As professionals, educators practice their vocation with seriousness and dedication with the single purpose of helping students. The California Teachers Association believes it is a primary part of our mission to improve the conditions of teaching and learning and to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education.
CTA supports pending legislation, AB 5 by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, that has refocused attention on teacher evaluation. Some have expressed criticism that requiring school districts to bargain over this topic is an “expansion” of bargaining rights. This criticism is incorrect, unwarranted, and contrary to making meaningful changes to an evaluation system aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning. To have a fair and comprehensive system you must include the professionals who are in California classrooms every day.
Current law, as well as administrative and court decisions interpreting it, already supports bargaining over evaluation procedures and matters relating to them, including the criteria for evaluations and providing assistance to educators who need it.
Mutual accountability and responsibility for the effectiveness and functioning of our education system require that managers and professional educators participate in the design, operation, and evaluation of that system. A successful example of this has existed in California since 1999. Assembly Bill 1X (Villaraigosa) established the California Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program for teachers and obliged local districts and unions to bargain over its implementation. This program was developed to assist teachers whose biannual personnel reviews were not satisfactory. Assistance and support are provided by exemplary teachers and include subject matter knowledge, teaching strategies, or both. Local school districts and teachers unions quickly embraced bargaining over this issue and incorporated PAR into their collective bargaining agreements.
A good evaluation system must reflect the complexity of teaching and learning and focus on teaching practices that best support student learning. Teachers are certainly important to the success of their students, but student learning is not influenced by just one teacher. There are many factors within and outside of the school walls that affect student learning.
Students learn at different paces and have different needs and learning modalities. Adequate resources, school climate, safety, and time are significant to a student’s learning. Schools also have unique cultural routines and learning environments that shape teaching and students’ learning opportunities in the classroom. What is best for students is providing them with opportunities to learn that are tied to high standards, rigorous curricula, and effective teaching strategies. All of these factors need to be considered in developing a useful and fair teacher evaluation system. Local collective bargaining will insure that this complexity is recognized and meaningfully incorporated into teacher evaluations.
A path to objectivity
The right to collectively bargain provides the means for both local districts and unions to advocate for and reach agreement over conditions that make the evaluation process more objective, including how to:
- Keep the focus on professional practice;
- Require that evaluations be based on valid and reliable data as well as observable evidence of practice in relation to standards, curriculum goals, and student needs;
- Maintain referral of educators who do not meet standards to receive assistance to improve their teaching (and opportunities for students to learn);
- Be smart about defining the terms that are used in the evaluation process, such as “expected pupil achievement,” “progress of pupils,” “student growth” or “student achievement”;
- Require that evaluators be certified and go through annual “calibration” to assure objectivity and reliability;
- Clearly state that all measures (including progress of pupils) may be used only in terms of how they reasonably relate to an employee’s performance;
- Enforce the requirement that the evaluation must include recommendations for the improvement of performance. For an employee who is not performing satisfactorily, specific recommendations for improvement must be made and the district must assist the employee in improving performance.
The values and goals of a 21st-century education should transcend the transmission and repetition of basic knowledge and skills, and include collaborative decision making, innovation, and problem solving. Collective bargaining over how educators fulfill those values and goals is a means for adults to model behaviors to deal with challenges and differences through dialogue, reason, and agreement rather than the hierarchical exercise of authority. As such, it is an invaluable lesson that we should all be prepared to teach and learn.
A teacher and school counselor for 39 years at the elementary and high school education levels, Dean E. Vogel is president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association. He has also taught extended education courses at California State University campuses in Sacramento, Sonoma, and Hayward, and at the University of California at Davis. He is a resident of Davis.