West Edition

Inglewood schools targeted in lawsuit

INGLEWOOD — A lawsuit filed by education advocacy group, Students Matter, may shake up the way Inglewood schools evaluate their teachers.

The Inglewood Unified School District and 12 other districts in the state were named in the lawsuit claiming the districts and their teachers’ unions have violated students’ “fundamental rights to basic educational equality and opportunity” by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act.

Under the 1971 law, a school district must include student achievement as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

In essence, the suit accuses the districts of a gross dereliction of duty. The suit states that the districts fail hundreds of thousands of children by refusing to enforce the law.

“School districts are not going to get away with bargaining away their ability to use test scores to evaluate teachers,” said attorney Joshua S. Lipshutz, who is working on behalf of Students Matter. “That’s a direct violation of state law.”

The lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, says that the districts illegally agreed in contracts negotiated with teachers’ unions to exclude test scores when evaluating teacher performance.

The suit doesn’t ask the courts to determine how much weight test scores should be given in a performance review, Lipshutz said. He cited research, however, suggesting that test scores should account for between 30 percent and 40 percent of an evaluation.

“In the absence of proper evaluation of teachers, school districts cannot reasonably know whether teachers are actually promoting and advancing student learning over time,” the lawsuit states.

Kelly Iwamoto, president of the Inglewood Teachers Association said, “Standardized test scores do not determine whether or not a teacher is effective. An effective teacher creates engaging lessons for students. An effective teacher uses multiple measures to assess students.

“An effective teacher builds meaningful connections with students. An effective teacher has ongoing two-way communications with parents. An effective teacher is not a standardized test giver,” Iwamoto added.

“This group is led by people who know nothing about education and what it means to be a public school teacher. Rather this group wants to attack our profession and silence our voice. They can try, but we will overcome and we will prevail.”

An Inglewood resident who keeps close tabs on the district but didn’t want to be identified, said the district is being wrongfully sued.

“Inglewood Unified School District should not have been included in this lawsuit,” the resident said. “Inglewood’s contract with its teachers has expired and is currently being renegotiated. It is highly unlikely that the Department of Education, which is running the school district, would violate the Stull Act when it signs a new contract. They would be violating the Ed Code if they did and they are responsible for enforcement of the code. Additionally, Inglewood Unified is currently complying with the Stull Act, according to the state’s most recent audit.”

The group bringing the suit, Students Matter, was founded by tech entrepreneur David F. Welch to build on other attempts to limit teacher job protections and hold them more accountable for student achievement.

The suit targets San Ramon Valley Unified, Chino Valley Unified, Saddleback Valley Unified, Chaffey Joint Union High School District, Ontario-Montclair, Fairfield Suisun Unified, Antioch Unified, Inglewood Unified, Victory Elementary School District, Upland Unified, Pittsburg Unified, Fremont Union High School District and the El Monte City School District.

The 13 districts serve about 250,000 students.

The plaintiffs are six California residents, including four parents and two teachers. Some are participating anonymously.

Students Matter also funded plaintiffs in the 2014 Vergara v. State of California ruling that found five California Education Code provisions — including policies allowing teachers to receive tenure within two years and be dismissed during layoffs on the basis of seniority — were unconstitutional because they deprived some of the state’s 6.2 million students of a quality education.

The Stull Act is state legislation that covers teacher evaluations. The law requires annual evaluations for untenured teachers and tenured teachers who received an unsatisfactory rating but have not yet shown improvement.

The legislation also requires that tenured teachers be evaluated once every other year, and that frequency can be reduced to once every five years for tenured teachers with more than 10 years of experience.

John Rogers, an education professor at UCLA, said there is still considerable dispute among researchers about the role student data, and in particular, value-added measures, should play in teacher evaluations.

“There’s growing evidence, a ton of research, that shows the kind of evaluation system they would like to see happen is a disaster for public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.