San Diego Unified School District is once again under the spotlight, this time for the controversial issue of teacher evaluations. Will Carless peered out over the country and saw large school districts in places like Washington D.C, New York and Houston evaluating their teachers with a method known as “value-added metrics.”

The method is supposed to track a student’s progress as she spends the year with any given teacher, and give administrators the tools they need to reward, retrain or terminate teachers based on their levels of success.

But when Carless went looking for San Diego Unified’s teacher metrics, he found they didn’t exist. “The San Diego Unified school board and school superintendent Bill Kowba know all about value-added metrics,” Carless writes. “They’re just not interested in using them.”

While district administrators and union leaders may not be interested in the value-added metrics method, the teachers in the classrooms are developing their own data-driven methods for increasing success in the classroom. When one class of students’ algebra test scores soared after the teacher implemented a home-grown “Herschman Model,” the teachers sent the details of the model off to the district, urging it be implemented. What happened?

“Nothing,” Carless writes.

“They said we didn’t have a plan for student achievement,” explains star teacher Jon Winn, who helped develop the Herschman Model. He now, incidentally, faces the prospect of being laid off because of the seniority-based system for handling budget cuts.

It’s an Evaluation Debate Bonus

We sought out commentaries from parent and teacher groups to keep the conversation going.

Shelli Kurth, executive director of the San Diego parent advocacy group UpforEd, wrote in support of methods like the value-added metrics. “While basing teacher effectiveness on testing might not give the complete picture, it certainly gives a snapshot,” Kurth wrote.

Some disagree. “Relying on student standardized test scores to define teacher quality is not just willfully ignorant; it is destructive to the profession and the education process,” wrote Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association.

Both letters are backed up by education studies and compelling points. What are you convinced of? Head over to Fix San Diego and tell us what you think. And jump into the conversation: The debate is already going in the main stories’ comments section.

DeMaio Deconstructed

We’ve partnering with NBC 7 San Diego to look at each the four major mayoral candidates in detail and give you a look at their ideas and backgrounds. In our latest San Diego Explained, we explore Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio. We explain what he believes, what he wants to say and what he’d rather not talk about.

Last week, we took on Nathan Fletcher. Up next week: Bonnie Dumanis. The pieces air during the Wednesday 6 p.m. newscast on NBC 7 San Diego and on our site the following day.

Filner’s Failures

As Congressman Bob Filner makes the rounds for his mayoral campaign, he can oft be heard waxing dire about the current status of the Port of San Diego. Jump-starting port business is a foundation of his campaign. From claiming the port engages in “zero commerce” to positing that the port employs only “like a dozen longshoremen in all of San Diego,” the congressman is flat-out wrong, reports Investigative Newsource.

When confronted with the facts on KPBS’ “Evening Edition,” Filner wasn’t fazed. “If we have hundreds of longshoremen, we should have thousands. If we have … whatever billion [in commerce], we should have twice or three times that.”

“This is a theme in Filner’s campaign,” writes our Liam Dillon. “His most high-profile policy plank is his alternative to a June pension reform initiative. But Filner still hasn’t formally released it.”

Dillon goes on to note that we’ve fact checked Filner six times and he didn’t come out totally clean on four of those, including receiving one “Huckster Propaganda.”

Ear to the District 7 Streets

Will Carless has been spending time in City Council District 7 this week, talking to residents, searching for stories and doing what every journalist does best: visiting the neighborhood bars.

His dispatches from each neighborhood turn up what’s important to the people there: having a voice in Linda Vista, controlling development in Grantville and fire precautions in Tierrasanta.

He also hints that he now knows the best place to get Thai food in San Diego, but leaves us hanging on the details. Leave him a comment, maybe he’ll cough it up.

Next week, Carless will finish his coverage by introducing us to the City Council candidates in District 7. And Rob Davis will begin exploring District 5, which covers the northern inland stretches of the city. Remember, we need your help: Get in touch with Davis and tell him what issues are important to you, who he should talk to and what questions he should put to the district’s one and only council candidate.

News Nibbles:

• “The bronze has already been poured.” That’s the word on the nearly $1 million replacement of the famous “Unconditional Surrender” statue that depicts a Navy sailor kissing a woman, which currently sits near the USS Midway Museum. The current statue is on loan until May. (NBC 7 San Diego)

• The Los Angeles Times writes about the balanced budget that Mayor Jerry Sanders will propose, and asks for his advice to the mayor of L.A. They note that the mayor called out Councilman Carl DeMaio as someone whose “entire platform is doom and gloom.” The story says the official motto of San Diego is “America’s Finest City.” Actually, that’s its nickname. Its true official motto is “Semper Vigilans.”

Celebrate Tough Times, Come On!

Amid budget cutbacks that have resulted in San Diego universities decreasing enrollment, hiking tuition for students and eliminating classes, a funny thing has happened. And no, we aren’t talking about mystifying pay increases for top executive positions, although that has happened, too.

U-T San Diego reports that the costs for staff parties thrown by University of California, San Diego jumped from $179,552 in 2010 to $247,996 in 2011. One event that cost over $20,000 was catered with “artichoke fondue, hand carved turkey, maple smoked ham” and, for dessert, something called “buche de noel.” With a name like that, you’ll want to be sure you spell it right if you Google it.

San Diego State University spent $48,907 on parties in 2011, up from $36,907 in 2010. Included in the 2011 festivities was a holiday party for the biology department hosted at Lips Restaurant, where an infamous drag queen show takes place and the actors aggressively promote alcohol consumption and encourage the audience to throw money at the stage from their seats (trust me, I know). The fabulous party rang in at $2,633.

Thankfully, the California State University Board of Trustees voted for a 5 percent increase in tuition in 2010 and another 10 percent increase for the Fall 2011-2012 academic year to address budget cuts. And more tuition hikes may be on the way soon. It isn’t known if any of the students who get priced out of a college education will be invited to future parties. Heaven knows, they’re going to need a stiff drink.

Seth Hall can be reached at

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

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