Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

In a much-awaited decision, Governor Jerry Brown has appealed the Vergara decision.

LOS ANGELES (CBS / AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown appealed a court ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for California’s teachers, setting himself apart from leaders in some other states who have fought to end such protections or at least raise the standards for obtaining them.

Attorney General Kamala Harris filed the appeal late Friday in a Los Angeles County court on behalf of the governor and the state.
The move came a day after Superior Court Judge Rulf Treu finalized his June ruling that found five laws violated the California Constitution by depriving some of the state’s 6.2 million students of a quality education. He’d earlier said the system “shocks the conscience.”

The governor’s one-page notice of appeal said that under the state’s constitution “the important issues presented in this case — if they are to have statewide legal impact — must be reviewed by a higher court, either the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of California.”

It says that for reasons that are “unclear and unexplained” actual school districts were dismissed as parties to the lawsuit before trial, meaning the court’s decision “applies only to parties that have no role or duties under the challenged lawsuits.”

It also criticizes Treu for failing to provide details on the legal basis for his reasoning, and simply making his tentative decision final instead of elaborating and expanding on in the ruling that was affirmed Thursday.

Republicans had urged state leaders not to appeal the ruling and criticized his decision to do so Friday.

“A federal court ruled that the State of California is depriving minority children their constitutionally guaranteed right to an equal education and the governor decides to appeal? Unbelievable,” Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a written response.

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson had asked the attorney general for the appeal earlier Friday because he lacked the legal authority.

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Schools in California, issued a statement today declaring his decision to seek appellate review of the Vergara decision. Torlakson is a veteran educator. His opponent Marshall Tuck immediately attacked Torlakson. Tuck, a former investment banker, was active in the charter school movement. Tenure is not the only or the most important issue that divides them. Tuck’s penchant for privatization would undermine public education across the state.

I know Tom Torlakson well. He is humble, knowledgeable, and understands schooling. I hope the voters of California are wise enough to re-elect him.

Tom Torlakson said today:

Friends,

Earlier today I issued a statement regarding my decision to seek appellate review of the Vergara case, which has drawn considerable public attention in recent weeks.

Here is the complete text of my public statement:

“The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support. Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full. We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.

“No teacher is perfect. A very few are not worthy of the job. School districts have always had the power to dismiss those who do not measure up, and this year I helped pass a new law that streamlined the dismissal process, while protecting the rights of both teachers and students. It is disappointing that the Court refused to even consider this important reform.

“In a cruel irony, this final ruling comes as many California teachers spend countless unpaid hours preparing to start the new school year in hopes of better serving the very students this case purportedly seeks to help.

“While the statutes in this case are not under my jurisdiction as state Superintendent, it is clear that the Court’s ruling is not supported by the facts or the law. Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court. Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

Best regards,

Tom

Paul Horton continues to provide a historical context for issues of our time. In this post, he shows how the birth and growth of the black middle class was integrally related to the union movement and public sector employment.

Horton writes:

“The biggest lifeline that middle class blacks could grasp was public sector employment. The last thirty years have seen an increase in the employment of blacks in city, county, and state government. Teachers, firemen, police, water and sanitation workers make up the backbone of the black middle class today. It is not surprising, given the history cited above that blacks are very active in seeking the job protections offered by union membership.

“In fact, in a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year (“Union Members Summary”), “black workers were more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.” The average weekly earnings for union members was $950 and $750 for non union members.

“Not surprisingly, the two states with the largest union membership are the first two states targeted by Campbell Brown’s group anti-tenure group: California (2.4 million) and New York (2 million).

“The pattern that I am trying to describe is that the attack on teacher tenure is, in part, an attack on the black middle class. In Chicago, for example, several rounds of school reform between 2000 and 2010 decimated black teachers employed by CPS (Chicago Public Schools: 40% 2000, 30% 2010). When I attended an activist parents meeting and gave a talk, the parent on the panel to my left expressed outrage that another public school was being closed and that “the community was losing more black teachers.” (Huffington Post, “CPS Racial Discrimination Lawsuit: Three Teachers, Union Sue District Over Losing Their Jobs”) In a recent Ebony expose’, Rod McCullom reported that 43% of those laid off in the wake of the 2013 school closings were black. (Ebony, September 2013) According to CTU (Chicago Teacher Union) President Karen Lewis, “Entire faculties are fired and must reapply for positions in turnarounds. These situations have been extremely challenging on Black middle-age faculty members who often have advanced degrees or seniority.”

