Battle Over Teacher Evaluations Jeopardizes School Funding

By Oscar Duenas Source:

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), along with five other California school districts, have applied for a waiver that would exempt them from fulfilling the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and allow the school districts to follow the California Office to Reform (CORE) instead. The No Child Left Behind Act requires 20% of a district’s federal funding to be allocated to private tutoring and other services to help students that are in “failing schools,” and requires students to “test proficient in math and reading by 2014 or face a series of interventions.” The waiver was first granted in 2013 and this application would extend the waiver for three more years.

School districts across the nation have expressed concern over the 20% allocation requirement and believe that the money could be spent more effectively if each district had more control over the allocations. LAUSD has previously used that money for summer school programs that were cut significantly in the past decade. The waiver would give the school districts the jurisdiction over the funds, but with the condition that teachers would be evaluated using a three-tier system.

Unfortunately, disagreements between the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union and LAUSD have put $57 million of federal funding at risk. According to the Los Angeles Times, the teachers’ unions would rather have teaching evaluations streamlined to a two-tier evaluation system in which teachers would either “meet standard performance” or be “below standard performance.” LAUSD currently follows federal regulations that require a minimum of three-tiers when evaluating teaching performance.

The prolonged negotiations between UTLA and LAUSD have become a large problem because UTLA has yet to clarify why it prefers a two-tier evaluation system. There is speculation that indicates the teacher union would prefer a two-tier system because it increases job protection, but the union has made no explicit remarks on the subject. The situation is problematic for LAUSD and the other five California districts applying for the waiver because if UTLA does not agree to the three-tier evaluation system, the waiver application will not be accepted and LAUSD will lose jurisdiction of 20% of its federal funding, which would amount to 171 million dollars over the next three years.

When the waiver was first granted in 2013, the school district established a four-tier evaluation system; however, according to LA School Report, the teachers’ union indicated that it never agreed to that evaluation system. The union presented the issue to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and it demanded UTLA and LAUSD to renegotiate the evaluation system.

Along with a two-tier evaluation system, UTLA, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, is also demanding a 8.5 percent pay increase and also wants the school district to “hire an estimated 5,081 additional counselors, nurses, and librarians.”

Ultimately, UTLA needs to realize the risk at hand. Teacher evaluations are crucial to determine which teachers are doing a satisfactory job. At the same time, it is important to take a look at the big picture and realize that over half a million of students’ education is at risk if the union does not accept the three-tier evaluation system that CORE requires.

The deadline to submit the waiver application was on March 31, and despite the ongoing negotiations, all sides are working together to reach an agreement. Both sides will continue negotiations when they meet with a federal mediator in April.