Vergara Decision Against Tenured Teachers in California is a Big Step....Backwards
NYC Rubber Room Reporter
The Chicago Teachers Union reacts to the Vergara decision in California. Here is the key quote:
"If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason."
CTU Statement on California Tenure Decision
It must be nice to be a wealthy tech mogul like David Welch. When you want to “prove” a theory, you just go get someone else’s kids to be the guinea pigs. When you want to “prove” a theory, you conveniently omit the most relevant and direct causes of harm. Such was the case in this week’s California lawsuit decision against tenure for teachers. Fortunately, our Constitution and legal system have clear protections for speech and structured processes for appeal so that we non-billionaires have an opportunity to air the facts.
Teacher laws vary from state to state, and so the ruling in California is not automatically a blueprint for changes in states like Illinois. Despite a recent law that makes tenure much more difficult to acquire in Illinois, the myth that tenure equals a permanent job persists. In fact, teacher tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. Tenure provides protection from capricious dismissal and a process for improving unsatisfactory practice, but as in any job, teachers can be dismissed for serious misconduct. Further, as we have seen in California and Illinois, persistent budget “crises” stemming from insufficient revenue generation have decimated the teaching profession.
Contrary to popular belief, the school boards routinely dismiss teachers. Deep budget cuts have savaged the teaching corps, either through probationary teacher non-renewals or tenured teacher lay-offs. Fully half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years, either because of the difficulty of the work or job insecurity. And for those who do stay, lay-offs are a constant threat, even to the most highly decorated, talented, and dedicated teachers. One Chicago Public School teacher was laid-off three times in a little more than a year. A holder of National Board Certification, the highest certification a teacher can have, he left the profession because of the tumult, and his students at multiple South Side high schools lost out on the opportunity to work with a highly qualified and dedicated public servant. Far from “obtaining and retaining permanent employment”, in the words of Judge Rolf Treu, tenure provided my colleague with no long-term job protection.
Judge Treu also misinterpreted the real causes of discrimination against low-income students of color. Teacher tenure does not cause low student achievement. Rather, the root causes of differences in student performance have to do with structural differences in schools. Omitted from his decision are the impacts of concentrated poverty, intense segregation, skeletal budgets, and so-called “disruptive innovation” that have been at the heart of urban school districts for decades. Scripted curricula, overuse and misuse of standardized testing, school closures and school turnarounds, and the calculated deprivation of resources are the real reasons low-income students of color face discrimination. So-called reformers like David Welch and Arne Duncan push those policies. In other words, the new “reform” status quo has made worse the problem it purports to fix.
If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.
I was curious to learn whether the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial actually had "grossly ineffective teachers." The answer is "no, they did not."
Not only did none of them have a "grossly ineffective" teacher, but some of the plaintiffs attended schools where there are no tenured teachers. Two of the plaintiffs attend charter schools, where there is no tenure or seniority, and as you will read below, "Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness.
It turns out that the lawyers for the defense checked the records of the plaintiffs' teachers, and this is what they found (filed as a post-trial brief in the case): (See pp. 5-6).
"Plaintiffs have not established that the statutes have ever caused them any harm or are likely to do so in the future. None of the nine named Plaintiffs established that he or she was assigned to an allegedly grossly ineffective teacher, or that he or she faces any immediate risk of future harm, as a result of the challenged statutes. The record contains no evidence that Plaintiffs Elliott, Liss, Campbell or Martinez were ever assigned a grossly ineffective teacher at all. Of the remaining five Plaintiffs, most of the teachers whom they identified as “bad” or “grossly ineffective” were excellent teachers. Because none of the five Plaintiffs are reliable evaluators of teacher performance, their testimony about the remaining purportedly ineffective teachers should not be credited. Nor could Plaintiffs link their assignment to purportedly “bad” or “grossly ineffective” teachers to the challenged statutes. Not a single witness claimed that any of Plaintiffs’ teachers were granted permanent status because of the two-year probationary period, would have been dismissed in the absence of the dismissal statutes, or would have been laid off had reverse seniority not been a factor in layoffs. Indeed, Plaintiffs did not call any administrator of any of Plaintiffs’ schools to corroborate their testimony or in any way connect the teachers they identified to the statutes they challenge. Furthermore, any threat of future harm to Plaintiffs caused by the challenged statutes is purely speculative. Plaintiffs Elliott and DeBose are high school seniors who will almost certainly graduate in spring 2014. Plaintiffs Monterroza and Martinez both attend charter schools that are not subject to the challenged statutes at all. Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness. As for the remaining three Plaintiffs, there is no concrete, specific evidence supporting any claim that they will be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers due to the challenged statutes; instead, their claims are based on pure speculation."
One of the plaintiffs (Monterroza) said that her teacher, Christine McLaughlin was a very bad teacher, but McLaughlin was Pasadena teacher of the year and has received many awards for excellent teaching (google her).
Surely, there must be "grossly ineffective" teachers in the state of California, but no evidence was presented that the plaintiffs in the case had teachers who were "grossly ineffective."
What about turnover of teachers in high-poverty schools in California:
Betty Olson-Jones, former president of the Oakland Education Association, testified: “Oakland has an extremely difficult time retaining teachers. The statistic that I was always struck with was of the beginning teachers in 2003, there were about 300 who began in Oakland, and by 2008 about 76 percent of those left. Generally, the turnover rate is about 50 percent, even higher among some -- in some schools. I feel that part of the reason is that the conditions are very difficult, very high-poverty rate in Oakland, lack of support services. Oakland has very few counselors, nurses, one librarian left, high class size, high standard of living in the bay area. Children come with a lot of needs that aren't fulfilled, and teachers are expected to make up that difference and are agonized often by their inability to do so because they lack the support and the conditions to do so.”
What about working conditions? Anthony Mize taught at the Vergara sisters' school. He testified: “There was a back-to-school night where there was drive-by shooting 30 to 50 yards from behind my classroom. I remember talking with a mother at the time. And I was just about to say to the mom, 'and your son has trouble paying attention,' and seven to nine shots rang out.”
None of this testimony impressed the judge.