Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

Peter Schrag has written sensibly about education issues for many years.

In this article, he analyzes the complexities of the Vergara trial, in which a rich and powerful coalition of corporate reformers are trying to eliminate due process rights for teachers.

In the end, he argues, the outcome of the trial won’t change much for poor kids.

If the plaintiffs win, some very good veteran teachers may be fired to save money.

The legislature will enact some new laws, perhaps basing layoffs on “effectiveness” (i.e. test scores) rather than due process, but as we know from the recent report of the American Statistical Association, test-based accountability (VAM) is fraught with problems and will end up stigmatizing those who teach in high-poverty schools.

He quotes Russlyn Ali, who was Secretary Arne Duncan’s assistant secretary for civil rights and is now supporting the Vergara plaintiffs:

 

Laws that make it hard to dismiss or replace teachers were originally designed to protect them against the nepotism and the racial, social and cultural biases that were all too common in education until well after World War II. If those protections are curtailed, and if a new system relying heavily on “effectiveness” — itself an uncertain standard — is put in place, what’s to say it won’t make teachers competitors and undermine morale and collaboration?
It’s possible that if the courts find that the tenure laws in this case offend constitutional equal protection guarantees, many of the system’s other inequities might be open to legal challenge as well. Ali, among others, has that hope, and she sees Vergara as a first step in that larger battle.
But if the Vergara plaintiffs win a resounding victory in this case, don’t look for any quick change in the schools or some great improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged kids. There are just too many other uncertainties, too many inequities, too many other unmet needs.

 

My view: the trial continues the blame game favored by the Obama administration and the billionaire boys’ club, in which they blame “bad” teachers as the main culprit in low academic performance. Their refusal to recognize that standardized tests accurately measure family income and family education is their blind spot. It is easier to blame teachers than to take strong action to reduce poverty and racial segregation. It is sad and ironic that the most segregated schools in the United States today are charter schools, yet the Obama administration wants more of them. If the Vergara plaintiffs win, there will be fewer teachers eager to risk their reputation teaching the kids who have the greatest needs. If the plaintiffs win, this case will then be a setback for the rights of the kids, no victory at all.

 

If the corporate reformers refuse to attack the root causes of low test scores, then Peter Schrag is quite right to say that nothing much will change.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-schrag-vergara-teacher-union-20140403,0,3459594.story#ixzz2ygmthcp2

 

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says that experienced teachers get better results than inexperienced teachers!

It might seem too obvious to be a headline, but the fake reformers have railed against “last-in-first-out” and veteran teachers for years. Those “reformers” insist that the veterans are burned out while the new teachers are great on Day One.

There is even a lawsuit in Los Angeles to eliminate tenure.

Will wonders never cease!

Anthony Cody here describes teachers as “reluctant warriors,” as men and women who chose a profession because they wanted to teach, not to engage in political battles over their basic rights as professionals.

 

The profession is under attack, as everyone now knows. Pensions are under attack. The right to due process is under attack. The policymakers want inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who won’t talk back, who won’t collect a pension, who will turn over rapidly:

 

In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students. The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

 

First, the privatizers came for the schools of the poor, because their parents and communities were powerless and were easy marks for privatization. Then they came for the union and the teachers:

 

Schools of the poor were the first targets. It was easy to stigmatize schools attended by African Americans and Latinos, by English learners and the children of the disempowered. Use test scores to label them failures, dropout factories, close them down, turn them over to privatizers. But this was just the beginning. And now, as Arne Duncan made clear with his dismissal of “white suburban moms,” they want all the schools, and are prepared to use poor performance on the Common Core tests to fuel the “schools are failing” narrative.

 

Teacher unions are under ruthless attack by billionaires, who conveniently own the media, and provide the very “facts” to guide public discourse. Due process is maligned and destroyed under the guise of “increasing professionalism.” Democratic control of local schools is undermined by mayoral control and the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

 

Congress and state legislatures have been purchased wholesale through bribes legalized by the Supreme Court, which has given superhuman power to corporate “citizens.”

 

Teachers, by our nature cooperators respectful of authority, are slow to react. Can the destruction of public education truly be anyone’s goal? The people responsible for this erosion rarely state their intentions. With smiles and praise for teachers, they remove our autonomy and make our jobs depend on test scores. With calls for choice and civil rights, they re-segregate our schools, and institute zero-tolerance discipline policies in their no-excuses charter schools. They push for larger classes in public schools but send their own children to schools with no more than 16 students in a room. Corporate philanthropies anoint teacher “leaders” who are willing to echo reform themes – sometimes even endorsed by our national teacher unions.

