At the 11th hour, the author of the bill to rewrite the teacher evaluation law has offered compromises intended to placate opponents and to qualify the state for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The latter may work, but probably not the former.
Key amendments to AB 5 that Assembymember Felipe Fuentes released Thursday (see link below in “Going Deeper” for the amendments) don’t appear to have softened the opposition of organizations representing school administrators, school boards, and some student advocacy groups. They say the biggest problem with the bill remains: It makes every aspect of evaluations subject to negotiations with teachers unions, eroding power that districts assert they have had to unilaterally set the criteria and standards for evaluations. “EdVoice still strongly opposes AB 5,” Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the Sacramento nonprofit wrote in a statement Thursday night.
It’s premature to say whether passage of AB 5 would clear the path to a much desired NCLB waiver that’s already been granted to 33 states. A waiver would freeze penalties against low-performing districts and loosen restrictions on $350 million of California’s Title I money for low-income districts. But several of Fuentes’ changes respond directly to requirements that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Department of Education had set for a wavier. These include:
- The requirement that districts adopt at least three performance levels. The current law, the Stull Act, has only two: Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory. The adding of a third, such as Excellent, could enable districts to reward the best teachers and shield them from layoffs and bumping rights.
- The mandatory use of state standardized test scores as one of several factors that measure a teacher’s contribution toward student academic growth. The Stull Act had required this but AB 5 until now had proposed that the use of state test scores be optional in evaluations. The feds, in listing requirements for a waiver, want test scores to be a “significant” component in measuring student growth. AB 5 does not include that word; each district and union would determine how much weight to give test scores, as well as factors such as student portfolios and presentations.
The California Teachers Association had taken the position that the California Standards Tests were not designed for teacher evaluations and therefore were inappropriate, and that the new Common Core assessments, developed by the Smarter Balanced Consortium of states, would have to be studied as to their suitability. However, among the new amendments, AB 5 would declare those assessments perfectly valid: “It is the intent of the Legislature that any assessments developed by a national consortium and adopted by the State Board and used for the purposes of this section meet statistical and psychometric standards appropriate for this use.”
- The creation of model teacher evaluation systems by the State Board of Education for possible adoption by districts. The idea behind it is that the models would provide guidance that could eliminate protracted deliberations on difficult issues like establishing guidelines for teacher observations and developing consistency in training administrators on conducting evaluations.
Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board, said last week that federal education officials had suggested the Board adopt these models as part of a waiver application. In May, the State Board submitted a NCLB waiver application that ignored the requirements for teacher evaluations and other conditions. The state has yet to hear back from Duncan, and he has not publicly commented on it. Instead, he has announced plans to invite districts in states without a waiver to submit their own waiver proposals. If AB 5 passes and Gov. Jerry Brown signs it, the State Board is expected to file another waiver – one that conforms with the Department’s rules. The Board would have to approve the waiver at its Sept. 12 board meeting to meet the federal deadline.
AB 5 would establish an evaluation system based on best teaching practices as defined by the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. All sides agree this would be a significant step forward. And advocacy groups like EdVoice and Education Trust-West had called for some of the latest amendments that Fuentes agreed to. But they, the Association of California School Administrators, and the California School Boards Association are expected to continue to oppose the bill for one or both of the following reasons:
High costs of a new mandate. The state already reimburses districts about $18 million each year to cover reimbursement for negotiations under the Stull Act. AB 5 would broaden who would be evaluated and how often, along with adding costs from principal training and the expense of several teacher observations. This year, these costs will be included in a block grant of $28 per student covering teacher evaluations and other education mandates. Districts know that the new evaluation system will be expensive – how much isn’t clear – and are worried that the governor and Legislature won’t increase the block grant, leaving them holding the bag when AB 5 takes effect on July 1, 2014.
Fuentes is proposing to shift $60 million next year from a program for improving the lowest-performing schools, QEIA, to prepare those schools for the new evaluation system. Other schools and districts would not have any one-time startup money for the new system.
Subjecting all aspects of evaluations to collective bargaining. The Stull Act requires school boards of every district to establish standards of expected student achievement at each grade level in every area of study and to evaluate teachers based on students’ progress in meeting the standards. AB 5 would repeal this section of the law. In its place would be recommendations for best practices that would have to be negotiated between the district and the local teachers union. In a statement, Lucia of EdVoice said, “AB 5 eliminates the only provision in the state Education Code giving local districts control over standards. In doing so, it now opens the door to require districts to bargain over grade level standard expectations of pupils in each area of study at each grade level, since grade level expectations are the anchors for gauging progress of student learning and student learning must be assessed … in the job performance evaluations of teachers.”
Whether school boards have the unilateral power under the Stull Act to determine the factors behind an evaluation and how much weight to give them has not been tested in court. Los Angeles Unified is pushing its authority in creating a voluntary pilot program for teachers at the same it is negotiating with United Teachers Los Angeles to implement it. An attorney for the district has written a brief laying out the district’s authority. The CTA has issued a rebuttal (which I have not seen).
The union argues the primary goal of an evaluation system should be to guide teachers to perform better. That requires trust, which can’t be built by imposing a system on teachers. Negotiations prevent bad systems, such as the disproportionate use of standardized test scores to judge teachers.
Districts argue that they should have the power to set the criteria on which teacher performance will be determined. Otherwise, there will be a weak system of expectations.
Fuentes is expected to introduce the amendments on Friday. The bill is expected to return to the Senate Education Committee early next week for a public hearing.