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L.A. charter schools win Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant

A consortium of Los Angeles-area charter schools has won a $60-million grant to develop a new teacher evaluation system based at least partly on student test scores. The grant, part of $335 million in related awards announced today by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, represents the largest private funding for an initiative of this sort.

The local winners are five charter management organizations that specialize in opening schools that serve low-income minority communities. The charter companies are Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, ICEF Public Schools, PUC Schools and Aspire Public Schools. All are based in Southern California except Aspire, which is headquartered in Oakland and expanding its L.A.-area operations.

All the grant winners have agreed to explore teacher-evaluation systems that are data-oriented. The other  recipients are school districts: $100 million for the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida; $90 million for the Memphis City Schools in Tennessee and $40 million for the Pittsburgh Public Schools in Pennsylvania. An additional $45 million will be used to enroll and gather data from 3,700 teachers across the country.

The L.A.-area charter schools together serve more than 28,000 students, more than the Pittsburgh school system.

“We are convinced that in order to dramatically improve education in America, we must first ensure that every student has an effective teacher in every subject, every school year,” Melinda Gates said in a release. The grant winners “have shown extraordinary commitment to tackling one of the most important educational issues of our time.”
 
Linking teacher evaluation to student performance -- sometimes referred to as a “merit pay” system -- has been controversial. Teacher unions have historically opposed such efforts as unfair, given the outside factors that affect a student’s performance.

But the Obama administration, which was elected with the support of teachers unions, has been pushing for more objective measures of teacher effectiveness, and some union leaders have gradually shifted positions. They say they are willing to consider such measures as long as they are not based solely on test scores and provided that they fully take into account factors outside of a teacher’s control.

The Gates Foundation news release, in fact, includes commendations of the current initiative from the leaders of nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Assn. and the American Federation of Teachers. 

“We firmly believe that in order to have a good understanding of effective teaching we need multiple measures,” said Gates spokesman Christopher Williams, adding, “a teacher is the most important school-based factor in student achievement. We want research that helps the field better understand what makes a great teacher. What does great teaching look like and how do you measure it?”

Answering these questions will allow schools to hire the best teachers, train them more effectively and retain them longer in the classroom, he said. Among the ideas on trial will be extending the time before a teacher earns tenure, linking tenure to student achievement and connecting a substantial raise in pay to a tenure system based on student achievement. Williams said.

In California, credentialed teachers earn tenure after two years. Firing ineffective tenured teachers is a difficult, multi-step process that typically takes many years if it happens at all, experts have said.

Charter schools are independently managed and exempt from many rules governing traditional schools, including adherence to a school district’s union contracts. The local charters, most of them nonunion, do not offer tenure; teachers typically work on annual contracts. Critics cite instances in which teachers have lost their jobs because they challenged practices at some charter schools.

The grant marks the most significant collaboration yet between different charter-school organizations in California, although charters already have effectively rallied together to push political and policy objectives.

-- Howard Blume

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Comments () | Archives (7)

Charter schoools? ?!?!?!?!

Let me tell you this, I don't care if the school is charter, private or public, where there are too many students per class, lack of parent involvement, and poor administration, the kids are going to suffer educationally.

West Palmdale, has some of the best public schools in the county, that are being overwhelmed with teacher to student ratios, and its starting to bulge at the seams.

There are two models to look at: LAUSD Public, and Private, public schools tend to fair poor in most cases, when compared to private, because of poor administration, lack of accountability, overcrowding, under staffing, and lack of parent participation.

Private schools fair better, because they get the parents involved, hire qualified teachers, minimize enrollment, and keep their budget streamlined.

Charters are in the middle of both, and are doing a great job, not all, but most, and many public school principals have to put a value on these kids, and not on their salaries.

When education is just a job, you have already sold the kids out.

how will these charter schools evaluate teachers that aren't even at their schools. Alot charter schools are using Adult schools and community colleges to offer upper division classes they cant offer.

Glad to see that the evaluation of certificated personnel is being addressed by someone. Too bad that LAUSD has not taken the leadership on this issue; whatever happened to the committee that was formed to study the issue. Evaluation isn't just about firing people; it is about having a system for professional growth. No one starts out in any profession as an "expert". But, the current evaluation system implies that growth is not necessary and that you either are always good or always bad. By the way, administrators have been asking for this for years, but the Superintendent and the Board of Education have been unwilling to tackle the politics of it.

Sounds interesting, but how will this affect the huge turnover of charter teachers? You can check the years of experience on the CDE website and see that charters hire mostly 1st and 2nd year teachers who do not seem to stay very long. This helps save the charters a lot of money due to the lower salaries. Unless they decide to find a way to keep teachers on staff for longer than a year, charters will never have experienced teachers who could ultimately be used as mentors. Perhaps this is one reason charters are not doing better academically.


Dan's got to remember that it's the individual principals at each and every school who are responsible for the supervision and evaluation of instruction - regardless of board policy, political position, etc. No one told principals they couldn't perform this most important aspect of their job, but it seems they just "never find the time." It's always going to come down to individual accountability and principals are sorely lacking in this area - and their supervisors (directors and local superintendents) are an even bigger problem. Given the small number of principals (one per school), it seems like a no brainer that reform needs to be focused on the principalship and stay there for quite a while (like forever).

Many charter schools have been doing better by ejecting difficult kids. Charter schools that have made a commitment to serving all the neighborhood students in high poverty and high crime neighborhoods haven't been able to do better.

Certainly there are teachers who are not effective and who need to go. Those of us who teach our butts off are always trying to clean up after their mess when kids come to us far below grade level. Those of us who work hard, have to teach several grade levels in one classroom. It's not that easy a job. You think you're going to have this steady supply of highly qualified teachers to take their places...but we never have.

Charter teachers have often enjoyed less job security and lower pay/benefits. What they did get was a student body perpetually cleansed of any really tough cases. I'm trying to figure out how charter schools will draw the best and brightest teachers with less job security, lower pay packages and equally challenging student populations.


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