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The Axe is grinding: Is PAR teacher evaluation discriminatory?

Julian Vasquez Helig gave no statistical rebuttal to my data, therefore his comments are meaningless. Brian Crowell

I am usually up for a challenge. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon and Brian Crowell was up to his usual schtick critiquing Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), a community-level teacher evaluation approach. I previously discussed PAR in the post Can we Evaluate #Teachers Without Using High-Stakes #Testing? He posted the following on my Facebook feed:

Brian Crowell Challenges Head of California Federation of Teachers to Repudiate PAR at CFT Convention March 21, 2015 at 2:37am

My name is Brian Crowell. I have been actively investigating  discrimination  produced by PAR ( Peer Assistance and Review) for the last 3 years. My data base keeps growing and shows overt discrimination of against Veteran Teachers and Teachers of Color among those referred to PAR in cities throughout Calfornia. I am live blogging from the CFT Convention. I ran into CFT President Joshua Pechault. I told him “you have a problem with PAR”. I said I ‘m Brian Crowell. He said “yes I know who you are, you filed that case with PERB ( Public Employment Relations Board”… I ran down to him the overt cost cutting that districts have used in referring veteran teachers to PAR. I explained to him how management is not barging in good faith with their overt cost cutting through PAR and  the racial discrimination that has occurred as a result of teachers of color being pushed into the program. He mostly looked down at his feet as he listened. He acknowledged all of my salient points. In the end he said he would follow the case (a case he was already following) which set the a precedent for academic freedom in the State of California. Bottom line; Pechault is resorting to bureaucratoic measures to avoid dealing with this issue. My union friend delegate tried to get a resolution to the CFT Floor to oppose PAR. It was blocked by the Rules Chair. She will try again tomorrow but CFT openly supports age and racial discrimination with PAR. In closing. I’m a member of NEA and AFT and I can’t get representation for my informal settlement conference. The fight continues…

I responded in the comments of his Facebook post
 I have seen some of the “data” Brian referenced. I wasn’t convinced. Let the debate continue. There needs to be an alternative to VAM.
A few months back Brian had hijacked a post about something else with comments about PAR. At the time I had asked him to see his data, he sent it, and I wasn’t convinced by it at the time. Brian then messaged me:

If you have an argument let me see it. Otherwise be quiet.

So analyzing LA Unified PAR data on a Saturday evening is not exactly how I want to spend a Redbox night, but I did anyways because I was curious if Brian is right about PAR. I asked him for his data and he sent LA Unified PAR. Thanks Brian. Unfortunately, he did not have data on all the teachers in the district— he only sent along data from the sample of PAR teachers. There are about 30,000 teachers in LA Unified, and there were about 300 teachers in each year of PAR data.

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So is PAR discriminatory? On whom might you argue it has a disparate impact? I haven’t put my education stats professor hat on in awhile here at Cloaking Inequity, so it will be good to stretch my legs for just a moment for these analyses. I will focus on 2011-12 because that is the data I have available for comparison purposes for the district population of teachers.

Questions I will address:

  1. Is there a statistically significant difference in the mean age by race/ethnicity amongst LAUSD PAR teachers?
  2. Is there a statistically significant difference in the mean pay scale by race/ethnicity amongst LAUSD PAR teachers?
  3. Are some race/ethnicities disproportionately represented in the LAUSD PAR data?

Is there a statistically significant difference in the mean age by race/ethnicity amongst LAUSD PAR teachers?

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Surprisingly, the ANOVA analyses comparing means demonstrates that White teachers are statistically significantly older in the data. Whites are statistically significantly older than Latinos, but not Blacks or Asians just among the PAR sample. The average age of White teachers is about 55. I don’t know the average age of teachers in LAUSD population, so this is just a “composition” analysis. I can’t calculate relative “composition” or “risk”. Which means that I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether older teachers are being targeted for PAR. You would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation to answer that question or make suppositions about the possibility. What can be said is that— amongst the PAR sample— Whites are older than other race/ethnicities.

Is there a statistically significant difference in the mean pay scale by race/ethnicity amongst LAUSD PAR teachers?

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I also conducted an ANOVA to see if there were any mean differences in the pay scales by race/ethnicity for those teachers involved in PAR in LAUSD. The ANOVA shows that there is no mean difference in the sample by race in the pay scales. The average pay scale in PAR is about 13. Again, I cannot say from only a PAR sample whether teachers in higher pay scales are being targeted for PAR, I would need data for all teachers in LA Unified for that calculation and to make suppositions about the possibility.

Are some race/ethnicities disproportionately represented in the LAUSD PAR data?

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I conducted a Chi-Square analysis of the LAUSD PAR data to answer the disparate impact question. The table of observed and expected frequencies suggests that, in the LAUSD PAR sample, African Americans are over represented by 30 teachers, Whites are over represented by 42 teachers, Latinos are under represented by 60 teachers, Native Americans are under represented by 1 teacher and Asians are under represented in PAR by about 10 teachers. In summary, Whites and Blacks are involved in PAR more than you would expected due to chance— while Latinos, Asians and Native Americans (only slightly= 1 teacher) are under represented.

