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UTLA President says union is ready to 'bargain teacher evaluation'

UTLA President Warren Fletcher
UTLA President Warren Fletcher
Grant Slater/KPCC

UTLA President Warren Fletcher says the current teacher evaluation system isn't perfect but that any new process needs to include discussion with the union.

"We're at the door, we're more than ready to bargain teacher evaluation," said Fletcher in an interview earlier this month. "Not only do we want to comply with the law, even if we didn't want to comply with the law, it's still the law. We understand that. But this needs to be something that has been developed with teachers at the table."

Fletcher is referring to a pending lawsuit against the district named Doe vs. Deasy that argues the district is not following the Stull Act, a section in state law that the lawsuit's proponents say requires standardized test scores be used as a measure in evaluating teacher performance.

"I have an unbroken string of Stull evaluations, and I can guarantee you I'm not that good a teacher," Fletcher said. "Maybe I'm OK, but we have a system that doesn't provide support, doesn't do the things that an evaluation system is supposed to do.

"Right now, you basically have a binary system and it doesn't identify where I need help. It doesn't distinguish between the needs of a second year teacher, the needs of a 10th year teacher, and the needs of a 15th year teacher, and how we have to evaluate differently. It doesn't take any of that into account. It doesn't have a lot of value, the current system. And so, if you take that and you append onto it peoples' so-called value added scores, then that will be the entire evaluation."

Fletcher grew up attending L.A. Unified schools in El Sereno and has been a teacher with the district for 29 years. He most recently taught English at City of Angels School. He said especially given the last few years of constant cuts and the issuing of thousands of preliminary pink slips, it "has never been more challenging to be an LAUSD teacher" than it is right now.

L.A. Unified currently has a pilot program in place for teachers who have volunteered to be evaluated with its value-added system. The union strongly opposes the program, but Superintendent John Deasy has said he hopes to roll out the system to the rest of the district. In an interview in April, Deasy said he has had discussions about the evaluation system and hoped to come to an agreement with UTLA about it. 

"We just have a differing opinion, and the opinion differs most specifically on the multiple measures [that should be used for evaluating teachers]," Deasy said in the interview. "And we would use like in every place over time a balanced approach at taking a look at how students do over time as part of the measure."

Deasy said the district wants to work on rolling out such an evaluation system with the union.

"We want to do that so collaboratively we really do," Deasy said. "But not doing it is not okay."

But Fletcher said the school board and superintendent "imposed" the pilot program.

"They unilaterally designed a system that may or may not be good, but we didn't have any say or any view of what it was about,"

UTLA completed its own detailed proposal for an evaluation system in March, Fletcher said. He said the union is waiting to work together with the district to produce an evaluation system.

"You have to understand, if only the union wrote the evaluation system, it probably wouldn't be a very good system," Fletcher said. "If only management wrote the evaluation system, it probably wouldn't be a very good system. There's a reason you want both of them in there, so you have those counterbalanced interests, and you get something that makes sense professionally and instructionally and institutionally for each school district's specific needs and demographics."

Fletcher also contends that "as a practical matter, standardized test scores are part of the evaluation system."

But that there's also the issue of degrading instruction if you make test scores a big part of teachers' performance evaluations, Fletcher said. He said teachers would be incentivized to teach to the test, rather than provide quality lessons.

Judith Perez, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, said the evaluation forms currently include a section that asks if the teacher uses student test data to improve instruction. "Now to me that's use of student test data," she said.

Perez also said one problem with using specifically the California Standards Tests to evaluate teachers is that the data is not available until months after the deadline for when teacher evaluations must be done each year. But she said that other data, such as the school report cards mandated by the state, already serve as information for administrator reviews.

"If we want to look at redesigning the evaluation system to make it more holistic, to make it more supportive of teachers at different points in their careers, to do all of those things, we want to be part of that discussion," Fletcher said.

"We're certainly not saying the current system is perfect. I'd love to see it improved, and I'd love to see it in a way that's compliant with the law. But right now, we're at the door and we can't get in."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).