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?

“Don’t Hold Us Back” Movement Rallies at LAUSD Meeting

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

image “Don’t Hold Us Back” is a coalition of parents, civil rights groups and community organizations that is calling for involvement in contract negotiations. At a rally this morning, the group spoke out to insure that the agreements provide students with quality education.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson is the president of community coalition.

“Typically community members are left out of this process. We are trying to insert ourselves and make it clear that we have opinions about it. We want to and expect to be heard…our kids only get one shot at this education to that’s important to us.”

Parents at the rally said they want to have a bigger role in the process. Felicia Jones is a parent of a LAUSD graduate.

“Parents need to be heard in this matter. For so long this has been a union and district issue but really parents are the ones who are ultimately impacted, students are impacted. And we want our voice heard. We want them to know what we care about as they negotiate.”

Jones says the campaign wants the contract to provide educators and administrators with more flexibility. She believes this will allow teachers to reach their full potential and offer better education.

The United Teachers of L.A. says it welcomes parent’s involvement. However, one point of contention with “Don’t Hold Us Back” is teacher seniority. The campaign calls for an end to the “last hired, first fired” rule. Harris-Dawson says it forces schools that frequently hire inexperienced teachers to bear the brunt of lay offs. The union firmly stands behind the policy and supports tenure for educators.

“Don’t Hold Us Back” also wants to include an objective, fair teacher evaluation system to reward teachers doing well and help those who aren’t.