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L.A. public school system wastes $500 million on pointless training, report says

June 8, 2011 |  7:22 am

The Los Angeles Unified School District squanders more than $500 million a year on an academic-improvement strategy that has consistently proven to be ineffective, researchers concluded in a report released Tuesday.

Click to read full report The nation’s second-largest school system spends 25% of its teacher payroll ($519 million a year) to compensate teachers for completing graduate coursework. These courses are a primary means by which teachers earn credits that translate to raises.

Yet such training has shown no overall benefit in improving student performance, said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which conducted the research.

The money would be better spent paying more to teachers who deliver results, such as higher test scores, or to attract proven talent to the system, said Walsh in a presentation at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

The report contained numerous findings and recommendations, some controversial.

Other findings included:

• Only a third of Los Angeles teachers graduated from a school ranked as either “most” or “more” selective.

• “Perverse incentives” may dissuade principals from being overly critical of poorly performing teachers, which, over time, makes it difficult to dismiss these instructors: “The online evaluation system, includes a pop-up warning telling principals who have selected ‘needs improvement’ for 3 or more of the 27 indicators to contact Staff Relations and present documentation to reinforce the ratings.”

Administrators who “have not diligently collected evidence, or feel that pursuing a negative rating will take too much time … may decide it is not worth the effort." According to the report, “there should be a high burden of evidence and feedback for every rating — both negative and affirmative.”

• Principals don’t take advantage of flexibility and authority they already have in hiring and evaluating teachers.

Board of Education member Yolie Flores called the research “a powerful road map” that could enhance landmark efforts already underway.

“I find it outrageous that we spend 25% of our annual teacher payroll to compensate teachers for taking graduate coursework when there is absolutely no evidence that this practice adds to a teacher’s effectiveness,” she said.

Document: Read the full report

Flores is leaving the board next month to head a nonprofit organization devoted to teacher improvement. Its start-up funding has come from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also funded the study. Flores had no role in the research.

The primary local sponsor of the research was the United Way.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy praised the report on the whole, especially for providing a comparison with practices in other states and school systems. But he took issue with some particulars.

“You can’t assume ‘better’ universities produce better teachers.” He said. “We don’t have empirical evidence.”

Teachers union President A.J. Duffy faulted much of the document, including the finding regarding graduate coursework.

“It sounds like the report finds fault with teachers going back to college to improve in their craft,” he said. “We should be encouraging people to go back to school …to improve the quality of education for our kids.”

The head of the administrators union praised the report for recognizing the crucial role of the principal, but found the analysis and recommendations frequently imprecise.

The report relied too much on test-score analysis, for one thing, said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

She also disagreed with a key recommendation: The authors suggested taking away the right of teachers and administrators to collectively bargain over how employee evaluations are conducted.

Taking that advice would likely lead to a worse evaluation process, Perez said.


Document: Read the full report

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-- Howard Blume