City Journal Autumn 2014

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Larry Sand
A 40-Year Shame « Back to Story

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Your facts are wrong. The Stull Act requires that student progress (not necessarily test scores) be taken into account in evaluating a teacher. Although the Los Angeles Unified School District ignored this law, many other districts did not.

For many years I worked in a suburban district in Los Angeles County. Every other year I had my "Stull Evaluation." I would take evidence of student progress (test scores, compositions, student work) into the principal's office and she would review it. In addition to that, I would invite her into my classroom frequently so she could observe student progress first hand.

As the principal of the school, the administrator had a legal right to look at the cumulative folders of every child, if she chose to do so. She did not need the permission of the union or of me.

Surely you must know that a union or an individual teacher does not have the ability to ignore a law. While I did not particularly enjoy being evaluated, I could not say, "You will not evaluate me" or "I don't want you to consider the progress of the students." All the unions could do was to make certain evaluation procedures were followed according to the contract agreed upon by the district and teachers. That did NOT include the content of the evaluation,which is the legal responsibility of the administrator.

The fact is that the Stull Act was ignored by administrators for forty years and that's why John Deasy's name is mentioned in the lawsuit.
Can teacher's likewise sue parents or students when they do not comply with sending their students to school prepared? Fed, properly dressed, respectful and cooperative attitude, homework done, not abused or high? Student achievement is not solely dependant upon the teacher but to a greater extent on the home and on the individual student. Teachers cannot be held 100% culpable. Tbey should be judged on the opportunity they provide. It is ultimately up to the student to seize the opportunity at hand.
Bemis:

My previous comment was based on the premise that teachers are not comparable to car washers, whose job after all is to clean an inanimate object using standardized procedures that for the most part can be performed almost as well by machinery. Nor do I think teachers should be evaluated in the same way as lawyers, whose competence is rightly measured in terms of winning cases (or at least doing the best that can be reasonably expected in order to win) and saving clients' money. Teaching is not a "win or lose" occupation. It's about about doing the best one can to pass along knowledge, foster curiosity, reward self-disciplne and effort, to name a few.

As for hospital workers: Do you nurses' professional competence be measured in terms of comparative RESULTS, i.e. how many patients under their care recover or improve, compared to the rate of recovery or improvement of patients under the care of their fellow nurses? MIght not that amount to an unfair comparison, since not all patients have the same illnesses?

Most schools have always had a mix of good, bad, and mediocre teachers, since time immemorial.

Evaluating them is bound to be largely a subjective affair.
Montrealman:

The claim was made that objective reviews of teachers are not possible because they are not " ....uninfluenced by favoritism, political agendas, misguided theories of education, or simply poor judgement."

People in the real world know that all of those limitations neeed to be accounted for, and they are-- in every occupation except those infested with a unionized barrier to accountability.

I am sorry you feel compelled to ignore the evidence (rubber rooms, poor teachers, slumping graduation rates), but its a normal reaction when an unjustified privilege is threatened. I understand you.

Your professed claim to welcome parental review is transparently false: no teacher's union welcomes parents, since their goals are opposite. Parents seek to protect and advance students. Unions seek only to feather their own nest, do less and less work and remain away from the slightest whiff of accountability.

This is my last post: you can return to your effort to defend the indefensible.




Bemis (Jan. 24, 1:08PM)

May I call you "Bevis?" Thanks.

As I said before, I'm not going to go up and down with you, Bevis. It appears, in addition to your anti-union zeal and lynch-mob mentality, that you are seriously cognitively impaired.

For example, ML never said that it was "beyond the ability of anyone to evaluate a teacher." What he did say - are you paying attention Bevis? - was that any such assessment is not to be considered completely "objective" since other factors played into his evaluation. You see, Bevis, teaching, unlike the other activities you list - those of law firms, hospitals, banks and car washes (!) - DO have clear objective criteria of evaluation, things like success in court, money, bodily health and, my favourite, a clean car. On the other hand, Bevis, teaching might be considered of a high quality even though the so-called "objective results" (i.e., student passes) were not spectacular. You see, Bevis, teaching involves interaction with students who are extremely variable in nature and ability while, in the case of the activities you list are not and, as a consequence, ARE susceptible to objective (no quotation marks) evaluation. I realize that you will not understand this Bevis, since you have no idea of what it means to teach. You are even unable to define the term but, as I have previously said, in your view that presents no obstacle to the majesty of your evaluation.

