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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vergara Decision Against Tenured Teachers in California is a Big Step....Backwards

Vergara decision to drive reforms in teacher employment, Stanford experts say

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled June 10 that California's teacher
tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education. The
closely watched case, Vergara v. State of California, could change the way
teachers are hired and fired in the state and around the nation.
AP Photo/Nick Ut
Raylene Monterroza, one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. State of California, takes questions from the media at a news conference in January.

Raylene Monterroza, student plaintiff in Vergara v. State of California, at a press conference

AP Photo/Nick Ut
Raylene Monterroza, one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. State of California, takes questions from the media at a news conference in January.

Stanford News Service spoke with William Koski, the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education at Stanford Law School and director of the 
Youth and Education Law Project, and Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow on Education Policy at the Hoover Institution, about the
ramifications of the case. Both Koski and Hanusek are on the faculty of the
Center for Education Policy Analysis at the Stanford Graduate School of 
Education, where they are also both professors by courtesy.

What impact will this ruling have on teacher tenure issues across the nation?

Koski: This is a significant decision because it's the first time a court has found certain fundamental teacher employment protections – time to tenure, due process protections and "last in, first out" reduction in force rules – unconstitutional because they violate students' fundamental right to an education. Although the ruling is based on provisions in the California Constitution and therefore limited in effect to California, the organization backing the plaintiffs, Students Matter, and others sympathetic to reform of teacher employment protections will seize on the theories advanced in the case and bring litigation in other states. Moreover, the litigation will stoke the already burning fires in many state legislatures to continue to reform teacher employment laws and collective bargaining rights. The irony, of course, is that the ruling will have no immediate effect in California because it will be stayed pending appeals.

Hanushek: This groundbreaking decision on teacher tenure turns the policy focus onto student outcomes and begins a process of reconsideration of whether existing laws, regulations and contracts are in the best interest of students. The Vergara ruling narrowly applies just to five California statutes that were ruled unconstitutional, but it will undoubtedly echo around the country. Courts and legislatures in other states will be prodded to pay more attention to the balance between teacher rights, pay and benefits and the quality of education provided in our schools.

How will this affect teachers unions and their leverage in representing teachers?

Hanushek: The teachers unions will undoubtedly fall back on the tired rhetoric that this is a "war on teachers." But there is no such war. These laws protect just a very small minority of teachers who are harming children and who should not be in the classroom. Indeed, protecting these grossly ineffective teachers seriously harms better teachers who are unfairly tarnished by association with unquestionably bad teachers. It is time for the teachers unions to join in focusing on the interests of students.

Why are education reformers trying to change teacher tenure laws in California and elsewhere?

Koski: Nearly everyone agrees that teachers are the most important school resource that affects student performance. It's also beyond dispute that there is a "teacher quality gap" in which schools with high percentages of low-income, African American and Latino students have less experienced and less qualified teachers than those schools with affluent and white students. There is heated disagreement, however, over the cause of that gap. Some would argue that schools require more resources to attract bright, young minds to the teaching profession. … For others, including theVergara plaintiffs, the cause of the teacher quality gap are the teacher employment protections and seniority rules that tie the hands of administrators and prevent them from hiring, firing and assigning teachers to meet the needs of their students.

What is the position on this issue of the teachers unions? And the plaintiffs' position?

Koski: The teachers unions' position [can] be boiled down to a few points: One, there are many causes for the failure of certain students and schools, including the socioeconomic background of students and insufficient funding, but it is not these statutes that cause failure and violate the rights of students. Two, in law and in practice, these statutes allow plenty of discretion to hire, fire and assign teachers and therefore should not and do not leave "grossly ineffective" teachers in our schools. And three, these statutes actually improve the quality of the teaching force and encourage teachers to teach in tough assignments because they provide the job protections that attract teachers to the profession and allow them to take the risks that are necessary to improve our worst performing schools.

