2-year degree takes 4 years

A “two-year” degree typically takes more than four years in California. Furthermore, associate-degree graduates earn a median of 78 credits — well over the 60 required — raising costs and taking up community college seats.

After Vergara, will tenure survive?

While he supports the Vergara verdict, Rick Hess doubts the courts can order higher quality of schools.

California’s employment laws have made it ridiculously tough on school systems to do anything about lousy teachers. There are 275,000 teachers in California. Even if just one to three percent of teachers are lousy, as defense expert David Berliner estimated, one would expect 3,000 to 8,000 teachers to be dismissed each year for unsatisfactory performance. Instead, the average is just 2.2. Meanwhile, Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy testified that it costs his school system between $250,000 and $450,000 to remove just one tenured teacher for poor performance.

The unions have  “used the courts to protect generous benefits, challenge layoffs, attack school choice, and force states to spend more on K-12,” writes Hess. Now they’ve discovered the virtues of judicial restraint.

However, “courts have a long history of failing to weigh costs and benefits and imposing requirements that prove bureaucratic and unworkable,” writes Hess.

 Indeed, if courts can order legislatures to abolish tenure, what else might they require? If plaintiffs pick the right judge and present the right experts, can they get judges to require that pre-K teachers need to have an education school teaching credential? Can judges order schools to adopt the Common Core, if they think that will help ensure that all students are held to an equal standard? Can judges order legislators to double teacher pay, if that’s what they think it’ll take to ensure that all students have a chance to learn?

If the decision holds up on appeal, California legislators will write new education laws they hope will satisfy the judge. They’re likely to lessen, but not eliminate, barriers to dismissing ineffective teachers, predicts Eric Hanushek.

Students Matter, which brought the lawsuit, hopes to challenge tenure laws in other states, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon, reports Time.

“This is gay marriage,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2010-2011. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states.”

Union leaders had to know that California’s tenure and LIFO (last in first out) laws were “indefensible,” writes John Merrow. Young teachers — and more of the teaching force is young —  pay the price when layoffs are strictly by seniority, he adds.

Faster is better

More than 70 percent of California’s entering community college students are unprepared for college work. Accelerating remediation is helping students pass college-level courses, but only a few students have access to accelerated courses.

California judge strikes down tenure, layoff laws


Beatriz Vergara testifies in Vergara v. California

California’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissal are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles trial judge has ruled. Low-income and minority students don’t have equal access to competent teachers argued Students Matter, which sued on behalf of nine schoolchildren.

The evidence “shocks the conscience,” wrote Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in the Vergara v. California decision. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

Enforced will be delayed pending an appeal by the lawsuit’s defendants, the state and California’s two major teachers unions.

Plaintiffs alleged that schools serving poor students have more teachers with less seniority, and therefore are more likely to lose teachers during seniority-based layoffs. As a result, those schools suffer from higher turnover and more inexperienced and ineffective teachers.

The suit also challenged the state requirement that school districts make decisions on tenure after a teacher has had about 18 months on the job — thus denying districts adequate time to determine a teacher’s competence.

Moreover, because of cumbersome dismissal procedures, Students Matter said, in 10 years only 91 of California’s teachers, who now number 285,000, have been fired, most for inappropriate conduct. And, the group noted that only 19 were dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.

The unions called the lawsuit a threat to due process, such as the right to a pre-dismissal hearing, and to protections from arbitrary or unfair administrators.

Union spokesman Fred Glass said, “The millionaires behind this case have successfully diverted attention from the real problems of public education.” That’s a reference to Dave Welch, co-founder of a telecom company, who’s the primary founder of Students Matter.

Education Trust hailed the decision. “The decision will force California to address the reality that our most vulnerable students are less likely to have access to effective teachers.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the decision a mandate for change.

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.

He hopes for a “collaborative process” — a deal, not an appeal — to write new laws that “protect students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

Vergara equals victory for kids, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Test-free accountability?

“Concerns” about Common Core standards primarily are about “the consequences of high-stakes tests attached to the standards,” write Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. They call for a “new accountability.”

Their model is California. Their bad example is New York.

They call for a “support-and-improve model” instead of a “test-and-punish approach.”

The “new accountability” appears to mean no accountability, respond Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and her former colleague, Russlyn Ali.

The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece is rife with omissions and unsupported innuendo. Our particular favorite from among their many claims is the assertion that California’s record graduation rates and recent gains on national eighth-grade math and reading exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies that weren’t even put into place until after these gains.

Teachers’ unions are trying to get rid of John King, New York’s commissioner of education, write Haycock and Ali. He’s “in a hurry” to improve education, while California’s system suffers from the pobrecito phenomenon. Expectations are low for poor immigrant students and “hugging kids is too often considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them.”

There are “huge real-life consequences” for students who don’t meet educational standards, even if their states link no official “stakes” to exams, Haycock and Ali write. “Those who exit high school with the skills to succeed in college have a real future in our knowledge-based economy; those who do not have strong skills are essentially toast.”

