Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

Stuart Egan, NBCT high school teacher in North Carolina, wrote a sharp rebuke to Phil Kirk, chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, for defending the Republican efforts to defund public schools, demoralize teachers, and cut spending. Kirk claims that all the criticism is based on myths; the Tea Party majority in the General Assembly really do care about public schools, as does Governor McCrory.

Egan goes through each “myth” to demonstrate that the Kirk is cherrypicking data to defend the Republican leadership of the state.

This article, an open letter, demonstrates why teachers need tenure.

Peter Piazza earned his doctorate in 2015 and wrote his doctoral dissertation about the activities of Oregon-based Stand for Children in Massachusetts. He is now working as a professional researcher. SFC is an organization that started out as an advocate for children, but then received millions from corporations and foundations to fight teachers’ unions and advocate for charter schools.

Piazza wrote this summation of his research for the blog:

Stand for Children: Misadventures in Massachusetts

In the upcoming school year, a new law restricting teacher job security will become effective in Massachusetts, after having taken a winding road to its fruition that was at best nonsensical and at worst deeply undemocratic. Better known as the Stand for Children compromise law, MA 2315 prohibits public schools from using seniority as the primary factor in teacher personnel decisions, ending a long tradition that had allowed districts to make these kinds of decisions themselves, through the collective bargaining process.

The law was originally proposed by Stand as a ballot question that would have had even more far reaching consequences for teachers. Then, Stand and the state’s largest teachers’ union worked out a compromise bill in private negotiations with their lawyers. That bill was passed through the state legislature in order to remove the original (and worse) proposal from the ballot in 2012.

I tried to follow as many of the twists and turns as I could in my doctoral dissertation, relying most heavily on interviews to reconstruct a deliberately obscure policymaking process. Much of this story will be frustratingly familiar to public education advocates-

• As others have noted on this blog (here and here) and elsewhere (see here, here and here), Stand was initially created as a genuine grassroots advocacy group. Following Race to the Top and Citizens United, the group abruptly turned away from local level membership and towards big money grants from national foundations, especially – of course – Gates and Walton (2010, 2011). Research found that in 2010 Stand’s Leadership Center – its 501(c)3 wing – was among the top 5 recipients of grants from venture philanthropy in educational advocacy.

• In Massachusetts, Stand, a registered 501(c)4 group, began accepting large donations around 2009 from “dark money” sources, including a shadowy but extremely influential organization called Strategic Grant Partners. Local donors to Stand’s (c)3 wing also included The Boston Foundation, a prominent Boston donor that launched the state’s Race to the Top Coalition which continues to advocate for neoliberal reform, and Bain Capital. Because (c)4’s don’t have to disclose their donors, however, it’s hard to trace the money all the way through. Reporting, however, has linked Stand’s MA office to the usual suspects of hedge-fund managers and investment bankers. In all, it was widely believed that Stand had nearly $10 million to spend on the ballot initiative, though, the group saved some money in compromise, ultimately spending a little more than $850,000, according to state campaign finance records.

• Long-time members in the state left publicly, in an open letter expressing both critique and confusion regarding Stand’s new direction. Without an active base of volunteers, most of the money spent on the campaign went to paid signature gatherers or lobbyists.

• Even worse: Stand’s national CEO, Jonah Edelman – the son of Marian Wright Edelman – told everyone on YouTube that the organization would bring its anti-union agenda to states like Massachusetts. After passing restrictions on job security in Illinois, Edelman referred to teachers unions when he infamously trumpeted that Stand was able to “jam this proposal down their throats.” He then stated baldly that “our hope and our expectation is to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.”

But, in the Massachusetts example at least, there are potential sources of hope for public education advocates –

• Stand was almost completely conflicted within every major level of the organization. National leaders wanted a quick win, state leaders wanted more time to build relationships, and Stand’s community organizers genuinely wanted to do good community organizing.

Here’s my best short summary of the whole process: As told to me by a state level leader at Stand, “the original Great Teachers Great Schools campaign plan was over a three year time period. So we had the intention of building a coalition around it, spending a significant amount of time lobbying on it.” This would have lined them up to try to pass a traditional bill through the state house in 2014.

