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A "refreshing" point-of-view

LAUSD educators gather at UCLA to discuss teacher effectiveness.

  • 07-06-2010
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by Claudia Bustamante, UCLA IDEA

workshop notes

As education reform takes center stage, the topic of teacher effectiveness and how to measure it has become a hot-button issue.

It is a key element of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which gives competitive grants to states whose reform efforts align with the administration’s interests.

At the state level, Sacramento legislators introduced a bill in April that would replace teacher seniority rules in favor of teacher “performance” when making staffing decisions.

And, around the same time, Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher effectiveness task force issued a series of recommendations, including changes to the tenure process and incentive pay.

small group discussion“These proposals are not going to disappear. We need a counter,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who spoke at a recent UCLA workshop dedicated to the topic.

To develop an effective counter-proposal, there needs to be information and discussion on the various methods currently used to gauge teacher effectiveness, Brownley said.

“Grounding the Debate,” a workshop organized by the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies’ Center X, brought together about 70 teachers and administrators to discuss some measures, such as the use of teacher portfolios, student classwork, class observations and increased parent participation.

“What has been glaringly absent are the voices of people who most know,” Tyrone Howard, Center X faculty director, said about the developments among legislators and policymakers. “We can’t allow folks who do not understand teachers and teaching to frame that discussion.”

Many participants enjoyed the opportunity to discuss teacher effectiveness without the conversation automatically turning to blame. 

"It's been refreshing to hear (about teacher evaluation) from a positive standpoint."

“It’s been refreshing to hear (about teacher evaluation) from a positive standpoint,” said Zoe Jefferson, principal of Arlington Heights Elementary School who planned to share the workshop information with her staff.

Mylene Keipp, an English and computer applications teacher from Woodrow Wilson High School, also had some ideas. Administrators already conduct classroom observations at Wilson, but she wanted teachers to visit each other with more frequency. Plus, she wanted to expand the role of parents, who could advocate for their children and hold teachers accountable.

“Parents shouldn’t be just hall monitors,” she said.

Karen Quartz, Center X research director, said the workshop provided a starting point for the local debate and a chance for schools to see how others have successfully implemented evaluation measures.

Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles was highlighted during the workshop for changes made there the past year.

In the six years Antero Garcia has been teaching at Manual Arts, the 27-year-old has seen a number of principals enter the school with lofty aspirations, only to leave the campus a year or two later just as they saw it or worse.

Now on his fifth principal, the English teacher had either few encounters or contentious relationships with previous administrators who often ignored the information of experienced teachers.

“I’ve been pretty cynical about what collaboration should look like between teachers and administrators,” he said.

But Garcia’s attitude began to change with the arrival of Manual Arts’ latest principal — Todd Irving.

Last June, the Manual Arts community capped a yearlong search for a principal. In 2008, parents and teachers voted to join the MLA partnership network through Los Angeles Unified’s iDesign Schools division, which gave the school community some autonomy and allowed them to conduct a wide-reaching search for their next top administrator.

“There was so much investment from faculty,” Garcia said. “We took a long time figuring out that this was the person we wanted to meet… and to get comfortable with who’s leading (us).”

Immediately after starting, Irving proved he would be different.

Irving made sure the school was clean every morning by asking janitors to begin their workdays earlier. He enacted an open-door policy and scheduled one-on-one meetings with every person who worked at Manual Arts—from administrators to teachers, clerks to janitors. And he wanted to ensure accountability flowed in more than one direction.

“We want to make sure we’re giving (teachers) support,” he said. “Are we holding ourselves as administrators to the same standards as teachers?”

Because the disconnect grows the further removed from classrooms, Irving made his administrators visit classrooms often to observe teachers and provide feedback.

Before seeing the kind of improvements to teaching and learning that people are pushing for, collaboration must first be present between teachers, staff and administrators. Effective collaboration relies on mutual trust and open communication. The shift at Manual Arts would not have been possible without either.

“He really spent his first few months listening, trying to understand what’s happening,” Garcia said. “As a teacher now, I feel supported. I know it’s not going to be a top-down decision.”


PHOTOS: (top) Teacher writes out notes on quality teaching during Center X workshop at UCLA in May. (bottom) Small group of teachers and administrators discuss teacher effectiveness during Center X workshop.

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