The plaintiffs' position is that these teacher employment protections conspire to tie the hands of administrators and thereby permit grossly ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom. Those grossly ineffective teachers are the cause of student failure and therefore have a real and appreciable impact on students' –particularly poor and minority students' – fundamental right to an education.

Will this ruling help improve education in the classroom?

Koski: That remains to be seen. It is not at all clear that simply providing more administrative discretion over personnel decisions will be enough to improve student learning. First, the rules might not be the cause or even a substantial contributing factor to the teacher quality gap and the fact that there are underperforming teachers. Second, it is not clear that administrators in low-resource schools – or anyone, for that matter – will have the time, information and capacity to exercise any newfound discretion to improve student learning. And, third, the theory that we can fire our way out of this problem assumes that there exists a robust bullpen of would-be teachers who want to enter underperforming classrooms.

Hanushek: While the vast majority of our teachers are doing an exceptional job, there is a small minority that is disproportionately harming both their students and the nation. The trial testimony presented research showing that each year that a grossly ineffective teacher continues in the classroom reduces the future earnings of the class by thousands of dollars by dramatically lowering the college chances and employment opportunities of students. This ruling implicitly calls on the legislature and the schools to put in place systems that give more time to making tenure decisions and that lessen the burden on removing a teacher who proves to be grossly ineffective.

The future economic well-being of the U.S. is entirely dependent on the skills of our population. Replacing the poorest performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher would, by my calculations, yield improved productivity and growth that amounts to trillions of dollars.
Media Contact
William Koski, Stanford Law School: (650) 724-3718,
Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution: (650) 736-0942,
Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,

Vergara trial: Calif. judge says state
teacher protections unconstitutional (updated)

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California teacher protections are unconstitutional, according to a ruling by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday. The ruling found that California teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional because they violate children’s right to an adequate education.
Update 2:03 p.m.: LA Schools' superintendent Deasy responds to ruling
Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy says he will immediately begin working with state lawmakers and officials to correct California's teacher protection laws.
His comments come hours after an L.A. Superior Court judge today ruled several of those laws unconstitutional.
Judge Rolf Treu issued an injunction blocking tenure laws for public school teachers but also placed a stay on the ruling pending an appeal.
Deasy, who was a witness for those seeking to overturn the laws, says there's no reason to wait for that appeal.
"Every day administrators are spending thousands upon thousands and countless hours trying to dismiss ineffective teachers. That money should be spent on procuring new supplies, instituting new programs, improving teacher salaries, securing critical services for both the professionals and the students, and reducing class size."
Plaintiffs in the high-profile suit that took on powerful teachers' unions included nine students, who were hailing the court ruling on Tuesday.

