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:  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?

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.

United Teachers Los Angeles protest proposed layoffs

Photographs by David Lyell, Secretary-Elect of United Teachers Los Angeles

imageSeveral hundred educators gathered outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters Tuesday to encourage the district to rescind the more than 5,000 layoff notices sent to Los Angeles teachers.

The protest comes in light of Superintendent John Deasy’s proposal of six furlough days in an attempt to salvage some of the lost positions. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) rejected this proposal, claiming the district has the money to prevent the furlough days and save the lost jobs after California Governor Jerry Brown’s $3 billion increase to the state education budget.

“The district needs to justify why we need these furloughs,” fourth-grade teacher Diana Cervantes, who received a layoff notice this year, told the Daily News. “Up until this point they haven’t been able to do that yet.”

UTLA’s protest, which they referred to as the “Pull the RIFs” rally, took place outside the Los Angeles Board of Education meeting.

Watch a slideshow of photographs from the protest:

OPINION: Waiting for Oscar

By David Lyell, L.A. Unified Teacher

imageAs we approach Oscar weekend, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Academy. Thank you, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences voters, for recognizing that the movie “Waiting For Superman” had about as close a connection to reality as Bill Gates does to the struggles of working class families.

Thanks to the monstrous marketing effort to reach Academy voters and the kindness of a cruel friend, I recently suffered through this fluff piece for free. My conclusion: I want my two hours back.

Here’s a brief synopsis.

Public school teachers: evil. Charter schools: good.

Charter school proponents: good. Public school proponents: evil.

Public school teachers: They just care about their jobs and not the children. Education Reformers Michelle Rhee, Steve Barr, and anyone who wants to operate a charter school, including your crazy
Uncle Buddy: good.

The solution: More charter schools, clips of old TV shows, soft music and slow-paced, soft-spoken patronizing narration.

The movie’s director Davis Guggenheim is an alumnus of Sidwell Friends School. Starting tuition for Lower School (they’re too smart to call it Elementary school) is $31,960. Optional bus transportation between Washington, DC and Bethesda, Maryland campuses costs $695 one-way and $995 round-trip. Lower School Aftercare (though optional) ranges from $1,500 to $5,500. So at the beginning of the movie, when Guggenheim drives past Westminster Elementary School in Venice and contemplates sending his kinds there, he’s probably really trying to decide whether to take his family to Milan or Rome for the weekend.

Guggenheim reportedly staged at least one scene, where a mother is touring Harlem’s Children Zone hopeful her child would be able to attend. The only problem–which viewers aren’t told–is she had already learned her child would not be attending the school. When Gugenheim was asked by a reporter about this, he defended the deception by saying that the scene is how she would have played it.

When a reporter asked if there were other scenes that had been staged, he replied, “None that I can think of.”

So when the film’s proponents criticize anyone who thinks the movie is one-sided, we all need to remember that Guggenheim apparently can’t even be bothered to recall how this movie was produced.

Charters started as a way to explore innovative teaching practices and they do have a place, but they should also not be promoted as the sole solution to the problems plaguing public education, as this movie would have us believe. They should not be given space to operate on already over-crowded, under-funded public school campuses, especially when school boards refuse to address the problems educators have been screaming about for decades.

Gates gave at least $2 million to the Oscar marketing push. It still wasn’t enough for voters to overlook the glaring deficiencies in this for-profit movie disingenuously marketed as being in the interest of the public good.

So as we enjoy the Academy Awards this weekend, let us be thankful for Academy members who attended public schools, developed solid critical thinking skills and gave voice to those talents the best way they knew how: they voted.

To read more of David’s work, please see his blog at www.davidlyell.blogspot.com.

More stories by David Lyell on Intersections South LA:
OPINION: A field report from the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote
OPINION: The School Board Election: What L.A Unified doesn’t want you to know
OPINION: Value-added assessments: has the data been cooked?

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

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OPINION: Value-added assessments: has the data been cooked?

