Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, last year launched an effort to improve teacher effectiveness in California's public schools. He said then, "I believe the time has come for the state to ensure that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or ZIP code, have a fundamental right to be taught by an effective, qualified teacher."
His original bill would have made modest steps toward measuring teacher performance meaningfully including growth in student performance from the beginning of a school year to the end.
Unfortunately, like too many other late-session bills, Fuentes' Assembly Bill 5 has been gutted and amended so that it unrecognizable.
The new version is a bald attempt by the California Teachers Association to overturn a court decision by the Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this summer requiring teacher evaluations to include student performance. The new version also would overturn four decades of key provisions of state law on teacher evaluations.
Unbelievably, this new version has gotten some favorable comments from the Brown administration. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Gov. Jerry Brown is desperate to line up funding for his Proposition 30 tax initiative campaign. The CTA is expected to help out in a big way with contributions, but has yet to do so.
The Stull Act of 1971 requires school districts to establish standards of expected student achievement at each grade level and to evaluate teacher performance regarding student progress toward those standards. In 1999, the Stull Act was expanded to include student progress toward state standards in evaluating teachers.
In Doe v. Deasy, the judge found that the Los Angeles Unified school district had never obeyed the Stull Act in evaluating teachers. In a scathing decision he wrote, "The very purpose of the district has been turned on its head by adults focused on employment conditions and political power instead of individual performance assessment and accountability measured at least in part on whether or not children are actually progressing toward standards of expected achievement." He ordered the district to come up with a teacher evaluation system by December.
The dirty little secret is that school districts simply have not complied with existing state law in evaluating teachers.
Even with some amendments after civic groups and school districts cried foul, the hijacked AB 5 still has major flaws.
It does not require student growth toward grade-level proficiency as one of many elements in evaluating teachers. This is the critical piece.
Worse, it eliminates local school board control over establishing standards of expected student achievement at each grade level, meaning that districts would have to bargain with teacher unions on this key element. In the past, bargaining was over procedures and timelines.
Other small provisions show how far off course this bill has veered. It requires that teachers get a heads-up conference before a classroom observation. There could be no unannounced classroom visits.
California should retain the core of the Stull Act and build on it to improve teacher evaluation not gut it to curry favor with the teachers' union.
Teacher effectiveness is an extremely important issue to California. The governor and lawmakers need to do this right, to craft quality teacher evaluation legislation with broad support, not driven by one interest group.
At a minimum, the aim should be to do no harm. There is no urgency to rush this in the last week of the session. The governor should urge lawmakers to pull AB 5 back and take the time to craft a worthy teacher evaluation bill.