We are teachers and parents who saw a reason to hope for our schools. In late April, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, presented a modest teacher evaluation bill, Assembly Bill 1495, in the Assembly Education Committee.
We also knew she was going to have a fight on her hands. Supporters of the status quo had predictably deployed their considerable forces in opposition, while the committee planned to euthanize Weber’s policy by transforming it into a study bill.
We were baffled to watch the torpedoing of a bill that, at its core, was both pro-student and pro-teacher. Student achievement would continue to be central to teacher evaluation. Instead of putting underperforming teachers on an automatic track to be fired, the bill created a new evaluation category – “needs improvement” – complete with resources to improve their classroom performance.
As the bill faltered in committee, Weber offered a bracing reminder to her colleagues: “Our business is progress. If we are not about improving the lives of children, then what the hell are we doing?”
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After the bill failed, Weber’s words continued to resonate with parents and teachers throughout the state. The death of AB 1495, while disappointing, activated a community and energized a conversation about how to make teacher evaluation meaningful and student achievement central.
We heard from parents in low-income communities, where the achievement gap is most acute, who were inspired by Weber’s words and expressed frustration at arguments from opponents that their children face too many social and economic challenges to evaluate teachers on their progress. We also heard from teachers working in these communities who expressed frustration at the lack of faith these statements showed in their students and in their work.
“Too poor to learn” is a cop-out. Quality affects student performance more than even race or class. Parents from middle-class and affluent neighborhoods are also waking up to the fact that the weak evaluation and professional support system affects their children.
The Senate and Assembly have each passed their respective versions of teacher evaluation bills. SB 499 by Sen. Carol Liu and AB 575 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell attempt to overhaul the process. Yet they do not provide the necessary enforcement tools, they fail to help struggling teachers improve, and they leave room to negotiate lower expectations for student achievement.
With each house favoring its own version, lawmakers will likely discuss what they will send to the governor. If we are going to have meaningful reform of teacher evaluation, we urge the Legislature to bring Weber and her bill back into these discussions.
Lawmakers should take advantage of this critical moment when there is overwhelming support for reform from the public and teachers. That support is mirrored in the growing political will from Democrats and Republicans for an evaluation policy that uplifts the teaching profession and improves the performance and prospects of all students.
Phylis Hoffman is a second-grade teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District. Pamela Thompson is a parent who lives in Orange County. Jennifer Walker, a 2015 Sacramento County Teacher of the Year, teaches English in the River Delta Unified School District.