California builds transfer bridges

The University of California hopes to restrain college costs and expand diversity by streamlining community college transfers.

Online learning is hard, but helpful

California community college students are taking more courses online, but completion rates are lower in online courses, according to a new report. Online learning appears to help stronger students complete their degrees.

Terrible tenure

Palo Alto High principal Phil Winston was being investigated for sexual harassing students and teachers when he stepped down nine months ago, parents learned last week.  He’s now co-teaching special education students at a middle school.

According to a notice of “unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance,” Human Resources Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers ordered Winston to refrain from “profanity, sexual comments and innuendo, and derogatory terms;” avoid physical contact with students and employees; and undergo sexual harassment prevention training. He was also encouraged to seek counseling to help him understand “appropriate behavior boundaries.”

It was too difficult to fire him, reports the Palo Alto Weekly. “In California, the law makes it so expensive and onerous to terminate a credentialed teacher that most districts decide not to even try.”

Ninety-eight percent of California teachers attain tenure, known as “permanence,” after two years, writes Larry Sand in Terrible Tenure in City Journal. Are 98 percent so good they should have jobs for life?

Beatriz Vergara

Beatriz Vergara

A group of nine students is challenging the state’s permanence, seniority, and dismissal statutes. They argue they’ve been denied equal access to good teachers. Superior Court judge Rolf Treu will issue a ruling in Vergara v. California by July 10.

“If the students prevail, several union-backed statutes will be eliminated from the education code and declared unconstitutional,” writes Sand. “It would then be up to each school district to come up with its own policies on tenure and seniority.”

Nationwide, low-income and minority students are less likely to be taught by highly effective teachers, concludes a Center for American Progress report.

In the last 10 years, 91 permanent teachers out of about 300,000 (.003 percent) were fired in the state. Only 19 (.0007 percent) were dismissed for poor performance.

Only 2 percent of Indiana teachers “need improvement” and less than on-half of one percent are “ineffective,” according to a new teacher evaluation system that’s raising eyebrows.

Districts of Choice compete for students

California’s Districts of Choice are competing for students, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.  State law lets choice districts accept transfers without approval from students’ home districts.

The Riverside Unified School District east of Los Angeles was losing enrollment till it expanded choice options and opened the door to transfers.

. . . the district launched a science and technology middle school, a dual-language immersion elementary, an all-digital high school, an arts-centered grade school, a virtual school starting at grade 3, and more. Kids from other districts could enroll in the new programs, or, if the programs were oversubscribed, could enter admissions lotteries and, in some cases, stood the same chance of winning as Riverside youngsters.

Ninth-grade students at Riverside STEM Academy work together in a STEM Research Methodologies class

Ninth-grade students at Riverside STEM Academy work together in a STEM Research Methodologies class.
(Photo/Courtesy Riverside STEM Academy)

 

In 2013–14, the third choice year, 535 students transferred in to Riverside schools. Enrollment — and state funding — rose.

Thirty-one districts in the state have declared themselves “districts of choice.”

Districts can’t recruit star athletes or other outstanding students, writes Kronholz. ” Transfers can’t exacerbate racial segregation, and a district can’t take so many students that the transfers undermine another district’s financial stability.” They can’t reject special education students or  English Learners.

The law is controversial, writes Kronholz. Riverside parents aren’t always happy to see transfers compete for seats in popular programs.

Superintendents are wary of upsetting colleagues in neighboring districts, says Adonai Mack of the school administrators association. Many superintendents “aren’t entrepreneurial,” he adds.

Talking back to Bill Gates

In The Education of Mr. Gates, Ze’ev Wurman, a former Education Department official, responds to Bill Gates’ defense of Common Core standards at the American Enterprise Institute.| 

Gates: So a bunch of governors said, hey, you know, why are we buying these expensive textbooks? Why are they getting so thick? You know, are standards high enough or quality enough? And I think it was the National Governors Association that said we ought to get together on this. A bunch of teachers met with a bunch of experts, and so in reading and writing and math, these knowledge levels were written down.

Wurman: Well, not exactly. Not “teachers met experts.” Rather, a bunch of poorly qualified ed policy “experts” (chosen by Mr. Gates and Marc Tucker) met with testing experts from College Board and ACT and made the decisions. Then they brought in teachers as window dressing to create the image of broad support.

Wurman helped develop California’s standards, which were abandoned in favor of the Common Core. A Silicon Valley engineer, he believes the new math standards will make it difficult for high school students to prepare for STEM majors.

States with math standards least like the Common Core have higher achievement scores, concludes a new Brookings’ report. “Supporters of Common Core argue that strong, effective standards will sweep away such skepticism by producing lasting, significant gains in student learning,” wrote the study’s authors. “So far at least–and it is admittedly the early innings of a long ball game–there are no signs of such an impressive accomplishment.”