Julia Macias is one of those students.
"Being a kid, sometimes it's easy to feel like your voice is not heard. Sometimes we are asked to stay quiet and let the adults figure things out.  Today I am glad I did not stay quiet. I am glad that with the support of my parents I was given the opportunity to fight for my rights in equal education," Macias said.
The California Teachers Association said it plans to file an appeal.
— KPCC staff
Update 1:16 p.m. Change needed but teachers will still have protections, says plaintiff's counsel
Though change is needed, teachers will still have protections no matter what, plaintiff's counsel Joshua Lipshutz told KPCC's "AirTalk." He's part of the legal team for Students Matter.
"Judge Treu has really thrown down the gauntlet and said, 'Look, this is a moral imperative, these teacher tenure laws are hurting students, and whoever is going to do something about it, they better get on that fast,'" said Lipshutz.
Lipshutz said that change can come either through the courts or the Legislature, but that change is needed now.
"Something has to be done right now because hundreds of thousands of students in California are being harmed every day and every year by these laws," Lipshutz said.
Teachers should still have protections, Lipshutz said, noting that all public employees are entitled to due process and some protections can't be taken away no matter what.
"The issue in this case was really the super duper due process protections that only teachers have," Lipshutz said. "When the protections go this far, the balance tips and you start hurting the very people who rely on those teachers: the students."
Lipshutz cited support in testimony during the trial from teachers on the plaintiff's side. He said that teacher tenure and the rule that new teachers are the first out is a deterrent to new teachers entering the profession.
"Lots of our most brilliant and enthusiastic young people who want to be teachers don't go into teaching because they know seniority rules under the current system," Lipshutz said. "In fact we had quite a few teachers who testified who were named teacher of the year and that very same year were laid off because they were the most junior member of the faculty. People don't want to enter a profession where they're not judged on their merit, and certainly not the kind of people that you'd want to be teachers."
Lipshutz said that while there are things administrators can do, it's not enough.
"It's true that Dr. Deasy has been able to terminate more grossly ineffective teachers than his predecessor, but when he was on the stand and his research official was on the stand, they explained that there are at least 350 teachers right now in Los Angeles that they know are grossly ineffective, that they cannot get rid of because it costs too much money and takes too much time. That system makes absolutely no sense for our students."
KPCC staff
Update 12:54 p.m. Union president accuses judge of favoring plaintiff's lawyers
Union representatives — who were not defendants in the case, but who successfully asked to intervene — accused the trial judge of favoring the plaintiff's lawyers during the proceedings.
“We are incredibly disappointed, but we are not surprised,” said California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt.
He said that, during the trial, Judge Rolf Treu cut off lawyers defending the case. He also said Treu missed the larger point about what it takes to give a child a quality education.

“There are a number factors that shape what happens in a particular classroom in a school," Pechthalt said. "The quality of the teaching, of course is one of them."

But he said it's not the only factor. 
"Things like what resources the parents have, the economic conditions in that community, overcrowding in the classroom” also play a huge role,  he said. 
The CTA will appeal the decision.
Incoming United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Treu's decision doesn’t reflect what he’s seen over the past two decades teaching in high-poverty schools in South L.A.

“It’s shocking to me that a judge is going to intervene in this way when the students that I’ve come across in my 22 years — the biggest barrier for them was never that their teacher had due process, or had a right to hearing, or had seniority," he said. "The biggest barriers for our kids are huge class sizes, no counselors, no librarians, a nurse one day a week.

"This is a shocking intervention on the part of a court that completely misses the point of the problems that are in schools right now,” he added.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Update 12:45 p.m. Keeping teachers longer is beneficial to students, says teachers union VP
Numerous groups are against using test scores to evaluate teachers, California Federation of Teachers Vice President Gary Ravani told KPCC's "AirTalk." The organization joined the state's side in the Vergara v. California case.
"Let me just say not only are the unions against it," Ravani said, "but also the Educational Testing Service, California's testing vendor is against it; the nation's highest scientific body, the National Research Council is against it; just within the last week or so the American Statistical Society came out against it. And all of them have said that using test scores in a way that was pressed in the court case is actually going to have a negative effect."
Ravani cited No Child Left Behind, saying it's been in place for a decade and that its use of test scores to hold teachers and schools accountable has had a negative effect. He said that the current system of letting administrators evaluate teachers works without adding test scores on top of it.
"Administrators have the right within two years to dismiss teachers absolutely without cause and they have no due process rights whatsoever," Ravani said. "So it's up to administration to do an effective job of evaluating teachers in that time and making the judgment as to whether or not the teacher's effective or not. There's nothing to suggest that two years isn't  sufficient time to do that."
Keeping teachers around longer is beneficial to students, Ravani argued.
"There's a substantial body of evidence that says that the more time that teachers have in the classroom, the more effective they become and the better the chances are for kids to get a better educations, so actually protecting those seniority rights is much to the advantage of students," said Ravani.
KPCC staff
Update 12:23 p.m. Officials should take judge's decision as mandate to change laws now, says entrepreneur behind lawsuit
The Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bankrolled the successful fight against California teacher protections said he was “ecstatic” by the overwhelming win.

