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Billionaires up the ante in union busting and teacher bashing as 'school reform'... Chicago Teachers Union slams California 'tenure is child abuse' court decision

From the front page of The New York Times to just about every teacher and school blog in the USA, the California court decision in the Vergara case has become big news in the middle of June 2014. The Vergara case, which was financed by billionaire David Welch, claimed that teacher tenure laws harmed minority children by forcing them to suffer under "bad teachers." A key to the case, as the judge's decision shows, was the unanswered testimony of two of Welch's paid experts, who claimed, ridiculously, that students "lost" almost a year of learning by having a "bad teacher" for one year.

First page of Judge Treu's decision in the Vergara case. The decision rested heavily on the "experts" from Harvard, whose study was not critiqued at the time it was published and which remains controversial today.As this is written on June 12, 2014, we do not yet have enough information about how tenure was defended by the lawyers for the defense, and Substance will report more as we get a more complete look at the trial record. Our first suspicion: Allowing Harvard University "Experts" to wow a court in 2014 is a bad way of going about a defense of teacher rights. And as soon as the Vergara case became public, Harvard Alum Arne Duncan announced his support for the decision, further deepening his record as a union busting and teacher bashing school reform hack. (See Duncan statement further down below).

Below are several articles and opinions about the decision, starting with the press release from the Chicago Teachers Union dated June 11, 2014:

CTU STATEMENT ON VERGARA DECISION

CTU Statement on California Tenure Decision

June 11, 2014. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin, 312/329-6250 CTU Statement on California Tenure Decision

It must be nice to be a wealthy tech mogul like David Welch. When you want to “prove” a theory, you just go get someone else’s kids to be the guinea pigs. When you want to “prove” a theory, you conveniently omit the most relevant and direct causes of harm. Such was the case in this week’s California lawsuit decision against tenure for teachers. Fortunately, our Constitution and legal system have clear protections for speech and structured processes for appeal so that we non-billionaires have an opportunity to air the facts.

Teacher laws vary from state to state, and so the ruling in California is not automatically a blueprint for changes in states like Illinois. Despite a recent law that makes tenure much more difficult to acquire in Illinois, the myth that tenure equals a permanent job persists. In fact, teacher tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. Tenure provides protection from capricious dismissal and a process for improving unsatisfactory practice, but as in any job, teachers can be dismissed for serious misconduct. Further, as we have seen in California and Illinois, persistent budget “crises” stemming from insufficient revenue generation have decimated the teaching profession.

California billionaire David Welch announcing the decision in the Vergara case on June 11, 2014. Welch single handedly financed "StudentsMatter" and paid for the case, which has held that teacher tenure laws in California harm children by allowing "bad teachers" to disrupt the children's education. Contrary to popular belief, the school boards routinely dismiss teachers. Deep budget cuts have savaged the teaching corps, either through probationary teacher non-renewals or tenured teacher lay-offs. Fully half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years, either because of the difficulty of the work or job insecurity. And for those who do stay, lay-offs are a constant threat, even to the most highly decorated, talented, and dedicated teachers.

One Chicago Public School teacher was laid-off three times in a little more than a year. A holder of National Board Certification, the highest certification a teacher can have, he left the profession because of the tumult, and his students at multiple South Side high schools lost out on the opportunity to work with a highly qualified and dedicated public servant. Far from “obtaining and retaining permanent employment”, in the words of Judge Rolf Treu, tenure provided my colleague with no long-term job protection.

Judge Treu also misinterpreted the real causes of discrimination against low-income students of color. Teacher tenure does not cause low student achievement. Rather, the root causes of differences in student performance have to do with structural differences in schools. Omitted from his decision are the impacts of concentrated poverty, intense segregation, skeletal budgets, and so-called “disruptive innovation” that have been at the heart of urban school districts for decades. Scripted curricula, overuse and misuse of standardized testing, school closures and school turnarounds, and the calculated deprivation of resources are the real reasons low-income students of color face discrimination. So-called reformers like David Welch and Arne Duncan push those policies. In other words, the new “reform” status quo has made worse the problem it purports to fix.

If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools and, by extension, the students and families they serve. CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is the third largest teachers local in the country and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information visit CTU’s website at www.ctunet.com

NEW YORK TIMES REPORT JUNE 11, 2014.

Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California, by Jennifer Medina, published on line on June 10, 2014 and in the print edition (National) on June 11, 2014. The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under the state Constitution and violate their civil rights. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.

“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.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.Observers on both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country.

David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high profile attorneys, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas and other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

The teachers’ unions said Tuesday that they planned to appeal. A spokesman for the state’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, said she was reviewing the ruling with Gov. Jerry Brown and state education officials before making a decision on any plans for an appeal.

“We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, one of two unions that represent roughly 400,000 educators in the state. “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.”

In his harshly 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 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.

Further, Judge Treu said, the least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools filled with low-income and minority students. The situation violates those students’ constitutional right to an equal education, he determined. It is the believed to be the first legal opinion to assert that the quality of an education is as important as mere access to schools or sufficient funding.

“All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience,” Judge Treu wrote in his ruling. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teacher currently active in California classrooms.”

The right to an education is written into every state constitution. But lawyers for the states and teachers’ unions said that overturning such laws would erode necessary protections that stop school administrators from making unfair personnel decisions. They also argued that the vast majority of teachers in the state’s schools are competent and providing students with all the necessary tools to learn. More important factors than teachers, they argued, are social and economic inequalities as well as the funding levels of public schools.

Critics of existing rules hailed the decision as a monumental victory and urged lawmakers to make immediate changes to laws. Mr. Duncan issued a statement saying the ruling could help millions of students who are hurt by existing teacher tenure laws.

“My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift,” Mr. Duncan said. “Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”

In essence, Judge Treu ruled that a quality education is guaranteed for all students in the state — which relies on effective teachers — and that anything less undermines the quality violates the equal protection clause in the state constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Treu added his voice to the political debate that has divided educators for years. School superintendents in large cities across the country — including Los Angeles, New York and Washington — have railed against laws that essentially grant teachers permanent employment status. They say such job protections are harmful to students and are merely an anachronism. Three states and the District of Columbia have eliminated tenure, but similar efforts have repeatedly failed elsewhere, including California. Under state law here, administrators seeking to dismiss a teacher they deem incompetent must follow a complicated procedure that typically drags on for months, if not years. Teachers are eligible for tenure after 18 months, and layoffs must be determined by seniority, a process known as “last in, first out.”

Judge Treu, who was appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, wrote that “both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute.” He added that current dismissal statutes are “so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

He also had harsh words from the layoff system that protects veteran teachers, without regard to any evaluation. “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable,” he wrote.

Judge Treu is expected to issue a final opinion on the case by the end of the month after taking comments from both sides, but for now ordered that the existing laws remain in place while the case makes its way through the appeal process.

John Deasy, superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, who testified for the plaintiffs, said he hoped the decision would be a rallying cry for an immediate response from state lawmakers, who have been reluctant to make any changes to tenure laws.

“Every day that these laws remain in effect represents another opportunity denied,” he said. He echoed language used in desegregation rulings: “With all deliberate speed.— I don’t think we need to watch for two generations more to fix this.”

ARNE DUNCAN STATEMENT ON THE VERGARA CASE, JUNE 10, 2014:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Regarding the Decision in Vergara v. California

Washington, DC - Statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Regarding the Decision in Vergara v. California:

“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. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve. My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation. At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.” ~ Secretary of Education Arne Duncan



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