A lawsuit recently filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) accuses the district of breaking California state law by failing to take student achievement into account during teacher evaluations. Filed by educational reform advocates in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the parents of six LAUSD students, the suit also originally named the teachers’ union and LAUSD superintendent John Deasy as defendants.
Although California’s Stull Act explicitly states that schools must consider student achievement as part of a teacher’s performance, the suit claims that the LAUSD ignored the law in favor of the terms of the district’s union contract. Instead, the district allegedly conducted only cursory evaluations that consisted of a brief, previously announced visit by a principal to observe a pre-determined lesson. The parents charge that these evaluations are ineffective and result in the failure of only one percent of the teachers who undergo them.
The lawsuit came at a critical juncture for the district, which is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract with the teachers’ union. Although a tentative agreement between the schools and the union was reached shortly after the trial date was set for June of 2012, the agreement made no mention of the evaluation process.
There is little doubt that changes are needed to California’s education system. One in three California students fail to complete high school and many colleges are compelled to offer remedial education to entering freshmen. Enforcing compliance with existing laws would seem to be a reasonable place to start.
Bill Lucia of EdVoice, which filed the suit, has said that the vast majority of California’s schools utilize evaluation procedures that violate the state’s education code. This may be at least partially due to the fact that the unions have a track record of vigorously fighting all attempts to judge the performance of teachers based on the progress of their students. If the LAUSD loses the current suit, it will have little choice but to bring its procedures for evaluating teachers into line with the law. However, California law does not specify how much emphasis a district should put on student performance when evaluating the performance of teachers, leaving observers to speculate as to what effect a victory for the plaintiffs will have.