Mark Naison made the following comment in the thread on this issue:

Ethnic cleansing has occurred in the teaching staffs of urban school districts throughout the country, from DC, to Chicago, to LA. All of those districts have been unionized. Teachers unions have to accept responsibility for the sharp decline in teachers of color on their watch. While PAR may not be the primary explanation for this decline, it has occured in California cities with PAR, in the same or greater proportions than it has in cities outside California without PAR.

Clearly, attracting and keeping teachers of color is an important issue in our society today as our K-12 student population nationwide is now majority minority. I would have been very concerned about PAR if the LAUSD data sent by Brian was in alignment with his very serious accusations. Future research utlizing data from all 30,000 teachers would allow for risk analyses controlling simultaneously for age, pay scales, race/ethnicity and other factors such as school type. These analyses might present findings different than what I have conducted here.

In conclusion, it appears that some have an axe to grind with PAR— but the LAUSD data I analyzed does not sharpen that axe.

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About Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig (668 Articles)
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

3 Comments on The Axe is grinding: Is PAR teacher evaluation discriminatory?

  1. Approximately 90% of teachers who have been labeled “below standard” and placed in PAR are over 40. I doubt that 90% of lausd teachers are over 40, but as you say, we need numbers to prove discrimination. I would like to know how to find out many teachers in lausd are over 40.

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  2. From my experience as a professional advocate representing teachers who were identified as needing PAR, they were not all veteran teachers and the majority were white females, which reflected the workforce in general, However it was not in LA Unified. It was in a school district of 12,000 teachers, that viewed teaching performance in the context of a professional growth system. Therefore, standards for teachers were collaboratively developed by the union and district that reflected different levels of performance depending on where the teacher was situated in the continuum. In fact, all categories of employees (support staff, building administrator, central administrator, and teacher) in the district had an Induction and PAR process in one professional growth system.

    By looking at the data alone, it could indicate some trends but I would venture it would also take an investigation into the principals-who might have a record of placing teachers in PAR and then what is the “profile” of those teachers-years of experience, age, subject/grade level,racial/ethnic background, and gender. The other interesting detail is the profile of the administrator.

    This is something that the union and the district should be doing TOGETHER. It is imperative that the union and district be reviewing its data for continuous growth and development of a system that promotes growth and development.

    The union and the district should conduct joint training of principals about the process and procedures. It is totally possible to use the PAR process as a means to get rid of a teacher. Key to PAR are two elements: the mentors and the oversight board that hears the final cases of teachers not recommended for continuation of employment. It is a highly sophisticated system if the focus is a professional growth system, beginning to master, with opportunities, resources, and supports provided.

    If the focus is to “get rid of bad teachers” any evaluation system can do that, including PAR. It just depends on your focus and how much you manipulate it. It takes a joint responsibility to develop, monitor, and adjust a growth system in which people perform at set standards or develop far beyond the standards.

    So if there are only 300 out of 30,000 teachers per year in PAR, in LA Unified. it would be fairly easy for the district and union to track the data. As responsible professionals, they should be analyzing that data for the sake of continuous improvement alone, not to mention fairness, due process, and the value of justice. If there is a perception that the PAR process is NOT being employed with fidelity, then the district and union should address it. It is their responsibility to do so as people who developed a system whereby excellence is nurtured. Instead of calling them out for violating civil rights and due process, I challenge both UTLA and ULASD Administration to verify their PAR program is employed righteously. They should be able to withstand that test. If not, we can help them.

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  3. True, these data do not “sharpen the axe”. However, the issue is not an esoteric one about “attracting and keeping teachers of color is an important issue in our society today as our K-12 student population nationwide is now majority minority.” The truth is that any assessment system in use within an environment of standardization based on false accountability where the aim is to “find bad or good teachers” is ripe for abuse and likely to be used in discriminatory fashion. In addition, as long as there is a disparity between the composition of teachers and the students they serve, there will be real problems in promoting the equitable education of diverse learners.

    Conceptually, the idea of “peer assistance and review” as a “community-level” evaluation system seems more democratic. However, it only seems so. The essential question is whether this system is in actual fact an Assessment in which the focus is for “assistance and review” or if the terms “assistance and review” really represent just another form of determining “good” and “bad” teachers. Making the likely contentious assumption that PAR is in fact benevolent in its practice, it will remain unlikely that a school district and anti-union forces within communities will be so benign as to support teachers under the current framework of false accountability and standards. Indeed, the very same prejudicial attitudes we find in the general society are likely to hold sway within and among teachers and certainly will be at play between teacher and administrators.

    I do understand the impulse to promote “solutions” that do not involve such failed strategies and “value added measurement”. I would encourage advocates of improved academic achievement to focus on building more democracy in the running of schools and better anti-racist preparation of new incoming teachers rather than trying improve the current and failed system that will likely subvert any well-intentioned processes.

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