OPINION: Could Superintendent Deasy be replaced with an iPad?

David LyellJuly 2, 2013, wasn’t just another day. On that day, there was a LAUSD School Board meeting unlike any other in recent memory.

Each year, at the first LAUSD Board meeting in July, the seven School Board members (laschoolboard.org) vote to elect a president. While the School Board president doesn’t have expanded powers, the position affords an opportunity to set the tone, run Board meetings, and work closely with the superintendent to determine meeting agendas.

At the July 2 Board meeting, three members began a four-year term: District 2 Board Member Monica Garcia, District 4 Board Member Steve Zimmer, and District 6 Board Member Monica Ratliff. [Read more…]

OPINION:  Housed educators: Why is the District scapegoating teachers?

By David Lyell
UTLA Secretary

imageLet’s say you’ve been teaching for years. You’re well regarded among parents, students, teachers, and administrators. No one complains about you because you produce results— students consistently engaged and learning.

You’ve heard of rubber rooms, teacher jail, and housed teachers. You’ve seen YouTube videos where students openly talk about how easy it is to get a teacher fired. Students you respect have shared with you that they know there won’t be any consequences for them if they make false allegations against a teacher.

One day you’re informed that you are no longer to report to school. Why? You are told that you will later be provided the reason. But not right now. You’ve always been someone who follows the rules, and you know this mixup will be resolved in a few days. You report to an off-campus location, where other “housed” teachers are.

You learn about the three-step dismissal process. First you will have a Skelly hearing, a process where, by law, a supposedly neutral party informs you of the charges and makes a recommendation to the School Board. Yet you are told that these hearings are perfunctory—the Skelly officer is the exact opposite of neutral and with rare exception always recommends dismissal. After that, your case will be referred to the School Board. You won’t even be afforded the mere courtesy of addressing the board, even for two minutes, despite your years of service to the District’s students, and the Board will, with near certainty, vote to fire you. At that point you will be placed on unpaid leave, and your case will be referred to the Commission on Professional Competence, where a supposedly neutral three-person panel will decide whether you should be reinstated. Even if the CPC votes to reinstate, LAUSD can appeal, and either way, at this point it is unlikely you will ever return to the classroom. If the CPC upholds the decision, your case will be referred to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which will move to revoke your credential.

Whenever UTLA raises concerns about housed teachers, individually or collectively, our arguments, no matter how sound, are often met with silence. As but one small example, we’ve told the District we need to be notified when a teacher is housed. The District’s response is that the teacher may not want UTLA to be involved, and were District officials to provide notification, they would be violating the teacher’s confidentiality. The District only recently provided a list of the number of housed teachers per area.

District leadership has staff who are paid for with private foundation grants. Most of the children of these foundation leaders attend the very best private schools, affording every possible opportunity money and privilege can buy: small class sizes; plenty of nurses, counselors, librarians, psychiatric social workers, pupil service and attendance counselors, and other health and human services professionals; strong early childhood, arts and adult education programs; healthy food; clean, safe, fully staffed campuses; and the fostering of an environment where discipline issues are addressed in a serious manner and where teachers are respected and celebrated.

Yet, oddly, the focus of these foundation leaders isn’t on working to provide even a fraction of these same rich services to public school students. Their agenda instead is “teacher effectiveness,” which is merely code for efforts to eliminate seniority and due process rights.

Propelled by this private foundation money, District leadership and several School Board members have lobbied state and national legislators to gut seniority laws and have been trying to overwhelm UTLA with cases to defend.

You finally find out the allegations against you—the charges are vague at best, and the criminal investigation never even got started because there wasn’t even a hint of any substantiated evidence. Yet the District is refusing to allow you to return to the classroom.

You could sue for wrongful termination or age discrimination, but you know the District would drag the case on for years, and the legal costs alone would surely bankrupt you, never mind the effect a prolonged lawsuit would have on your health and that of your family.