Then, the organization abruptly changed its plans, deciding instead to pursue a ballot question for the 2012 election. Another state level leader told me that this decision was made “basically five weeks” before the deadline for filing ballot measures. Potential allies in the business community and even their own staff assumed that the decision to go with the ballot question was likely driven by national leadership because the state office “wasn’t big enough to tell national ‘here’s the deal’.”

Then, amazingly, it turned again. When the campaign for the ballot question wasn’t going well – because Stand hadn’t built a state coalition of any kind – national leadership put clear and direct pressure on state leadership. As reported by a former staff member, during a visit from national in the winter of 2012 staff were “told explicitly that we need to win the campaign or essentially the Massachusetts chapter is going to cease to exist.” Thus, the compromise.

• Absent a major outreach effort, Stand had a very limited number of local allies. Only a few spoke at the legislative hearing for the ballot question, including (of course) a local investment banker; a parent and teacher member of Stand, each of whom had joined the campaign after it started; and a Boston city councilor, who would later – in his mayoral campaign – return a half-million dollar donation from Stand, stating that he did not want to accept money from outside special interest groups.

• The media praised the compromise as a big victory for Stand, but they largely got it wrong. Instead, the organization found itself almost completely isolated in the state. Likely allies in the business community balked at a partnership “because of that national-local issue, you don’t know who you’re talking to.” Community organizers told me that principals wouldn’t return their calls. When I asked Stand leaders what they might have done differently, they responded frankly: “I would have drafted the ballot question with more time. We drafted it in no time.” Without a chance to build a broader coalition, the organization was largely left standing on its own.

• In the compromise, they gave up a lot. More dramatic changes to teacher tenure and collective bargaining were removed from the compromise law, with the restrictions on seniority – not tenure – the only major parts that remained and even those were watered down. The compromised also pushed the effective start date from 2013 to the 2016-2017 school year.

In the end, this all contributed to a process that was troublingly undemocratic. Contrary to how they might be portrayed more broadly, state leaders and community organizers at Stand wanted to organize parents and teachers in Boston schools and wanted to work on other issues completely unrelated to the ballot campaign. They just couldn’t. Under pressure from national leadership, community organizers went out instead to find “folks that would be predisposed to arguing in favor of this anyways whether they had something substantive to say or not and get them on board” often by “giving a 30-second pitch to somebody at Stop & Shop” and getting them to sign an apple-shaped card.

Grad students are often asked to name/label things. I called this “neo-democracy” – an umbrella term for cases like this where big money and high-stakes pressure lead to shallow forms of democratic engagement at the local level, an increasingly common occurrence as neoliberal advocacy groups – like Stand, StudentsFirst and DFER among others – gain influence over state policy.

That’s the bad part, of course. But, it can be reversed, and it is every day by the many, many people who work to bringing public voice to public education. What can’t be reversed, at least not any time soon, is Stand’s reputation in Massachusetts. As others have noted, Stand hasn’t been very active in Massachusetts since. But, this wasn’t a page out of the astro-turf playbook. It was an unintended consequence of a clumsy advocacy process led by heavy-handed “direction” from the national level. And, it suggests that these kinds of groups may not be the smooth operators they appear to be, that without relationships and meaningful connections to the local level, money can of course buy something, but it may only be a flash in the pan.

Peter Greene analyzes the Vergara case, now case closed after the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from its billionaire backers.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will spur innovation. Peter says, “What?” What teacher will dare to be different when they may be fired at any time for any reason.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will attract more bright young people to teaching. Peter says, “What?” More people will be drawn to teachers if there are no job protections?

Peter refers to a mass email by Jeanne Allen at the pro-choice, pro-charter, pro-voucher Center for Education Reform in D.C., and he writes: :

“Yes, being able to hire and fire teachers at will would totally drive innovation because… reasons? It’s the Dread Pirate Roberts School of Management (“I’ll probably kill you today.”) But then, Allen also assumes that hiring and firing are only based on years of experience– wait– hiring is based on years in the classroom??!! In fact, firing is pretty much always on turning out to be bad at teaching. Now, maybe she means layoffs based on years of experience, but as we see in places like Chicago, that’s not even true everywhere. At any rate, we know that the traditional system promotes stability and protects the district’s investment in teaching staff.”

Be sure to read the comments, where Jeaane Allen responds and Peter parries.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the dissents of the three judges who wanted to rehear the case. The majority of four denied the rehearing, agreeing with the lower court.

This just in:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the California Supreme Court’s decision to reject the plaintiffs’ petition for review in Vergara v. California.

