It starts with good teachers

Congratulations to the panel of teachers, administrators and parents who put together groundbreaking proposals on smarter ways to hire, pay, evaluate and fire teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Improbable as it is that many of the proposals will be adopted by the school board, which is heavily influenced by the teachers union, they have opened a conversation sought by parents and school reformers, and that conversation is unlikely to be silenced until major changes are made.

We have long supported some of these recommendations: Not allowing seniority to rule which teachers are laid off. Expanding the probationary period before teachers get tenure. Including test scores and parent and student opinions in teacher evaluations. Paying more for excellent teachers who are willing to work in low-performing schools.

The quality of the teacher is the most important factor in education. A talented instructor transcends a confining curriculum and opens a child’s eyes more than a brand new school building. Smart parents would rather have their children in a class of 35 students with a great educator than a class of 20 with a mediocre one.

There are areas where we would suggest adding to the proposals, and others where the recommendations ought to be softened. The panel called for eliminating the Commission on Professional Competence, which hears appeals of teacher firings. The commission is slow and its makeup is weighted in favor of teachers. But teachers need protection from unfair firing; that would be especially true if schools no longer carry out layoffs by seniority. It would be too easy to let better-paid teachers go in order to save money. The makeup of the commission should be revamped to include an administrator and a parent representative, and it should be required to expedite its work, but it should not be eliminated.

Though test scores should be included in evaluations, they should not play a predominant role in a teacher’s rating. Too many other factors can influence test results. More important is requiring principals to make frequent and meaningful classroom visits, and including peer coaching and evaluation as a major part of the process.

Keeping skilled and passionate teachers employed, helping middling teachers improve and ridding classrooms of perennially ineffective instructors are more important than all other school reforms put together.