There are big differences in how well Los Angeles' teachers help their students learn, a new study shows — bigger variations than in other districts, where teaching quality appears more even. The study also indicates that teachers in the L.A. Unified School District who receive advanced degrees aren't more effective than others, but those with national board certification are. The district's program for training teachers, pulling mostly from its ranks of classroom aides, produces more effective teachers than those who come from traditional teacher colleges, and they're much more likely to stay with the district than recruits from the prestigious Teach for America organization.
This six-year study of L.A. Unified depends on reliable, robust test data — using it to measure classifications of teachers rather than individuals — to provide a wealth of sometimes surprising information on how to recruit, assign, pay and, when necessary, lay off teachers in ways that help students most. Often the obstacle to doing so is the contract with the teachers union — but not always. The study was conducted by the Harvard-affiliated Strategic Data Program, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Despite the study's link to that reform-minded foundation, though, its conclusions don't always mesh with a reform agenda.