Oakland CA students, http://www.flickr.com/photos/heacphotos/2649277448/
The National Council on Teacher Quality found that whether students are learning isn't considered in teacher evaluations at Oakland public schools.
In a study commissioned by seven non-profit organizations, the Council also found that principals in Oakland have almost no say in which teachers are assigned to their schools and that teacher salaries in Oakland is lower than those of surrounding districts.
Seven organizations commissioned the study so they could be involved in Oakland Unified School District's work of implementing a new strategic plan to improve student outcomes. You can read the report here.
The study will be released to the public tonight at a public forum organized by Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center and its partners at Think College Now Elementary/International Community School, 2825 International Blvd. starting at 6 p.m.
The study cites California law and a bargaining agreement with the teachers union as obstacles hindering Oakland Unified School District from adopting several policies such as considering measures of student achievement in teacher evaluations and allowing schools to retain new teachers instead of the most senior teachers when layoffs are needed.
On the other hand, the Council said the district itself could find a way to pay teachers higher salaries. Its compensation to teachers is lower than most surrounding districts, with a starting salary of $39, 456 which compares with Alameda at $42,119. The maximum it pays teachers is lower than all surrounding districts, at $70,934 compared with San Francisco's maximum teacher salary of $82,000.
California is one of only 12 states that mandate that when layoffs are needed, teachers who were the most recently hired are the first to lose their jobs. California's strong teachers union, the California Teachers Association, and the local the Oakland Education Association have insisted in contracts that seniority determines who keeps jobs and who gets choice of assignments.
Nationwide there has been increasing talk of adding more accountability and merit reward into teaching, with the Obama administration calling for accountability for student outcomes. The Obama administration has denied California any of the national Race to the Top awards because the state has not included measures of student achievement in its system of measuring teaching performance.
The argument often used against including student achievement measures in evaluations is that students learn in different ways and start from different places, so using a common yardstick, like standardized tests, doesn't work to capture progress. Nationally, there has been widespread criticism of the federal "No Child Left Behind" law that uses gains on student test scores to judge schools. Because schools are rewarded or punished based on gains in student scores under No Child Left Behind, the law is believed to have led to a trend of "teaching to the test" in which schools adjust their curriculum to prepare students to do well on tests, rather than to learn or explore the topic.
The National Council study of Oakland acknowledges that the district's hands have been largely tied by California law, but it says the district has not taken advantage of room in state law to introduce some aspect of student outcomes in teacher evaluation.
Oakland Unified's communications director Troy Flint said of the National Council report that "it is always good to get a third party perspective" on the district and how it functions but "the report is limited in its usefulness in that it is driven by an ideology which isn't particularly suited to Oakland." He noted that "almost every solution they (suggest) has to be negotiated or is possibly in violation of a different California law."
Nonetheless he said some of the suggestions in the report should be incorporated into the larger conversation going on in Oakland about moving the school district forward.
"In general terms we agree with the need to orient expectations of our workforce around what is beneficial for students," Flint said.
Officers from the Oakland Education Association, which is the teachers union for this district, could not be reached.
Teachers, union officers, OUSD board of education members as well as parents and students are likely to attend tonight's public discussion on the report, based on attendance at past public forums sponsored by the group.
In addition to Great Oakland Public Schools, the organizations that sponsored the study include Oakland Community Organizations, Youth Uprising, Local 1021 of SEIU, Youth Together, Education Trust-West and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.