Ineffective Teacher Evaluation and Staffing Systems in Los Angeles Schools

Over 99 Percent of LAUSD Teachers Are Rated “Meets Standards”

LOS ANGELES, CA – A new study finds that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) operates an ineffective teacher evaluation system that ignores differences in teacher effectiveness, preventing schools from recognizing excellence, providing useful professional development, and remediating or dismissing consistently poorly performing teachers.

The study, conducted by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national non-profit that works to ensure that poor and minority students get outstanding teachers, finds that LAUSD’s biennial up-or-down teacher evaluation system awards almost all teachers a simple passing grade of “Meets Standards.” Furthermore, the district operates under staffing policies that frequently force teachers into schools without the principal’s – or even the teacher’s – consent, causing widespread dissatisfaction among teachers and school principals. Finally, LAUSD has difficulty retaining its teachers – especially in its highest-need schools – while simultaneously losing talented new teacher applicants to surrounding districts because of late hiring. In previous research, TNTP has labeled such challenges symptoms of the “widget effect”—the tendency of the education system to treat teachers like interchangeable parts, not individual professionals.

The TNTP study, underwritten by national foundations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was conducted in collaboration with LAUSD, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) in the summer of 2008. Researchers surveyed over 4,000 current teachers, prospective teachers and principals, and reviewed staffing data and contractual policies. Findings include:

Ineffective evaluations: Less than 1 percent of teachers are rated “Below Standard,” while the remaining 99.3 percent receive “Meets Standards” ratings. As such, the ratings lack meaning, failing to identify poor performance or recognize excellence. Furthermore, rather than providing poorly performing teachers with support or dismissing them, many principals instead pass them from school to school: 62 percent of principals – including 82 percent of middle school principals – report “displacing” a teacher or encouraging a teacher to transfer on the basis of poor performance. One in three principals has non-renewed a poorly-performing teacher’s contract only to find that teacher hired later by another LAUSD school.

Forced placements: 9 in 10 teachers favor “mutual consent” staffing policies, but teachers are still force-placed. The analysis highlights the importance of respecting the consent of both teachers and schools in all teacher placements. Despite overwhelming support among teachers and principals for a move to mutual consent, lingering “must-place” and “priority list” practices in Los Angeles have required the majority of LAUSD schools to accept teachers they did not want or who were not a good fit—hampering their ability to form effective instructional teams. Los Angeles is the only one of the three largest US school districts that does not require the consent of both teachers and principals in all teacher placements.

Late hiring and inequitable attrition: 2 in 5 current teachers plan to leave the district in the next few years, but 1 in 3 new teachers is not hired until July or August. Teachers at LAUSD’s highest-poverty and lowest-performing schools are less likely to stay in the district, citing concerns about salary, cost of living or administrative support. At the same time, LAUSD squanders a large and high-quality pool of new applicants by waiting until late summer to send job offers, at which point top candidates have already accepted jobs with other districts that hire earlier. Although 90 percent of principals are satisfied with the quality of applicants recruited by LAUSD, 61 percent of principals have lost a desirable candidate because they could not make a timely offer.

The New Teacher Project stressed the seriousness of the problems facing the district at the November 5, 2009 meeting of LAUSD’s Teacher Effectiveness Task Force. The Task Force, formed in June of 2009 and led by California State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, is charged with making recommendations to improve teacher quality in LAUSD. “We all know that teachers make an enormous impact on a child’s education, but like many other districts we have studied, LAUSD ignores differences in teacher effectiveness almost entirely,” said Dan Weisberg, Vice President of Policy for TNTP. “Combined with effective staffing policies, a fair, accurate and credible evaluation system would enable stronger, more cohesive instructional teams and better feedback and professional development for teachers. It’s a win-win for students, teachers and schools.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to address these issues, including:

1. Effective evaluations. Overhaul the teacher evaluation system, building a new system around the primary goals of differentiating among teachers based on effectiveness and helping teachers to improve their instructional performance. Use the draft guidance issued by the US Department of Education in connection with the Race to the Top Fund to inform the design and implementation of teacher evaluation reform.

2. Mutual consent placements. Establish a system of “mutual consent” hiring, in which principals and teachers must agree that each placement is a “fit.” In Chicago and New York, among other cities, mutual consent has increased principal and teacher satisfaction.

3. Earlier hiring. Move up the hiring timeline and prioritize high-quality new teachers by allowing consideration of all teacher candidates for any vacancy rather than delaying external hiring until internal placements are made. Facilitate speedier HR communication with applicants and transferring teachers.

4. Focus on retention of highest-performers. Create a strategic labor-management taskforce that will be held accountable for improving retention of effective teachers in LAUSD, particularly in high poverty schools and shortage area subjects. This group will identify at-risk teacher populations and spearhead targeted interventions.

The New Teacher Project’s full analysis and an executive summary are available here.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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