You turn on the TV and see LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy state, “When an individual is accused of an egregious act like molesting a child or being arrested for prostitution, then they are housed while there’s an investigation.”

You protest aloud that when an individual is accused of an egregious act, that individual is not housed—that individual is arrested, jailed, charged, and criminally prosecuted. That’s why we have a criminal justice system, to responsibly address how to respond to outrageous acts against humanity, which is as it should be. You resent being lumped into such a category, and in such an incredibly misleading manner.

AB 1530 (Alex Padilla (D) Pacoima) was a bill introduced last year that sought to place the entire dismissal process in the hands of school boards. Even the L.A. Times—which usually doesn’t agree with UTLA on anything—opposed it, writing that the bill “goes too far.” (Padilla has now reintroduced the bill as SB 10.) Last November, after Assembly member Betsy Butler didn’t support the bill, she was viciously attacked in election mailers and even attacked in a very unbalanced “report” on national TV by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. In the March 6 school board election, Monica Garcia’s own campaign (her actual campaign and not an independent expenditure) sent out a mailer with the headline, “Her opponents stand up for predators.” Sadly, in both campaigns, the attacks worked: Betsy Butler was not reelected, and Garcia won reelection.

UTLA is fighting back on several fronts. We’ve set up a task force and are developing a toolkit so housed teachers will have a sense of what to do and what not to do when targeted by District leadership. We’re developing our own ever-changing list of housed teachers, so we can better communicate with and advocate for their rights (that list has been compiled without the help of LAUSD leadership). We’re also actively consulting with counsel to formulate a legal strategy to help stem the bloodletting of experienced, veteran, competent teachers who are, each and every day, continuing to have their livelihoods destroyed.

Are students well served when the witch hunt against teachers is perpetuated at the direct expense of real-life advocacy efforts to increase funding, lower class size, and provide even a tenth of a fraction of the same opportunities for public school students that the children of billionaires enjoy?

Teachers welcome responsibility, and that duty extends not just to teachers but to parents, students, and administrators as well. Why is it that what’s good enough for the children of billionaires isn’t good enough for all students?

OPINION:  LAUSD senior management:  A culture of silence

imageWhen teachers are accused of misconduct, sometimes we’re outright fired or placed in “rubber rooms,” a.k.a. teacher jail. According to LAUSD District policy (Bulletin-5168.0), if no impropriety is discovered, we’re supposed to return to our assignment within 120 days. Yet teachers routinely languish away in rubber rooms for years while the District places blame for this exile on the time it takes to conduct police investigations.

In fact, not only has it been longer than 120 days for the 85 teachers removed from Miramonte Elementary in February—not only have they not yet been allowed to return—they were never suspected of any wrongdoing. Well, what happens when those who work at LAUSD’s central offices are suspected of misconduct? Does a different standard apply?

Recently, there was news of a sexual harassment settlement involving former Superintendent Ramon Cortines. The District hired an outside PR firm and lawyer to handle this matter (even though they’ve supposedly made every last budget cut possible), and it became a debacle. They announced that the alleged victim would receive $200,000 plus lifetime benefits worth about another $250,000. The only problem: The alleged victim’s lawyer said his client did not consent to the agreement, and that their understanding was that the lifetime benefits were to be valued at $300,000. How could the District have fumbled such a sensitive and important matter?

Our first priority is to ensure the safety of children and community members. If those who work either directly or indirectly with children are suspected of any actions that could cause us to question their professional competence, these individuals should immediately be placed in a location away from children (commonly referred to as a rubber room), pending the outcome of a fair and thorough investigation. Once that investigation is complete (however many decades the District may drag its feet), those individuals should be allowed to return to their positions. So who is to be held accountable for this public relations blowup regarding the former superintendent?