And he adds:

“While there is much evidence to support the targeting of black teachers by anti-tenure lawsuits supported by Ms. Brown, Ms. Gibbs, and now, superstar lawyers David Boies and Laurence Tribe, the impact of the loss of tenure will demoralize teacher’s unions and allow school administrators to hire and fire at will. The immediate objective for education reformers is that a victory in the tenure fight will allow big city school districts to rif out senior teachers who are expensive and replace them with young, less costly teachers recruited from such organizations as Teach for America. TFA teachers are typically just graduated college students who undergo a five-week intensive training course that does not adequately prepare them for the classroom, especially the inner city classroom. Although increasing numbers of TFA teachers are staying on for a third year, they rarely stay in the classroom longer.

“The irony of Ms. Campbell’s anti-tenure campaign is that by making the teacher workplace a less secure place to be, fewer of our brightest young people will want to work in schools where administrators “are forced by their district level bosses “to take the kid gloves off.” An absence of tenure will drive salaries even lower, making the teaching profession even less attractive to most bright young people who might want to buy a house or start a family. Teachers who live in cities where salaries are comparably high often cannot afford to live in neighborhoods that are considered “safe.” Yet another irony is that those states that are the most heavily unionized are, almost without exception, those that have the highest standardized test scores.

“One can certainly understand why Campbell Brown, who is married to a Republican bundler, would support an end to tenure for teachers, but it is more difficult to understand the motivations of Gibbs, Boies, and Tribe who claim to be Democrats.

“The weakening of teacher tenure will create legal precedents for the elimination of due process for all remaining public sector jobs. This would allow cities to hire and fire all of its employees at will and easily jettison expensive pension and health care packages, ala’ the Chicago School of Economics privatization schemes applied to Chile and Argentina by the “Chicago Boys.”

Paul Horton here attempts to understand why the Obama administration is waging war on teachers. He reminds us of Central Falls, when the Obama administration supported firing the entire staff of the high school. He remembers when the administration was neutral during the Chicago teachers’ strike, and Arne Duncan’s support for the noxious Vergara decision. He could have mentioned many other instances of the administration’s hostility to teachers, such as Duncan’s support for the L.A. Times story releasing the names and ratings of teachers. Or the administration’s silence during the large demonstrations against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or its silence as vouchers spread.

He writes:

“In sum, the war on teachers and due process for teachers is presented by many Democrats as a new war on poverty, and, somewhat obscenely, “the Civil Rights Movement of our time.” Last year Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. Schools, made speeches at southern civil rights museums that proclaimed that supporting charter schools and making teachers accountable was the key to creating a more equitable America. Closing the achievement gap and not the excuse of poverty was the new focus of the new Civil Rights movement. The National Civil Rights Museum—Lorraine Motel in Memphis recently recognized Geoffery Canada, a Harlem charter school operator and the star of the anti-pubic school documentary, “Waiting for Superman” as a “Civil Rights Hero.”

It was cheaper to wage war on teachers than to wage war on poverty. But that leaves so much unexplained. Why did President Obama embrace the Republican agenda of testing, accountability, and choice? Why did President Obama turn against one of the most reliable members of his party’s base? Horton doesn’t explain.

Chris Roberts, a new teacher in Ohio, was attracted to the message of StudentsFirst. He was impressed by what he read and by “Waiting for Superman.” He joined and was invited to apply for their Teachers for Transformation Academy. He was offered a stipend of $5,000 to be StudentsFirst Teacher for Transformation Fellow in Ohio. But in his fourth year of teaching, he had an epiphany. He realized that StudentsFirst was wrong about everything that mattered to him as a teacher. He turned down their offer and the $5,000. And he wrote an eloquent letter to explain why.

This is a small part of a powerful letter:

“Now after four years in the classroom, my view of education has changed. Now, I am not so convinced that the StudentsFirst agenda is what is best for students. Those “older teachers” whom I felt didn’t deserve the seniority protections were actually some of the most helpful people I’ve ever come across. Their years of experience meant they had a wealth of classroom management advice to share. They weren’t stubborn curmudgeons as portrayed by those trying to “reform” education. They are some of the most caring, loving people I’ve known. Are there a couple of bad eggs every once in a while? Yes. But that is the case in any profession. You occasionally will find a bad doctor, hence malpractice suits. But instead of “reforming” the medical field and basing doctors’ evaluations on patients’ health, politicians instead push for tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors. I guess you could say that Republicans are pushing to protect bad doctors. One of the problems that I see with eliminating seniority protections boils down to money. Schools are strapped for money, it is nearly impossible to pass a levy and the state seems content with defunding. The more experienced teachers tend to be the most “expensive”. Despite their ratings and evaluations, I could see many schools getting rid of those teachers not because they perform poorly, but because it would be cheaper to bring in a new hire. Students could suffer from this.