“It is an incredible day for the public education of the children of California — and I believe also the country,” said David Welch, founder of the tech firm Infinera, during a conference call Tuesday afternoon put on by his nonprofit Students Matter. He ignored a reporter’s question about what filing the case cost him.

Students Matter has stated its intention to push for similar changes in other states.

The group’s big message in the press conference was that legislators and policymakers should take the judge’s decision as a mandate to change laws now, rather than wait for appeals.

“We’ve been challenged now to find a better solution than what has been the status quo,” Welch said.

KPCC staff
Update 12:12 p.m. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Vergara decision a 'mandate' to fix education system
The Vergara v. California decision finding state teacher protections unconstitutional is a "mandate" to fix "laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement Tuesday.
Duncan said that the decision presents the opportunity to build a new teaching framework, which gives students the opportunity to receive an equal education while giving teachers good careers. He also said that he hopes the decision quickly leads to changes in practice.
"My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift," Duncan said.
Duncan said that they are working on the federal level to support that kind of discussion in states, as well as looking to address other problems, "including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline."
Read the full statement below:
For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.
Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.
My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.
At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education — including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.
Mike Roe
Update 11:54 a.m. Superintendent Deasy: California shouldn't wait to change teacher tenure laws
Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, said Tuesday that California shouldn’t wait to change teacher job protection laws.

“Every day that these laws remain in effect represent another opportunity denied,” he said during a conference call put on by Students Matter, the nonprofit behind the lawsuit that successfully challenged those laws. “It’s unacceptable.”

He said he would reach out to Attorney General Kamala Harris to draw up new laws now.

Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling Tuesday morning — finding California teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional because they violate children’s right to an adequate education — is stayed pending appeals.

“When parents entrust us with their child, they expect that the very best educator will be in front [of] that child,” Deasy said. “Every day, students across the state have unfortunately been saddled with grossly ineffective teachers without recourse.”

KPCC staff
Update 10:17 a.m. Calif. judge says state teacher protections unconstitutional
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday called California’s teacher job protections illegal, issuing a tentative ruling striking down three state laws that he said harm children’s ability to get an adequate education and granting an enormous win to the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bankrolled the fight.
"All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional…" Judge Rolf Treu wrote. "Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the Challenged Statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students."
In his 16-page ruling in Vergara v. California, Treu said that current laws granting teacher tenure after two years, mandating layoffs by seniority rather than effectiveness, and a complicated teacher firing process keep ineffective teachers on the job.
California’s constitution guarantees students will receive an adequate public education and Treu was swayed by arguments by education advocates Students Matter that those job protections kept grossly ineffective teachers on the job, harming kids’ educational prospects.
"The evidence was also clear that the churning aka (dance of the lemons) of teachers caused by the lack of effective dismissal statutes and LIFO [last in, first out hiring rules] affect high poverty and minority students disproportionately," Treu wrote. "This in turn greatly affects the stability of the learning process to the detriment of such students.”
RELATED: What do you think of the court's decision in Vergara v. California education case?
The ruling is tentative, but expected to be made final.
The California Teachers Association will appeal the decision, said Jim Finberg, a lawyer hired to represent the group during the trial.
"The decision will have no immediate effect," he said, "until the court of appeals makes a decision."
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
7:26 a.m. Calif. judge could change teacher job security
A judge plans to announce a decision Tuesday that could be a game changer for California teachers whose job security is on the line.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, whose ruling is due on Tuesday, heard two months of testimony in a lawsuit filed by students who claim the state's teacher tenure rules deprive them of a good education.
RELATED: The lawsuit's called Vergara, but the name you should know is Welch
The suit says the system, which allows only two years for evaluation before a teacher is hired permanently, makes it almost impossible to fire ineffective teachers.
Lawyers for the teachers object to proposed changes that they say will allow the firing of teachers on a whim. They argue the current system preserves academic freedom and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.
The Associated Press
DOCUMENT: Judge Rolf M. Treu's decision

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