Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

 

 

In one of the closest elections in the country, Governor Pat McCrory conceded at last to State Attorney General Roy Cooper in the race for governor.

 

McCrory came to office as the formerly moderate mayor of Charlotte. Once in office, he joined the far-right wing Tea Party majority in the General Assembly to pass legislation for charters and vouchers, to eliminate the respected North Carolina Teaching Fellows program (which required a five-year education commitment and produced career teachers) and replaced it with a $6 million grant to Teach for America, and enacted law after law to reduce the status of the teaching profession.

 

To understand the damage that McCrory and his cronies did to the state read this summary of five years of political wrecking imposed on the state.

The corporate reform movement must be popping the champagne corks with the selection of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s Secretary of Education. Finally, a secretary who advocates for the elimination of public schools without embarrassment and who will fight unions and teacher tenure.

 

As it happens, Betsy DeVos and her husband are funders of Campbell Brown’s website The 74 (along with Walton, Broad, and Bloomberg). And Campbell Brown sits on the board of Betsy DeVos’s  American Federation for Children.

 

Campbell Brown has launched lawsuits to get teacher tenure declared unconstitutional (her suit in Minnesota was thrown out by the judge). She has fought the unions as protectors of “sexual predators.” DeVos doesn’t like public schools. Neither does Campbell Brown. They both like charters and vouchers.

 

What a small world!

Teacher Mark Weber, who blogs brilliantly as Jersey Jazzman, was invited to deliver the keynote address the New Jersey Education Association. He thought he might speak about charters or testing or teacher evaluation, but decided instead to talk about how the election of Donald Trump would affect teacher unions and the teaching profession and how teachers must help students who feel targeted by Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

He said that the battle to destroy unions would intensify:

“This union here, the New Jersey Education Association, will be one of the prime targets in the new anti-teachers union era. This union has stood strong for teachers and proudly used its political and other capital to advocate for the best interests of its members, which also – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – happens to be the best interests of this state’s students and their families.

“I am constantly amazed and appalled when people try to make the argument that somehow teacher work conditions and student learning conditions aren’t the same thing. Middle-class wages with decent benefits are necessary if we are to draw talented young people into the profession.

“Job protections, including tenure, are necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers and students, who count on teachers to serve as their advocates within the school system. Safe, clean, well-resourced schools make teaching an attractive profession, but they also lead to better learning outcomes for children.

“Teachers unions are the advocates for these necessary pre-conditions for student learning. Teachers unions are the political force that compels politicians to put necessary funds into public schools. Teachers unions are the groups who make the conditions of teaching better, ensuring that this nation will have a stable supply of educators for years to come.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that right now, public education hangs in the balance. Teacher workplace rights are in serious jeopardy. The ability of NJEA to protect the future of New Jersey’s outstanding public education system – by any measure, one of the finest in the world, in spite of this state’s recent abdication of its role to fully fund its schools – is under dire threat.

“There is only one course to take: we must organize. We must stand strong, we must stand together, and we must refuse to give into desperation. Our families, our colleagues, and our students have always counted on us when they needed us the most – we must not now, nor ever, stop fighting for them or yes, that’s right, for ourselves.”

Turning to the greatest threat from the campaign, Weber spoke about teachers’ duty to protect their students:

“No one should think for one second that our children have not been deeply, deeply affected by this outpouring of hatred. It is worst of all for any child who has been transformed into an “other” by the rhetoric that had infected this campaign.

“I fear for any child who shows up to school after the election wearing a hijab. I fear for any child who wears a hoodie and walks to school through a neighborhood that doesn’t include people who look like him. I fear for any child who is not conforming with our society’s preconceptions about gender. I fear for any child who was not born within our borders, yet who loves the promise of America as much as any of her native sons and daughters.

“The only thing that can ever hope to protect these children is the love of the adults in their lives who know better. If you know better, you can no longer sit on the sidelines. If you know better, but you stay silent, your silence will become violence.

“I pray that I am wrong about Donald Trump. I pray he will grow into his position. I pray he will find some measure of conscience, some level of decency, within himself and rise to the enormous task ahead of him.

“But even if he does, his campaign has emboldened dark forces within our democracy. We saw them in those ugly, violent rallies. We saw them when the so-called “alt-right” said and wrote unspeakably horrible words, spewed across our media and the Internet.

