What’s the score?

Evaluating teachers, ‘the claw’ and Occupy

Sacramento voters will decide this November if they want to scale back the use of “the claw” to pick up leaf piles and other yard waste from city streets.

The city says limiting the regular use of the claw loaders to the “leafy season” will save money on gas and wear and tear on city streets. The city also says the leafy season is November, December and January. So, if you’ve got a lot of leaves in October or February, your trees are probably broken.

Why then did Sacramento just spend $110,000 a pop on a fleet of seven new claws, before voters even weigh in on Measure T?

The claw is never going away, that’s a myth we’re trying to bust,” says Erin Treadwell with the city’s Department of General Services. If voters reject Measure T, then the new claws will come in handy. If the measure passes, the new claws will see plenty of duty on neighborhood clean-up days, and, of course, during the leafy season. “We can’t keep up with the leaves if we don’t have functioning equipment,” says Treadwell.

For about a year the city council and Occupy Sacramento have been locked in a sort of vicious circle of insult and annoyance. There are legitimate questions to argue over about the right to “occupy” public space and government’s “reasonable time place and manner” restrictions. Unfortunately, those arguments have boiled down to, “You can’t tell us what to do!” and “Your two minutes are up!”

Which is how we ended up with an unnecessary new curfew and new permit rules for the City Hall grounds, passed by the council last week. City officials say, with a straight face, that the rules aren’t directed at Occupy. As though the rest of us did something to deserve punishment. In fact, the council just imposed a curfew so it can evict a small group of people who were annoying and tearing up the grass. So, thanks Occupy and city council. Way to represent.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in town last week meeting with California mayors and school superintendents.

The summit, held at the Sacramento Public Library, came at an interesting time: The chief of Sacramento City Unified School District, Jonathan Raymond, wants Sac City schools to apply for up to $40 million in Race to the Top money. That’s the successor program to No Child Left Behind adopted by Duncan and his boss, President Barack Obama.

California has lost out on the funds, partly because Gov. Jerry Brown found the law to be too “top down” and wouldn’t promise to implement new teacher-evaluation rules. Now, local districts can apply directly for the funds—going around the state—if they show they will implement a system of evaluating teachers at least partially based on student test scores.

For all sorts of reasons, teachers hate that idea—it was a major issue between Chicago teachers and Rahm Emanuel. And locally the Sacramento City Teachers Association is refusing to sign off on Raymond’s application. In a letter to Raymond, union reps noted that 900 districts around the country are applying for the RTTT money, but only a couple dozen districts are likely to receive any of it. They worry the district would be stuck with a slapped-together evaluation system (the application deadline is end of October) and no federal money to show for it.

Of course, with or without federal money, teachers just don’t want paychecks and pink slips tied to test scores. For one thing, high-stakes testing encourages cheating. Look at Atlanta or D.C. Here in California, the release of school Academic Performance Index scores are still delayed because the state Department of Education held them up while investigating reports of cheating in some California schools.

And a task force convened by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson just released a report rejecting teacher evaluations based on test scores, saying that those measures “are very unreliable and often inaccurate at the individual teacher level.”

Torlakson and Brown, who no doubt value the support of teacher unions, have argued for toning down the emphasis on test scores. But Superintendent Raymond is ready to push ahead. Last week, Sacramento Bee reporter Melody Gutierrez, who was at the Duncan event, tweeted “Sac City Super Raymond says the fact that Race to the Top requires union support is stifling. Urges Duncan to reconsider.”

It’s hard to judge the context, but complaining about teachers when they’re not in the room probably won’t win their trust and cooperation. Does that matter? Rahm Emanuel didn’t think so.