High stakes teaching and the “value added” sham

OPINION: A field report from the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote

imageBy David Lyell (left), L.A. Unified Teacher

As a tax-payer and teacher who has taught at Rosemont Elementary School, I decided to make my voice heard Saturday, January 29 at about 2:30 p.m., for the Advisory Vote for Central Region Elementary School #14. The question: to hand the school over to charter operators, or a group known as United Teachers Los Angeles/Echo Park Community Partners.

For the uninitiated, Public School Choice is the latest gimmick marketed as reform by our current Los angeles Unified School district board of education, board member Marguerite LaMotte excepted. The board doesn’t actually have to follow the Advisory Vote, so, in essence, the voting process is designed to give you the impression that the board is doing something meaningful to improve education. They’re actually doing quite the opposite.

There were probably about a dozen people on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets, and I couldn’t tell which side had more numbers. When I got out of my car, a woman introduced herself, said she was a teacher at Rosemont Elementary, wanted to talk to me about the vote, and handed me a piece of paper. The small black-and white pamphlet listed some charter school scandals, their focus on refusing services to disabled students, those who don’t speak English, and a desire to pay teachers half what we make now. It also listed how the UTLA/Community plan would offer the opportunity to learn two languages (the opposing plan would only offer multi-lingual curriculum after being open for five years), adherence to Board of Education guidelines and oversight, Special Education programs, weekly field trips, and partnerships with museums, concert halls, universities and local businesses.

imageI listened as this teacher passionately described how a group of unproven business people were coming into a community in which she has worked for years, cares so much about, and has given so much of her life to. I had heard about people being bused in to vote the last time this charade known as reform took place, and asked if she had seen any buses. She said that the charter operators had brought several busloads.

I walked towards the entrance to the actual polling site, and a smiling woman handed me two large double-sided color glossy flyers with “Camino Nuevo” written on it. We briefly spoke in Spanish, before the language barrier finally caught up. Another woman intervened, said she lives in the community, and that Camino Nuevo is a community-based organization of parents interested in operating the school.

I asked if anyone had been bused in to vote because that’s what the teacher had told me.

“They’ll tell you anything. They just care about their jobs,” she responded.

When I repeated my question, she said there was in fact a bus, one bus, with about five people. Surely no one would bring a bus with only five people, I asked. Yes, she insisted, that was the case.

I asked about their funding, and she said it came from the school board. I asked what other funding sources they had. She said she did not know. I gently pressed, and she reiterated that she did not know. She brought over a young gentleman she described as a current high school and former Rosemont student. He didn’t know where their funding sources came from either. I asked how they expected me to consider voting for their proposal if they could not even tell me where their funding came from. Neither had an answer.

Voting was simple. I didn’t have to provide any documentation to prove that I had any connection to the community whatsoever.

In less than 30 seconds of research online, I discovered what neither of these two charter school advocates could tell me: who they were working for. Camino Nuevo’s Donor list reads like a “Who’s Who” of charter school proponents, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Who else but a billionaire with a $147 million-dollar mega-mansion overlooking Lake Washington and zero public school classroom teaching experience whatsoever is better qualified to reform education? Gates wants to increase class sizes and videotape teachers so a panel of six-figure bureaucrats can scrutinize every twitch and tell teachers what they already know. He’s also a strong proponent of value-added teacher evaluations, and his beloved foundation hasn’t even bothered to respond to phone calls and email seeking comment after it was revealed that they’ve been intentionally withholding data from researchers.

Our current school board majority is hoping you’re not smart enough to realize that by simply offering a “choice,” we’re not all of a sudden going to magically skip down gumdrop lane to 100 percent literacy and graduation rates. Their best idea is to give more of your tax-dollars to some of their friends, people who already have so much money and time on their hands that they don’t even know what to do with themselves.

Please vote March 8 in the Los Angeles Board of Education election for Marguerite LaMotte in District 1, a candidate sincerely interested in doing what our current board majority has refused to do for years: address the achievement gap.

