School districts in California are violating state law by ignoring student test scores when evaluating teachers, according to a lawsuit filed in July on behalf of two teachers and four parents of former and current students by Students Matter.
The plaintiffs allege 13 school districts are violating California’s 1971 Stull Act, which specifically requires school districts to consider students’ standardized test scores as one of four criteria when evaluating teachers.
Students Matter is a national nonprofit organization promoting access to quality public education. It most recently garnered national attention for its involvement in the lawsuit that overturned California’s teacher tenure law in Vergara v. California.
The group filed Doe v. Antioch on July 16 in Contra Costa County Superior Court. The defendants are school districts that have signed union contracts forbidding the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. According to the complaint, approximately 250,000 students are enrolled in the 13 districts named in the suit.
‘Opponents of Change’
“The teachers unions are fighting a law that is designed to hold teachers accountable for the educational progress of their students,” said Ed Ring, executive director of the California Policy Center, a think tank promoting fiscal sustainability in government and improving public education.
“Accountability is expected in every other profession, and there is no profession where accountability is more important than in the education of our children,” Ring said. “Across a full spectrum of bipartisan reform ideas—charter schools, enforcing parent trigger laws, extending the time required for tenure, and layoff and dismissal policies—the primary opponents of change are the teachers unions.”
‘Simply Breaking the Law’
“A lot of California school districts are simply breaking the law,” said Ben Boychuk, an education analyst and associate editor of City Journal. “The Stull Act is 44 years old. A superior court judge has already ruled the Los Angeles Unified is out of compliance. And just when it looked like the district and the United Teachers Los Angeles had come to an agreement, negotiations fell apart.
“It shouldn’t take a second lawsuit to compel school districts to comply with an existing ruling,” Boychuk said.
“The Stull Act does give districts some leeway in applying test scores to teacher evaluations,” Boychuk said. “There is plenty of room for innovation and for mischief. The teachers unions believe student performance should have no part in evaluations whatsoever. But that isn’t what the law says. Districts are colluding with the unions to break the law.”
Lawsuit ‘A Natural Next Step’
“The filing of Doe v. Antioch is a natural next step for Students Matter, which promotes the message that our education system must prioritize students’ best interests above all else,” said Students Matter spokesman Manny Rivera.
“While Vergara highlighted the importance of teacher quality in the classroom by challenging harmful teacher employment laws, Doe v. Antioch was filed to enforce the current law on teacher evaluations, the Stull Act,” said Rivera. “This lawsuit does not try to replace or modify the law. The case enforces the Stull Act by challenging collectively bargained evaluation systems that explicitly prohibit the inclusion of standardized test scores in the assessment of teacher performance.”
Antioch calls into question whether or not factors, which affect student achievement, should change through collective bargaining agreements.
According to the suit, “Petitioners and Plaintiffs … are parents, teachers, and other concerned taxpayers from across California. They seek a writ of mandate to compel the 13 largest offending school districts to meet their obligations …”
“As shown in Vergara, an effective teacher is the most important school-based factor affecting student success,” said Rivera. “Teacher effectiveness cannot be divorced from student performance. Doe v. Antioch illustrates the problems that can occur when the standards for teacher evaluations, including the use of student testing data, are subject to collective bargaining. If we want to focus on what is best for students, accountability and the use of student achievement measures in teacher evaluation systems must not be part of broader collective bargaining negotiations. Student success is not negotiable and should never be on the bargaining table.”
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for The Heartland Institute.
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“Doe v. Antioch USD Complaint and Exhibits,” July 16, 2015: http://studentsmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Doe-v.-Antioch-USD-Complaint-and-Exhibits.pdf
Mareesa Nicosa, “The Next Vergara? New California Lawsuit Claims Teacher Evaluations Without Student Data Are Illegal,” The74million.org, July 20, 2015: https://www.the74million.org/article/the-next-vergara-new-ca-lawsuit-claims-teacher-evaluations-without-student-data-are-illegal