There are so many reasons why California is poised to regain her leadership among states in public education. Most of them stem from the fact that policy-wise, we haven’t completely knuckled under to the damaging policies put forth by the Obama administration.
We’ve been evasive on bending to the conditions required for a Race to the Top waiver. We have a large Democratic majority in both houses of the state legislature and a good number of lawmakers who actually taught in public school classrooms or served as school board members.
We have a governor who has taken a strong stand against standardized testing. We have a State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) who taught, was a union member, and spent substantial time as an experienced legislator before becoming head of the state’s top education post. And little by little, as a state we’ve taken steps to revamp our K-12 public education system to make strengths out of what others might see as liabilities. Our major hurdle is the damage done by forty years chronic underfunding of public education from Proposition 13 rules, but even there I’m hopeful that the tide can turn.
One of the more positive steps taken by California to chart its own course in the wreckage of No Child Left Behind and the auction of public schools to moneyed charter chain bidders let loose by the Obama administration is in Torlakson’s statement on teacher evaluations. It’s summarized here in the report, “Greatness By Design.”
At the California State PTA Legislative Conference, we heard from Lupita Cortez Alcalá, Deputy Superintendent, Instruction and Learning Support Branch, SSPI. She gave us some highlights from the report, emphasizing that the other dropout crisis we never hear about is the loss of new teachers to the profession within the first 3-5 years of their careers.
The guidelines the SSPI developed were to counter that depressing attrition rate and foster a better professional culture among teachers so that they could see a means to progress from Apprentice Teacher, to Professional Teacher, to Master Teacher. By providing a path for advancement, California’s SSPI hopes to give teachers a path UP instead of incentives to move OUT.
To gather information from successful peer nations with public education systems similar to ours, the SSPI team visited Canada and spoke extensively with educators there. Alcalá noted that the teacher evaluation process was very conflict-free and collaborative, as the teachers themselves were part of the conversation and created many of the guidelines.
However, the ideals spelled out in “Greatness By Design” have yet to mesh with California’s political and legislative realities. This could explain why AB5, the bill proposed to revamp teacher evaluations, has been mired in delay and lobbying from all sides.
AB5, introduced by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes in the previous session, stalled out when it became clear that the type, frequency, and quality of teacher evaluations would be a hurdle to securing a No Child Left Behind waiver from the federal government. Under the NCLB waiver, California would have to agree to use student test scores on standardized tests to measure teacher effectiveness. In a piece on this very subject in EdSource, it’s clear that federal requirements for a NCLB waiver clash with both California school districts’ existing contractual agreements and the state’s existing law on teacher evaluations:
The Stull Act, as the current teacher evaluation law is called, requires that districts devise local assessments and use the California Standards Tests to measure a teacher’s impact on student achievement. That was confirmed this spring by a Superior Court judge’s ruling in a lawsuit brought against Los Angeles Unified on this issue.
The federal waiver also requires that a state “define a statewide approach for measuring student growth” using those assessments for the subjects and grades in which they’re given. That covers about half of the teachers in California.
AB 5 would remove the mandate requiring the use of state assessments – the most contentious of its changes. Given the California Teachers Association’s opposition to using CSTs as part of a teacher’s evaluation, districts will face stiff resistance in local negotiations to include student test results.
AB5 will be retooled and brought up in the current legislative session by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan. In her presentation to the California PTA, she made it clear that part of the difficulty in determining what teacher evaluations should look like is that we have no clear path in the mechanisms for adopting Common Core Standards (CCS). For example, there’s no money to properly administer PD, or professional development, to train teachers on the new standards and the methods of teaching that will be required in order to implement CCS. Buchanan noted that the amount of available money to retrain teachers totaled about $.50 per student — i.e., impossible to accomplish with any success by 2016.
Rick Simpson, Education Legislative Analyst for the Assembly, broke it down this way: one scenario is that California won’t give the new CCS tests until the teachers are ready. If so, do we keep giving the old tests (the CSTs)? Since test score performance is what leads to a school being put on Program Intervention (i.e., schools with too many students who perform below par who must then receive remediation), then which tests should be used, the old or the new? We can’t ask students to be responsible for learning the new material but give them the old tests, nor can we ask superintendents or school boards to make high-stakes decisions about Program Intervention or even school closures based on scores from a new test system, knowing that the new tests will undoubtedly take some time for students to get used to and the new tests’ vast shift in emphasis will probably depress all scores across the state before stabilizing.
Another scenario would be to give CCS tests in 2014, but disconnect those scores from being used as a basis for Program Intervention, school choice, “parent trigger,” and so on. That is, we could call for a moratorium on the use of standardized test scores to close or convert schools for a period of 3-5 years.
Assemblymember Joan Buchanan noted that the CCS computer-based tests would be difficult to implement given that not every school has the needed tech facilities to allow every student sufficient time to complete the tests, and that even if tests were limited to three hours per day of the testing period, there would still be instructional time lost from the classes missed, potentially in other classes with subject matter that’ll be tested on.
Buchanan is sponsoring several bills that address pieces of teacher evaluation, and wanted to briefly gloss the ones coming up through the State Senate:
AB135: in current form, changes the time between teacher evaluations to once every three years instead of once every five years, and allows for the state to reimburse for costs incurred by schools to make this change.
SB1530 (failed), now SB10: seeks to reduce the time and cost of appeals surrounding dismissal of teachers for misconduct and would give the school board final say in dismissal for cause cases, instead of an appeal of school board decisions made to an administrative law judge and two teachers. Teacher unions oppose SB10 as currently written, saying that it actually delays the process of review and doesn’t protect students. CTA has offered language for two amendments as improvements to streamline the process.
Continue on to the next sections of the report: School Budget/Funding, Common Core Standards adoption, School Safety, and updates on CA PTA Prior Business.