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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lenny Isenberg: Will Truth Finally Prevail in Los Angeles About Teacher Jails and the Rubber Room Process?

Lenny Isenberg is a teacher advocate in Los Angeles

Listen - he has important statements to make.

Betsy Combier

David Holmquist

Ramon Cortines

On Thursday August 13, 2015 the law firm of Geragos & Geragos filed a detailed 91 page cause of action on behalf of nationally acclaimed Hobart Elementary school teacher Rafe Esquith against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Esquith Complaint (Conformed).pdf . More specifically, and in addition to suing LAUSD as a legal entity, the lawsuit also names as individual defendants Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, Chief Legal Officer David R. Holmquist, and 50 John Does to be subsequently named after they are identified through the discovery process- a process now open to the plaintiffs to finally compell LAUSD administrators and others to tell the truth or face serious and costly- both financial and personal- legal consequencess for failing to do so.
In filing this lawsuit, the Geragos firm is in for a pleasant surprise, since it will soon find as the case unfolds that LAUSD and its corrupt and long bullying administration have literally made no attempt to cover up any of their reprehensible behavior toward Esquith or any of its other unjustly targeted employees. And that literally nobody in LAUSD administration has every had any good faith belief that the vast majority of teachers they have targeted have done anything wrong. Rather, to quote Marlon Brando's Vito Coreleone in The Godfather, what will become perfectly clear is that, "It's just business."
As the trial progresses and LAUSD's usual stall tactics- that have served them so well against defenseless teachers abandon by their union United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)- fail against a Geragos lawfirm with the bank to go against them toe to toe for the long run, what will become abundantly clear in this first neutral forum to dispassionately exam LAUSD's claims against its senior teaching staff is that the charges in the vast majority of cases are completely fabricated and based exclusively on the totally illegal motive of targeting teachers at the top of the salary scale, and/or about to vest in expensive lifetime health benefits, and/or disabled, and/or teachers like Esquith who stood up against ill-conceived and often downright illegal programs.
Simply stated, LAUSD's witch hunt has been about money and has had nothing to do with "child safety" as claimed by both Superintendent Cortines and his predecessor and now Broad Foundation employee John Deasey. And I can not help but wondering if John Deasey might also be one of the to be named John Does 1-50 in this lawsuit.
Furthermore, as more evidence is gathered in the Esquith case, a class action suit is likely to be filed or at the very least many more lawsuits like Esquith's, since a pattern and practice of illegal behavior will clearly emerge. What it will shows is literally thousands of other certificated or classified staff that bullying LAUSD administrators and their coerced subordinates either forced into early retirement or brought up on knowingly false charges. Where this case is likely to break wide open is when some of the coerced administrators, who at the behest or threat of their superiors finally speak up to save themselves about knowingly and with malice aforethought going after completely innocent teachers. Some candidates that the Geragos firm might choose take depositions from are those presently being fired by Superintendent Cortines.
Already in the pleading filed by Geragos & Geragos on behalf of Rafe Esquith, clearly illegal activity has been alleged that literally thousands of targeted teachers can substantiate and which LAUSD has no evidence to counter. In fact, the evidence clearly and convincingly substantiates what the Esquith lawsuit states:
1. No exculpatory evidence of teacher innocence or good behavior was allowed to remain in the teacher's file in a one-sided process only designed to ultimately get rid of the teacher;
2. Teachers were systematically submitted to "psychological torture" in longterm "teacher jail" incarceration that not only had no reason to exist in a purposefully protracted "investigation process," which was ultimately dispensed with even before LAUSD decided to resurrect it against Rafe Esquith;
3. In complete derogation of the legal standard establish in the tragic Mc Martin Preschool case, where all teachers and administrators were ultmately found to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing, rules were established as to what permission needed to be obtained from parents prior to student questioning, who was qualified to question impressionable students, and neutrality of questions to not lead highly impressionable youth into a preconceived result. In the Esquith case and in literally thousands like it, LAUSD administrators purposefully chose to ignore these legal standards in interrogating students without parents permission, where questions suggested the predetermined answers sought by people- principals- who were completely unqualified to question the students that they improperly and illegally manipulated.

4. And in typical bully behavior, any attempt by Esquith or other targeted teachers to defend themselves against clearly fabricated and disproven charges only seems to inspire LAUSD in a long established and verifiable practice to just pile on more and more serious charges that inexplicably were never brought until the teacher tried to defend themselves.

