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Big Moves From Zimmer

Hillel Aron | September 10, 2012

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Board Member Steve Zimmer

Tomorrow at the LAUSD board meeting (see agenda here), board member Steve Zimmer will make two big moves.

The first is his long-awaited proposal to reject the use of Academic Growth Over Time, or AGT, as a measurement of pupil progress when evaluating teachers. AGT measures student improvement on the California Standardized Tests (CSTs), and is currently used to evaluate schools as a whole.

The second is a resolution to create a system Zimmer says will better monitor and review charter schools, including a new, 13-member Charter Oversight Commission, proposals which are opposed by both charter school management organizations and  LAUSD Superintendent Deasy.

When I spoke with Zimmer a few weeks ago, he said, “There are real problems with AGT. It only measures, at the most, 55% of our teachers,” because the test doesn’t cover every subject and isn’t given to seniors. “But beyond that, it’s based on only one test. I won’t be satisfied with an AGT score unless it includes multiple measures.”

The move is supported by UTLA President Waren Fletcher, who told the Daily News’ Barbara Jones on Friday, “When you look at simplifying the analysis of a teacher’s work down to a single score – like the (health) grade you’d give a restaurant – that isn’t going to help any teacher get better at their job.”

But board member Tamar Galatzan said that the timing of the proposal was suspicious, coming as it does while the school district and the teachers and administrators unions are negotiating a new set of evaluations as part of the Doe v. Deasy lawsuit. “The issue is being negotiated at the bargaining table right now,” Galatzan told Jones. “This resolution is an attempt to make an end run around the bargaining.”

When I asked Mayor Antonio VIllaraigosa about Zimmer’s proposal, in June, he said, “Mr. Zimmer will not have support for that. I think Mr. Zimmer, on a regular basis, has been on the other end of the reform efforts that we’ve engaged in. It’s just another ploy to slow down what is a march toward more accountability in the school district.”

Zimmer will also face opposition on his charter school proposal.  Charters schools in LAUSD must be renewed every five years. As it is now, the Charter Schools Division, an agency working under the Superintendent, evaluates charter schools, writes reports and makes recommendations to the board.  The ultimate decision is in the hands of the school board, and members sometimes base their decision on politics – a notable example being the recent renewal of the charter school, Academia Semillas, which I have written about for LA Weekly.

Superintendent Deasy is skeptical of Zimmer’s proposal. He told the Daily News’ Jones, “I have great concern about how we’d pay for another layer of government… We have zero ability to fund it.”

But the most controversial part of Zimmer’s motion is that it would place a moratorium on all new charter school applications until the new oversight structure is in place. According to Richard Soto, general counsel for the California Charter Schools, that would violate state law (see LA Times: Charter school backers campaign against proposed L.A. moratorium).

If it passed, this would be the second charter-related moratorium in the last year.  Under a December 2011 deal between LAUSD and the teachers unions, charter school operators are currently not allowed to take over public schools through the Public School Choice program, although they are allowed to start new charters. (See Russo’s analysis here: The Story Behind John Deasy’s Mystifying Labor Deal)

The charter school oversight motion will be introduced tomorrow but won’t be voted on until, at the earliest, October 9, according to the LA Times.

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