“Those forces will have absolutely no qualms about taking out all their anger and all their hatred on our children. We, my fellow teachers, are an integral part of those children’s defense.

“We can no longer tolerate racially biased classroom and disciplinary practices within our schools: the stakes have just become too high. We can no longer tolerate racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic language that, yes, sometimes, sadly, comes from our less-enlightened colleagues: the stakes are now too high. We cannot stand by and allow one kind of schooling to be foisted on one kind of student while another enjoys all the benefits of a truly meaningful education: the stakes are now too high.

“And we can not, we will not, we will refuse to allow politicians to use the alleged “failures” of our urban students to deprive them of adequate funding; to deprive them of a broad, rich curriculum; to deprive them of experienced teachers who look like their students; to deprive them of beautiful, healthy, well-resourced school facilities; and to deprive them of lives outside of school that are free of economic injustice and racial hatred.

“The stakes are too damn high….

“Our civil liberties have been under assault since 9-11; now, they are in even greater peril. And on Tuesday our world may well have become far more dangerous. If there is another leader of a democratic country who has said that he is fine with the use of nuclear weapons, I don’t know who he is.

“I pray I am wrong, but when I rationally consider the future, everything tells me that our students may well soon be living in a world that is less prosperous, less healthy, less free, and less safe.

“They will need us more than ever. They will be hungry and scared and stressed. They will be confused, because, even as we preach to them the importance of self-sacrifice and modesty, this country rewards too many who have lived lives of gluttony and arrogance.

“We must be there for them. We must never stop fighting for them. We must never stop believing in them.”

Earlier today, I posted Mercedes Schneider’s report about Campbell Brown’s failed lawsuit in Minnesota, where she was trying to get another Vergara-style decision to abolish teacher tenure.

I noted that the judge who tossed the lawsuit said that Brown and her “Partnership for Educational Justice” failed to show a connection between low test scores.

But the state’s own filing against the lawsuit added another important point, which I overlooked. Charter schools are disproportionately represented among the state’s lowest scoring schools, and their teachers do not have tenure. That argument blew a huge hole in the claim of Brown and her PEJ that tenure “causes” low test scores.

Here is the quote that Mercedes drew from the state’s document:

“Plaintiffs Lack Standing. The State Defendants demonstrated in their initial memorandum that Plaintiffs lacked standing because their First Amended Complaint failed to identify a concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent “injury-in-fact,” fairly traceable to the teacher tenure laws. … Plaintiffs reiteration of their generalized grievances set forth in the First Amended Complaint do not alter this conclusion.

“Nor will this case remedy Plaintiffs’ alleged harms. … As Plaintiffs acknowledge, eliminating teacher tenure will not ensure Plaintiffs’ children never again receive a teacher they consider “ineffective.” … Furthermore, Plaintiffs also fail to address the causal deficiencies in their claims, including the fact that (1) it is speculative whether elimination of the teacher tenure laws would result in greater teacher “effectiveness” or higher district-wide test scores; and (2) that Minnesota Charter schools, which do not have tenure, are disproportionally represented among Minnesota’s lowest performing schools.”

Mercedes Schneider writes about the recent events in Minnesota, where Campbell Brown and her reform organization (Partnership for Educational Justice) filed a Vergara-style lawsuit against teacher tenure, claiming that tenure has some relation to low test scores and therefore violates the civil rights of students of color who get low test scores.

This same claim cost millions of dollars to litigate in California after a lower court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Vergara case, but was then overturned in two appeals by higher courts. The billionaires behind corporate reform desperately wanted to have tenure declared a violation of civil rights, and they spent freely to promote that idea. The unions representing teachers wasted dues defending teachers’ right to due process.

But the outcome in Minnesota was different because the judge hearing the case couldn’t find a connection between tenure and test scores!

On October 26, 2016, the Minnesota teacher tenure lawsuit prodded by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) hit a roadblock when Ramsey County (MN) Judge Margaret Marrinan tossed out the PEJ-supported (instigated?) Forslund vs. Minnesota suit on the grounds that the suit “failed to establish a link between low academic achievement and the due process provided by the tenure laws,” as the Star Tribune reports.

There is something to be said for common sense.

Rumor hath it that Brown will file suit in other states. Here is hoping that she runs into more judges who are wise and know that she is peddling anti-teacher nonsense.

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: http://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-calif-supreme-courts-decision-decline-hear-vergara#sthash.ZruIIJjh.dpuf