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Grading the Teachers

The door to instructor accountability edges open in the LAUSD

September 14, 1997

Los Angeles teachers, who have gone years without a raise, deserve the 10% boost over three years agreed to by the L.A. Unified School District and the teachers union. That deal, which must be ratified by teachers union members, also makes an unprecedented promise: Teachers, for the first time, will discuss being held accountable for their performance. That small step represents progress, but it will prove meaningless unless the school board and the superintendent hold out for real consequences.

Teachers--and principals--should be held accountable for student achievement, and that includes test scores. Those who excel should be rewarded with raises and other incentives. Those who fail despite efforts to aid them should be dismissed. It should be that simple, but it is not. The primary reason is the teachers union's unbalanced power in the school district.

No real accountability can exist unless union protections are relaxed. If not, ineffective teachers and principals will continue to fail without consequence to their livelihood but with dire consequences to pupils.

The leader of the teachers union, United Teachers-Los Angeles President Day Higuchi, supports voluntary peer review, the process of master teachers evaluating other instructors. The teachers union and the union representing administrators and principals also have agreed to limited intervention--sending teams of outstanding educators into low-achieving schools to help teachers and principals. But if that help does not improve the performance of inadequate teachers and principals, they should be fired. Currently they are most often sent to another campus, which moves a problem but doesn't solve it.

To boost student achievement, other districts have improved teacher training, implemented peer review and provided incentives for individual teachers or individual campuses. In Los Angeles, principals and teachers should be rewarded for improving test scores, boosting attendance, increasing the transfer rate from bilingual to English-only classes, reducing discipline problems and improving campus safety. Progress is relative because some schools have very poor, highly transient populations and are located in dangerous, distracting environments. Even so, every school can improve. Those that do should be rewarded.

A majority of the school board and Supt. Ruben Zacarias are on record as being in favor of increasing accountability in the classroom, but there has been no public push to link raises with achievement.

The economic boom that will fund teacher raises is also allowing other overdue improvements, such as buying more textbooks, renovating shabby schools and building new ones. All this will benefit students. But the district needs to take that last step of making performance count. It's a step that would go far toward restoring confidence in our lagging schools.

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