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Study finds LAUSD, state education policies flawed


LOS ANGELES, Calif.–The Los Angeles Unified School District needs critical reform in teacher evaluation, tenure and teaching assignment policies, according to a national study of the district released today.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan, privately funded research organization based in Washington, D.C., studied five key policy areas–staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedule.

The study, sponsored by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, says state and local policy failures in those areas pose huge obstacles to the nation’s second-largest school district.

“The sheer size of LAUSD is reason enough to view its prospects for reform daunting,” the report’s authors wrote. “Add to that mix the state’s extreme financial turmoil and it becomes even harder to envision a successful turnaround strategy.”

The release of the study, which surveyed more than 1,500 teachers and principals for input on its data findings.

The district continues to struggle to keep its on-time graduation rate above 50 percent and is still at the mercy of a state budget crisis that threatens more layoffs if the economy worsens.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents the district’s teachers, criticized the study, calling it misguided and performed by noneducators.

“The approach of this study is all wrong,” Duffy said. “It does nothing to reinforce the profession, the quality of people we’re bringing in, ongoing training for administration, and creating quality professional development.”

The district declined Monday to comment on the study.

The 58-page report titled, “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD,” cited problems with the district’s practice of assigning teachers to schools during the hiring and transfer processes. It said the district’s policies exacerbated a faulty hiring system during recent years when the district experienced significant downsizing.

The district requires principals to first look at a “priority placement” list when hiring teachers, the study found.

“LAUSD principals are often pressured to hire teachers who lost their position at one school who then land on the ‘priority placement’ list, commonly known as the ‘must place’ list, before they are allowed to consider other applicants,” the authors wrote.

However, three-quarters of principals surveyed said teachers hired from the priority placement list are rarely, if ever, a good fit for their schools.

The study’s recommendations focused heavily on teacher evaluation. It said teachers should be evaluated annually, and student achievement should be the main criterion on which teachers are evaluated.

The district recently announced that it would try evaluating some elementary school teachers based on yearly student performances. The teachers union challenged the plan at the state level, but its complaint was rejected.

The report also recommended an overhaul of the district’s seniority-based system. California is one of only 12 states that mandates layoffs be conducted in order of reverse seniority. Arizona, Florida and Idaho have outright banned consideration of seniority as the primary determinant in layoff decisions, the report stated.

A recent court case protected some of the city’s lowest performing schools from seniority-based layoffs, but the settlement “falls short of a more permanent solution to the staffing problems created by seniority-based policies,” the report found.

The study attacked the state’s required tenure system, which mandates that teachers be considered for tenure after two years on the job.

The roadmap recommends, at minimum, extending that to four years. It found the district is moving in the right direction by requiring principals to sign off on tenures, but added that a more substantial tenure review would be the most successful policy.

It is wrong to talk about reforming the evaluation or tenure systems without talking about how teachers are trained, Duffy said.

“We need to sit down with universities and colleges and say, ‘We’re going to stop taking your product, because it isn’t a good product. Stop being money-making mills and understand that if education is very important, you have to have a standard by which you take people,”‘ Duffy said.

The study also recommended phasing out salaries based on continuing education. Instead it recommends giving higher salaries to the top 5 percent to 15 percent of teachers who consistently score well on evaluations based on student performances.

Duffy called the salary recommendations ludicrous.

“Stop paying people for going back to college to get better at their skill or craft?” Duffy said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has clashed with UTLA in recent months, called the study thorough and thoughtful.

“I look forward to turning their research into reality by continuing to work with the leadership at LAUSD until all students have access to the effective education they deserve,” Villaraigosa said.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service