Education advocates Friday hailed the eleventh-hour defeat of controversial efforts to rewrite state rules on teacher evaluations that they said would have weakened initiatives in Los Angeles and elsewhere to improve the quality of public school instructors.
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) had revived a long-dormant bill, AB 5, in the last few weeks of the legislative session to push forward his plan for a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system featuring more performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process.
But the bill, supported by the powerful California Teachers Assn., attracted a firestorm of criticism over the costs to financially strapped districts and the requirement to negotiate with unions every element of evaluations, including the use of state standardized test scores. Teachers unions have vociferously argued that test scores are too unreliable for use in key personnel decisions.
As opposition grew — more than 45 education, parent, civil rights and business organizations fought the bill — Fuentes announced Thursday, the eve of the legislative session's final day, that he would abandon his efforts. The legislator said there was not enough time for a public hearing on the flurry of last-minute changes proposed to address the widespread concerns.
"After working on this bill in a transparent and collaborative manner for more than two years, I could not in good conscience allow the proposed amendments to be voted on without a full public hearing," he said in a statement. "I believe this issue is too important to be decided at the last minute and in the dark of night."
Bill Lucia of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based educational advocacy group that helped spearhead opposition efforts, said the bill had started out with good intentions. But changes, including the elimination of requirements to use state standardized test scores in evaluations and the lack of adequate funding, would have set back efforts in Los Angeles and elsewhere to develop a strong teacher evaluation system, he said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a voluntary evaluation program that uses state test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. Supt. John Deasy had said that the legislation would virtually end those efforts because the district would probably not be able to win agreement over it with United Teachers Los Angeles. The union is urging teachers not to participate in the program.
"This is a win for kids in Los Angeles and all over California," Lucia said of the measure's defeat. "This bill would have eliminated basic accountability for teachers and principals, and this would have been a major step backwards."
CTA President Dean Vogel said the union was disappointed in the bill's failure but would attempt to revive it in the next legislative session. He said the measure would have laid out clear state guidelines to help teachers improve their practice — the point, he said, of evaluations.
The bill was an "opportunity to get beyond the simple test score debate and to develop meaningful teacher assessments based on multiple measures of accountability," he said in a statement. He added that criticism over the bill's collective bargaining requirements was misguided, because teacher input was critical to crafting a fair and comprehensive review system.
Growing unease with the bill was evident at a Senate education committee hearing Wednesday. Although lawmakers said they agreed the current system needed improvement, they told Fuentes they were concerned about the myriad questions raised and the breadth of opposition.
State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), for instance, said he wanted the bill to contain clearer language ensuring the use of student test scores in teacher reviews.
"I, as a legislator, need to be assured that we end up with a robust evaluation system that really does take into effect student progress," he said.
Committee members offered several proposals, including a six-year "sunset" provision and an evaluation after five years to review the success or failure of the new system. Other suggestions included adding a clear requirement to use state standardized test scores in evaluations.
In the end, however, lawmakers ran out of time.
Laura Preston with the Assn. of California School Administrators said concerns had grown in the Capitol over the noisy divide between teachers unions and other educational organizations that could impede efforts to pass Proposition 30, the November ballot initiative backed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
On Friday, she called on education groups to shift their focus from the bitter battle over AB 5 to a united campaign for Proposition 30, which would raise taxes to provide money for schools.
"Here we are unified in support of Prop. 30, yet you have us fighting over AB 5 — that sends mixed messages to voters," she said. "Let's move forward to secure passage of Prop. 30."