Read more from David Lyell at davidlyell.blogspot.com.

Read David Lyell’s other opinion pieces on Intersections South LA:
Value-add assessments: has the data been cooked

The school board election: what LA Unified doesn’t want you to know

John Deasy announced as new lausd superintendent

Photo courtesy of Robert D. Skeels

OPINION: The School Board Election: What L.A Unified doesn’t want you to know

imageBy David Lyell (left), L.A. Unified Teacher

Please vote March 8 for UTLA-endorsed Los Angeles Board of Education candidate Marguerite LaMotte in District 1.

Unlike her opponent, LaMotte, has opposed abdicating responsibilities to charter school companies.

Current school board member LaMotte wants to spend money where it should be: the classroom. LaMotte grew up in the Deep South under segregation, was involved in Civil Rights struggles and believes that a quality education for all children is the cornerstone of democracy and that equal access to education is how we begin to start to level the playing field.

For years, the current board—LaMotte excepted–hasn’t been addressing the real impediments to reform:

  • the lack of student and faculty safety at schools
  • the lack of enforcement of effective student discipline policies
  • the high drop-out rates, the grade inflation and social promotion
  • the lack of support for teachers and support professionals
  • the ineffective administrators
  • the bloated bureaucracy
  • the unhealthy food choices
  • the lack of support for physical education programs
  • the lack of parental involvement
  • the lack of support for Adult Education programs so parents can improve their own lives
  • the lack of an emphasis on the importance of reading with and to children, especially during the first three years of life.

What they don’t want you to know is that charters started as a way to explore innovative teaching practices, that fewer than one in seven charters produce better results, and while they should be explored, charters should not be promoted as the “be all end all” to the problems facing our schools that the politicians – school board members and the Superintendent – have refused to address for years.

What they also don’t want you to know is that there’s an incestuous relationship between current and former board members, district employees, and many in the charter school industry. We need to follow the money trail.

Our incoming superintendent, John Deasy, negotiated an $80,000 salary bump despite recent layoffs, pay cuts, and firings – all done because the district supposedly doesn’t have enough cash. The board didn’t even bother to consider any other candidates. Deasy has worked for the Gates Foundation, embracing their push for value-added assessments, despite that, at best, value-added has a margin of error of plus or minus 45 points, and even worse, the foundation has been withholding data from researchers.

Aside from his regular six figures, Superintendent Cortines was earning $150,000 a year from Scholastic books for who knows how many years. He also owns or owned at least $100,000 in Scholastic stock, a company with $16 million in contracts with L.A. Unified, yet Board Member Monica Garcia reportedly doesn’t see that as a conflict of interest.

School Board Member Yolie Flores recently took a part-time job making $144,000 per year working to help Bill Gates in his effort to privatize education.

Parker Hudnet, head of L.A. Unified’s Charter and Innovation department, has the power to recommend or deny charter school applications. He was the CEO of Judy Burton’s charter chain, Alliance for College Ready Schools.

Ted Mitchell, head of L.A. Unified’s Teacher Effectiveness Taskforce, is also the CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund, a non-profit that actually makes quite a lot of profit – enough to pay Mitchell $572,856. Mitchell is currently on Alliance’s board, and Alliance was recently awarded a contract after Cortines decided he needed to cement his status as a reformer by reconstituting Jordan High School.

According to the 2009-2010 L.A. County District Salary Survey of unified school districts, L.A. Unified is ranked last in teacher pay. Thirty-eight percent of our students live in poverty, and they need plenty of instructional time in small class sizes. Yet, Cortines wants to reduce instructional time by having teachers take another pay cut in the 2011-2012 school year, in the form of more furlough days.

L.A. Unified has an insane ratio of administrators to teachers, roughly 8 to 1, and spends 61 percent of its budget at school sites, as compared to the 90 percent that other districts, on average, spend in the classroom. We need leaders who value teachers, celebrate their efforts, and want to spend money where it should be: the classroom.