 

Now, he says, as the truth gets out about the privatization movement and its bipartisan support, teachers are starting to fight back. They are joining the BATs, they are joining the Network for Public Education, they are speaking out, they are (as in Seattle) refusing to give the tests, they are organizing (as in New York City) to protest the low quality of the tests.

 

Join in the fight against high-stakes testing, which is a central element in the privatization movement. They use the data to target teachers, principals, and public schools. They use the data to destroy public education. Don’t cooperate. Join the reluctant warriors. One person alone will be hammered. Do it with your colleagues, stand together, and be strong.

 

 

 

 

In this post on EduShyster’s always enlightening blog, goest blogger Sarah Lahm in Minneapolis examines one of the central claims of the Status Quo Reform crowd: They say that teachers should have no job protections so that it is easier to get rid of veterans (who are presumably burned out and lazy) and replace them with fresh-faced, inexperienced teachers whose expectations are supposed to produce higher test scores and close the achievement gap.

 

But what if it turns out that the highest-performing sections of the district have veteran teachers, while the sections where poor kids are concentrated get the newbies?

 

What if the poor kids actually need experienced teachers, not bright young amateurs who don’t know how to teach?

 

What if the “solution” is a big part of the problem?

 

What will the Status Quo do then?

The corporate style reformers–the cheerleaders for charters, vouchers-and high-stakes testing–like to claim that they are leading the civil rights movement of their day. They imagine themselves locked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., in their efforts to end collective bargaining rights, to eliminate teacher due process rights, and to privatize public education.

 

I am not sure if they actually believe this or if they think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the media and the public.

 

In this fascinating interview, Josh Eidelson of Salon puts the question to Linda Darling-Hammond: Would you agree or disagree that the Vergara case–which would end teachers’ job protections–is an extension of the civll rights movement, as its proponents claim?

 

My guess is that Linda either fell off her chair laughing, or was momentarily dumbstruck by the absurdity of the idea.

 

She responded:

 

“I can’t understand why anyone would agree. To me, it’s completely unrelated to the agenda from Brown, which was about getting equal access to educational opportunities for students — you know, initially through desegregation, but the heritage of Brown is also a large number of school finance reform lawsuits that have been trying to advocate for equitable resource distribution between districts and schools. And Vergara has nothing to do with that …

 

“Even if you got rid of teachers’ due process rights for evaluation, you would do nothing to remedy the inequalities in funding and access that students have. And in fact you might exacerbate the problem.”

 

See, Linda remembers that the Brown decision was about equity, equitable resources for schools, and desegregation, and today’s self-proclaimed reformers avoid discussing things like that. They say that poverty is an excuse for bad teachers. Martin Luther King Jr. would never have said that. They certainly don’t care about desegregation. As the UCLA Civil Rights Project and as researcher Iris Rotberg have documented, charter schools exacerbate segregation. Indeed. the so-called reformers like to boast about all-black schools that get high test scores; segregation just is not an issue for them. They don’t see any reason to reduce class size–Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg think it should be increased. If pressed, they say that we are spending too much on education already. Things like desegregation, equitable resources, and class size are not on their agenda.

 

Eidelson asks whether the plaintiffs are right in saying that it should be easier to fire bad teachers, and Linda responds:

 

First of all, just to be clear: It is extremely easy to get rid of teachers. You can dismiss a teacher for no reason at all in the first two years of their employment. And so there is no reason for a district ever to tenure a “grossly ineffective” teacher — as the language of the lawsuit goes — because you know if a teacher is grossly ineffective pretty quickly, and it’s negligence on the part of the school district if they continue to employ somebody who falls into that classification when they have no barriers to [firing them]. And districts that are well-run, and have good teacher evaluation systems in place, can get rid of veteran teachers that don’t meet a standard and [don’t] improve after that point.

 

But in fact, the ability to keep teachers and develop them into excellent teachers is the more important goal and strategy for getting a high-quality teaching force. Because if what you’re really running is a churn factory, where you’re just bringing people in and, you know, firing them, good people don’t want to work in a place like that. So it’s going to be hard for you to recruit. Second of all, you’re likely not paying enough attention to developing good teachers into great teachers, and reasonable teachers into good teachers.

 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t get rid of a bad teacher if you get one. But you ought to be very careful about hiring and development – that makes that a rare occurrence.

