Bill to alter evaluations of California teachers fails again in Senate

Published: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 8:24 am

Legislation that would alter how California schools judge teachers flunked another test on Tuesday, failing to advance for the second time in a week.

The Senate Education Committee decided to reconsider the bill after deadlocking last week. The bill's author, Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, said he had altered his legislation to try to persuade opponents to shift their stance.

Currently, districts are required to rank teachers only as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Senate Bill 441 would create four different grades, which Calderon said is essential for allowing schools to flag the lowest-performing educators, and would increase the frequency of evaluations for veteran teachers from at least every five years to at least every three years.

Calderon said he had amended the bill to emphasize that a section calling for more parent input would not affect collectively bargained contracts. He said he had no intention of dictating how schools would implement the new four-tiered grading system.

But teachers unions had their doubts. Opponents of the bill – a category that included the California Labor Federation, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson – slammed the bill for threatening to cut teachers out of the process and for imposing a broad formula that would override district-by-district bargaining.

"The best way to improve schools is to include teachers in the dialogue," said Chris Simenstad, a San Rafael teacher testifying on behalf of the California Federation of Teachers.

Chief backers of the bill, the Sacramento-based school reform organization StudentsFirst headed by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, urged its allies to flood the hearing.

Teachers, parents and students lined up to testify on the need for a more rigorous evaluation system. Many of them pointed out that students can receive variations of five different letter grades and argued that teachers should be similarly gauged.

The strong show of support made for a relatively raucous hearing, with members of the audience alternately applauding or shouting "no!" during testimony.

"The majority of teachers like me want to get that (additional) feedback," Los Angeles teacher Jeanette Marrone testified. "I'm a highly effective teacher," she added, "not just a satisfactory one."

Calderon said he was disappointed in the outcome: "Those defending the status quo won the day, and while I am disappointed, I am hopeful that at some point the Legislature will show the leadership necessary to guarantee our children have the best teachers possible," he said in a statement.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Follow him on Twitter @jeremybwhite.

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