Fuentes withdraws teacher evaluation bill

August 31, 2012

(Updated Friday afternoon to include CTA President Dean Vogel’s comment on the decision to withdraw AB 5)

AB 5 is dead. Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes withdrew the controversial rewrite of the teacher evaluation law Thursday evening, one day before the end of the legislative session, saying there wasn’t enough time for him and others to review a final set of amendments.

“I believe this issue is too important to be decided at the last minute and in the dark of night,” Fuentes said in a surprise statement.

Courtesy of ITA Image Library

Opponents of the bill – and they were vocal and numerous – had expressed frustration over what would have been the third set of major changes to the bill in less than two weeks. Members of the Senate Education Committee had promised that there would be a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on the amendments Thursday, but, as the day went on, prospects for a hearing dimmed, and the bill instead would have been taken directly to the Senate for a final vote. Fuentes spokesman Ben Golombek said the decision to pull the bill was Fuentes’ alone.

However, Fuentes also may have been hearing that passage was problematic in the Senate. A lobbyist working to kill the bill said a half-dozen senators were queasy about the bill and pressure to support it. Word at the Capitol was that Gov. Jerry Brown may not have wanted AB 5 to reach his desk, because the debate had become toxic, with possible fallout for Proposition 30, Brown’s tax initiative, and Prop 32, which would ban union and corporate contributions to state and local candidates.

AB 5’s sudden death dims prospects that the state can qualify for a much-desired waiver from penalties of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which 33 states and the District of Columbia have received. While a waiver was uncertain, passage of AB 5 would have brought state law closer in line to criteria for teacher evaluations that the federal Department of Education was requiring.

AB 5’s demise was a huge disappointment for the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of  Teachers, both of which had lobbied heavily for its passage and had come very close to getting it. In a marked change from the Stull Act, as the current law is known, AB 5 would have made all facets of teacher evaluations subject to negotiations, from the number of teacher observations and types of student tests and work that can be used, to the point system for calibrating principals’ skills as evaluators.

In a statement issued Friday, CTA President Dean Vogel said that the Legislature had  missed “an opportunity to get beyond the simple test score debate and to develop meaningful teacher assessments based on multiple measures of accountability.” And he said that teachers would “continue to press for fair reforms like those outlined in this bill.” Vogel also said that criticism of the bill’s call for collectively bargaining for teacher evaluations was misguided. “You can’t craft a fair and comprehensive teacher evaluation system without including the professionals who are in California’s classrooms every day.”

Fuentes agreed. Teachers need to be at the table to create a system whose primary purposes are to help them become better practitioners and improve student learning, he said.

But some superintendents denounced what they termed the biggest expansion of collective bargaining rights in 30 years. They predicted costly, protracted bargaining over every detail of evaluations, to the detriment of the larger goal. “Not one superintendent wanted this,” Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy said last night. “The bill was bad policy, and it was being rushed in a short timeline.”

No circumventing Doe vs Deasy

Los Angeles Unified was the biggest immediate winner from AB 5’s defeat. In May, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in Doe vs. Deasy that the Stull Act required the district to use state standardized test scores and results on assessments for district standards for every grade and subject in teachers’ evaluations. Judge James Chalant has given the district and United Teachers Los Angeles until December for a plan to comply.

Though the district lost in Doe vs Deasy, Deasy welcomed the ruling as an opportunity to expand the use of value-added assessments to measure teachers’ impact on student learning. AB 5, as introduced a year before the ruling, would have eliminated the Stull Act requirement that districts create local academic standards on which to base teacher evaluations, and would have permitted, not required, the use of state test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. It was only after Chalfant issued his ruling that the CTA started pushing hard for AB 5’s passage. “We’ve been trying to work through a powerful example of good teacher evaluations,” Deasy said. “This would have smothered the opportunity to do so.”

Among the amendments that Fuentes pledged to make was an explicit guarantee that an agreement reached before July 2014, when AB 5 would take effect, would be grandfathered. But Deasy said no union would want to negotiate knowing a change in law was coming. The defeat of AB 5 can put negotiations back on track.

Opponents included a diverse coalition of associations in the Education Coalition representing administrators, school boards and superintendents and the state PTA, civil rights and advocacy groups, and some business and civic groups:  United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the state Chamber of Commerce, and the Bay Area Council. In expressing satisfaction over AB 5’s defeat, some renewed calls for a more effective evaluation system.

“The diversity and persistence of the coalition in opposition couldn’t be ignored,” said Brad Strong, senior director for education policy for Children Now. “Hopefully this sets the stage for more meaningful change next year. We desperately need to improve the evaluation of teachers and principals, but AB 5 just wasn’t the way.”

“Forcing through a last-minute bill to create an unaccountable, weak teacher evaluation system was going to harm parents, teachers, and students. That’s why leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum have spoken out against it,” said Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst. “I am looking forward to working cohesively with our education advocate partners, parents, teachers, and community members to craft thoughtful, comprehensive teacher evaluation legislation.”

 Where to from here?

AB 5 critics and backers agreed that the Stull Act failed to provide comprehensive guidance to districts and that AB 5 made some headway. Including three performance levels, instead of two under the Stull Act, would have identified excellent teachers. Incorporating the California Standards of the Teaching Profession  offered useful, specific criteria for effective instruction and classroom management and measures for connecting with parents and students.

Looking ahead, Marc Johnson, superintendent of much modeled Sanger Unified, says that the Stull Act should be improved, not rewritten. There should be measurable student outcomes that include but go beyond test scores. There should be collaboration with teachers for agreement on common outcomes but outside of the bargaining table, he said, to avoid “counterproductive conversations.”

Sen, Joe Simitian was one of the senators on the Education Committee who hadn’t made up his mind on AB 5 right up to Fuentes’ announcement.  “This was a complicated issue with many facets,” he said. “But most teachers want to be better teachers and improve job performance.  That’s an element that has been overlooked in  the discussion.”

Fuentes is termed out and running for Los Angeles City Council, so someone else will have to try again at an evaluation bill. Golombek said his boss had no regrets, even though he couldn’t bridge the divide over collective bargaining. “The vast majority of the debate was really fair and substantive and open, so it’s hard to feel bad. He came close to a  big and bold reform,” he said.

Whoever it is will have to find a source to pay districts for establishing and carrying out new evaluations. Fuentes found a source to fund $60 million for the lowest performing schools, but not for the remaining 80 percent.

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