Parents have the right to know

Teachers should be judged in part by how well students do

SACRAMENTO -- Grading teachers based on how much their students learn should be a no-brainer.

In fact, state law for more than three decades has required that pupil progress be one of the factors in evaluating teachers.

But, as it turns out, when someone actually does that -- measures teachers against their students' test scores -- it becomes highly contentious.

It's also groundbreaking and revolutionary, a potentially long leap toward substantial reforms in California education.

And it's inevitable.

We're well into the 21st century. New technological toys are invented every week. Students take year-end standardized tests designed to measure their progress. That's public information. It doesn't take a Bill Gates to match those test results with the teachers to help gauge their effectiveness.

When the Los Angeles Unified School District declined to do that, some Times reporters did, using a Rand Corp. researcher to analyze seven years of math and English scores in third through fifth grades.

The newspaper plans to publish a database with the names of more than 6,000 teachers ranked by their ability to improve the students' test scores.

And teachers' unions are incredulous.

They're still living in the old, mimeograph-machine millennium. If they didn't want something to happen then, it usually didn't. Many school boards long have been dominated by members indebted politically to the unions. The unions have resisted tying teacher evaluations to standardized test results in California, so it hasn't been done.

Using old-school labor tactics, the president of the L.A. teachers union, A.J. Duffy, has called for a "massive" product boycott of The Times. That won't help the teachers or the students.

What union leaders and school administrations should have been doing is devising some fair, practical way to evaluate teachers, at least in part on the test results. Finally Friday, there were signs they soon may be doing that in L.A.

"We have to make it work," says state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "It's coming. It's real. It's here."

Publishing the teachers' names will make some of them uncomfortable. It also will make some proud. But most important, it will make the public more informed.

"I'm a believer in transparency," O'Connell says.

I called former Gov. Gray Davis, who significantly upgraded student testing to meet new California academic standards.

"I think the taxpayer is entitled to have that information," Davis said of the teachers' data. "I don't think it's the only factor by which teachers should be measured, but I think it's the most important factor.... Teachers need accountability.

"A teacher can be the most interesting, scintillating person in the world, but if that teacher's students don't demonstrate any improvement from the previous fall, what's the point?"

Bonnie Reiss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's education advisor, says: "Maybe in the private sector there's some expectation of privacy. But if you're in the public sector and supported by taxpayers, the people have a right to know."

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