives (see here, here and here). This is obviously bad for teachers who could receive bad evaluations despite being good teachers simply because they work in a low income school with the perennially low test scores that are common in lower income schools. However, it is also bad for children in several ways. They could end up losing excellent teachers because of the inaccuracies inherent in this evaluation system. Conversely, bad teachers could easily slip through the cracks and remain in the classroom because they happen to work in higher income schools, which tend to have higher test scores and larger gains on their scores.

If UTLA and LAUSD were truly interested in a fair and effective evaluation plan they would demand that well-trained outside evaluators be brought in to evaluate teachers blindly, using a combination of classroom observations and portfolios. This would eliminate the bias inherent in being evaluated by the boss (i.e., site administrators), who may ding a teacher for not embracing and carrying out his pet projects and reforms with sufficient vigor or for speaking out on children’s or teachers’ behalf at faculty or board meetings. It also would eliminate the problem of site administrators being poorly trained and lacking the time to make sufficient and competent observations and evaluations. And it would eliminate the bias and problems inherent in the use of student test data.

That LAUSD is declaring impasse suggests that they are fed up with UTLA’s position on the matter. Yet UTLA, despite Mr. Fletcher’s criticisms, has embraced student test data to evaluate its teachers. The big stumbling block, at this point, is that LAUSD wants the data to be based on individual classrooms, which can be directly linked to individual teachers, whereas UTLA wants it aggregated school-wide.

The union is also saying that it wants evaluations that provide useful feedback for teachers so they can improve their practice. Yet regardless of how student test data is acquired or aggregated, it fails to provide such data. This is because the test scores are a measure of student test taking ability. They tell us nothing about how students learned the content or developed their test taking skills and their scores are influenced far more by their socioeconomic status than by their schools and teachers.

UTLA, having already accepted the use of student test data, is unlikely to strike over the matter, especially when the district is under court mandate to include student test data in its new evaluation system. Unions have become overwhelmingly averse to challenging court orders and injunctions (e.g., the Chicago Teachers Union, which supposedly struck over student test data being used to evaluate teachers was, in reality, only fighting over the extent to which it would be used, having already  accepted that it was required by Illinois state law). Thus, the question is not whether, but how, student test data will be abused to evaluate teachers.

Today in Labor History—October 22

October 22, 1905 – 30,000 people joined the uprising in Santiago, Chile—part of the "Semana Roja" (Red Week). (From the Daily Bleed)

October 22, 1905 – Police massacred 200 demonstrators in Argentina who were opposing a tax on cattle. Popular outrage swept the country leading to a General Strike. The government declared a "state of siege." (From the Daily Bleed)

October 22, 1956 – Russian troops began to advance on Budapest against students and workers who were demonstrating in solidarity with Polish workers. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 22, 1962 -- Nelson Mandela's trial for treason began on this date.(From the Daily Bleed)

October 22, 1963
 -- US: More than 200,000 students boycotted schools in Chicago to protest de facto segregation. (From the Daily Bleed)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Today in Labor History—October 21

October 21, 1902 - Anthracite miners, who had been on strike for nine months, finally won recognition of their affiliation with the United Mine Workers union and a contract with mine bosses. (From Workday Minnesota)

October 21, 1921 -- Massive demonstrations occurred all over Europe in support of the anarchists Sacco & Vanzetti. In Paris, 10,000 police and 18,000 soldiers tried to control the crowds. (From the Daily Bleed)
Nationalists bomb Madrid using Italian pilots
October 21, 1936 – The fascist siege of Madrid began.

October 21, 1949 – Ten U.S. Communists were sentenced to five years in jail each for advocating the overthrow of the US. government. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 21, 1967 – The United Auto Workers (UAW) confirmed what many already knew—that its bosses were right wing, nationalist, collaborationist scoundrels, when the union issued a statement supporting LBJ's policy in Vietnam. (From the Daily Bleed)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Today in Labor History—October 20

Emma Goldman mugshot, 1901, after being arrested for her "part" in the McKinley assassination

October 20, 1916 – Emma Goldman was arrested for distributing birth control information. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 20, 1926 – Labor organizer, anti-militarist and socialist Eugene Debs died on this date in 1926. Debs fought for the eight-hour workday, pensions, worker's compensation, sick leave, and social security. (From theDaily Bleed)

October 20, 1947 – HUAC launched its kangaroo court investigations into alleged Communist influence in Hollywood. (From the Daily Bleed)

October 20, 1980 -  Democracy In Action: As a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan wrote a letter to PATCO President Robert Poli promising that if the union endorsed him, “I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.” The union naively endorsed Reagan and, within a few short months, President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers for engaging in an illegal walkout over staffing levels and working conditions. (From Workday Minnesota)