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U.S. schools chief to push disclosure

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will call for all states and school districts to make public whether their instructors are doing enough to raise students' test scores and to share other school-level information with parents, according to a text of a speech he is scheduled to make Wednesday.

"The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter," according to remarks he plans to deliver in Little Rock, Ark. "That's what accountability is all about -- facing the truth and taking responsibility."

The lack of public accountability in California's schools compared with those in some other states could have been a factor Tuesday in the state's failure to win any money in the federal government's competitive Race to the Top education grant program.

State officials had hoped to get up to $700 million, of which $153 million would have gone to the Los Angeles Unified School District. Among the factors judged most heavily in the competition for the money was whether a state linked teachers to their students' standardized test scores; the Obama administration used the grant competition to spur its vision of reform nationwide.

The winning applicants are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia. In the first round of the competition, earlier this year, California also lost out: Only Delaware and Tennessee earned grants from a fund that, all told, will distribute $4.35 billion.

The Obama administration had already announced plans to ask Congress for a third round of Race to the Top funding. In a Tuesday news conference, Duncan said the money ran out before all deserving states could receive a share.

California and local education officials said they would continue with planned reforms even without the additional funds.

"The work, already underway and taking root in the district, will continue," L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement.

L.A. Unified Deputy Supt. John Deasy announced Friday that to improve instruction, the district by this fall would begin using so-called value-added analysis of teachers' performance based on student test scores. He also said he hopes that value-added analysis will become at least 30% of teacher evaluations, although that must be agreed to by the teachers union, whose president has long criticized the method as inaccurate.

In a memo Tuesday to the Board of Education, Deasy said that a teacher's value-added score should not be reported publicly and that including it in a performance review "would shield it" from public disclosure. He also said the district had had "positive" preliminary talks with the unions on a new evaluation system.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy told hundreds of union members last week that he was "ready, willing and able" to negotiate a new evaluation system but stopped short of endorsing value-added analysis as part of that.

The union did not sign an agreement to abide by the state's Race to the Top application, which probably cost the state points under the rules for scoring state bids. Union cooperation was a key component of the competition, and California fell 17 points short of the total achieved by the states that were awarded funding.

In the speech, Duncan said he was responding, in part, to the controversy in Los Angeles generated by stories in The Times about the performance of Los Angeles Unified teachers and schools and the newspaper's plans to publish an online database showing how teachers rank according to the value-added method.

L.A. Unified, the state's largest school system, has long had the ability to conduct its own value-added analysis but has largely avoided it because of its own inertia and fear of the teachers union, The Times found. The method could have helped the district identify high-performing teachers and offered help to struggling ones.

Duncan will single out Los Angeles repeatedly in his remarks: He praises the teachers' and administrators' unions for beginning to discuss developing a new teacher evaluation system but he criticizes the district.

"The L.A. Unified School District has years of data on its students, yet most administrators never shared that information with teachers in a useful way," according to the remarks.

"The L.A. Times has ignited an important debate, but it falls to all of us to meet the challenge and talk openly and honestly about this issue," he will say in a speech at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in Little Rock.

In addition to test score information, Duncan will also advocate releasing data on school funding and college completion and student loan default rates, among other things, as ways to increase public awareness about schools and teacher performance.

"If it was up to me and the law allowed it, I would put out student attendance data and hold parents accountable," he will say.

Duncan said, however, that information about teachers should be released "in the context" of other measures. And, he expressed concerns that Los Angeles teachers are having to turn to The Times for their value-added scores.

The Times plans to publish a database containing the value-added rankings of about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers later this month. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 1,700 teachers had asked for and received their scores from the newspaper.

"It is unfortunate they had to wait for a newspaper to share this information with them in such a public way," Duncan will say.

He will also decry a reluctance to identify effective teachers and see if the secrets of their success can be duplicated.

He will cite Nancy Polacheck, a highly effective fourth-grade teacher featured in a Times story who was reluctant to be recognized for her accomplishments.

"That shame of success has pervaded America's educational culture for far too long," he will say. "We should celebrate Nancy Polacheck and the many effective teachers like her.... However, our system keeps all our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work."

jason.song@latimes.com

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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