Posted in Tenure

2014 Medley #15: Reactions to Vergara

Reactions to Vergara

SO MANY “BAD TEACHERS

How many bad teachers are there in California…and why do they seem to be located only in schools with high levels of student poverty?

  • FACT: High levels of poverty interferes with student learning to a much larger degree than is publicly acknowledged by “reformers.”
  • FACT: Many states (here, for example) aware permanent status to K-12 teachers giving them the right to an impartial hearing in disputes. The right is to due process which simply means that there must be a legitimate reason to fire them. This is frequently misnamed “Tenure.”

After an extended discussion with a (non-teacher) friend who lives in California it’s clear that there are some aspects of California laws that could be changed. California has one of the shortest probationary periods in the country before permanent status is awarded. It was also clear that (in my friend’s opinion) the process of firing a teacher for cause in California is too cumbersome and takes too long (similar objections have been made about the process in New York and other states).

Is there anything wrong with extending the probationary time for a beginning teacher?

  • No. Many states have probationary periods of between 3 and 5 years for beginning teachers. In most states, during that period teachers can be fired at the whim of the administration.

Is there anything wrong with streamlining the process of removing teachers who should not be teaching from the classroom?

  • No. Once it has been fairly proven that a teacher (even one with permanent status) does not belong in a classroom, removal from the classroom should be swift.

Is there anything preventing the California legislature from making these changes?

  • No. The legislature made the laws as they currently stand. They can change them.

Should teachers unions be allowed to defend teachers?

  • Yes. It’s the teacher union’s role (often required by law) to ensure that a teacher’s rights to due process have not been denied. Once the teacher’s rights have been guaranteed it is up to the union whether or not the teacher’s position should also be defended. This would depend on the circumstances. In the United states, even accused criminals are afforded the right to due process and a defense against their accusers. Teachers, and all employees deserve no less.

The question we now need to ask is, who is responsible to make sure that all students have qualified, experienced teachers?

Who is responsible? Parents and students are responsible for individual effort and a positive home environment. Teachers are responsible for educating the whole student. School boards and administrations are responsible for providing the resources teachers need to do their jobs. States and municipalities are responsible for providing resources to school systems.

  • If states and municipalities don’t provide school systems with the resources to fund their schools, and…
  • If the federal and state departments of education don’t provide the resources for schools to adequately fund their buildings, hire enough teachers, and provide suitable programs, and…
  • If school systems don’t have the resources to provide enough teachers to adequately teach students and incentives for teachers to work in low achieving schools, and…
  • If students come to school suffering from the effects of poverty (food insecurity, community violence, environmental pollution, inadequate health care, etc), and…
  • If teachers haven’t got the tools to overcome the effects of student poverty and lack of support, then…
Teachers can’t teach, and…
Students can’t learn.
  • If people don’t know what to do to solve the problems of inequity and poverty, and…
  • If some people find ways to profit from social upheaval, then…
  • There will be and attempt to place the blame somewhere else instead of accepting responsibility…

In the case of Vergara…the blame is placed solely on teachers and their unions.

STANDING UP FOR TEACHERS

CTU President Karen Lewis on California court tenure ruling

Chicago Teachers Union Reacts to Vergara Decision – Chicago Teachers Union

If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.

Why that ruling against teacher tenure won’t help your schoolchildren – Michael Hiltzik, LA Times

“Students Matter has done nothing that will put a needed book or computer in a school,” Cohen observes. “Not one wifi hotspot. Not one more librarian, nurse, or counselor. Not one more paintbrush or musical instrument. Not one hour of instructional aide support for students or professional development for teachers. They don’t have any apparent interest in the more glaring inadequacies that their considerable wealth and PR savvy could help.”

…it will make good teachers harder to recruit and harder to keep. And it will ensure that the real causes of California’s educational decline–causes that require money to solve–will go utterly unaddressed. Arne Duncan and John Deasy should be very pleased.

Vergara Decision Blames Teachers, Ignores Injustices for Students in Poorest Communities – Jan Resseger

The Vergara attorneys sought to portray the needs of children as separate and very different from the needs of their teachers. In fact, teachers and children in our poorest communities share the need for society to invest in improving their public schools.

Is Teacher Tenure Really The New Brown V. Board Of Education? – NPR

This is an interview of Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuck. Not once was it made clear that “tenure” means due process.

