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LA Mayor Pushes For Tougher Teacher Tenuring Rules

Antonio Villaraigosa

First Posted: 05/20/11 01:57 PM ET Updated: 07/20/11 06:12 AM ET

School districts around the country are toughening standards for grading teachers. And if Antonio Villaraigosa has his way, Los Angeles could be next.

In a speech at a teacher evaluation conference hosted by Education Trust-West on Thursday in Sacramento, the LA mayor advocated for an end of dismissals based only on experience. According to the LA Times, Villaraigosa also proposed doubling of the number of years it takes for teachers to earn tenure, and to link their evaluations with test scores.

Currently, teachers with the most job experience usually have the most job security -- oftentimes, regardless of their effectiveness. The newest teachers are first on the chopping block when layoffs need to be made.

With new evaluations, Villaraigosa said, "we wouldn't have to rely on something as arbitrary as seniority to make important decisions for us." In California, teachers can earn tenure, or permanent job security, in two years. Villaraigosa called for extending the length of time needed to make tenure -- during which it is easier to fire teachers -- to four years.

Elsewhere, states are passing laws that toughen teacher evaluation standards. Last week, Illinois enacted legislation that makes it easier to fire teachers and links test scores to evaluations. Earlier this week, New York's Board of Regents voted to adopt new teacher evaluation regulations that allow districts to count state test scores for up to 40 percent of performance reviews.

Some education advocates, though, criticize the changes proposed by Villaraigosa and others for relying on volatile data and not touching upon what happens in the classroom.

"Using tests to measure teachers sounds objective, but what's really being measured is a combination of all the influences on students' learning," said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University.

As the LA Times notes, this refrain about toughening teacher standards is nothing new for the mayor of Los Angeles.

But in Villaraigosa's Thursday speech, he fleshed out his thoughts on teacher accountability in the most detail yet. Evaluations, he told audience members, should take into account test scores and their rate of change over time. Grading teachers should also include peer evaluations, classroom observations and out-of-classroom activities such as tutoring or coaching.

"Those things have a tremendous effect on kids, their sense of self and they way they learn," he said.

Since an earlier court ruling deemed mayoral control of schools unconstitutional in California, a school board runs the Los Angeles Unified School District. This means that beyond his political clout and nonprofit education involvement, Villaraigosa has no official say on tenure rules.

"But I do have a bully pulpit, and I will continue to use it," he said.

Do Villaraigosa's words matter? He does have some influence on schools, said Larry Sand, who runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization "for teachers who don't tow the union line," as he describes it. "He's a union man, and all of a sudden he's become an apostate," Sand said, referring to Villaraigosa's background as a labor organizer. "He counts because he seems liked from both sides."

Besides, he's the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Sand added. "He will have people listening. He's not going to be sloughed off as some union-hating Republican."

Villaraigosa's speech comes just one week after California teachers staged enormous protests against budget cuts to education throughout the Golden State.

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