 

When Eidelson asks Linda what should be done to fulfill the promise of the Brown decision, she responds:

 

First of all, we have a dramatically unequal allocation of wealth in the society, which is getting much worse … We need another War on Poverty … Because we have a quarter of our kids in the country, and more than half in the public schools of California, living in poverty.

 

And so that’s No. 1: We need to do what other developed nations do, which is ensure that kids have healthcare, housing and a context in which they can grow up healthy – in communities which still have the kinds of recreation facilities, public libraries and other supports, [including] early childhood education, that would continue to allow children to come to school ready to learn.

 

Then we need schools that are equitably funded, with more money going to the students who have the greatest needs. I’m proud to say that in California, we’ve just passed a school funding law that is probably the most progressive in the nation, and that will actually, over the next years, allocate more money to each child that is living in poverty, is an English learner, or is in foster care than to other children. And we will begin to redress some of the profound inequalities that exist today … Cities in California typically are spending much less right now – before this kicks in — than affluent districts. That’s the real thing — if we were litigating the successes of Brown — that’s the real thing that would be first on the agenda to correct.

 

And then beyond that, I think we have to be sure that the state builds a high-quality teaching force, well-prepared for all candidates. If we were a highly developed nation that is high-achieving, we would be offering free teacher education to everyone that wants to teach, in high-quality [preparatory programs] … and getting rid of the [programs] that can’t meet the bar, so that everyone comes in ready and competent.

 

Wait a minute, that’s not what Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and other leaders of the Status Quo want!

John Thompson, teacher and historian, here reviews the testimony in the Vergara trial of economists Raj Chetty and Tom Kane. They are believers in economic models for judging teacher quality. Thompson concludes they are seriously out of touch with the real world of teachers.

Thompson reviews their testimony and writes:

“Chetty, Kane, and other expert witnesses are assisting in an all-out assault on teachers’ most basic rights. I disagree with them, but I can see why they would believe that their research is relevant to 3rd through 8th graders in math and, to a lesser degree, elementary reading classes. But, even though they have not studied high schools, they are participating in an effort to also destroy the rights of high school teachers.

“And, nothing in their research could possibly support the opinion that once current laws are stricken that data-driven evaluations in non-tested subjects would likely benefit students in those classes. Up to 80% of students are in classes that remain virtually unstudied by value-added researchers. Yet, they are so confident in their opinions – based on their goal of addressing the bottom 5% of teachers – that they are helping a legal campaign (based almost completely on the opinions of some like-minded persons) to strike down duly enacted laws.

“Of course, I would also like to understand why a few corporate reformers are so convinced in the righteous of their opinions that they have initiated this assault on teachers. But, I’ve already gone too far down the path of trying to speculate on why they engage in such overreach. I just hope the Vergara judge has the inclination to look deeply into both the testimony of expert witnesses and how it is very different than the evidence and logic they have presented in written documents.”

Responding to the extremist group Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, the Kansas state legislature enacted legislation that strips teachers of due process and expands “school choice” (aka privatization of public schools and their funding). In the future, teachers may be fired without a hearing.

The legislature used the pretext of a court ruling to equalize funding to enact proposals that align with the far-right ALEC organization.

Destroying due process is called “reform.” Teachers may be unjustly accused and fired without a hearing. They may be fired because they taught both sides of a controversial issue or expressed a controversial view. They may be fired because the principal doesn’t like the way they look or doesn’t like their race or religion. No reason is needed because there will be no hearing.

Without any right to a fair hearing, you can be sure that the word “evolution” will never be heard in many districts, nor any reference to global warming. Nor will many classics of American literature be taught. Books like “Huckleberry Finn,” “Invisible Man,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” are risky and controversial. Now is exactly when the children of Kansas and the U.S. should be reading “1984″ and “Brave New World.”

“The bill is potentially a big victory for conservative Republicans because it gives them some educational reforms they have sought while putting more money into schools.

The reforms would:

• Foster school choice by allowing corporations to make tax-deductible contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.

• Make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating their due-process rights.

• Relax teacher licensing when hiring instructors with professional experience in areas including math, science, finance and technical education.

“As the final bill was negotiated, lawmakers jettisoned an idea to block funding for Common Core academic standards.

“They also shed a plan that would have provided property tax relief for parents who home-school their children or send them to private schools. Lawmakers questioned whether the property tax break was constitutional and whether they knew its real cost.

“Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers.

“They say the proposal is intended to ensure that school administrators are free from regulations that would keep them from firing substandard teachers.

“If you talk to administrators, they want this,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican. “They want really good teachers to thrive. They don’t want to be in a position to protect those teachers who are under-performing.”

“State law had required administrators to document conduct and provide a hearing for teachers they want to fire after three years on the job.

“The bill means terminated teachers would no longer be able to request a hearing.”

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/06/4941974/kansas-lawmakers-pass-school-finance.html#storylink=cpy

The Vergara trial in Los Angeles is an effort funded by a very wealthy man to eliminate due process for teachers in California. The theory of the case is that when teachers have tenure (due process), then it is hard to fire bad teachers. Thus, the civil rights of minority students are violated by the very concept of due process, because more of those who teach them should be fired. But tenure ties the hands of their administrators, so students are harmed.

 

The lead plaintiff, a student named Elizabeth Vergara, had a teacher named Anthony Mize. As it happens, Mize doesn’t have tenure and has never had a complaint lodged against him or a disciplinary proceeding. If he was the “bad” teacher as the plaintiffs’ attorneys claim, why wasn’t he fired?

 

One of his colleagues wrote to describe him.

 

Next month will mark 20 years that I have taught with LAUSD.
I had the privilege of working with Mr. Anthony Mize , one of the alleged “grossly
incompetent teachers”, named in this suit. for four of those years. Despite the precarious and ever-vacillating status accorded him by LAUSD, the RIF notices, his relegation to long-term sub status in his own previous classroom and the subsequent loss of benefits such as paid sick leave and holidays, I never saw him give less than 100% to the school, and to his students. Mize is a natural teacher, knows his content area and is sensitive to his students needs, both as learners and as human beings. He is sorely missed at our school site, To anyone who has worked alongside this young man, it would be almost laughable that he could be so singled-out, were it not so deplorable. The latest insult in a long line of abusive treatment by the Powers That Be… As an early commenter stated, if Mr. Mize was the best example of a poor teacher that the plaintiffs could summon, they really don’t have much of a case.
Does anyone remember Attorney Joseph Welch’s reply to Senator Joe Mccarthy in the Army-Macarthy hearings? It resounds in my ears as I follow this case:
” Have you left,Sir, no sense of decency? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” (I paraphrase)
That quietly uttered statement is widely credited for the beginning of the end of the tyranny and witch hunts initiated by Senator Mccarthy. We must all continue to speak truth to power, for when we do, tyrants fall. Thank you, Anthony, for all of us.

A friend who observed the proceedings in the Vergara trial sent me the following notes, based on the testimony of Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond. She is probably the nation’s leading expert on issues related to teacher recruitment, preparation, retention, and support. Her testimony, based on many years of study and experience, was devastating to the plaintiff’s case.

Linda Darling-Hammond’s testimony

Overview

Yesterday, expert witness Linda Darling-Hammond, a renowned scholar and Stanford professor, has refuted the main arguments of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Darling-Hammond, whose insights come from both research and experience, stated that measures based on student test scores do not identify effective teachers, that two years is enough time to identify teachers who should be counseled out of the profession, and that extending that period beyond two years would harm students.

Excerpts

On what a good evaluation process looks like.

“With respect to tenure decisions, first of all, you need to have – in the system, you need to have clear standards that you’re going to evaluate the teacher against, that express the kind of teaching practices that are expected; and a way of collecting evidence about what the teacher does in the classroom. That includes observations and may also include certain artifacts of the teacher’s work, like lesson plans, curriculum units, student work, et cetera.”

“You need well-trained evaluators who know how to apply that instrument in a consistent and effective way.

“You want to have a system in which the evaluation is organized over a period of time so that the teacher is getting clarity about what they’re expected to do, feed back about what they’re doing, and so on.

In California – note related to the tenure decision, but separately – there is a mentoring program that may be going on side-by-side; but really, that does not feed into the tenure decisions. It’s really the observation and feedback process.”

On the problem with extending the tenure beyond two years

“It’s important that while we want teachers to at some point have due process rights in their career, that that judgment be made relatively soon; and that a floundering teacher who is grossly ineffective is not allowed to continue for many years because a year is a long time in the life of a student.

“So I think that having the two-year mark—which means you’re making a decision usually within 19 months of the starting point of that teacher – has the interest of allowing a – of encouraging districts to make that decision in a reasonable time frame so that students aren’t exposed to struggling teachers for long than they might need to be.”