You know essentially the judge agreed with the plaintiff…these teacher protection laws, and by that we mean tenure, we mean the lengthy process for dismissing a tenured teacher, and also some of the seniority provisions which require more junior teachers to be laid off before more experienced teachers, were disproportionately saddling students of color and disadvantaged students with the weakest teachers…

This is the first ruling that said it is not just about the money. We have to make sure that there is equal access to quality teaching and instruction…

The ruling is saying that disadvantaged kids can not have a disproportionate share of poor performing teachers.

Op-Ed: Making it easier to fire teachers won’t get you better ones – Jack Schneider, LA Times

Making it easier to fire teachers — even if we imagine that such powers will be deployed judiciously by school administrators — will do little to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. Instead, it will further erode trust between teachers and school administrators…

Instead of imagining a world in which teachers are easier to fire, we should work to imagine one in which firing is rarely necessary. Because you don’t put an effective teacher in every classroom by holding a sword over their heads. You do it by putting tools in their hands.

Due Process Prevents Capricious Firings – Diane Ravitch, NY Times

The loss of tenure will make it even more difficult to staff schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Abolishing tenure solves no problems for students and creates massive demoralization among teachers, who understand that their job depends now on compliance to administrators, at whose whim they serve.

Corporate ed “reformers” win initial lawsuit in attempt to take away due process – Indiana State Teachers Association

It is a fact that less money is spent on high poverty students and that student teacher ratios are less favorable in high poverty schools, much like those in Los Angeles County. It certainly didn’t help that like a lot of states, California has cut spending in education dramatically. School funding in California has received a cut of $18 billion since 2009.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel released a statement in response to the verdict. In part he says:

“Let’s be clear: This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education. Research shows experience enhances teacher effectiveness and increases student productivity at all grade levels, and that ultimately contributes to better outcomes for students. Yet, today’s ruling hurts students and serves only to undermine the ability of school districts to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

“NEA will continue to stand up for students and focus on the ingredients that are proven to help students the most—like supporting new teachers, providing ongoing training, paying teachers a decent salary, and developing reliable evaluation systems to measure teacher effectiveness.”

The Vergara Trial Teachers Were Not “Grossly Ineffective” – Diane Ravitch

Not only did none of them have a “grossly ineffective” teacher, but some of the plaintiffs attended schools where there are no tenured teachers. Two of the plaintiffs attend charter schools, where there is no tenure or seniority, and as you will read below, “Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness.

Will California’s Ruling Against Teacher Tenure Change Schools? – Dana Goldstein, The Atlantic

Educational equality is about more than teacher-seniority rules: It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers. To do that, those schools need excellent, stable principals who inspire confidence in great teachers. They need rich curricula that stimulate both adults and children. And ideally, their student bodies should be more socioeconomically integrated so schools are less overwhelmed by the social challenges of poverty. Of course, all that is a tall policy order; much more difficult, it turns out, than overturning tenure laws.

Ineffective Forever

…by focusing on a bogus definition of effectiveness, you actually have no idea of which teachers are great for a particular classroom. It’s not just that the reformster definition of effective is unjust and unfair; its innate wrongness will actively thwart any attempts to make anything better. It’s almost– almost– as if reformsters actually want public schools to fail.

Teacher Tenure Under Attack: Time to Rise to Our Own Defense – Peter Greene

The big money plutocrats are after your job protections. Make no mistake about it. This move is part and parcel with the entire “blame the teacher” narrative of the corporate education reformers. By keeping the focus on teachers, the 1% can deflect attention from the real issue in education – income inequality.

You may find it difficult to argue for job protections with your friends and neighbors, when many of them do not have those protections. Here is a quick and dirty list of seven reasons teachers need tenure.

“Strict scrutiny” of Vergara ruling a setback for California teachers – David B. Cohen