Should Cerrell Associates, the crisis management firm the District hired, be placed in a rubber room, pending the outcome of an investigation? How about the undisclosed subcontractor of Cerrell Associates (we don’t know who it is because the contract was less than $250,000 and didn’t need to be publicly disclosed)? The General Counsel? The District has 23 private foundation-funded positions totaling $3 million per year. Ten people work in the media office. Should all these individuals be placed in a rubber room? Considering the superintendent oversees the entire District, should he be placed in a rubber room?

There’s a second factor at work: The naming of the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts. It’s not entirely clear if the School Board followed proper procedures in the naming of this school. If proper procedures were followed, and it’s determined that his name should be on the school, that’s fine, but if the bulletin regarding the naming of a school was violated, those who led the charge (in this case, Board President Monica Garcia) should be held accountable. Should Monica Garcia be placed in a rubber room?

To save money, there’s plenty of space for all these folks at the yet-to-be-opened Augustus Hawkins High School, the same location where all of the Miramonte teachers who were removed in February still report. In order to ensure the safety of children and community members, Superintendent Deasy, Board President Monica Garcia, Cerrell Associates, the General Counsel, media staff, and all the outside consultants should immediately report to Hawkins, pending the outcome of a fair and thorough investigation, no matter how many days, months, or years the investigation may take.

It is very troubling that the District has not acted swiftly to ensure that the school was named properly and to investigate how the handling of the settlement involving former Superintendent Cortines was bungled in such a reckless, haphazard manner.

There appears to be a culture of silence at Beaudry.

OpEd: LAUSD should fund schools in need

imageDear LAUSD School Board Members, Superintendent Deasy, Secretary Duncan, and President Obama,

We all want to provide the educational opportunities for children and our communities. Please help me receive clarity on the following:

Instead of sending Title I, II, and III money to school sites, as is intended under these programs, LAUSD senior management has chosen to keep this money at central district offices in order to fund unproven, costly initiatives such as the Teaching and Learning Initiative, commonly known as the Value-Added Teacher Evaluation model.

Due to a lack of transparency (the dust hasn’t yet settled), it’s not even clear yet how much will be spent centrally on these unproven programs, but it appears to be well over $175 million.

Is this legal?

I am in no way questioning the integrity of LAUSD senior district management. Perhaps cutting these programs so we can hire more consultants was a mere oversight.

Isn’t this decision a clear violation of the 2011 Voluntary Resolution Agreement between LAUSD and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights? If not a clear violation, and I think it very well may be, at the very least, does it not violate the spirit of the agreement?

LAUSD’s English learners and African-American students disproportionally suffer when money is spent at LAUSD’s central administrative offices rather than at schools in our most under-served communities. Schools with well-funded PTAs that have deep pockets will be okay, but schools that can not provide these essential supports will continue to go without libraries, nurses, and counselors, among other services.

Is this really what we want for our communities? When children in affluent communities have all the best supports as they grow and learn, and children in our most economically depressed neighborhoods aren’t afforded the same opportunities — we can not even begin to approach using words to describe such an injustice.

I’ve taught in schools in our most under-served communities, and I’ve taught in schools where children have every kind of support service at their disposal, and the difference in opportunities provided is unconscionable.

It is simply disingenuous at best to suggest that we can bridge the achievement gap by simply raising expectations. Yes, expectations should be high, for students, teachers, administrators, and parents, but such an argument diverts attention away from the vast inequality in services afforded students.

A school is not a spreadsheet. A school is not data we can examine on a page so that a six-figure consultant who doesn’t even live or work in the neighborhood can make snap judgments about what the community most needs.

A school is a community where relationships form, and through these bonds, children, teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, parents and administrators establish trust, and nurture, foster, and create an ever-changing, constantly growing, always tenuous environment where mistakes become opportunities, and the insurmountable becomes possible.

These relationships only form and grow when schools foster an environment where children who otherwise would drop-out have a reason to stay in school.