“I am relieved by the court’s decision declining an appeal of the unanimous California Court of Appeal ruling upholding California educators’ due process rights. The billionaire-funded attack, from its inception, tried to pit our children against their teachers—people who make a difference in our children’s lives every day—rather than understand and solve the real problems ailing public education. Now that this chapter is closed, we must embrace our shared responsibility to help disadvantaged kids by supporting them so they can reach their full potential. While that starts with teachers, it also means providing programs and services that engage students and address their well-being.

“I hope this decision closes the book on the flawed and divisive argument that links educators’ workplace protections with student disadvantage. Instead, as the expert evidence clearly showed—and the Court of Appeal carefully reasoned—it was the discretionary decisions of some administrators, rather than the statutes themselves, that contributed to the problems cited by the plaintiffs.

“It is now well past time that we move beyond damaging lawsuits like Vergara that demonize educators and begin to work with teachers to address the real issues caused by the massive underinvestment in public education in this country. The state of California, like many others, remains in the throes of a serious teacher shortage. We need to hire, support and retain the best teachers, not pit parents against educators in a pointless blame game that does nothing to help disadvantaged students pursue their dreams.”

– See more at:

In a big win for teachers and their unions, the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a lower court ruling. The vote was 4-3. See the report in the LA School Report (controlled by Campbell Brown and The 74) here.

The initial decision had over-ruled state laws that protected teacher tenure and seniority. That decision by Judge Rolf Treu was overturned on appeal by a unanimous three-judge court. The state supreme court let stand the last decision.

Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times reports:

In a major victory for teachers unions, the California Supreme Court has let stand a ruling that preserves traditional teacher job protections such as tenure and seniority-based layoffs.

In refusing to hear the case, the state’s high court sided not only with unions, but also the state of California and others, who contended that these job protections are both constitutional and reasonable.

The case was being closely watched across the country as a bellwether on whether courts could be used to invalidate employment rights of teachers on the grounds that they violate the rights of students.

Attorneys for a group of nine students had argued that making it easier to fire bad teachers would improve academic performance. They also claimed that speedier teacher dismissals would narrow the achievement gap that separates white, Asian and wealthier students from their lower income, black and Latino peers.

There are states that have no teacher tenure, but no evidence was introduced to demonstrate that those states have higher academic performance by low-income, black and Latino students or smaller achievement gaps.

StudentsMatter, funded by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and cheered on by the corporate reform movement, spent millions of dollars fighting tenure laws, and forced the unions to do the same.

Our blog poet has not commented lately. Poet, we miss you! Come back!

“The night they drove Statricksy down” (parody of “The night they drove Old Dixie down)

Thomas Kane is my name and I drove on the VAMville train

‘Til Audrey Beardsley came and tore up the tracks again.

After the ASA* paper knife , we were hungry, just barely alive.**

By twenty-fourteen, Rich man had fell.
It’s a time I remember, oh so well.

(*American Statistical Association, **only had $ 45 million from the “Rich man”, Bill Gates)

The night they drove statricksy down

And all the bells were ringing,

The night they drove statricksy down

And all the people were singing

They went, “Na,na,,

Na na na na na na na na na.”

Back with my colleague, Raj Chet-ty, when one day he called to me,
“Thomas, quick, come see, there goes the Gatesly Billee!”
Now I don’t mind I’m choppin’ stats, and I don’t care if I’m paid by the brats
You take what you need and leave the rest,
But they should never have taken the VAMmy best.

The night they drove statricksy down
And all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove statricksy down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na,na,,
Na na na na na na na na na.”

Like my “Father”*** before me, I will work the VAM
And like my colleague before me, I took a junk-stat stand.
He was just 34, proud and brave,
but the ASA put him in his grave.
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Kane back up when he’s in defeat

(***William Sanders, Father of VAM)

The night they drove statricksy down
And all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove statricksy down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na,na,,
Na na na na na na na na na.”

The night they drove statricksy down
And all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove statricksy down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na,na,,
Na na na na na na na na na.”

Yesterday we learned that billionaires have assembled a fund of $725,000 (so far) to defeat Washington state Supreme Court justice Barbara Madsen. The money is being funneled mostly through a group called “Stand for Children.”

