The Los Angeles Unified School District and three local charter-school groups have won federal grants to develop their teacher and principal evaluation systems, the U.S. Department of Education has announced.
L.A. Unified, California's largest school system, will receive $16 million, one of the largest grants. But the top prize in dollars, more than $23 million, went to the District of Columbia Public Schools, a system less than one-eighth the size of L.A. Unified.
The local charter schools that landed the funds were Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (nearly $2.2 million), Aspire Public Schools (nearly $12 million) and Green Dot Public Schools (nearly $2 million).
All the winners already have new evaluation systems underway or in development. The charter organizations have benefited from substantial support provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The L.A. proposal envisions creating a "career ladder" to reward the best teachers with promotions and higher pay. The most controversial aspect of L.A. Unified's plan is its decision to include student progress on standardized test scores as one measure of a teacher's effectiveness. The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has mounted a legal challenge to the plan.
"A key factor in the success of these new pay systems is having labor and management cooperation in their development and implementation," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "In many cases this happened, but we are disappointed that some applicants … did not seek meaningful input from their local teachers union."
In L.A., the union participated in a task force but differed on the plan itself and declined to back it.
Weingarten added: "Time will tell whether these programs will provide ongoing systems of professional development and support for teachers, or simply incentivize top-down, ill-conceived and poorly implemented policies that do nothing to improve teaching or learning."
Among the California winners, only Green Dot's evaluation system has achieved official endorsement — albeit narrow — from a teachers union. Alliance and Aspire are non-union operations.
"We are proud of our record of working collaboratively with our teachers," Green Dot Chief Executive Marco Petruzzi said in a statement.
There were 35 winning applications nationally.
The District of Columbia is among the school systems with the most developed evaluation system, although it has remained controversial.
There, officials predicted that by the end of the 2016-17 school year, at least 90% of teachers and principals will be "highly effective" or "effective" under its ratings.