Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Gov. Brown appeals Vergara ruling

California Gov. Jerry Brown has filed an appeal of the Vergara ruling that struck down traditional job protections for teachers.

The state’s two largest teacher unions also will appeal.

The decision, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, threw out the state’s tenure process for elementary teachers, reports the Los Angeles Times. “It also stripped instructors of rules that made dismissing them more difficult and expensive than firing other state employees. And he eliminated regulations that made seniority the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a Democrat and teachers union ally, issued a statement backing the appeal.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full. We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.”

Torlakson faces a strong challenger, education reformer Marshall Tuck, in the November election.

Judge confirms Vergara ruling

The judge in Vergara vs. California has finalized his June ruling that state laws on teacher employment — including seniority-based layoffs and tenure — deny disadvantaged students access to a quality public education.

In his final ruling, filed yesterday, Judge Rolf Treu, said, “plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented.”

The state and its two largest teachers unions have 60 days to appeal. The unions will file, but the state of California may not.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Democrats have avoided comment while awaiting Treu’s final decision, writes Chris Reed on Fox & Hounds.

Gov. Jerry Brown is cruising to re-election against a little-known opponent. He could go for a place in history by admitting that “teachers unions are bad for minorities,” writes Reed.

State Superintendent Tom Torklakson — a named defendant in the suit — is facing a tough fight against reformer Marshall Tuck, who’s been endorsed by all the major newspapers in the state.  Tuck has called on Torlakson not to appeal the ruling.

Torlakson will stick with his “greatest patron during his political rise — the California Teachers Association,” predicts Reed.

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.

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.

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.

Suit challenges teacher tenure

Teacher tenure and seniority rules deny students equal access to an adequate education argues a California lawsuit. Testimony started yesterday in Los Angeles on Vergara vs. CaliforniaStudents Matter, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed on behalf of nine students and their families.

The lawsuit aims to protect the rights of students, teachers and school districts against a “gross disparity” in educational opportunity, lawyers for the plaintiffs said.

. . . Teachers unions have vigorously defended tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, calling them crucial safeguards and essential to recruiting and retaining quality instructors. The lawsuit, they contend, is misguided and ignores the true causes of problems in education, such as drops in state funding.

Minority and low-income students are far more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers, the lawsuit argues.

No choice

Photo: Back to Philly schools.  Yes, we need more money from Harrisburg but to turn the schools around there are other reforms needed as well.

Young teachers support evaluation reform

Newer teachers are willing to be evaluated on their students’ academic growth, according to two new surveys, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

In the Teach Plus survey, 71 percent with 10 years or less in the classroom said student academic growth should be part of their evaluations, while just 41 percent of the more experienced group (11+ years) agreed. Education Sector compared teachers with less than five years of experience and those with 20+ years: 56 percent of newer teachers and 50 percent of older ones supported measuring teacher effectiveness using student growth models.

Sixty percent of the newer Teach Plus survey teachers said they were interested in changing “compensation and tenure systems.” Just 20 percent of the older teachers had that view. The Education Sector survey teachers appeared more supportive of moving in that direction: Ninety-one percent of the newer teachers and 75 percent of the older ones supported unions taking a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers.

The American Federation of Teachers’ proposal to make it harder to enter teaching will raise teacher quality, writes Marc Tucker in his Ed Week blog.

High-status professions “do a lousy job of getting rid of their worst performers,” but make it hard to get into professional school and to pass licensing exams, Tucker writes. “We will get quality teachers not by firing the worst but by recruiting, training and hiring the best.”

Higher standards mean better performance, which meets the interest of the public.  But higher standards also means that fewer people are able to enter the profession, and fewer members curtails supply, which means higher compensation for those who get in.  The professionals get higher compensation and the public gets higher student achievement. Everyone wins.

The National Education Association also has come out for “national standards for the preparation, licensing and certification of educators,”  Tucker writes.

Younger teachers . . . want to work in a truly professional environment where competence and achievement count for more than seniority, where distinctions in responsibility and authority among teachers are made and made on the basis of their demonstrated accomplishments in the classroom.

The U.S. has “prized cheap teachers over good teachers,” lowering standards whenever there’s a shortage, Tucker writes. “A very large fraction” of would-be teachers today will not be able to meet high-quality licensure standards.

Attracting the young people who could pass the new “bar exams” would require us, the public, to be willing to pay teachers more, invest in our teacher training institutions to make their quality comparable to that of the institutions that train our doctors and engineers, improve the quality of school leadership so that schools become attractive professional workplaces and offer teachers the kind of professional autonomy that high status professionals have.
We could pay for it by training fewer teachers and retaining them longer, Tucker argues.

Chicago teachers go on strike

Chicago teachers are on strike,reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Public Schools administrators are staffing some elementary schools to offer half-day child care; some churches and community centers also are open to children.

The city’s charter schools are open as usual. About one third have room for more students.

Key disputed issues in the talks were teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

. . . CTU officials contend that CPS’ offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also wants “smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence,” reports the Sun-Times. Chicago has been hit by a wave of homicides this year. Many of the victims are children, teens and young adults.

CPS officials say teachers average $76,000 a year and would earn 16 percent more over four years in the proposed contract. The district could face a $1 billion deficit by the end of the school year.

Pay isn’t the big issue, argues a Reuters analysis. The teachers’ union is fighting education reforms that make it easier to fire teachers and close schools if test scores don’t improve.

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers.

“This is fight for the soul of public education,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Did both sides want a strike? asks Alexander Russo.

“It’s a strike of choice,” says Emanuel.