“As a parent, I have a problem with the evaluation systems being pushed by StudentsFirst and other corporate-driven reformers. With teachers’ evaluations being based on progress on student test scores, that means students must be tested to an extent never seen before. In every single class, multiple times a year, students are taking more standardized tests. My six-year old daughter told me this summer that she was afraid to go to first grade “because of the tests”. She is afraid she won’t do well on them. That is pathetic. Children should be excited to go to school and learn, but school has become more about tests rather than learning. School is about getting a certain score on a certain test. Education policies are killing children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder if this is intentional. Are there certain people out there who want to destroy public schools through excessive testing, defunding, and unfunded mandates in order to make people “want” privatization of schools? It sometimes seems like it. Whether intentional or not, unfortunately StudentsFirst’s agenda aligns with this style of reform that we have been seeing take over the public education conversation. Although I believe in free market capitalism, I see that in the case of education the more private corporations get involved in education, the worse our schools get. There are large corporations making these tests, the politicians force these tests upon our schools, and the test companies also make the textbooks and curricula for the schools to follow. It is a terrible marriage of big business and big government and children are the ones taking a hit. Teachers are becoming scripted robots and these corporations are making billions from our tax dollars, which could instead be going towards improving our schools. I, for one, do not want my children subjected to so much testing.”

Arthur Goldstein teaches English to immigrant students in high school in New York City. He has taught for many years. He has written about the importance of tenure, which enables him to advocate for his students without fear of losing his job. He can be a whistle blower without fear of losing his job. He has academic freedom because he has tenure.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times doesn’t like tenure. He also doesn’t like public schools or teacher unions as he was possibly the only columnist in America to write a positive review of the movie flop “Won’t Back Down,” which was underwritten by the far-right billionaire Philip Anschutz.

In this post, Arthur Goldstein dissects Frank Bruni’s opinion column, in which he cites Whoopi Goldberg as an authority and State Senator Michael Johnston of Colorado, who wrote one of the most punitive teacher evaluation bills in the nation. Four years later, does Colorado have the great schools and great teachers Johnston promised when he pushed the bill through? Of course not. Smoke and mirrors. Another DFER triumph built on demoralizing teachers.

Sara Stevenson, school librarian in Austin and a member of the blog honor roll, is intrepid. she reads the Wall Street Journal every day and responds promptly to every attack on public schools and teachers, one of WSJ’s major preoccupations.

She wrote the letter below. She forgot to ask Peterson and Hanushek to give up their tenure at Harvard and Stanford to prove they don’t believe in tenure:

From: Sara Stevenson
Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Subject: Response to Paul E. Peterson on Teacher Tenure (8-18-14)
To: “ltrs, wsj”

Paul E. Peterson cites surveys of parents, communities, and teachers to determine the percentage of current teachers whose performance deserves a D or F rating. He underscores that even teachers rate 13% of their colleagues as failures. Stated inversely, teachers approve of the performance of 87% of their cohorts. Peterson and Eric Hanushek use this data to fuel their mission to exterminate “bad teachers” from the profession. At the same time, our current Congress has an 8% approval (92% disapproval) rating. I’m interested in the percentage of “bad” actors in other professions.

Rather than focusing on drumming out “bad teachers,” why don’t we focus on improving teacher conditions and training and on attracting more talented young people to the profession? With 40% of all teachers leaving the profession within five years, it’s certainly not a sinecure, in spite of certain states with teacher tenure. Finally, Peterson cites other nations, including Finland, as role models in education in spite of the fact that 100% of Finnish teachers are unionized with tenure protections. We need to shift our focus in this tired education debate.

Sara Stevenson
Austin, Texas

Peter Greene describes what it would be like to teach in a public school without tenure. Anyone in the building with more authority than a teacher has the power to end his or her career, for any reason.

The worst thing, he writes, is not that you can be fired for anything at all. The worst thing is the threat of firing.

He writes:

“Firing ends a teacher’s career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher’s career.

“The threat of firing is the great “Do this or else…” It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

“Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers’ money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don’t speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they’re wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

“Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

“The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

“The lack of tenure, of due process, of any requirement that a school district only fire teachers for some actual legitimate reason– it interferes with teachers’ ability to do the job they were hired to do. It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, “Do as I tell you, or else.”