In any case, Bevis, and once again as I previously said, I am not against teacher evaluation as long as it is not conducted by zealots with an agenda like yours. And I'm not shouting Bevis. I'm just practicing acceptable pedagogical techniques like patiently explaining the situation to one who is suffering from severe cognitive deficiency. And I can tell you, Bevis, that the task is not easy.

Now Bevis, will you go away?
ML, I must reject your assertion as misguided in the extreme. You cannot imagine a way--not one at all-that teachers can be objectively evaluated. So you concludes none exists.

Mind you, more demanding profesions evaluate people all the time, but ML believes its just beyond the ability of anyone to evaluate a teacher. Of course he is right in stating that differing assessments would be used to measure performance in classes of immigrants who barely speak english, versus AP's and the like.

But only an "educator" or union shill would find that a barrier.

Performance is assessed all the time for supervisors at law firms, hospitals, banks and car washes, scattered across the 9 million square miles of the US, in 50 states, in different areas, with different laws, varying populations and income areas.

So varying groups of people do not prevent an assessment of who is doing well. Except of course, if one choses to cover your ears and deny the obvious.

Meanwhile Montrealman weighs in with more of the same: loudness, insults and assertins but no facts. The typical union guy, threatening to break your windshield if you don't agree with him.

He does not deny the rubber rooms in NY and LA, or the dry rot teachers on the payrolls of city schoools protected by union tenture rules. He can't because everyone knows they exist. And they exist at the demand of unions, to elevate the interests of lazy, incompetent and just plain greedy adults over the children the schools were intended to serve.

Unions are afraid of parents: they have never found a form of substantive parent input they could agree with. And we all know why.

Unions think so much of the kids, they even negotiate for rules that allow New York school custodians to clean restrooms less often than before--"for the kids" don't you know.


How did the US educate its children before Unions secured a strangehold on the schools? Very well and without subordinating the kids to the unions. What was the US literacy rate before unions? Higher.

Montrealman, everyone knows the truth: you can't hide it by shouting. Your time is up.
Bemis (Jan. 23, 7:49PM)

Bemis, I'm not going to go up and down with you on teachers' unions. I'm not against teacher evaluation - I think it's necessary and beneficial to those who matter most, the students - but I am against right-wing vigilantes like you who want to "string 'em high." Thank God for the unions which protect teachers from people like you.

Of course, I addressed your "main point," Bemis, that of parental control. For the most part, parents are fine but - wait for it Bemis - they're parents and as such will believe anything little Johnny says, particularly when it reflects the sort of charges brought by people like you. But it's not just about the caricature of lazy, incompetent teachers, Bemis. I've had parents complain about me because I was too demanding! In fact, two students I have in mind were so outraged that they just grabbed their books and WALKED OUT. A little self-entitled, don't you think, Bemis? And then the parents concerned started a letter-writing campaign against me. But Bemis, they were just sort of folks. They wanted a lynching, but were foiled. And the union, by the way Bemis, was never involved. Just me, the anonymous letter-writers and the principal.

There is no "implied conclusion" of mine that all parents are incompetent or hostile to teachers. That's just another one of your venomous accusations, Bemis. But the fact remains that they, like you, are just parents and not teachers. There is a difference, you know but you will never admit it.

Now, Bemis, will you go away?


ML (2:30AM)

"To assume that student performance will turn out to provide a meaningful and objective measure of a teacher's professional competence is about as naive as thinking that 'supervisors'' "objective reports" are as a rule objective - that is - uninfluenced by favoritism, political agendas, misguided theories of education, or simply poor judgement."

I nearly fell off my chair when I read that, ML. Congratulations! Maybe you could speak to Bemis but, on second thought, don't bother. It was, however, a pleasure to read a reflective comment on the issue. (I'm not so sure about those "misguided theories of education" - I didn`t realize that supervisors had any such theories, misguided or otherwise - but we can save that for another time.) Thanks again!