Children need libraries, nurses, counselors, arts programs, access to adult education opportunities, vocational classes, early childhood education, music, dance, band, and sports programs. For 20 years, leaders across the country have been saying that the first five years of life are vital to child development, yet right now, today, the LAUSD school board is poised to decimate early childhood education.

Instead of fostering and growing the above programs, LAUSD is proposing to cut all of the above programs, either entirely eliminating them or decimating their funding to roughly 10% of their previous levels.

They say they don’t have the money, but they recently found private foundation money to hire a social media director at a cost of $93,000 per year.

The argument that they don’t have money would make a little more sense if the district wasn’t proposing to spend $175 million at central district offices rather than providing this money as intended under Title I, II, and III to students in our most underserved communities.

Please tell me this was simply an administrative error. I’ll repeat the question once more:

Isn’t the decision to spend Title I, II, and III money at LAUSD central district offices rather than at school sites in our most under-served communities a clear violation of the 2011 Voluntary Resolution Agreement between LAUSD and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights?

OPINION: Stop holding us back

I recently received an email from a group called, “Don’t Hold Us Back.” They’re a coalition who have taken out full-page ads in major newspapers proposing that United Teachers Los Angeles and The Los Angeles Unified School District complete negotiations on a contract within 30 days, and they’re encouraging readers to call and email leaders of UTLA and LAUSD to encourage adoption of their agenda. Among their demands is a proposal to incorporate student test scores in teacher evaluations, despite the 25% error rate, as has widely been reported.

I called and emailed the following organizations, as listed on the website, to find out why they would propose such a flawed evaluation system: Alliance for a Better Community, Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Community Coalition, Families in Schools, Families That Can, InnerCity Struggle, Communities for Teaching Excellence, Los Angeles Urban League, Union de Vecinos, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Watts/Century Latino Organization, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

I asked each the same question I recently asked of Obama, Duncan, etc. “According to the US Department of Education report, Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains, an effective teacher could be rated as ineffective 25% of the time, and an ineffective teacher could be rated as effective 25% of the time, so, my question is, what is an acceptable rate of error when your job is on the line?”

One of the organizations indicated that they would not be issuing an official response. Another stated they would not be commenting. Another indicated that they would respond by my deadline — they didn’t follow-up.

Executive Director Angelica M. Solis of Alliance for a Better Community issued a 380-word response reiterating their support for the proposal, and referenced a “2011 study published in the journal Labour Economics.” When I inquired as to the specific study referenced in the email, I did not receive a response.

Taulene Kagan, Marketing Communications Director for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, issued a 122-word response indicating, in part, that, “the research report you refer to clearly states that potential statistical misclassification would be mitigated if multiple measures over time are used.” When I responded, “please kindly indicate where the research report specifically states that potential statistical misclassification would be mitigated by using multiple measures over time,” I did not receive a reply.

By far the most curious response was from Elizabeth Blaney & Leonardo Vilchis of Union de Vecinos. Both separately voiced disapproval for efforts to tie teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests. Leonardo wrote: “we do not support connecting teacher’s pay to student standardized test performance, for the reasons you describe and others that include the problems with standardized testing. However, we believe that there has to be more evaluation of teachers that includes community and student input. We also believe that principals and supervisors need to be more thorough in their evaluation process.”

I inquired further, in part, writing: “You do realize that you’re listed as a supporter of ‘Don’t Hold Us Back,’ don’t you? Secondly, one of their proposals is to incorporate ‘academic growth over time’. Are you now withdrawing your support, or, can you explain, please, why you’re listed as a supporter, yet, based on your own statement, you don’t support the proposal itself?” I did not receive a response.

Simply incorporating a meaningless, random number that in no way reflects the complexity of teaching will not address bridging the achievement gap. How would it affect your on the job productivity if we flipped a quarter four times, and every one out of those four times you were given a below satisfactory evaluation no matter your actual real life job performance?

