June 11th, 2014

A California judge guts teachers unions

A lawsuit funded by Silicon Valley rich guy, David Welch, is shaking the public education world. A California Superior Court judge, Rolf Michael Treu, found for the plainitffs — nine students backed by the group Students Matter.

The ruling was filed on June 10, 2014.

Teachers think students matter, too. But the pitched battle between non-educators who once went to school which they think qualifies them to know everything about K-12 education, and those who train just to teach schoolchildren has been fought for years. The tack is to beat up teachers publicly, blame teachers, call them bad. And in this case, Vergara vs. California, bad teachers are branded “grossly ineffective.”

Nine students were named as plaintiffs.

The plaintiff’s attorneys were from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The defense was represented by the Attorney General, joined by the California Teachers Association and the Calfornia Federation of Teachers.

Read the judge’s decision.

In his ruling, the judge cites evidence presented at trial by Dr. Chetty that a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. Dr. Berliner, an expert for the defense, testified that 1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective, representing between 2,750 and 8,250 teachers statewide. Said the judge: “it shocks the conscience.”

Missing from the 16-page decision by Judge Treu is any attempt to operationalize, to specifically define “grossly ineffective teachers.” Also absent was discussion of any other factor responsible for students’ learning outcomes. He stated that both sides to the litigation agreed that competent teachers are a critical component of a successful in-school educational experience for the child. Note the shift from “competent” to blaming “grossly ineffective” teachers for undermining a child’s success in school.

The Statutes Attacked

Five state statutes of the California Education Code were challenged. The first was the Permanent Employment Statute. It seems that after 16 months, a teacher is granted tenure. Ironically, the way the system works is that a full two years of demonstrated teaching is not allowed to pass before a teacher must be rehired so that tenured teachers without official state credentials are on the payroll. Odd. Treu declared it unconstitutional because it unnecessarily disadvantages both teachers and students.

Next came consideration of the Dismissal Statutes. School administrators lamented how “difficult” it is to fire bad teachers. Even the defense acknowledged that administrators considered it an “impossible” task. But in this space, we have shown you the infamous “rubber rooms” that administrators use to “park” teachers, not because they are necessarily ineffective, but because they dared to challenge an unscrupulous or criminal administrator. (See Mr. Portelhos)

The judge cited the difference in the employing school district’s ability to terminate fairly quickly unionized classified (non-teaching) employees following due process rules, but the rules for teachers made termination nearly impossible (as the plaintiffs argued). Treu wrote: “the Dismissal Statutes [are] so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

Another statute attacked in this case is called LIFO — last in, first out. California is one of 10 states in which seniority is the sole factor that determines who is layed off when budget cuts demand trimming the workforce. The judge wrote: “no matter how gifted the junior (last hired) teacher and no matter how grossly ineffective the senior teacher (the one with seniority), the veteran is left in place.” What he didn’t state was how frequently this was the case and how often the obverse occurs. He seemed to be repeating stereotypes uttered by school “reform” advocates.

The judge cited a July 2007 California Department of Education Report to defend his opinion that high-poverty and minority students are affected disproportionately by the above Statutes that he considered unconstitutional. His own citation from that report, however, spoke of several factors that contribute to staffing inequalities varying across wealthy and poor schools — inexperienced (these would be younger teachers without seniority) and out-of-field teachers (a tactic used by administrators to punish teachers, to make a science teacher teach history or a math teacher teach a foreign language, is a common ploy to frustrate and drive once-motivated educators out of the profession). From this, the judge draws his conclusion.

Treu’s rationale for unconstitutionality was based on the State Constitution placing a high priority on public education and equal public education for all students. He posited that the existing Statutes prevent public school administrators from delivering quality education for all students. Certainly lofty language and a noble goal, but this seminal finding will rock the foundation for one of the last bastion’s of public sector unions — teachers.

Predictable Reactions

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy approves of the ruling, claiming

Far too much of school districts’ money and administrators’ time has been spent trying to dismiss ineffective teachers — funds and time that could have been spent far more productively on improving education.

And U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, praised the ruling as providing the opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said: “This is a sad day for public education.”

Said education policy analyst Diane Ravitch about the decision:

the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, declared:

This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality.

See the shiny, happy, slick production from Student Matters.


Certain Outcomes

Watch for this lawsuit be repeated in several states. Welch, the principal funder, like hedge fund managers — who back charter schools, private schools for profit, and the massive school testing industry — have unlimited money to tear down the public school system. They will be emboldened by this judge’s decision.

With a name like Students Matter, who could argue that their intention is anything but noble. A more complete name might be Students Matter/Teachers Don’t! And if students matter so much, why do those with the same politics not invest more in K-12 education like other developed countries.

If, as the judge says, the decision is all about helping poor and disadvantaged students, then why allow teaching to be conducted in delapidated buildings? Why not offer government-provided treatment for parents with addiction problems that prevent them from offering stable, safe homes for their children? Why do they cut funding for poor kids school lunches? How can students learn when the only meal they might have during the day is at school? Why do they cut funding for summer meals provided at schools for poor kids to continue while school is in recess?

Are there bad teachers? Yes. Lacking is a precise definition of the term overused in this case — “grossly inefficient.” And what is the correlation between inexperienced and inefficient. I’m certain that the most “efficient” teachers are the veteran ones. However, the plaintiffs and the judge exploited the stereotype that veterans are the worst teachers.

No one has written longer or with more compassion about unequal education in America than Jonathan Kozol. His work should be the basis of any reform, not the type represented in this case.

Apartheid education, rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States. … teachers have been profoundly demoralized in recent years and are often treated with contempt by politicians. There’s a great deal of reckless rhetoric in Washington about the mediocrity of the teaching profession – and I don’t find that to be true at all. — Jonathan Kozol

Watch for the further weakening of teachers unions and empowering of district superintendents, as if the latter were somehow weak and at the mercy of powerful unions. Unions have made so many concessions through the years, they have trouble convincing their members they stand on any principles anymore.

Watch for the unknowing, lazy, disinterested American public to continue to turn on teachers, ignoring all the other factors that explain student performance and achievement.

The judge just handed the keys to the education kingdom to administrators. But they have always been in control. They make tenure decisions. They hire. They mis-assign teachers to teach out of their area of preparation. They are nothing more than corporate managers who are blaming mismanagement decisions on the staff. If they knew how to run their organizations well, differences could result. Let’s have a public discussion of overpaid-underqualified Superintendents. If they say teachers have been in charge, then they are abdicating their responsibilities.

I have always wondered why public schools require the layers of bureaucracy that sap so much funding from taxpayers and never touch the lives of students. Only teachers affect students, not assistant principals, principals, associate superintendents, vice superintendents, assistant superintendents, vice presidents, and superintendents.

The ultimate layer of uselessness is an elected School Board. Our colleague, Dr. Matt Spencer, wrote the book, Exploiting Children: School Board Members Who Cross the Line explaining how zealots on Boards with a political agenda meddle with and disrupt the education they supposedly oversee.

The case will set a precedent to further cut into workers’ rights in America.


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 at 10:57 am and is filed under Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Rulings by Courts, Unions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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