Last week’s Dropout Nation report on the possible lawsuit being brought on behalf of seven families by Barnes & Thornburg over the Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher evaluations has turned from a letter to reality. Today, the families filed for declaratory relief, asking California’s superior court to bar the district from striking a new collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Teachers’ City of Angels local that doesn’t provide for the use of student test data in future teacher evaluations. The lawsuit is also asking the court to put an injunction on related legal action between the district and the AFT that is before the state’s Public Employees Relations Board.
As Dropout Nation reported Friday, the demands are based on the Parent Power activists’ interpretation of the state’s Stull Act, which governs teacher evaluations. As Barnes & Thornburg partners Kyle Kirwan and Scott Witlin argue in the brief (and in an earlier demand letter to the district), the Stull Act required L.A. Unified to use data from the state’s “criterion reference test” in evaluating teachers. But it hasn’t done so. Witlin also argues that L.A. Unified has also failed to provide its teachers provide meaningful and specific feedback on performance as required under Stull, and help laggard teachers improve their instruction. In essence, the district hasn’t followed the law for the last 40 years.
The assertions follow along the lines of a report released earlier this year by the National Council on Teacher Quality based on a study it conducted for the United Way’s City of Angels operation and a group of civil rights groups earlier this year. According to the study, just 40 percent of veteran teachers and 70 percent of new hires were evaluated by the district during the 2009-2010 school year. NCTQ does note that L.A. Unified’s evaluation procedures do follow the letter of state law, but argues that the district hasn’t made the evaluations more-thorough and of better use for teachers and principals alike, even though state law does allow the district to do so. For example, California moved two years ago to allow student test data to be tied into teacher performance as part of the development of the now-kiboshed CALTIDES data systems. And, as Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume reported yesterday, L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy thinks that the Stull Act allows the district much leeway in structuring performance management.
The parents are being helped out by EdVoice, a Sacramento, Calif., outfit whose board includes school reformer Eli Broad. Certainly, education traditionalists will argue that this is some nefarious plot by big-moneyed folks. But one must keep in mind that AFT and its L.A. affiliate are big-money players themselves. Earlier this year, the AFT tossed $10,000 to fund the Save Our Schools rally, which touted itself as a grassroots effort; it, along with the NEA, financed half of the rally’s budget.
Whatever happens, the lawsuit serves as another example of parents pushing to reform American public education by any means necessary. The Connecticut Parents Union, for example, has helped Marie Menard, file suit against the Stratford school district after it charged her with what can laughingly be called stealing education for allowing her daughter to claim her home as a residence for her two grandchildren in order to avoid sending them to failure mills. The very idea that we continue to restrict children from getting a high-quality education by where they live — and perpetuate Zip Code education — is absolutely senseless. It’s time for more parents to take to the courts, the ballot boxes, and to the streets for their kids.