California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

FAU seeks to fire Sandy Hook truther prof

Florida Atlantic University is taking steps to fire a tenured communications professor who claims the Sandy Hook massacre and other mass shootings are hoaxes, reports the Sun-Sentinel. James Tracy received a termination letter last week, but has the right to appeal.

James Tracy

James Tracy

In 2013, Tracy wrote on his blog that the Sandy Hook massacre probably was staged. University officials said he had a free-speech right to assert his views on a blog not affiliated with the university.

Tracy went on to claim that “almost every mass shooting or attack in the United States has been a hoax, including ones at the Boston Marathon, the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and the recent shooting in San Bernadino, Calif.,” reports the Sun-Sentinel.

Noah Pozner

Noah Pozner

Earlier this month, Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, died at Sandy Hook, accused Tracy of harassment for resisting conspiracy theorists.

Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that they were his parents and owned the rights to his photo, the parents wrote in the Sun-Sentinel.

“Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.’

On a “Sandy Hook Hoax” Facebook page, Tracy responded:

“The local conspirators in Newtown, such as the alleged parents of the murdered children, including Lenny and Veronique Pozner, have made out very well financially, soliciting contributions from generous yet misinformed Americans, where the families have averaged more than $1 million apiece.”

Tracy claims Noah’s death certificate is “a fabrication.”

Can a university fire a tenured professor for being crazy?

“Tenure is not immunity,” Jeffrey S. Morton, a tenured FAU professor of International Law, told the Sun-Sentinel.  Tracy’s “harassment of the parents of murdered children was vulgar, repulsive and an insult to the academic profession. While there are real reasons to protect tenure for academic research, Tracy’s ‘scholarship’ makes a mockery of what academics do.”

Sanders: “Free” and federalized higher ed

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

State colleges and universities should be tuition free, says Bernie Sanders. “In exchange for billions of new taxpayer dollars, the federal government would enforce a specific vision of what a high-quality college education means,” writes Kevin Carey, education policy director at the New America Foundation. It’s “a terrible idea.”

States would have to promise that, within five years, “not less than 75 percent of instruction at public institutions of higher education in the State is provided by tenured or tenure-track faculty.” In addition, any funds left over after eliminating tuition could be used only for purposes such as “expanding academic course offerings to students,” “increasing the number and percentage of full-time instructional faculty,” providing faculty members with “supports” such as “professional development opportunities, office space, and shared governance in the institution.”

States would be prohibited from using the money for merit-based financial aid, “nonacademic facilities, such as student centers or stadiums,” or “the salaries or benefits of school administrators.”

This is a professor’s dream, writes Carey. There’s “tenure for everyone, nice offices all around, and the administrators and coaches can go pound sand.”

It will lead to “lengthy regulatory guidance” and lots of lawsuits, he predicts. Meanwhile, new models that might be more affordable, flexible and effective would be shut out.

Responding to middle-class anxiety, candidates are proposing “free college, debt-free college, or some combination of the two,” writes Carey. Federal money “will come with serious conditions based on some vision of what constitutes a high-quality college education.”

It’s time to break up the higher education “cartel,” said Republican candidate Marco Rubio, who borrowed heavily to earn his college degrees.

Rubio pledged to create a new accreditation process that would allow low-cost providers — perhaps largely online – to compete with established schools. He has called for colleges to tell potential students how much salary they can expect to earn for a given degree before they commit themselves to a major.

Loan repayments should be based on postgraduate incomes, said Rubio.

In defense of teacher tenure

Teachers need tenure “given the current fixation on high-stakes testing and the linking of students’ test scores to teacher evaluations,” argues Richard Kahlenberg in the new American Educator, which is published by the American Federation of Teachers.

American Educator Summer 2015

Instead of ending protections against arbitrary firing, “dismissal procedures could be mended to strike the right balance between providing fairness to good teachers and facilitating the removal of incompetent ones,” he argues.

Firing a tenure teacher for incompetence takes an average of 830 days and costs $313,000, according to a 2004–2008 study by the New York State School Boards Association. However, a more recent analysis found disciplinary cases in New York took 177 days on average, writes Kahlenberg.

“Tenure empowers teachers” to speak up about how their schools are run, he argues. They can stand up to meddling outsiders who want to control the teaching of controversial subjects, pushy parents who want their child to get special treatment and administrators peddling the latest fad.

How to change teacher pay systems

William Taylor earns a hefty bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty Washington, D.C. school.

William Taylor, 29, teaches math and coaches colleagues at a Washington, D.C. elementary school. Only 40 percent of his students start at grade level, but 90 percent end the year at or above grade level, reported Amanda Ripley in a 2010 Atlantic story on “what makes a great teacher.”

Before District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) revamped teacher compensation in 2009, Taylor was paid $42,000 a year.

In 2013, after seven straight years of extraordinary performance reviews Taylor received a base salary of $96,000, a $25,000 bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty school, and a $10,000 award for outstanding teaching and dedication to his work.

Taylor no longer plans to leave the profession, according to Do More, Add More, Earn More. The report by Education Resource Strategies and the Center for American Progress looks at 10 school districts that have redesigned their teacher compensation systems to reward effectiveness and additional responsibilities.

