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Jewish Journal

A Test of Commitment

by  David A. Lehrer

July 28, 2009 | 6:54 pm

Something is happening in the world of public education—-the US Department of Education is serious about reform and we will soon have the opportunity to see who will help them effect the changes that are so desperately needed.

Over the past few weeks Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has been explicit in speeches to teachers’ groups that a significant provision of the huge stimulus package that impacts teachers and their students is contingent on real reform. States that want some of the “Race to the Top” funds must have in place methods to evaluate teachers based on test score data of their students, anathema to many teachers’ unions. This past weekend, President Obama buttressed the Secretary’s call by explicitly sending a message to California, “You cannot ignore facts, that is why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluation will have to change its ways.”

It should be no great shock to Californians concerned about education reform that our state has an explicit bar on using student test scores to evaluate teachers. In fact, just a few months ago, United Teachers of Los Angeles went a step further by refusing to even administer assessment tests to their pupils, presumably fearing that the tests MIGHT in the future be used to evaluate their performance as instructors. We have previously written about UTLA and its irrational positions.

Although state law bars the State of California from using student test score data, it is silent about how districts use the information. Presumably, if UTLA and other local unions don’t object, California could be in compliance with federal law and the much needed funds will flow our way.

The weeks ahead will give us a clue as to where the priorities of local teachers’ unions lie—-are they all about themselves and continue to view as a potential threat every piece of information and datum that administrators might have about how they perform; or are they willing to work cooperatively to help move our schools and students forward?

Hopefully, the fact that a Democratic president, who owes much to labor and its teacher unions, has taken this position is a sign that the “times they are a changin’” and the teachers unions might just come around.

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