But there might just be a silver lining to the regrettable situation in which LAUSD now finds itself. When one looks at the likely astronomical damages in the billions that LAUSD faces in the Esquith case and the thousands likely to follow, maybe LAUSD can take a page from the City of Detroit bankruptcy in making lemonade out of its lemons. If LAUSD is ultimately forced into bankruptcy, they might just get out of ALL their contractual liability for wages, benefits, and retirement programs, which after all seems to have been the reason they started the witch hunt against senior certificated and classified employees in the first place back in 2006.
If you or someone you know has been targeted and are in the process of being dismissed and need legal defense, get in touch:

Sheri Lederman Puts Teacher Value-Added Modeling Scores on Trial in a Precedent-Setting Case

Sheri Lederman
 See my prior posts:
Teacher Sheri Lederman's Lawsuit Against NY State's Teacher Evaluation System Moves Forward

Betsy Combier

Controversial teacher evaluation method is on trial — literally — and the judge is not amused
by Valerie Strauss, Answer Sheet, August 15, 2015
Here is a report on what happened this week in a New York court where a judge is hearing the case brought by Sheri G. Lederman, a fourth-grade teacher in the Great Neck public school district, against state education officials over their controversial method of evaluating her — and, by extension, other N.Y. teachers.
The method is known as “value-added modeling,” or VAM, and it purports to be able to use student standardized test scores to determine the “value” of a teacher while factoring out every other influence on a student (including, for example, hunger, sickness, and stress). One way it works is by predicting, through a complicated computer model, how students with similar characteristics are supposed to perform on the exams, and teachers are then evaluated on how well their students measure up to the theoretical students. New York is just one of the many states where VAM is a key component of teacher assessment. Evaluation experts have warned  policymakers that this method is not reliable for evaluating teachers, but VAM became popular among school reformers as a “data-driven” evaluation solution.
Lederman’s suit against state education officials — including John King, the former state education commissioner who is now a top adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan — challenges the rationality of the VAM model, and it alleges that the New York State Growth Measures “actually punishes excellence in education through a statistical black box which no rational educator or fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.”
Here’s what happened to Lederman: In 2012-13, 68.75 percent of her New York students met or exceeded state standards in both English and math. She was labeled “effective” that year. In 2013-2014, her students’ test results were very similar, but she was rated “ineffective.” Meanwhile, her district superintendent, Thomas Dolan, declared that Lederman — whose students received  standardized math and English Language Arts test scores consistently higher than the state average — has a “flawless record.”
Lederman and her attorney husband, Bruce Lederman, sued and obtained affidavits of support from a number of education experts. You can read about what they said here.
On Aug. 12, New York Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough presided over a hearing in the case — and he was not amused with the state’s case. Following is a report on the hearing by Carol Burris, the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund. Burris retired in June as an award-winning principal at a New York high school, and she is the author of numerous articles, books and blog posts (including on The Answer Sheet) about the botched school reform efforts in her state.
By Carol Burris
The exasperated New York Supreme Court judge, Roger McDonough, tried to get Assistant Attorney General Galligan to answer his questions. He was looking for clarity and instead got circuitous responses about bell curves, “outliers” and adjustments. Fourth-grade teacher Sheri Lederman’s VAM score of “ineffective” was on trial.
The more Ms. Galligan tried to defend the bell curve of growth scores as science, the more the judge pushed back with common sense. It was clear that he did his homework. He understood that the New York State Education Department’s VAM system artificially set the percentage of “ineffective” teachers at 7 percent. That arbitrary decision clearly troubled him. “Doesn’t the bell curve make it subjective? There has to be failures,” he asked.
The defender of the curve said that she did not like the “failure” word.
The judge quipped, “Ineffectives, how about that?” Those in attendance laughed.
Ms. Galligan preferred the term “outlier.” Those who got ineffective growth scores were “the outliers who are not doing a good job,” the attorney said. She seemed oblivious to the fourth-grade teacher who was sitting not 10 feet away from where she stood.
“Did her students learn nothing?” Justice McDonough asked. “How could it be that she went from 14 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points in one year?” He noted that the students’ scores were quite good and not that different from the year before.
Back behind the bell curve Ms. Galligan ran. As she tried to explain once again, the judge said, “Therein lies the imprecise nature of this measure.”
