The Los Angeles Time’s article, Who’s Teaching L.A.’s Kids?, touched upon the very heart, the lifeline, of our education system: teachers. Both in LAUSD and throughout the nation, teachers share the awesome privilege and responsibility for nurturing the social, academic and psychological development of our country’s greatest asset, our children. For this reason, I commend the Los Angeles Times for putting a spotlight on the critical issue of teacher effectiveness.
Most of us can draw upon our own personal experiences as to the importance of a good teacher. He/she was the one who nurtured our intellectual spirit, challenged our self-imposed limitations, fostered confidence, expected nothing but the best from each of us and, in turn, changed our lives for the better. National research supports what we have experienced to be true: that the positive impact of an effective teacher can have multi-dimensional and lasting effects on a child’s academic achievement and well-being.
Conversely, research also shows that just one year of ineffective teaching can have devastating and equally lasting negative consequences for students. I believe that we, as a District, have fallen short in providing an effective teacher in every classroom. We have not, as The Times points out, used the data at our disposal to inform our evaluation and professional development processes. That needs to change.
It is for this reason I authored a resolution in 2009 to create a Teacher Effectiveness Task Force. My desire was to advance this issue in the most thoughtful and aggressive manner, for both teachers and administrators. Since passage of the resolution, the Task Force (which included teachers, principals, parents, union and community leaders, as well as District and education experts) has worked to develop a provocative blueprint for reform and set of recommendations in five key areas: tenure, compensation, evaluation, support mechanisms and legislative action. The Task Force made public its final recommendations in April of 2010 and rightly concluded that, first and foremost, LAUSD needs a robust evaluation system that employs multiple measures for addressing effectiveness, including standardized test scores. Other measures - such as peer-to-peer review, principal assessments, and parent and student input - were also identified as equally critical.
The premise of our developing evaluation system is this: when we gauge our own children’s development, we do so through a comprehensive lens considering many factors such as physical, cognitive and psychological growth. So, too, must we apply a comprehensive lens when evaluating our children’s educators. A major challenge in looking solely at test scores is that we expect and need more from our educational system than what standardized tests alone can measure. We expect and need our system to develop and nurture global citizens with skills to communicate effectively, negotiate, think critically and rationally, understand national and global trends, speak multiple languages, and enter the world with confidence and goodwill. We have set to task in developing an evaluation system that credits and learns from teachers who are successfully imparting these seemingly intangible, yet indispensable, skills that are central to a quality education.
This idea is neither new nor revolutionary: it is simply common sense. Other parts of the country such as Pittsburgh, Memphis, New Haven and Hillsborough County are in the process of implementing multiple measure evaluation systems to maximize teacher effectiveness and student achievement. More compelling, perhaps, is that these school districts and their teacher’s unions are each working hand-in-hand to make the necessary institutional changes to their educational systems, so that they better reflect the needs of their students rather than the adults they employ.
In California and Los Angeles, we need to step up to the plate and do the same. It is simply irresponsible for our union leaders to continue to fight every effort that signals change for our children. Further, our state legislators must find the political courage to draft and pass legislation that allows school districts to move from a seniority-based system to one that includes measures of effectiveness when making employment decisions. And parents must be fully engaged and be equal partners in the education of their children, demanding great teachers for their children, but also ensuring that learning does not cease when the school day is over.
Until we close the shameful achievement gap, particularly for poor children and children of color, we cannot rest and we cannot just keep going along. No institution, no union, no government is worth protecting that does not take care of its children.
I invite you to view this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times series in the online Op-ed section of the paper. The series features various points of view on how to determine and ensure an effective teacher in every classroom, including my own. I encourage continued discourse on this important matter so we can make good on our promise to provide a quality education for all students.