Sand gives no argument that would show that incorporating student performance as a basis for teacher evaluation woud NOT risk "grave injustice." He merely ASSUMES that it would pose no risk of injustice, and goes on to repeat the tired refrain (perhaps a half-truth, but in any case irrelevant to the substance of the issue) that teachers' unions are chiefly interested in protecting their membership, at the expense of long-suffering children.

As a retired teacher myself, I know all too well that students' performance depends to a large extent on factors beyond their teacher's control. Imagine you teach in a big public high school. If you're lucky enough to be assigned to classes - perhaps Advanced Placement or "Honors"- in which the majority of students are bright, prepared, motivated, and supported at home, you'll obviously have a huge head start with respect to standardized test results, grades, student involvement and enthusiasm, and parental satisfaction. But if you're asigned to classes (in the same school) that are lower-functioning to begin with, you'll enjoy no such head start.

To assume that student performance will turn out to provide a meaningful and objective measure of a teacher's professional competence is about as naive as thinking that supervisors' "observation reports" are as a rule objective- that is, uninfluenced by favoritism, political agendas, misguided theories of education, or simply poor judgment. It's worth keeping in mind that supervisors, even more so than teachers, are very likely to be captives of the falied policies and theories that have afflicted public education for decades.

Finally, Sand should be reminded that standardized tests administered by the state of New York have been progressively dumbed down in the last few decades (especially since the No Child Left Behind legislation came into effect), so as to make it appear that more children are passing muster- a point made more than once in articles appearing in City Journal.
Montrealman:

The examples I gave a quite real, and of course, you haven't addressed them.

You cannot speak loudly enough or insult me enough to hide what everyone knows is true. In a rare and much needed agreement, liberals, conservatives, republicans and hard core democrats like Mayor Cuomo have realized that teacher's unions are the primary cause of slumping public schools, and the main barrier to reform.

New York City's "rubber room" was written up in the New Yorker and the New York Times--neither an enemy of unions. The Los Angeles Times-a media shill for state employee unions--nontheless tired of slumming for teachers unions and exposed the same insanity in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Even California's legislature--dominated by democrats-voted to provide a "parent trigger law" that enables parents at poorly performing schools to essentially "retake the school" by ousting the administration and teachers. Why you think the Legislature passed that law?

The tenure granted to teachers, often after a mere two years is a terrible union rule, that removes accountability. After tenure, it is near impossible to fire a teacher. You don't challenge that. You can't. No other profession seeks to insulate itself from accountability like that.

The Unions in Los Angeles bitterly resisted every proposal to assess teachers on some objective basis: graduation rates, test scores, class performance-all resisted by the Unions. Why? Because "no one" according to unions, can really "evaluate" a teacher.

According to unions, no parent no matter how well educated and how diligent in their child's life can possibly tell the difference between a lazy, careless teacher and a great one. Needless to say, even the kids know this is preposterous: the kids can: they know who is good, lazy and crazy.

The stench of the ongoing subordination of the kids to the interests of terrible teachers even caught the attention of the Obama Education Department. It began to offer funds tied to some teacher accountability. LA's mayor, a former union organizer, acted in the same way. Good for them: they finally made some moves to put the children first.

You also fail to address my main point: if parents--who ARE interested in the children's education--were given control, good teachers would be paid more and bad teachers given orders to shape up. The ludicrous teachers "credential" would be eliminated in favor of teachers that know more about their topics and can teach them well.

Your implied conclusion that all parents are incompetent or hostile to teachers is more of the same attitude that everyone in the US knows by now.

The rapid move in New Orleans to establish new schools with new teachers- not indifferent unionized types who had done so much to ruin the education of the children there--is a sign of how fast paents will act to oust unions when they can.

I do not have the interests of the teachers at heart. I have the interests of the children at heart.

Good teachers have no reason to be concerned: they have been valued by Americans from the days of the single room school house built by those bumpkins you despise, who wanted an education for their child.

Americans have spared no expense for their children's education. But they see what the problem is now. Its not the teachers. Its the unions. Unions are the problem.
Bemis (Jan. 23, 3:45PM)

"All unions do is protect the worst teachers, and institutionalize incompetence."