Given Union de Vecinos’ position on using standardized tests as part of teacher evaluation, how many of the other groups that signed on to this platform also oppose using test score information in teacher evaluations? What’s an acceptable level of error when your job is on the line? Care to flip a coin to determine your response to that question?

OPINION: Teachers are the real 1%: Didn’t you know?

imageYou know the neighbor who lives down the street who drives an old Honda, has a mountain of student loan debt, lives with roommates, and just got laid off as a second grade teacher at one of the schools in one of our most under-served communities? Well, before being laid off, that teacher was making bank.

At least, those are some of the findings of a recently released report on teacher pay, Assessing the Compensation of Public School Teachers, prepared by Dr. Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Dr. Andrew G. Biggs of The American Enterprise Institute. Among their findings: “Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention.”

I read the study, and it brought up a few interesting questions, so I called and emailed Dr. Richwine and Dr. Biggs, and asked if they cared to respond to any of the following questions:

Who funded the study, and in what dollar amounts? How much were you two paid? Are your compensation levels comparable with that of other researchers? Do you feel that you are underpaid or overpaid for your work? Has anyone ever conducted a study on your compensation levels? If not, how can the public be reasonably assured that your compensation levels did not interfere with the conclusions you reached? Do you feel that the quality of your work would suffer if you were paid less? If so, are you willing, at this time, to make a contribution to a charity of your choice for that specific dollar amount?

When you indicate that “job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions,” did you take into account layoffs, including the currently 969 laid off teachers (publication update: now 850) in The Los Angeles Unified School District who no longer have a job? To be more specific, do you believe those 969 (publication update: now 850) teachers have any more job protections than anyone in the private sector?

When you make the statement, “teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention,” do you make such a conclusion, in part, based on any public school teaching experience, even for five minutes, in a hard-to-staff school, in one of our most underserved communities? Do you have any public school teaching experience whatsoever?

Did you arrive at your conclusions with the knowledge that, in the first five years of service, 50% of all new public school teachers quit the profession entirely?

In your findings, you cite ‘value-added models.’ Are you aware that even the best of these models are incorrect 25% of the time (that is, an effective teacher could be incorrectly labeled as ineffective 25% of the time, and an ineffective teacher could incorrectly be labeled as effective 25% of the time), and, given this data, as far as teacher evaluation is concerned, what’s an acceptable level of error when your job is on the line?

Do you think a person off the street who owns Stand and Deliver on DVD is as informed as to the realities of what it’s like to teach in a public school in one of our most underserved communities as a person who actually has taught in one of those schools for five or more years?

Dr. Richwine did not respond.

Dr. Biggs responded by email: “I’d be happy to answer your serious questions. Please delete the non-serious ones and then we can talk. Some of this is fine, but a lot of it is silly.”

I replied: “For the purposes of clarification, all of my questions are serious. I believe the lack of access to a quality, public education for all citizens — not just the privileged and wealthy — is the civil rights struggle of our lives. Given how many of my colleagues have taken second jobs just to survive, the number who have quit the profession entirely due to the long hours, low pay, relentless continual disrespect, school boards and administrators who, without our input, continually add more responsibilities without lessening our workload in other areas, so we could more effectively focus our energies on what we want, which is to serve our students, given policy debates that do not address accountability issues other than to point fingers at teachers, it is difficult for me to understand how you arrived at some of your conclusions. But I have an open mind, and look forward to your serious and substantive response.”

Dr. Biggs responded: “I’d like to help, but by and large your questions are either irrelevant or so indicative of bias that I suspect it’s really not worth my time to engage.”

The 850 currently laid off teachers and health and human services professionals from this year alone in LAUSD are not irrelevant, and for their commitment to public education, they deserve better.

OpEd: Linking teacher evaluation to student test scores: wrong 25% of the time

Originally published on Huffington Post

Nowhere is the disconnect between billionaires and public school teachers more stark than when it comes to merit pay proposals. So why are self-anointed “reformers” pushing this agenda, and why do public school teachers so overwhelmingly oppose these efforts?

