Vergara v California Strikes Down Teacher Tenure: Which State is Next? New York State?

The Los Angeles Superior Court sustained the appellants and ruled that the California teacher tenure laws violate the state constitution. (Read full text here)

The NY Times writes,

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In his sharply worded 16-page ruling, Judge Treu compared the Vergara case to the historic desegregation battle of Brown v. Board of Education, saying that the earlier case addressed “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience,” and that this case involved applying that principle to the “quality of the educational experience.”

He agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, because the tenure system assures them a job essentially for life; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of the teacher’s skills.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan vigorously endorsed the decision.

“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.”

The decision is not surprising, in a previous decision the California courts struck down the layoff of teachers in high needs schools by seniority, (“last in, first out”) ruling that the layoff rules disadvantage the neediest students by laying off the least senior teachers who were clustered in the highest needs schools.

The tenure decision, of course, is absurd. There are many states without any tenure laws and the absence of laws has no impact on pupil achievement. The state with the highest level of student achievement for high needs students, Massachusetts, is one of the highest unionized states. The “great teacher,” canard, that waiting in the wings are endless “great teachers” waiting to rush into the classrooms of bad teachers is a fantasy. In the real world we do not have precise methods of measuring teacher ability. If we were able to measure teacher performance two-thirds would fall in the middle of the bell curve – with about two percent at either end of the curve.

Virtually every expert warns that attempts to measure teachers by test scores are fraught with the possibility of errors. To remove tenure and allow principals and school boards to dismiss whomever they choose would unquestionably lead to discharge by favoritism, by race/ethnicity, by size, by anything the firing authority desires.

The teacher unions in California have aggressively fought legislative attempt to extend the probationary period beyond the current eighteen months and the discharge process is lengthy. Perhaps they should have negotiated changes; however that is hindsight.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which opposed the suit, has promised to fight the ruling in court, saying the decision overlooks a bigger problem: inadequate funding.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

“[The judge] argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that,” Ms. Weingarten said. “But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice. … It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.”

The lawsuit, funded by a Silicon Valley zillionaire is disrespectful to all teachers.

In high income schools and school districts kids do well, high test scores, does that mean the teachers are excellent? In high poverty schools kids struggle, that means the teachers are bad, of course not.

Does the decision mean that teacher tenure laws are in jeopardy across the nation? In New York State?

While teachers are uncomfortable with the NYS teacher evaluation law (APPR), as it turns out UFT President Michael Mulgrew was right.

Mulgrew has argued that the new teacher evaluation law actually protects teachers. The multiple measures law (60% supervisory judgment based upon an approved rubric, 20% student test scores and 20% a locally negotiated measure) produces a score and teachers are measured against other teachers who teach “similar” students. In the first year 51% of teachers scored “highly effective,” 40% “effective,” 8% “developing” and 1% “ineffective.”

Teachers with consecutive “ineffective” scores can be charged and undergo an expedited appeal process.

Using the courts to attack tenure in New York State would be frivolous.

Vergara will move through the California appellate courts and a year or two down the road the California Supreme Court will rule.

Vergara will not change one reality – if we superimpose a map of poverty by zip code and schools by lowest achievement the maps would be a perfect match.

50% or higher teacher turnover rates in high needs schools are commonplace, removing tenure will only discourage teachers who want to work in challenging settings. Yes, inadequate teachers should be discharged as a result of an orderly procedure with the decision made by an mutually agreed upon arbitrator in a timely fashion. Tenure is simply a due process protection.

Rather than benefiting students in high needs schools the decision will achieve the opposite.

As the economy continues to improve and onerous laws attacking teachers and the profession spread fewer and fewer of the “best and the brightest” will choose to teach.

And, loyal lifelong teacher Democratic voters are so angry, so disappointed that the chances of Republicans gaining control of the Senate only increases.

If Arne’s glee over Vergara antagonizes enough voters he may spend his last two years watching Republicans dismantle public education.

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7 responses to “Vergara v California Strikes Down Teacher Tenure: Which State is Next? New York State?

  1. Marc Korashan

    The judge in the Vergara case listened solely to the arguments of the hedge fund managers who brought the case forward. Their agenda is to devalue the workforce, to create a setting where they can run for-profit schools without concern for having to pay a professional workforce a professional wage.

    The great canard that Ed refers to is a truism of the educational deformers (Rhee, Anderson, Duncan, etc.) No one in the media has ever asked where these great teachers are going to come from, nor have they asked why they should go into a profession where salaries are depressed, where they will have no voice in working conditions, or where they no ability to determine how they should teach the students in front of them. When we ask young teachers leaving the profession why they are leaving, these are the reasons they cite.

    The educational deformers want a top-down, command and control model for professionals. They seem to believe that high workforce turnover (leaving few in the system with more than five years teaching experience and no vested pension rights) is the best model for creating good schools.

    Does that model make sense for the business world? Do you want a hospital staffed only by new MDs? Do you want to be represented by a lawyer who has been practicing for less than three years? Those professions spend time making sure new members of the profession are trained on the job, mentored and have experienced colleagues to turn to when they have questions. The model endorsed by the educational deformers and the Secretary of Education will create those conditions in the public schools.

    The real agenda here is not the improvement of the public schools, but the creation of a setting where private schools (both independent and charter) will be able to pick their students, use a devalued workforce that follows a scripted curriculum, and generate profits or high incomes for the principals behind the school (e.g. Eva Moskowitz who earns more than the NYC Schools Chancellor for running 22 schools, and over half a million dollars a year if you include her spouse’s income as attorney for the schools).

    This is why the hedge fund managers attacked tenure and this California judge fell in line with their position.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “Vergara will not change one reality – if we superimpose a map of poverty by zip code and schools by lowest achievement the maps would be a perfect match.

    50% or higher teacher turnover rates in high needs schools are commonplace, removing tenure will only discourage teachers who want to work in challenging settings. Yes, inadequate teachers should be discharged as a result of an orderly procedure with the decision made by an mutually agreed upon arbitrator in a timely fashion. Tenure is simply a due process protection.

    Rather than benefiting students in high needs schools the decision will achieve the opposite.”

    Like

  3. Carole Silverstein

    When will this nation deal with the

    real reasons for low performance?

    Like

  4. Interestingly, when you see education reformers take over the schools, they hire loads of TFA teachers who last a year or two. How are these quality teachers?

    Like

    • High quality = disposable
      High quality = naive
      High quality = subordinate
      High quality = gung-ho until quick burnout, disillusionment and realignment of career

      Like

    • Let’s be real- the powers that be are NOT interested in furthering the interests of public education.
      Public school teachers have become the scapegoat for all of the ills of society. The education reformers are only ( in my view) interested in shutting down public education, so that they can fill the void with for profit institutions. Tenured teachers and their unions stand in their way.
      The mistake that we who comment on these blogs ( in my opinion) are making is that we are not seeing the issue for what it really is.
      Why not change the language and point of view, and deal with the problem for what it really is?

      Like

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