Parents sue the LA school board and teachers union, forcing them to obey a law that they have ignored for 40 years.

There is nothing new about unions bullying weak-kneed school districts, but this may be the mother of all abuses– for forty years, school districts and unions have collaborated to break the law in California. According to the Stull Act (Section 44660 of the state’s education code), part of a teacher’s evaluation is required to include a student achievement component, but this has not happened anywhere in the state. Last week, after consulting with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, parents of some students in Los Angeles Unified School District sued the school district and teachers union for what amounts to a dereliction of duty. While the lawsuit is aimed at LA, it will have state-wide ramifications.

Originally enacted in 1971, the Stull Act, named after State Senator John Stull, was amended in 1999 to include,

“The governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to:

The progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments….”

In other words, a part of a teacher’s evaluation is supposed to be contingent on how well his students do on state mandated tests. This is hardly a radical notion, as half the states in the rest of the country now evaluate teachers in part by student performance on these tests.

But in California, what are laughingly referred to as “teacher evaluations” are anything but. A “Stull” is typically a very rare and brief visit from a principal who helps plan the lesson they will observe and lets the teacher know exactly when the observation will be. And all the while, the teacher is prepping his kids to be at their absolute best when the principal steps into the classroom for the evaluation. Invariably everything goes swimmingly. So consistently good are the results of these Potemkin Village-style “evaluations” that over 99 percent of teachers get a satisfactory rating.

Teachers unions think that linking student performance to a teacher’s evaluation is a grave injustice and have always fiercely opposed it. (In reality, holding a teacher accountable for student learning is about as unjust as holding a chef responsible for the food he cooks.) This may be an understandable position for teachers unions which have never demonstrated any real concern for students, but what about the folks who sit at the other end of the bargaining table? What is the excuse for the school boards? Are they all that easily cowed by union bullies? Or are they part of a club that has forgotten their mission? Are they corrupt? Can they be ignorant of the law? Some or all of the above?

In any event, with judicial lights shining brightly, the jig is up…sort of. What the education code does not stipulate is how much weight to give the student performance component. Therein lies the rub. Without doubt, the teachers unions will negotiate to minimize it to near zero, with little or no consequence for the bottom performing teachers. (To the unions, there is no such thing as a bad teacher, and they’ve rigged the system so that getting rid of a stinker is about as prevalent as the occurrence of Halley’s Comet.)

If the intent of this lawsuit is seriously embraced, it could have a major impact in California, where a third of all students drop out before completing high school and a great majority of those who do graduate and go on to college need remediation. Will school boards finally man up and take action to reverse a forty year shame? Or will they cower and cave, yet again, to union demands and turn their backs on the children of California.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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