On March 8, please vote for Marguerite LaMotte. Thank you for your consideration.

Read more from David Lyell at davidlyell.blogspot.com.

Map image courtesy of L.A. Unified

OPINION: Value-added assessments: has the data been cooked?

imageBy David Lyell (left), LAUSD teacher

A report published this month by UC Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein raises serious ethical questions about the objectivity of an analysis of “value-added” models by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In his report, “Review of Learning About Teaching,” Rothstein concludes that The Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” (MET) Project contains, “troubling indications that the Project’s conclusions were predetermined.” Rothstein asserts that “the Gates Foundation has widely circulated a stand-alone policy brief (with the same title as the research report) that omits the full analysis, so even careful readers will be unaware of the weak evidentiary basis for its conclusions.”

To promote “value-added” as a measure of teacher effectiveness, The LA Times hired Richard Buddin, a professor at UCLA, and paid him an undisclosed sum to conduct a statistical analysis of student test data. Buddin has himself been rated as ineffective by his own students on a website where UCLA students rate teachers.

In August 2010, LA Times reporters Jason Felch, Jason Song, and Doug Smith wrote a host of articles touting the benefits of “value-added” as a way of measuring teacher effectiveness, along with a database rating teachers.

On August 31, 2010, LAUSD Deputy Superintendent John Deasy proposed for value-added measures on tests to account for 30 percent of teacher evaluations. Six Board Members all voted for the proposal, with one dissent: School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte. The proposal now faces a major obstacle. It must be agreed to as part of collective bargaining negotiations in order for it to take effect.

Superintendent Cortines has said he wants LAUSD teachers to take seven furlough days for the 2011-12 school year, despite the fact that the LAUSD spends $100 million on non-mandated standardized tests — that is, testing not required by law — and $43 million on the eight mini-district offices.

I recently spoke to Deputy Superintendent John Deasy, and got his reaction to this story.

To critics like myself who think value-added should not at all be a component of teacher evaluations, Deasy said, “I take that at face value, and say I appreciate your position. I respectfully disagree.” He continued, “There will be margins of error. No question about that,” adding, “when people say that it’s ineffective, I think the issue is, for me, how do you use a balanced set of multiple measures to take a look at teacher effectiveness?”

Conceding that value-added models are imperfect, and reportedly have a plus or minus error of 45 points, and a teacher’s livelihood could be at stake, Deasy said it shouldn’t be the only measure of teacher effectiveness.

“A good observation by a well-trained principal,” said Deasy. “I believe that should be the majority indicator.”

When asked about the assessments of Buddin by his students on the Bruin website, where some students rated Buddin as “ineffective” and “boring,” Deasy responded, “I do think it matters how students perceive the learning experience with a teacher. Once again, I don’t think it is the only metric that should be used.”

I stated one of my objections to value-added, namely, that it perpetuates the demonization of teachers. I said, “I wish we did a better job supporting teachers. 50 percent of them quit within the first five years, even more so at charter schools. And part of it is because there is just a lack of support for teachers in the classroom.” Deasy responded: “I happen to agree with you completely on that. We have an enormous obligation to support teachers.”

When I proposed that cuts should be kept away from the classroom, especially given that LAUSD spends $100 million on non-mandated testing, and $43 million on the eight mini-district offices, Deasy responded, “My response to that is going to have to be, given the budget, as I read it, and given what has happened since the governor has taken office, all of those areas are going to have to be examined for further reduction.”

When pressed on this, and asked, “So you want to keep cuts away from the classroom?” Deasy responded, “Absolutely. We’ve already cut too much.” He added that the last cuts should be in the classroom.

Whether Deasy will stick to his word, and keep cuts away from the classroom, as stated, remains to be seen. How much he will stick to a deeply flawed methodology of evaluating teachers, also known as “value-added,” also remains to be seen.