“Civilians need to understand– the biggest problem with the destruction of tenure is not that a handful of teachers will lose their jobs, but that entire buildings full of teachers will lose the freedom to do their jobs well…..

“Without tenure, every teacher is the pawn and puppet of whoever happens to be the most powerful person in the building today. Without tenure, anybody can shoulder his way into the classroom and declare, “You’re going to do things my way, or else.”

“Tenure is not a crown and scepter for every teacher, to make them powerful and untouchable. Tenure is a bodyguard who stands at the classroom door and says, “You go ahead and teach, buddy. I’ll make sure nobody interrupts just to mess with you.” Taxpayers are paying us for our best professional judgment; the least they deserve is a system that allows us to give them what they’re paying us for.”

Two teachers from Long Island, New York, wrote a letter to Whoopi Goldberg to explain to her that “tenure” means “due process.”

Alicia Connelly-Foster of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, and Viri Pettersen, President- Rockville Centre Teachers Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA patiently explain that it takes a minimum of three years for a teacher to win tenure, during which time he or she is observed repeatedly by trained administrators.

They write:

“In New York state, the granting of due process is contingent on three years of observations. These observations are conducted by several different qualified administrators and occur quite frequently throughout each of these three years. Administrators hold degrees and certifications granted by the state, which, in turn, authorizes them to make these observations along with suggestions, criticisms and praise. Often, administrators from varying levels, including building principals, district-wide directors, or district office members, such as a superintendent of schools, observe the non-tenured teacher. New teachers are guided through mentoring by experienced educators, with supporting documentation showing that this mentoring occurred reported to our State Education department. The new teachers are required to participate in special professional development, geared to increasing their efficacy. At any point in this three-year process, administration or the Board of Education may elect to remove the teacher from the classroom, thus ending his/her employment with the district; no questions are asked. At the end of three years, the district has three options: to recommend the teacher for tenure (pending Board of Education approval), deny the teacher tenure, thus ending employment, or grant the teacher a fourth year of untenured status where the observation process, coupled with mentoring and professional development continues. At the conclusion of this fourth-year, the district has the option for retention as a tenured educator or dismissal.”

Why do teachers need due process? They write:

“Due process rights are important because they allow us to stand up for our students, through giving voice in supporting and protecting them. With due process, teachers can stand up for the student who we think may be unfairly suspended, especially when a parent is not available to defend the child. We can fight against rescinding support services of a special needs child because those services are too costly. Many times, parents may not be able attend their child’s CSE/IEP meeting. The only one in the room advocating for that child may well be the teacher.

“Without tenure, we could not stand up against the injustices we witness against children by districts that may temporarily have forgotten our reason for being here – our students and educational community. Without tenure, we could not stand up to our administrators/supervisors when something is wrong. Without tenure we could not stand up against harassment and workplace bullying. Without tenure, we could not stand up against racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry and age discrimination. These days, many veteran teachers are no longer being viewed based on their outstanding contributions to our educational communities; instead they are more frequently being categorized based on their position on the pay scale. Without tenure, age-discrimination will become a pandemic in schools.

“Without tenure, the wonderful academic success stories and teacher innovations promoted in our educational communities are likely to dwindle because teachers will be afraid to defend their high student expectations to administration. Without tenure, academic freedom and creativity in the classroom will disappear. Without tenure, people will be afraid to defend social justice or advise the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at school, for fear of reprisal from a homophobic supervisor. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to “tweet” and participate in political rallies (including those rallies where communities come together in the fight for better educational legislation and ending over-testing of students). Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to join a political party for fear of retaliation over their political ideologies. Without tenure, teachers will become afraid to be so-called “whistle-blowers” against a school district’s failure to comply with Special Education regulations. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid they may suffer for what their friends or family do. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to refuse to change a grade or falsify attendance records and/or legal documents, if directed by an administrator.

“Tenure does not equate to “a job for life.” Tenure equates to due process rights, which requires the district to do its due diligence in removing a teacher from the classroom and prevents that reason from being arbitrary and capricious. As far as the union goes, it is not the union’s responsibility to “defend bad teachers”; rather, it is to ensure that the district has done everything it needs to do on its part and that corruption/abuse has not taken place during a due process hearing. (Note: To clarify another misconception being promoted by some, New York’s teacher tenure law has been streamlined to address lengthy due process hearings and cost associated therewith.)”

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.

Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.

But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.

“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.

“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.

Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.

She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.

The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.

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