Editorial: Union takes over Sacramento school district policymaking

The nation’s 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act was ambitious, as co-author Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, has described. As a nation, we would shine a light on the achievement of all students, not just school averages. All students would have to be on grade level in reading and math by 2014, and schools would be held accountable for results.

The law was as audacious as President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of that decade.

But unlike the moon landing, the reading and math goal has not been met, and there is broad agreement that the No Child Left Behind Act needs to be updated and improved.

Unfortunately, Congress has been unable to craft a bipartisan bill to revamp the law. As a last resort after years of congressional inaction, President Barack Obama in 2011 allowed states to waive the 2014 goal if they adopted high standards for what students should learn and evaluated teachers based in part on student gains in achievement.

Predictably, California has gotten hung up on the teacher evaluation piece due to staunch opposition from the California Teachers Association. It is one of only five states without a waiver.

In a sign of hope, however, 10 California superintendents representing school districts with more than a million students combined – Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Oakland, Clovis, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Sanger and Santa Ana – joined together and won a waiver for their districts. They are working on creating a “next-generation accountability system” that could be a model for the state – and possibly the nation – to match new Common Core standards.

But, at least in Sacramento, the effort has run into the Sacramento City Teachers Association, which has fought the idea of linking teacher evaluations to student performance.

Describing the waiver as “divisive” and “onerous,” the union buzzsaw “snarled and rattled,” as poet Robert Frost might have put it, and made dust of the waiver.

On April 9, Sacramento City Unified board President Patrick Kennedy and SCTA President Nikki Milevsky held a joint news conference at SCTA’s office in east Sacramento, over objections of district staff, and announced that Sacramento would pull out of the waiver.

Announcing this policy decision at the union’s headquarters sends a terrible message that the union – not the school board and superintendent – is in charge of policy. SCTA crowed on its website: the “Waiver is Dead!”

And for what? The two options on the table for negotiating teacher evaluation are extraordinarily reasonable. One would make student achievement growth 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Another is based on the Massachusetts model, which includes multiple measures of student learning, including tests, as well as classroom observation, contributions to the profession and involvement with parents.

So Sacramento City Unified now will return to outdated No Child Left Behind mandates. More than 50 schools will be in “program improvement” status, making them targets for restructuring. And rather than having flexibility in using $4 million in federal No Child Left Behind funds, the district will have to go back to spending the money on outside tutors and busing kids from “program improvement” schools to other schools.

Where other districts will move ahead on rolling out the Common Core standards and designing new teacher evaluations based in part on student performance, Sacramento takes a big step backward. The public should be outraged.