LA Times Piece Documents Harms of Seniority-Based Layoffs

December 6, 2010

The LA Times has another great article based on the analysis they have conducted with a RAND researcher on the value-added of LA public school teachers.  This one shows that seniority-based lay-offs, as required by many union contracts, are hurting kids:

The Times sought to measure the impact of about 2,700 seniority-based layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the last two years. It focused particularly on the performance of about 1,000 elementary and middle school teachers for whom math and English scores were available.

Among the findings:

Because seniority is largely unrelated to performance, the district has laid off hundreds of its most promising math and English teachers. About 190 ranked in the top fifth in raising scores and more than 400 ranked in the top 40%.

Schools in some of the city’s poorest areas were disproportionately hurt by the layoffs. Nearly one in 10 teachers in South Los Angeles schools was laid off, nearly twice the rate in other areas. Sixteen schools lost at least a fourth of their teachers, all but one of them in South or Central Los Angeles.

Far fewer teachers would be laid off if the district were to base the cuts on performance rather than seniority. The least experienced teachers also are the lowest-paid, so more must be laid off to meet budgetary targets. An estimated 25% more teachers would have kept their jobs if L.A. Unified had based its cuts on teachers’ records in improving test scores.

Nowhere to Hide

August 16, 2010

The LA Times used Freedom of Information requests to obtain student achievement data linked to teachers in LA unified.  The students’ names were removed, but not the teachers. The paper then hired researchers at RAND to analyze the data and calculate the value-added of individual teachers.  And then the paper published all of the results.  WOW!

It’s no longer possible to hide the fact that there are some awful teachers who continue receiving paychecks and depriving kids of an education.  School officials have had these data for years and never used them, never tried to identify who were the best and worst teachers, and never tried to remove bad teachers from the profession.  It took a newspaper and a big FOI request.

Now the school district will be forced to do something about those chronically ineffective teachers.  No one is suggesting that analyses of these test scores should be the sole criteria for identifying or removing ineffective teachers.  But it is a start.

This is going to spread.  As long as the data exist, there will be more and more pressure for school systems to actually use the information and develop systems for identifying and removing teachers who can’t teach.

It’s also worth emphasizing that this new reality is a huge accomplishment of No Child Left Behind.  The accountability and choice provisions of NCLB could never work because school systems could never be asked to sanction themselves.  But the one big thing that NCLB accomplished is getting every public school to measure student achievement in grades 3-8 and report results.  NCLB made it so that these data exist so that the LA Times could FOI the results and push schools to act upon it.  NCLB could never get schools to take real action, but the existence of the data could get others to force schools to act.

And what is the reaction of the teachers unions to all of this?  They’ve called for a boycott of the LA Times. As usual, we see how much more they care about protecting incompetent teachers than protecting kids suffering from educational malpractice.

Coulson Schools LA Times on Charters

December 2, 2009

Andrew Coulson teaches the LA Times a thing or two about charter schools in his post on the Cato blog.  Here’s the meat of it:

Yesterday’s LA Times editorial on charter schools combined errors of fact and omission with a misrepresentation of the economic research on public school spending. First, the Times claims that KIPP charter public schools spend “significantly more per student than the public school system.” Not so, says the KIPP website. But why rely on KIPP’s testimony, when we can look at the raw data? LA’s KIPP Academy of Opportunity, for instance, spent just over $3 million in 2007-08, for 345 students, for a total per pupil expenditure of $8,917. The most recent Dept. of Ed. data for LAUSD (2006-07) put that district’s comparable figure at $13,481 (which, as Cato’s Adam Schaeffer will show in a forthcoming paper, is far below what it currently spends). Nationwide, the median school district spends 24 percent more than the median charter school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Next, in summarizing the charter research, the Times’ editors omitted the most recent and sophisticated study, by Stanford professor Caroline Hoxby. It finds a significant academic advantage to charters using a randomized assignment experimental model that blows the methodological doors off most of the earlier charter research. The Times also neglects to mention Hoxby’s damning critique of the CREDO study it does cite….

There are certainly reasons to lament the performance of the charter sector, and the Times’ editors even came close to citing one of them: its inability to scale up excellence as rapidly and routinely as is the case in virtually every field outside of education. Before getting into such policy issues, however, the Times should make a greater effort to marshal the basic facts.

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