Grading the graders

A group of parents and education advocates is preparing to sue the Los Angeles school district, demanding that it follow a 40-year-old California law that requires all California school systems to link teacher and principal evaluations to student performance.

The law, known as the Stull Act, was enacted in 1971, though neither school district officials nor teacher unions ever pushed to enforce all its provisions, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Although the lawsuit would be technically filed against L.A. Unified, its underlying target is the teacher union, which has fought efforts to make student test scores any part of evaluations, the newspaper reports. United Teachers Los Angeles leaders say tests scores are too unreliable and narrowly focused to use for high-stakes personnel decisions.

But tracking student progress "is a required element of evaluations, and the union and district cannot bargain it away," said attorney Scott Witlin, whose firm, Barnes & Thornburg, is preparing the lawsuit. "If the adults in the system can't get their acts together to comply with the law, then people have to intervene and force them to comply."

Here in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval has appointed a 15-member Teachers and Leaders Council, which has until June 1 to develop a statewide performance evaluation system for teachers. The panel, though loaded with career educators, is specifically charged by law to tie those evaluations to student achievement data, a function which modern computer systems have made possible for some years now, but which a Nevada state law (pushed by the teacher unions) previously prohibited.

The parallel foot-dragging of California's teacher unions in complying with a state law -- a 40-year-old law, at that! -- intended to hold teachers accountable for how much academic progress children show while under their tutelage should serve as fair warning to Nevada's panel of the kind of evasions and rationalizations they can expect.

Unfortunately, a mere set of suggestions that assumes the education establishment will show good faith in the interest of the children would be naive. Americans spend an unprecedented fortune on their public schools. They deserve some assurance, finally, that this funding is focused on measurable academic results, and that those who fail to measure up will be asked to seek employment elsewhere.