In a recent article on education, the Los Angeles Times has sought to reduce one of the most complex and important issues facing public education to an oversimplified theme: California, under the undue influence of its teachers union, has gone rogue and refused to support President Obama’s “vision” for education.
Evan Halper’s June 20th article in the Los Angeles Times, “California holds out against Obama’s education vision”, is indicative of the continuing failure of the LA Times’ obligation to be unbiased. Beginning with the subheading, “The state has made a rare break with the administration, refusing to follow its lead on evaluating teachers, in a standoff that reflects a union’s lasting influence”, the article takes a series of jabs at the teachers of California while thoughtlessly endorsing the flawed education policies of the Obama administration.
This article is an opinion piece masquerading as news. It is laced with phrasing like, “defiantly refused to follow the administration’s lead in grading the performance of teachers”, and “resolved to stand firm, regardless of the consequences”. The article refers to this position as “delusional” and “obstinacy” and accuses California of “throwing sand in the gears”, while referring CTA as a “generous” donor to the campaigns of Democrats in California. It implies that the 300,000 teachers in the state of California unduly exert our will on California education policies, and now Governor Brown is holding firm against tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.
Mr. Halper’s article entirely fails to address why California would stand firm on this issue.
1) There is no research that indicates that tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluation improves student achievement. It does lead to more test prep for tests that bear no relationship to college or the work force preparation students need in the 21st Century.
2) Efforts to tie standardized test scores to teacher evaluation for non-tested subjects (e.g. the arts, foreign language, physical education) have been disastrous — just run a quick query for issues in Tennessee or Florida, where teachers are being evaluated on the standardized test scores of students they have never taught.
3) Tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations puts at a disadvantage teachers of students who speak English as their second language and teachers working with students with special needs.
4) Standardized tests are often poorly written. Students and teachers routinely report problematic answer choices, and poorly worded or misleading questions.
To accurately address evaluation issues, districts must ensure that evaluators are adequately and properly trained in meaningful evaluation processes. Teachers must have time for and access to quality professional development. The number of evaluators must be sufficient to ensure that each evaluation is not merely a cursory summary that affects a teacher’s entire career. Evaluations must be responsive to local contexts, include all educators, and vary based on the work they do with children. It should support and elevate the work of all employees — not simply, to quote Mr. Halper, “reward the best teachers and punish the worst.”
The LA Times has joined the ranks of other news organizations inappropriately offering opinions rather than reporting the facts on public education. In doing so, they have failed in their primary purpose: a neutral presentation of the stories that shape our world. The insertion of their opinion in this issue makes public discourse and real efforts at improvement that much more difficult.
I have twice emailed Evan Halper to share my concerns and talk about the work SJTA and CTA are doing to improve outcomes for students. He has not responded.
The teachers of California would like to discuss these issues with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as well as Mr. Halper and his editors. We would like to discuss the questions on the minds of millions of America’s educators, such as: Why is there an effort to force a policy that is unsubstantiated by research and contradicts the experiences and achievements of outstanding educational institutions in our country, and across the globe?
Uninformed by appropriate research or experience, the opinions expressed in this article and others are those of people choosing the wrong answers.