Now I can tell you're a liberal kind of guy, Bemis, and have the interests of the teachers at heart. But - and this is going to be a big step for you Bemis - can you provide one - yes ONE - actual example of unions protecting the worst teachers and institutionalizing incompetence? No, I didn't think so. In other words, Bemis, your post is just another usual right-wing, crush-the-teacher-unions rant.

Your bit about parents having been excluded from "evaluating, rewarding, or penalizing teachers" sends shivers up my spine, Bemis. Just inagine some poor teacher being evaluated, rewarded, or penalized by a crypto-fascist like you. You wouldn't be able even to define "teaching," would you Bemis but, in your own eyes, that would present no obstacle to assuming your regulatory position.

I don't know about Caifornia but in Quebec parents (parent's commitees) and volunteers (library, cafeteria) take an active role in the educational process. But as far as lawyers, novelists, Steve Jobs and all the rest are concerned, Bemis, how do you know that they would have made good teachers? Oh, I forgot, you have no reasons because you don't even know what the exercise of teaching involves. Like I say, you can't even define the verb.

Go away, Bemis.
If it were up to parents, we'd double the pay of the good teachers, and lay off a lot of administrators and bad teachers. Schools would exist for kids, not the administrators or teachers. But that is not the parental "role" LAUSD or the Unions want.

Parents have been excluded from all aspects of the public schools in California.

They are excluded from evaluating, rewarding, or penalizing teachers. That is confined to long, expensive arbitrations where unions must approve the arbitrator.

We all know how well those work: NY had its "rubber-room," and Los Angeles had its similar room, full of teachers that had to be paid, but were too dangerous or incompetent to teach. None could be fired.

What would parents do if they had input? It wouldn't take years and millions to fire a teacher, that's for sure.

The spectacle of indifferent, incompetent and feckless substitute teachers is a given. Yet parents cannot teach, no matter how qualified they are and how bad a substitute might be. A lawyer-parent with a stellar reputation cannot teach introduction to law; a successful novelist cannot teach a writing class; and Steve Jobs when he was alive could not teach "how to start a business." Because the law requires an "education credential." So a substitute teacher with a teaching degree from a nowhere college, who never started a business, is "qualified" to teach and Steve Jobs was not. Ask any parent what they would have decided if given the choice between Mr. Jobs and an indifferent substitute teacher.

Nor can parents volunteer at school. The Calif. Education Code prohibits the use of unpaid volunteers to do work within the allocated scope of a union. Have unions agreed to let volunteers serve in libraries to compensate for budget cuts? What do you think? What do you think the parents would do if they could?

But somehow, its the fault of everyone else that LAUSD has a 50% drop out rate for some groups.

Parents who do want a say flee to private schools, Catholic Schools or west side schools when they can.

Most of the successful students have parents who sacrifice time, and money to assist their kids. They don't need LAUSD. The questions that ought to be asked are "if LAUSD needs the parents, why do parents need a unionized core of tenured teachers?" "How come the Catholic schools do so well with poor kids?"

Before the 1970's California Schools were excellent: and non-union. All the unions do is protect the worst teachers, and institutionalize incompetence. They want the schools to function for teachers, not the kids.



Thank God for teacher unions! Otherwise we would be at the mercy of people like Larry Sand and the other right-wing union-bashers who have commented here. One illiterate fascist even wanted to have "hunting liberals" as a "true past (sic) time."

While teacher evaluation cannot be divourced (that's Canadian spelling if you're wondering) entirely from student performance - there must be at least some correspondence - to base it entirely or even largely on those purportedly perfect standardized tests (who makes them up, anyway?) is not only to completely de-skill teachers who would then simply "teach-to-the-test" but also to eviscerate education itself. Education, properly understood, relates not to some sort of narrow job preparation - that's called "training" - but to the cultivation of the mind.

The question then becomes, "What is teaching?" Have any commenters, to say nothing of Larry Sanders, ever attempted to answer that question in a systematic and reflective manner? I doubt it.

The unions run things now. I feel sorry for teachers. The educational system is sloppy, political and wastes the children's time and our money. I homeschooled my daughter, while working full time(& paying my property taxes). She graduated several years ago from a private college and is doing fine in this terrible economy, partly because she understands her education and her livelihood depend on her and not some robotron-mommy society that wants her to show up to do nothing for 8 hours and pay her just enough to be dependent. Schools don't inform our students, they patronize and brainwash them with the current populist thinking of the day. Standards? just read a 4th grade reader from the 1800's & compare the reading material given today and it's clear education isn't the real priority.
Obviously the children will not benefit. California liberalism has been slowly committing suicide for nearly forty years.