Why are the billionaires eager to oust Judge Madsen? She wrote the 6-3 decision in 2015 that declared that charter schools are not public schools under the Washington state constitution and are not eligible to receive public funding devoted solely to democratically governed public schools. For daring to thwart their insistence on charter schools, the billionaires decided that Judge Madsen had to go.

But what is this group “Stand for Children” that is a willing handmaiden to the whims of billionaires who hate public schools?

Peter Greene explains its origins as a social justice organization some 20 years ago, founded by Jonah Edelman, the son of civil rights icon Marian Wright Edelman and equity advocate Peter Edelman. Josh’s pedigree was impeccable, and Stand for Children started as a new and promising civil rights organization.

But somewhere along the way, SFC took a radical change of course. It began receiving buckets of money from the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation. By 2010, Oregon SFC was advocating charters, cybercharters, and a reduction in the capital gains tax. Flush with reformer cash, it became active in many states, opposing unions, supporting charters, removing teacher job security.


The apple has fallen very far from the tree.

SFC endorsed the anti-public school, anti-union propaganda film “Waiting for Superman.”

SFC crowed about pushing legislation in Illinois that would cripple the Chicago Teachers Union. It opened a campaign in Massachusetts to reduce teacher tenure and seniority rules, threatening a referendum unless the unions gave concessions. Jonah Edelman boasted at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011 about his role in spending millions, hiring the best lobbyists, and defeating the unions.

Be sure to read the 2011 article by Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez called “For or Against Children? The Problematic History of Stand for Children.” They captured the beginning of the transition of the organization to a full-fledged partner of the billionaire reformers.

Old friends, now disillusioned, call Stand for Children “Stand ON Children.”

Greene lists the members of the current board. All corporate reformers and corporatists, not a single educator.

Greed is the root of a lot of evil. It turns good people bad if they can’t resist its lure.

According to Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver is set to strip 47 teachers of their tenure because they received two consecutive ineffective ratings.

The state law passed in 2010 called S. 191 requires that teachers be evaluated annually, with student scores counting for 50% of the teachers’ ratings. The law was written by State Senator Michael Johnston, who spent two years as a Teach for America recruit. Johnston predicted that his law would cause every teacher, every principal, and every school in Colorado to be “great.” There is no evidence that it has had that effect.

DPS did not provide a list of the schools at which the 47 teachers set to lose tenure taught. But the district did provide some information about the teachers and their students:

— Twenty-eight of the 47 teachers set to lose tenure — or 60 percent — have more than 15 years of experience. Ten of those teachers — 21 percent — have 20 years or more of experience.
Overall, about 33 percent of non-probationary DPS teachers have more than 15 years experience, and about 14 percent have more than twenty years of experience.

— The majority of the 47 teachers — 26 of them — are white. Another 14 are Latino, four are African-American, two are multi-racial and one is Asian.
About three-quarters of all DPS teachers — probationary and non-probationary — are white.

— Thirty-one of the 47 teachers set to lose tenure — or 66 percent — teach in “green” or “blue” schools, the two highest ratings on Denver’s color-coded School Performance Framework. Only three — or 6 percent — teach in “red” schools, the lowest rating.

About 60 percent of all DPS schools are “green” or “blue,” while 14 percent are “red.”

— Thirty-eight of the 47 teachers — or 81 percent — teach at schools where more than half of the students qualify for federally subsidized lunches, an indicator of poverty….

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union has long been concerned about this provision of Senate Bill 191 because teachers who are demoted to probationary status lose their due process rights.

She’s also worried it will lead to higher teacher turnover. Ten of the 47 DPS teachers set to lose non-probationary status have submitted notices of resignation or retirement, officials said, though nine of them did so before learning they would lose tenure.

“This happening to 47 teachers has a much bigger impact,” Shamburg said. “There will be hundreds of teachers who know about this. They’ll say if they can do that to (that teacher), they can do that to me.”

In this post, EduShyster interviews Eunice Han, an economist who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and is now headed for the University of Utah.

Dr. Han studied the effects of unions on teacher quality and student achievement and concluded that unionization is good for teachers and students alike.

This goes against the common myth that unions are bad, bad, bad.

Han says that “highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.”

And more: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them.

Dr. Han found a natural experiment in the states that abolished collective bargaining.

Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers’ bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9%. That’s a huge number. A 9% drop in teachers salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in the those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.

Send this link to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and any other reformers you can think of.