While California’s teacher unions are winning expensive battles on the strike lines and are flexing their political muscle in Sacramento, new research shows that state teacher-quality policies are failing to ensure that every public-school classroom in the state has a highly effective teacher.
In Oakland and Los Angeles, the teacher unions struck for higher wages and more staffing and won, despite questions about how the districts will pay for the pricey packages.
Further, from April to August, the California Teachers Association spent $4.3 million—more than a million dollars a month—mostly to push anti-charter-school bills, including AB 1505 which passed in the Legislature and which greatly limits the growth of charter schools in California.
But as California funnels more money into the pockets of union members and the unions effectively squelch future new competition from largely non-union charter schools, new research by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows that California fails to ensure teacher quality in key areas.
For example, NCTQ found that California does not meet the goal of ensuring well-structured teacher evaluations that appropriately assess professional practice.
Specifically, California does not require annual classroom observations of all teachers, regardless of a teacher’s experience level or previous evaluations, with some teachers going for years without any classroom observation and evaluation.
Also, there is no training requirement for those evaluating teachers and no requirement that multiple observers and third-party observers with subject-matter expertise are included in the observation and evaluation process.
In another category, NCTQ found that California fails to meet the goal of requiring effective remedial professional development for teachers.
“California does not specify that professional development activities must be aligned with the findings from teacher evaluations,” says NCTQ, and the state makes it optional to place teachers “with an unsatisfactory rating in a ‘program designed to improve appropriate areas of performance.’”
Critically, the organization notes, “Professional development that is not informed by evaluation results may be of little value to teachers’ professional growth and the aim of increasing their effectiveness in the classroom.”
NCTQ recommends that California “adopt a policy requiring that teachers who receive even one less-than-effective evaluation rating are placed on structured improvement plans” and that these plans “focus on performance areas that directly connect to student learning and should identify noted deficiencies, define action steps necessary to address these deficiencies and describe how and when progress will be measured.”
California also uses a two-level satisfactory-versus-unsatisfactory rating system, which is much less informative than a multi-level system, which 41 states use, that includes ratings such as highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective.
Finally, NCTQ found that California does not meet the goal of including objective measures of student performance growth in a teacher’s evaluation score.
Although not mentioned by NCTQ, the state Stull Act of 1971 seemingly requires districts to use student test scores in teacher evaluations, but many union contracts explicitly prohibit the use of test scores in evaluating teachers.
Also, conflicting and contorted court rulings have given districts and unions the green light to ignore the law and continue to exclude student test scores from the teacher-evaluation process.
In late 2016, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed AB 2826 by Assembly member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) that would have ensured that state test scores would be included as a measure of student academic growth when evaluating teachers.
Interestingly, and perhaps revealingly, NCTQ says that California officials did not respond to their request to review their analysis.
Finally, compared to other states, NCTQ’s research shows that California is one of the worst when it comes to teacher-evaluation policies and requirements.
So, the next time the teacher unions and their elected allies bleat for more money for their special-interest agenda, remember that there is no way to tell whether there are truly effective teachers in California’s public-school classrooms and whether we are getting education bang for our taxpayer buck.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.