By Ben Velderman

LOS ANGELES – Education researchers affiliated with Harvard University have produced a new report about teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District that may end up serving as a chainsaw to a number of sacred teacher union principles.

The findings of a two-year study conducted by the Strategic Data Project strongly contradict  the long-held union practices that base teacher pay on the attainment of advanced academic degrees and use seniority to determine teacher layoffs.

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Researchers found that “teachers with more advanced academic degrees are no more effective than those who lack them,” and that LAUSD’s practice of laying off less-senior teachers has cost the district a number of effective educators, reports

Researchers determined that “45 percent of those let go were in the top two quartiles of performers, who, under a more rigorous evaluation system deemphasizing seniority, might retain their jobs,” according to EdSource.

Another core union belief – that teachers are equal and interchangeable – was also turned upside down.


“Researchers found that the difference between a math teacher in the 75th percentile – those whose students performed better than three quarters of other students – and a teacher in the 25th percentile was the roughly equivalent benefit to a student of having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year (technically one quarter of a standard deviation).”

But the unions’ woes don’t end there. Researchers had nothing but praise for long-time union archenemy Teach for America, an organization that recruits outstanding college graduates to teach in public schools. According to the report, TFA educators provide their students with the equivalent of two extra months of instruction, when compared to the performance of traditional novice teachers.

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The Strategic Data Project report also finds that those (traditional) novice teachers are getting assigned to students who are already behind the academic curve. That practice is helping perpetuate LAUSD’s achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

The research, which used seven years of student achievement data to examine the effectiveness of one-third of LAUSD teachers, is viewed by district officials as “a call to action.”

“The findings of this study will help us be more strategic about how we maximize the impact of our greatest resource—the educators who are in front of youth each day,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in a press release.

As the kids like to say, good luck with that.

The research may be on the side of education reformers and conscientious school administrators, but the labor laws governing school operations are what really matter. And in California, the teacher unions hold those cards.

For example, school administrators in the Golden State are legally required to consider a teacher’s seniority – along with other factors – when making layoff decisions.

And by law, California teacher unions have the right to negotiate teacher placement and transfer policies into their labor contracts with the district.

LAUSD officials can glory in the study’s findings all they want, but they are largely powerless to change important district policies without union approval.

And since the unions will never sign off on those changes, that means lawmakers will need to take those powers away from the unions.

Does anybody think that’s going to happen anytime soon?

Neither do we.

Still, this SDP-generated information is nice to know. Hopefully it will inspire legislators in other states to keep on pushing for fundamental education reforms.