The Los Angeles Times launched a series on “Value-Added” assessments last year, and they continue to stand by it, despite the reportedly high error rate. This year, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy (who previously worked for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) has launched a new proposal, now called Academic Growth Over Time, and unilaterally implemented it, even though teacher evaluation is a negotiated issue. The District has even offered money to school sites that participate in this “voluntary” process. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) over its implementation.

During an Education Summit panel discussion August 31 hosted by Patt Morrison that included Deasy, LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia and UTLA President Warren Fletcher, at one point Fletcher said, “And the Superintendent has proposed a system of evaluation called AGT, Academic Growth Over Time, which in most of its aspects is identical to Value-Added models used by the [LA} Times. But the US Department of Education itself says that it’s inaccurate 25% of the time.” Click the third audio file to listen to the discussion about Teacher Evaluation at the Education Summit.

To be absolutely clear, according to the US Department of Education report, “Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains,” 25% of the time programs like AGT will wrongly label an effective teacher as ineffective, and 25% of the time programs like AGT will also label an ineffective teacher as effective.

Did Garcia or Deasy correct Fletcher’s assertion that AGT is mostly identical to Value-Added models? No. Did Garcia or Deasy dispute, in any way, Fletcher’s assertion that the US Department of Education stated that models like AGT are inaccurate 25% of the time? No.

Instead, Deasy focused on alleging that teacher input was included in the development of AGT. Fletcher responded, “I would prefer that those people who were selected to develop an evaluation system not exclusively be made up of people who were selected by the Superintendent, the school board, and senior management.” Did Garcia or Deasy correct Fletcher on this assertion? No.

In fact, there were four UTLA members and professional staff who did participate in this process that were not hand-picked by the Superintendent, school board, and senior management—and together they wrote and signed a four-page letter sent to LAUSD administrators stating, in part, that while they were provided an opportunity to voice their concerns, “we believe that these concerns were not heard and therefore we must put our concerns and comments on the record as this process seems to be unfolding rapidly.”

Among the numerous unanswered questions and concerns they raised about AGT: “What is an acceptable level of error if your job is on the line?”

While they were offered a meeting in response to their letter, there was no assurance that the consultants designing the program would be available to address their concerns, and, to date, there has been no written response. The Obama administration is now letting individual states opt out of No Child Left Behind, which, in part, incorporates the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation. Unfortunately, however, states can only opt out if they agree to certain provisions of Race To The Top, which also require the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation, despite the 25% error. One of the main proponents of this effort, Bill Gates, has poured millions of dollars into this proposal, and for unknown, unstated reasons, he’s determined to attempt to apply unproven mathematical models to teacher evaluation, even though, in this case, 2+2 = 5.

I called and emailed the following individuals, organizations and their press representatives, and gave all more than five days to respond to this article: President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Batelle For Kids, the Ohio-based organization that operates AGT for LAUSD.

I asked each to address the same exact question: “According to the US Department of Education report, ‘Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains,’ an effective teacher could be rated as ineffective 25% of the time, and an ineffective teacher could be rated as effective 25% of the time, so, my question is, what is an acceptable rate of error when your job is on the line?”

Neither President Obama, Secretary Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, or Batelle for Kids responded directly.

I did receive an email from the LAUSD Media and Communications Department, though I had not directly contacted them. The email did not reveal which of the above parties had contacted them, and did not attempt to answer the central question I had posed regarding the 25% error rate. I also received a 237-word email response from The Gates Foundation Media Team that stated, in part: “The foundation does not support a system of teacher evaluation that is solely based on student test scores.” The response referred to a survey of teachers that they indicated was, “commissioned by Scholastic, Primary Sources.” They did not reveal what I discovered in the small print on page two of the survey after I downloaded it: “This report is a collaboration of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” The response also did not address the one and only question I had posed: “what is an acceptable rate of error when your job is on the line?”

The question remains.