Other reasons why two years is enough

“My opinion is that, for the first reason I mentioned earlier—the encouragement to make a judgment about a grossly ineffective teacher before many years go by is a useful reason to have a shorter tenure period – or pre-tenure period.

“But at the end of the say, the most important thing is not the amount of time; the most important thing is the quality and the intensity of the evaluation and support process that goes on for beginning teachers.

On the benefits and importance of having a system that includes support for struggling teachers

“Well, it’s important both as a part of a due process expectation; that if somebody is told they’re not meeting a standard, they should have some help to meet that standard.

The principal typically does not have as much time and may not have the expertise in the content area that a mentor teacher would have. For example, in physics or mathematics, usually the mentor is in the same area, so the help is more intensive and more specific.

“And in such programs, we often find that half of the teachers do improve. Others may not improve, and then the decision is more well- grounded. And when it is made, there is almost never a grievance or a lawsuit that follows because there’s ben such a strong process of help.

“The benefits to students are that as teachers are getting assistance and they’re improving their practice, students are likely to be better taught.

“And in the cases where the assistance may not prove adequate to help an incompetent teacher become competent, the benefit is that that teacher is going to be removed from the classroom sooner, if, sort of, they allowed the situation to just go on for a long time, which is truncated by this process of intensive assistance….

“The benefits to districts are that by doing this, you actually end up making the evaluation process more effective, making personnel decisions in a more timely way, making them with enough of a documentation record and a due process fidelity, that very rarely does there occur a problem after that with lawsuits; which means the district spends a little bit of money to save a lot of money and to improve the effectiveness of teaching for its students.

On peer assistance and review (PAR) and other mentoring programs

“A PAR program and other programs that mentor teachers typically improve the retention of teachers; that is, they keep more of the beginning teachers, which is where a lot of attrition occurs. But they do ensure that the teachers who leave are the ones that you’d like to have leave, as opposed to the ones who leave for other reasons.”

On firing the bottom 5% of teachers

“My opinion is that there are at least three reasons why firing the bottom 5 percent of teachers, as defined by the bottom 5 percent on an effectiveness continuum created by using the value-added test scores of their students on state tests, will not improve the overall effectiveness of teachers….

One reason is that, as I described earlier, those value-added metrics are inaccurate for many teachers. In addition, they’re highly unstable. So the teachers who are in the bottom 5 percent in one year are unlikely to be the same teachers as who would be in the bottom 5 percent the next year, assuming they were left in place.

“And the third reason is that when you create a system that is not oriented to attract high-quality teachers and support them in their work, that location becomes a very unattractive workplace. And an empirical proof of that is the situation currently in Houston, Texas, which has been firing many teachers at the bottom end of the value-added continuum without creating stronger overall achievement, and finding that they have fewer and fewer people who are willing to come apply for jobs in the district because with the instability of those scores, the inaccuracy and bias that they represent for groups of teachers, it’s become an unattractive place to work.

“The statement is often made with respect to Finland that if you fire the bottom 5 percent [of teachers], we will be on a par with achievement in Finland. And Finland does none of those things. Finland invests in the quality of beginning teachers, trains them well, brings them into the classroom and supports them, and doesn’t need to fire a lot of teachers.”

The Board of Education in Dare County, North Carolina, voted unanimously to oppose the law recently passed by the extremist legislature that would end career status for teachers, require the board to give a $500 bonus to the top 25% of teachers in exchange for their giving up their career status.

 

“The Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution calling for the state to roll back the new policy, which calls for school systems to pick the top-performing 25 percent of teachers for a four-year contract with $500 in annual bonuses if they give up career status.

 

Career status will be eliminated in 2018, but the bonus money has not yet been included in the state budget, according to the North Carolina Association of Educators.

 

Career status provides a process and the right to a hearing before an experienced teacher can be dismissed or demoted.

 

Dare County joins with Wake County and Guilford County in opposing this law, which has angered and demoralized teachers.

 

North Carolina is losing large numbers of veteran teachers who can’t afford to live on their low salaries. Teachers in North Carolina rank 46th in the nation in salary, a steady slippage in recent years. When Jim Hunt was governor, he brought teachers’ salaries to the national average. But there have been no salary increases since 2008. A teacher in the state must teach 15 years to reach a salary of $40,000.

 

Dare County cares about its teachers.  Unlike the legislature, it doesn’t want to destroy its public schools.

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