The transition is challenging, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

 The authors recommend, for example, that teachers be offered extra incentive pay for taking jobs in hard-to-staff schools or for taking on leadership roles such as department heads, curriculum writers, or principal interns. They suggest speeding up the salary growth for new, high-performing teachers such that they can reach the district maximum in 10 years or fewer. New hires will more likely be attracted to the job if they know they won’t be on subsistence wages well into middle age.

. . . Teachers on the old salary structure need to be transitioned into a new one that doesn’t automatically increase their pay for time on the job or for extraneous things like advanced degrees. The lowest-performing teachers need to stop getting raises. Period. These changes can be incredibly disruptive, especially in districts that need to cull a lot of “dead weight” teachers. (Yes, that happens.)

Teacher evaluation is the trickiest part.

Unite, teachers, to get rid of ‘stinkers’

Teachers should unite to get rid of the “stinkers,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teacher Empowerment Network in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Sand was a middle-school teacher in Los Angeles for 15 years. Most of his colleagues were competent to good, he writes. A few were “exceptional.”  But there were a handful who “shouldn’t have been allowed near children.”

Once they’d received tenure, after two years, they couldn’t fired.

He remembers a P.E. teacher who kept “hooch” in the trunk of his car. “By the end of the day — every day — this teacher was obviously pickled. . . . He finally retired after 37 years.

Another, who had no control over her classes, was referred to the “peer assistance review” program. It didn’t help. She’s still teaching.

An eighth-grade English teacher was sent to “teacher jail” at the district office for touching a female student.

Since firing him was not a viable option, he was transferred to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.

On average, just 10 “permanent” teachers a year in California are fired, writes Sand.

“Union members . . . are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals,” said Dennis Van Roekel, the former  National Education Association president.

“He has it exactly wrong,” writes Sand. “Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and . . . purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles.”

Rated “unsatisfactory” for six years in a row, a New York City teacher is still collecting her $84,500 a year salary, reports the New York Post.

Hearing officer Eugene Ginsberg upheld charges of (Ann) Legra’s “inability to supervise students,” excessive lateness and absence and poor lesson planning in the 2012-2013 school year.
But Ginsberg dismissed evidence that Legra was a lousy instructor, saying she didn’t get enough coaching.

Legra was suspended for 45 days without pay and reassigned from teaching first grade to a pool of substitute teachers. She’s “filed a federal lawsuit . . . charging discrimination based on her race, gender, national origin and medical disability” (asthma).

All teachers are not the same

All Teachers Are Not the Same, writes Erika Sanzi in Education Post.

Upset about Time‘s “rotten apple” cover, Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal in Virginia, described the dedication and hard work of teachers.

“The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 A.M.” and  “teach all day even during their planning periods,” writes Chewning. “After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans for the following day, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10:00 P.M.”

Valerie Strauss excerpted the letter in the Washington Post.

Sanzi, an educator, school board member and mother of three, recalls a former colleague who works from 6:30 am to 10 pm, “spends summers on professional development, coaches softball and does whatever it takes for children to learn.”

But not all 3 million U.S. teachers are the same, writes Sanzi.

She lives in Rhode Island. Twenty-three percent of Providence’s teachers are chronically absent. Her son’s kindergarten teacher missed 27 days, including the day before Thanksgiving and the two days before the start of February vacation.  He told the class he was going to “Disney.”

The next year, her son had a wonderful first-grade teacher.

All teachers are not the same.

All teachers do not come in at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. Some do.

All teachers do not stay after school and then work until 10 p.m. at home. Some do.

All teachers do not spend their summers taking classes and attending conferences. Some do.

All teachers do not maintain online gradebooks and respond to emails. Some do.

All teachers do not provide their students with breakfast, medicine and clothes. Special ones do.

To imply that all teachers are alike “devalues the extraordinary teaching and generosity of spirit of our best and most dedicated teachers,” writes Sanzi.

“My belief that current tenure laws protect bad teachers doesn’t mean that I think all teachers are bad,” she concludes. “On the contrary, it means that I can easily recognize the ones who aren’t pulling their weight because they are so unlike all the great ones I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

A little tenure, but not too much

Tenure is “a problem” but also “a necessity,” writes Esther Wojcicki, a long-time teacher, in the Huffington Post.

Teachers need some protection from arbitrary firing, but on the other hand, the school district and the community needs a way to get rid of poorly performing teachers. One solution would be be to keep tenure but make it much easier to eliminate a tenured teacher.

. . . Too many states grant tenure after two years including California. How about tenure after three years? Perhaps there could be steps … limited tenure after three years, tenure after five years.

Or teachers could reapply for tenure every 10 years or so, suggests Wojcicki, teaches journalism at Palo Alto High School. She’s built an incredible program there: My daughter was one of her students.

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.

Bad apples — or bad press?

Teacher Tenure Time Magazine CoverPhotograph by Kenji Aoki for Time

Time‘s “Rotten Apples” cover on firing bad teachers is “a slap in the face to every teacher who has dedicated his or her life to bettering the lives of children,” opines Democratic operative Donna Brazile.

Taking years to fire a bad teacher is the slap in the face to the rest of us, responds Darren on Right on the Left Coast.  “I’m against what I call undue process, wherein it really does take years to fire a bad teacher.  And if unions were any more than parasites they’d want to get rid of the bad teachers, but instead teachers unions defend them and help them try to keep their jobs.  That, too, is a slap in the face to the rest of us.”