Phone calls and emails seeking comment from UCLA instructor Buddin, LA Times reporters Felch, Song, Smith, and representatives from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not been returned. Additional phone calls and emails seeking comment from the following proponents of using value-added as a component in teacher evaluations have also not been returned: LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, LAUSD School Board Members Monica Garcia, Yolie Flores, Tamar Galatzan, Nury Martinez, Richard Vladovic, and Steve Zimmer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and US Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

To read Jesse Rothstein’s Rothstein’s critique of The Gates’ Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, click here.

What do you think about Deasy’s position on value-added assessments? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more from David Lyell at davidlyell.blogspot.com.

OPINION: John Deasy a disappointing choice for LAUSD superintendent

imageBy David Lyell (left), LAUSD teacher

I’m disappointed by the appointment of John Deasy as the superintendent to the LAUSD School Board. The school board didn’t even bother to consider any other candidates, which is very strange. The public needs to remember that the mayor, who celebrated this appointment, after recently attacking UTLA, was also handed a vote of “no confidence” by teachers at eight of the 10 schools he takes credit for operating.

The reality is that the teachers at those school sites operate those schools. The mayor, who rarely shows up, only operates them on paper, and dismally at that. We need to remember that this is the same mayor who, in 2009, spent 15 times as much as his nearest opponent on his campaign, then refused to debate him.

Deasy embraces Value-Added. Value-added testing is yet another example a punitive, ineffective, dictatorial management style. A July 2010 report by the Institute of Education Sciences concluded that, “more than 90 percent of the variation in student gain scores is due to the variation in student-level factors that are not under the control of the teacher.” An August 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute warned in a report that it would be “unwise” to give substantial weight to VAM scores in measuring teacher effectiveness. Researchers for RAND concluded that, “the research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers.”

LAUSD Board Members cry about a budget crisis, yet spend $100 million per year on non-mandated assessments — that is, testing not required by law — and $43 million on mini-districts. In December 2010, they fired clerical and custodial workers at school sites after firing teachers and instituting furloughs, and they transferred hundreds of other clerical and custodial staff. Now Cortines says we need to take more furlough days.


We need to use the Federal Jobs money for its intended purpose: to save jobs. We need to spend that $143 million that is wasted on testing and mini-districts, and spend it on teachers, clerical, and custodial staff.

Aside from his employment record, serious ethical questions remain concerning Deasy’s background. In addition to the LMU and University of Louisville scandals, Deasy comes from the Gates Foundation. Gates — whose company Microsoft was literally sued by the US Government for antitrust allegations and using market dominance to stifle competition — is now an advocate for, of all things, competition. Like Oprah, Gates is just wrong. Instead of asking why it’s so hard to fire teachers, they need to ask why school districts can’t carry out their administrative duties in a timely manner.

Gates has even recently advocated for larger class sizes, and videotaping teachers. That’s how out of touch he is. Our schools are already so darn top-heavy with administrators, classrooms are under-staffed, and teachers are under-paid, over-worked, and under-appreciated. In Gates’ world classrooms would host one thousand students. Teachers would have every twitch scrutinized by a panel of six-figure education “experts” who then meet with the teacher to tell them what they need to do to improve. Where I come from, that sounds like a colossal waste of tax-payer dollars. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but those are the type of policies he advocates.

LAUSD is insanely top-heavy with administrators who make well over six figures. We need less bureaucracy. A test result cannot teach a student. A teacher can. It’s very strange how the very people who claim to care about children the most are the same individuals who do everything humanly possible to actually avoid having to spend time in a classroom. They love their cushy six-figure jobs.

We need real reformers who want to work with teachers instead of demonizing them. As it is, 50 percent of all teachers quit within the first five years. The numbers are even higher in charter schools. Fewer than one in seven charters produce better results, and many are simply out of control, as we saw with the Parent Trigger scandal in Compton. Charters are the new deregulation, and we all know how well that worked with the banks.

We need leaders who recognize that the way to improve education is to support the work teachers do. Teachers are responsible for student achievement, not administrators, not tests.

Read more from David Lyell at davidlyell.blogspot.com.