Thursday, April 07, 2011

Singled-out L.A. Unified teacher shares skills with colleagues

I'm glad I was in LA last weekend so I didn't miss this important cover story in the LA Times, which (as I've covered extensively here) released teacher value-added scores last year, so an enormous hue and cry from the union.  This article shows how the release of the data triggered at least one school to adopt the techniques of one of its most successful teachers, but (you can't make this stuff up) he's being laid off and one of the least effective teachers is keeping his job.  The end of the article has it exactly right:


Steinbeck and several teachers at the school said they feared the new spirit of collaboration would dissolve if Aguilar were laid off this summer.

"Honestly, if he leaves, I won't have anyone to collaborate with," Sawelenko said. "It's an absolute disservice to children and it's morally wrong."


Here's the beginning of the article:


In February, fifth-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar stood in the front of a class, nervous and sweating.

The subject — reading and comprehension — was nothing new. But on this day, his students weren't 11-year-olds in sneakers and sweatshirts: They were 30 of his fellow teachers.

It was the first time anyone at Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima could remember a teacher there being singled out for his skill and called upon to share his secrets school-wide.

"A teacher coming forward … that hadn't happened before," said Janelle Sawelenko, another fifth-grade teacher.

Months before, Aguilar had been featured in a Times article as one of the most effective teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District at raising student scores on standardized tests. Many of his students, the article noted, had vaulted from the bottom 30% in the district to well above average.

The article contrasted Aguilar's performance with that of the teacher next door, John Smith, who ranked among the district's least effective teachers. Pupils in both classes faced similar challenges in the poor, predominantly Latino community.

When the article appeared — followed soon after by a database ranking about 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers — it ignited debate nationwide. Educators, teachers unions and experts warned that publicly rating teachers would pit one against the other.

Seven months later, Broadous teachers and the principal say the opposite has occurred. They've noticed a new openness to talking about what works, an urgent desire to improve. "It's encouraged them to collaborate," said Eidy Hemmati, the school's intervention coordinator.

Indeed, Broadous teachers — including Smith — have repeatedly sought out Aguilar's help this school year, despite the potential for hard feelings.

The new experiment, however, may be short-lived.

After a particularly long day of teaching several weeks ago, Aguilar found a pink slip in his mailbox. He was one of about 5,000 district teachers notified that they might lose their jobs this summer, depending on the troubled budget.

Smith didn't get a pink slip. In California and most other states, seniority, not performance, is the sole consideration when layoffs come.

Smith has been with the district 15 years, Aguilar eight.


Singled-out L.A. Unified teacher shares skills with colleagues

Miguel Aguilar was cited as among L.A. Unified's most effective in an L.A. Times article on the 'value-added' evaluation method. Since then, many at his Pacoima school have adopted his methods. But budget cuts threaten his job.

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