Regarding the steps and procedures involved in teacher dismissal, Judge Treu says the defense must meet strict scrutiny to prove why teacher dismissal must involve “über due process” and he points out that if education code in this area is stricken, teachers will be treated like other public sector employees, who do have due process rights. I’m not sure teachers are well-served by alarmist social media messages suggesting Treu’s ruling would leave us without due process. At the same time, I think there are compelling reasons that teaching is different from other public sector employment, necessitating some special consideration in dismissal procedures. However, Treu’s discussion of the evidence in this area seems particularly selective; he says that the current system is so complex and expensive that “dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher [is] illusory.” The word “illusory” suggests that it just doesn’t happen – when in fact, it does happen. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, a witness for the plaintiffs, even testified about the fact that greater attention to ineffective teaching in LAUSD has led to more teachers being dismissed. (A former superintendent, called by the defense, also testified regarding the fact that ineffective teachers often choose to leave rather than engage in the full dismissal process). I’m entirely open to the idea that the process could be improved, and in fact, CTA has worked with legislators, key stakeholders, and education advocacy groups around certain dismissal procedures quite recently. But I do to take issue with “illusory” and question Treu’s vision in that regard. And keep in mind, no evidence was cited (nor is there any I’ve read about) to suggest that any of the plaintiffs endured a teacher who would have been fired if not for these burdensome laws; under strict scrutiny, it seems that’s not necessary – but it would be more compelling.

A silver lining in the Vergara decision? – Kevin Welner, in The Answer Sheet, Washington Post

Although I can’t help but feel troubled by the attack on teachers and their hard-won rights, and although I think the court’s opinion is quite weak, legally as well as logically, my intent here is not to disagree with that decision. In fact, as I explain below, the decision gives real teeth to the state’s Constitution, and that could be a very good thing. It’s those teeth that I find fascinating, since an approach like that used by the Vergara judge could put California courts in a very different role —as a guarantor of educational equality—than we have thus far seen in the United States.

Job Protections Do Not Hurt Students – Brian Jones

If teacher tenure is an important obstacle to achievement, Mississippi (with no teacher tenure) should have stellar schools and Massachusetts (with teacher tenure) should have failing ones. Instead, it’s the other way around. Correlation is not causation, of course, but across the country the states without tenure are at the bottom of performance rankings. States with the highest-achieving public schools have tenure (and teacher unions).

UPDATE: Fuzzy Math – Jordan Weissmann

…if you’re going to argue in court that a state law is dooming children to second-rate educations, you ought to be able to quantify the problem. Politically, it also seemed liked a pretty awful indictment of the state government if officials knew for certain that so many useless teachers were lounging around California’s classrooms. But where did this number come from?

Nowhere, it turns out. It’s made up. Or a “guesstimate,” as David Berliner, the expert witness Treu quoted, explained to me when I called him on Wednesday. It’s not based on any specific data, or any rigorous research about California schools in particular. “I pulled that out of the air,” says Berliner, an emeritus professor of education at Arizona State University. “There’s no data on that. That’s just a ballpark estimate, based on my visiting lots and lots of classrooms.” He also never used the words “grossly ineffective.”

UPDATE: Vergara v. California: When Teachers Lose, Schools and Students Lose Too – Matt Murray, NH Labor News

I’d add a correction to this comment. It’s not just “the right wing attack” on public schools. Democrats often join in.

There is something seriously wrong in America right now and it all stems from blaming workers for the industry failures. Recently we have seen the right wing attacking the workers at the VA, completely ignoring the fact that the VA is underfunded and cannot handle the volume of new veterans in the already overloaded system.

This trend of blaming the teachers for a schools failure has been the staple of the right wing attack on our public schools. They blame teachers who spend their own money to supply their classrooms, and spend hours of their own time correcting students’ work.

UPDATE: Vergara Wasn’t About Tenure! It was About Making Fast Food Workers and Common Core Cheeseburgers – Nancy Bailey

The Vergara case was more about taking away any due process afforded to teachers. Now they can be fired without reason. They will be told even more than they were already, what to teach and how to teach. They will not be able to stand up for what they believe is right for their students. They literally will have no protections at all.

For those of you who wonder why your teachers don’t fight harder against Common Core State Standards, take a look at Vergara. No teacher who needs employment will say anything against any draconian program that comes your child’s way. They have been silenced…if they had much of a voice to begin with.

UPDATE: Letter to U.S. Education Secretary Duncan on the Vergara decision – Randi Weingarten, AFT

Educational equity and opportunity cannot be achieved with quick fixes, blame games or silver bullets. My fear is that the Vergara decision will set us back in our effort to help all kids succeed. We must focus on recruiting and retaining great teachers. We must hone in on poverty, underfunding and other factors that went unaddressed in the Vergara decision. We must listen to teachers, who—in being the closest to the classroom—are invaluable in providing a high-quality education to every child. We must bring teachers, students and parents together to scale and sustain solutions that work. If we do this, then we will be much closer to the goal of reclaiming the promise of public education.

The Text of the Vergara Decision

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Retired after 35 years in public education.