Fixing L.A.’s Schools

Westwood School in Westwood section of Los Ang...
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If you note a growing interest in California in this blog, it is no coincidence. I am a long-term resident of Beijing and China and I feel at home here, but I am under no illusions: at some point I will start dividing my time more or less evenly with my native home and my adopted one. It would be nice to have a home state to come back to.

One of my worries is California’s schools. In the midst of the state’s debt crisis, California’s parents must contend not only with evaporating school budgets, but also in the case of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the problem of teacher competence, as discussed in this article in The Economist.

The problem, though, is not the teachers, but the teacher’s unions, who are fighting a reactionary rear-guard action against the measurement of teacher performance. While granting that test scores are an imperfect measure, The Economist notes:

Is it [test scores] a perfect form of evaluation? Certainly not. Mr Duffy is right to argue that test scores alone are not adequate for judging teacher performance. (We don’t want teachers teaching to the test, after all.) And it should be noted that California’s education system, in particular, is troubled by budget cuts and political infighting that make it difficult to manage and evaluate. But Mr Duffy’s reaction fits with a broader resistance to more formal evaluation methods by teachers unions across the country. And that has coincided with extensive union efforts to defend teachers who are obviously failing our students. If the education-reform debate has come to seem like an attack on teachers, it is in large part because of the unions’ misdirected passion and priorities.

There is no perfect measure of performance for any job. But there is no scope for incompetence, either. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (and the National Education Association) have painted themselves into the uncomfortable corner of defending teachers who cannot teach, and as such do a disservice not only to the children, but to their members who are competent, if not outstanding.

Wake up, unions. Covering for the incompetent is destroying your credibility and your ability to defend your stronger members. Start being an advocate for education, not mediocrity.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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