Parents are lazy and kids have been allowed to do as they please. This is in large part to the liberal agenda of no expectations.

Let us hope California collapses and america follows suit so we can rise from the ashes a new and better nation.

One where hunting liberals is a true past time.
I am not a teacher and there are no teachers in my family but I am a product of 12 years of LA Unified and I got a good education.
In all the complaints I've heard about LAUSD, never has there been a word about parental responsibility or student responsibility. Teacher evals s/b modified by how much and how often children have done their homework - this has nothing to do with the teachers. When I was a child, it was unthinkable to come to school without having completed one's homework. I seriously doubt that the current cohort of kids does that, and the only party to blame is the parents. We also didn't have the high drop-out rates. Again, I blame the students and their parents.
Get real: it is politically incorrect to ask parents to do their jobs as parents, so the teachers get blamed. I don't buy it.
Have to agree with Andrew - why is it, for example, that Asian students consistently outperform every other group?

The answer to the foregoing is simple - Asian students come from stable families where the cultural imperative is focused on education. It's the same reason why Jewish students of a generation or two ago outperformed everyone else - stable family, cultural imperative favoring education. Such students can perform no matter who is teaching them.

Children from single parent families in a culture or immersed in popular culture, which places little or no real value on education, do not do well - I have noticed this anecdotally - are there any studies to support this assertion? It wouldn't be surprising if there is little research in this area, since the likely conclusion would go against the interests of the political party which reigns supreme in most of the cities. But why else? It can't all be "bad teachers."

In fact, this issue pits two Democratic interest groups against each other - the teachers union versus the vested interests of the dependency State and poverty industry, both of which would be happy to be able to blame teachers for the dismal performance of, for example, African Americans in public schools (and to even mention this goes against the political correctness conditioning which the Democratic media has striven so hard to make part of the national character, all in an effort to protect black Democratic leaders who for half a century have failed to achieve success in their community - did you cringe when you read these assertions? - if so that is your conditioning talking).

But back to the article. The critical and basic question is whether teachers unions have been a positive force for education or not? The answer is no, among many other things for the reasons set forth in this article. But, teachers unions have been allowed to donate money - huge amounts of money to Democrats who in return for this money protect the union interests uber alles.

But, teachers unions are entirely a creature of state statute - in other words, what the state legislature can give, it can take away.
At the very least, the legislature can forbid unions from making political donations - or compel unions to donate more equally, since in practice the donations are going only to Democrats, which (surprise!) has corrupted the political process.
And no one is even talking about this simple solution to a practice that causes so much harm - why aren't the Republicans talking about this?

Of course, Democrats, being the beneficiary of this corrupt practice on the part of teachers and other public unions would never agree to something which would result is taking a huge funding hit. So the corrupt practices continue...to the detriment of education.


As a long-time conservative teacher in an urban district, it amazes me how the emphasis on "individual responsibility" goes out the window when it comes to education.

Learning CANNOT occur without the diligence of the student, no matter how good the teacher. As our society becomes more and more an entitlement society, students have fewer incentives to work hard (learning gets harder the farther one goes) and subsequently, very few make any effort beyond or including regular attendance.

Until there are consequences (direct or otherwise) for poor performance in school, achievement will NOT improve.

Additionally we must offer alternative paths for the multitudes who are not, through ability or choice, college material. Vocational training must be available for those who for whatever reason do not go the college route.

While there are certainly some poor teachers (as in any profession), they are a small minority, and if the students were active in their own learning, such teachers would stand out more clearly from their peers. QUIT BLAMING TEACHERS for the decline of education.
Teachers' unions are a menace to society. Period. They are run by unprincipled thugs who are only interested in keeping the dues stream coming. The children be damned.
How DARE that gang of anonymous parents ruffle the union featherbed!
> "...in a state where one-third of all students drop out before completing high school ..."

One of the stupidest features of our current discourse about schools is blaming the schools, teachers, society etc. for dropouts.