The author of a bill revising the law on teacher evaluations has pushed up the start date to two years from now, found a $60 million pot of money to jump-start the process in districts with the lowest-performing schools, and given parents and students a role advising teachers and districts on criteria to use in the evaluations.
Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes released the latest amendments on Wednesday, one day before his bill goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee for a crucial vote. In deciding whether to move the bill forward to the full Senate – or let it die – the committee will consider the impact of state-reimbursable costs that AB 5 will create for school districts.
Fuentes has a surprise, partial solution. He would divert $60 million next year from unused money in the Quality Education Investment Act, a multibillion-dollar court settlement reached with Gov. Schwarzenegger to increase funding for the lowest-performing schools. The money would be used to train administrators and teachers in districts with QEIA-eligible schools in evaluation techniques and for other expenses preparing for the new evaluation system. (Fuentes’ office didn’t know offhand how many of the state’s 1,000 districts would qualify for this money.) However, Fuentes would leave it up to the governor and the Legislature to determine how to pay for actually implementing the new evaluations when they would go into effect on July 1, 2014. The Department of Finance estimates the additional cost, beyond the $19 million the state’s already paying districts under the current law, would be at least $20 million.
The California Teachers Association, which negotiated the QEIA settlement and has fought to preserve it, had not taken a position on the revised bill as of Wednesday evening.
The latest version would give parents and the community a say in recommending the criteria that a district would use in evaluating teachers, including perhaps a parent and student survey. Districts would hold a hearing for public suggestions on criteria for evaluations and a second hearing to explain the criteria they negotiated with teachers. That amendment won over Public Advocates, a nonprofit organization advocating for parents and low-income families. “We’re happy that the policy acknowledges that including parents, students, and the community is sound policy,” said Liz Guillen, director of Legislative & Community Affairs at Public Advocates.
Other opponents unmoved
But other advocacy groups remain opposed to AB 5, for reasons that I outlined Tuesday and last week. Chief among them: the failure to require using data on student academic growth, among other measures, to determine teacher performance; the lack of at least three rating levels of performance, instead of only satisfactory or unsatisfactory; and the failure to require using evaluation results in personnel decisions, such as whom to lay off. On Wednesday, the leaders of 10 organizations, including EdVoice, Education Trust-West, and StudentsFirst, sent a letter to Fuentes stating reasons for their opposition.
Their advocates letter also emphasized that AB 5 in its current form would not meet federal Department of Education requirements for a state waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. At stake, the advocates said, are tens of millions of dollars, now restricted for other purposes, that the state could use to pay for “high-quality” teacher and principal evaluation systems.
Reading tea leaves over NCLB waiver
But Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education and key adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, disagrees with the advocates on this key point. Burr said Wednesday that an earlier version of AB 5 had been forwarded to federal education officials, including Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, and they “were quite favorable,” even without an explicit requirement for using data from standardized tests in the evaluations. “They did say there would have to be guidance from the State Board to create evaluation models for districts, but they were encouraging to us.”
A belief by Brown’s advisers that AB 5 could help California obtain a waiver could provide a reason for the governor to sign the bill if it gets to his desk. A federal waiver from NCLB could free up $354 million in restricted Title I money that could more than pay for a robust teacher and principal evaluation system. California skipped the first two deadlines for applying for a waiver, instead submitting a non-complying version, without a commitment to do a statewide evaluation system. Passage of AB 5 could enable California to apply for the next and final round in September, Burr said.
To be eligible for a waiver, a state would have to agree to criteria for evaluating principals and administrators as well as teachers. AB 5 would require regular evaluations for all staff members with teaching certificates, which administrators also have. However, the bill doesn’t really deal directly with administrators. That, too, could be a stumbling point for a waiver.
The revised AB 5 includes one more important amendment unrelated to evaluations. Along with the $60 million, it calls for diverting an additional $29 million that would go toward implementing Common Core standards in math and English language arts in the 488 schools receiving QEIA funding. That works out to $73 per student, money badly needed for teacher training and the purchase of curriculum materials for the new standards.
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