I met Sheri Lederman a year before she became an “outlier.” In April of 2013, a group of principals organized a forum at Hofstra University, called More than a Score. Sheri’s principal, Sharon Fougner, recommended her as a panelist. “She is not only a remarkable teacher, she is a scholar in childhood education,” Fougner said.
At that forum, Sheri spoke eloquently about her students. She explained what good elementary education should be. Her thoughtful presentation full of authentic concern for the effects of Pearson testing on her fourth-graders was the most moving presentation of the evening.
The following year, in 2014, Sheri received her ineffective score from the state. Principal Fougner called her into her office to tell her, so she would not have to suffer the indignity of reading it on a computer screen.
The master teacher, known for her high expectations for students and her belief that every single student can succeed with her help, was in shock. Just the year before her score was rated “effective.”
After being told the bad news, Lederman recalls sitting at her desk thinking that there must be some mistake. She thought about quitting — and then she got angry.
What started out as a personal affront became a cause. As she recently told me:
“I spend a lot of time teaching my students about the injustices that have historically plagued populations across the world. It is often the case that one single person must step up and take a stand against an unjust law or governing body, becoming the tipping point for so many others. I could not stand by and accept what SED [State Education Department] and the Legislature were doing to me and every other educator out there. I have made the choice to take a public stand. Win or lose, I won’t stand by and be ineffective in this fight.”
She and her husband, attorney Bruce Lederman, filed for a review. She received a dismissive letter from the State Education Department saying there was no review and if she didn’t like it, the only recourse was an article 78 action.
And that is just what she and her husband began.
Lederman was not the only teacher in the school to get a poor score. In 2014, 21 percent of the staff at E.M. Baker School received a score of “ineffective,” 21 percent “developing” and 57 percent were “effective.”  Just the year before, not one teacher received an “ineffective” score.
The irrationality was not limited to the teachers of Sheri Lederman’s school, one of the highest performing elementary schools in the state. In 2014, 44 percent of the teachers of the Fox Meadow School in Scarsdale received growth scores that said they were not “effective” teachers with 22 percent rated “ineffective.”  Yet 61 percent of the school’s students were proficient in English Language Arts, and 75 percent were proficient in math—more that double the state’s proficiency rate.  Similar results were found at the high-achieving Harbour Hill School in Roslyn, where 36 percent of its teachers received growth scores that labeled them “ineffective.”
The Lincoln School in Rochester, is a school designated as a priority/failing school by the state. Its proficiency rate was less than 3 percent. In 2014, 100 percent of its teachers received “effective” state scores, with 7 percent being rated “highly effective.”  At another school facing receivership, The Martin Luther King Jr School in Utica, New York, 60 percent of the teachers received “effective” VAM scores and 40 percent were given VAM scores of “highly effective .”
I point out these dramatic differences not to disparage or embarrass the teachers of any school, but rather to shine a light on the irrational state-produced teacher scores based on the New York Common Core tests. For more information on the unreliable manner in which these scores functioned in 2013 and 2014, read here.
Bruce Lederman argued the irrationality of that rating system before the court. He laid out a careful, systematic argument. He was not opposed to evaluation. He was not even opposed to evaluation based on a measurement of student learning growth. He objected to a rating created in a black box that spit out predictions that compared his wife’s students to “avatar students.” He was disturbed that when questioned, that system responds with “because we say so.” He noted that “the magic of numbers brings a suspension of common sense.”
“There is nothing in the law that requires a bell curve,” he argued. He explained that a bell curve with its forced failures violates that law that requires that every teacher must be able to get all scores. Not only did he want the court to set aside his wife’s score, he wanted the court to “declare the measure an abuse of discretion” because “the State Education Department does not get a pass on unreasonable and irrational actions.”
After 90 minutes of argument, the court adjourned.
At its core, this story is a love story. It is the story of a teacher who loves her students, her profession and justice so much that she is willing to stand up and let the world know that she was “an outlier” with an “ineffective” score.
It was love that compelled teachers, retired and active, driving from all corners of the state to be in that courtroom to listen on a hot summer’s day. It was love that compelled her principal to drive to Albany to be there. It was the deep and abiding love of a husband for his wife that compelled Bruce Lederman to spend countless hours preparing an extraordinary defense.  And it is love that nourishes and sustains the good school, not avatar score predictions for performance on Common Core tests.
Supreme Court Justice McDonough’s decision is expected in two to three months.