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Attorneys give final arguments in Vergara suit challenging laws for teacher hiring, firing


Judge Rolf Treu must issue a ruling on the case by early July.

Judge Rolf Treu must issue a ruling on the case by early July. Source: Courtroom View Network

The future of tenure and other laws governing how teachers are hired and fired in California is now in the hands of Judge Rolf Treu.

Attorneys in Vergara v. California made their final pitches Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The four hours of closing arguments paralleled opening statements two months to the day and 52 witnesses ago, with diametrically different views on whether teachers’ workplace protections harm  many – or any –  of the state’s most vulnerable schoolchildren.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Beatriz Vergara of Los Angeles and eight other students in five California school districts by Silicon Valley businessman David Welch. He started the nonprofit Students Matter to file and promote the case and hired a high-profile team of lawyers, led by Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutrous. They challenged three statutes laying out the teacher dismissal process, two laws establishing tenure – the due process guarantees given teachers after two years on the job – and layoffs by seniority, known as LIFO for the “last in, first out” process.

The state’s two teachers unions have characterized Vergara as part of a larger, ideological effort by wealthy individuals like Welch to undermine unions, scapegoat teachers and divert attention from systemic issues like  inadequate school funding and poverty.

But in his closing argument, live streamed by the Courtroom View Network, Boutrous said the lawsuit has the right focus. “Teachers have the most important impact” in a school – that is not disputed, he said. “We would love to solve all of the problems and difficulties in our school system, but we focused on something that can be changed” – laws he asserts are damaging to children.

“We know grossly ineffective teachers harm students; they haunt them for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Lead plaintiffs attorney Theodore Boutrous makes a statement during closing arguments.

Lead plaintiffs attorney Theodore Boutrous makes a statement during closing arguments. Source: Courtroom View Network

Boutrous recapped the evidence of two expert witnesses in the case. Thomas Kane, an education and economics professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, presented data showing that a student taught by a teacher in the bottom 5 percent of effectiveness – what plaintiffs categorize as “grossly ineffective teachers” – would fall nine months behind in English and nearly a year in math, compared with students taught by an average teacher. Raj Chetty, another Harvard economics professor, crunched test score data on 2 million students over two decades and concluded that replacing the worst-performing 5 percent of teachers would increase college admissions, lower pregnancy rates and raise average lifetime income per student by $50,000. Boutrous cited the findings as proof of the ongoing human costs of keeping the worst-performing teachers.

But defense attorney Susan Carson, a supervising deputy state attorney general, said the data is “not effective or credible.” Both Kane and Chetty used a “value added methodology,” called VAM, which defense experts said is unreliable, to identify worst-performing teachers. And defense witnesses argued that multiple measures – observations, portfolios of student work and local assessments, not test scores alone – should be used to evaluate teachers. “None of our administrators testified that they used or needed to use VAM,” Carson said.

While agreeing that there may be a small percentage of grossly ineffective teachers in California, the two sides disagreed on the central issue of the case – whether the challenged laws were at fault and whether striking them down would be wise.

Boutrous and co-plaintiffs attorney Marcellus McRae, who also spoke during closing arguments, argued yes. The state’s teacher protection laws perpetuate a cycle of saddling classrooms with the worst teachers. They are concentrated in low-income schools, they said, disproportionately denying those students their constitutional right of an equal opportunity to an education.

“Have we not had enough of short-shafting poor people and minorities?” McRae asked. “This abomination must stop; there is no debate. They (ineffective teachers) are unequally distributed.” Because there’s clear harm and a violation of the constitutional rights of low-income children, plaintiffs argued, the burden falls on the state to prove the laws serve a valid purpose and there are no better alternatives. “Instead, the defense has been doing gymnastics to justify an irrational system,” Boutrous said.

But Carson and James Finberg, an attorney for the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, which joined the defense, said that teacher protections such as tenure provide job security. Striking down the laws  would “remove a factor creating a stable job force,” Finberg said.  And they said there was no evidence that the nine students had suffered appreciable harm and that the laws had anything to do with how teachers are assigned to schools or why more experienced teachers transfer to more affluent areas. They cited defense witness Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor, who testified that poor schools with adequate resources and effective principals will draw and keep effective teachers.

Laws together compound harm

Boutrous and McRae said the five laws act in tandem, causing “symbiotic harm” for students.

They said the current tenure law, which grants permanent status to teachers after two years on the job, doesn’t provide enough time – closer to 16 months in reality, according to witnesses  – for administrators to make informed decisions. Because teachers improve over several years, less time involves a “crap shoot” that is not good enough for children, McRae said, especially when there are alternatives, like a probation period of three to five years, which most states have adopted.

But as with most aspects of the case, dueling superintendents disagreed. Principals and administrators for the defense said they were able to judge who would be effective within 18 months or less. It wouldn’t make a difference to give mismanaged districts – Finberg repeatedly cited Oakland Unified as one – more time.

Boutrous said that once hired, the state’s 17-step “arduous, Byzantine dismissal statutes make it costly and time-consuming beyond belief” to fire teachers that “all would agree are grossly ineffective.” McRae said the independent Commission on Teacher Competence, which hears appeals of dismissed teachers, fires an average of 2 out of 277,000 teachers each year. That percentage is “so small you would need a subatomic microscope to see it,” McRae said.

James Finberg, attorney for the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, said the laws under challenge were not at fault.

James Finberg, attorney for the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, speaks during  closing arguments. Source: Courtroom View Network

Persuading teachers to agree to a financial settlement or to resign or transfer to another school are not adequate solutions, McRae said, adding, “A workaround is an admission of an ineffective statute.”  Superintendents testifying for the plaintiffs, who included Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, and former superintendents Tony Smith of Oakland Unified and Jonathan Raymond of Sacramento City Unified, said costs, time and energy were factors in deciding whether to move ahead with dismissals, and they’d have pursued more if the laws were less onerous.

Superintendents for the defense testified that they have avoided costly dismissal proceedings. Finberg pointed out that numerous witnesses testified that when evaluations are done by well-trained administrators, teachers resign, retire or settle for small amounts, such health care coverage for a few months. That’s why McRae’s statistic is deceiving, he said.

Anticipating the defense’s argument, McRae said the claim that dismissal laws don’t pose a problem in well-managed districts is “callous.”

“Children can’t control whether they live in a well-managed district,” and the state Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot leave it to districts to enforce a constitutional obligation to equal opportunity, he  said. The court said to the state, “Stop it, just stop it. Do not abrogate your responsibility,” McRae said, calling it “an embarrassment for any state, let alone this state, to take this position” and ignore bad laws.

There was no common ground on layoff laws. Finberg said basing layoffs on seniority is objective and fair. The alternative, UC Berkeley economics and public policy professor Jesse Rothstein testified, is an expensive, subjective and a divisive process of rating the effectiveness of every teacher each year. Boutrous said LIFO discourages teachers from entering teaching by preserving the worst teachers at the expense of some of the best. California is one of 10 states that require layoffs by seniority, he said; in 20 states, seniority cannot be the sole factor, while in two states, it cannot be considered at all. Local districts set their own rules in 19 states, according to the plaintiffs’ closing presentation.

Judge Treu can choose to strike down none, all, or some of the laws. He will have 90 days after final briefs are filed April 10 to sort through the conflicting testimony and constitutional issues before issuing a ruling. Both sides already have said they would appeal if they lose.

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

Filed under: Evaluations, Pay and Tenure, Reforms, Teaching

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40 Responses to “Attorneys give final arguments in Vergara suit challenging laws for teacher hiring, firing”

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  1. Doc on April 25, 2014 at 11:40 am04/25/2014 11:40 am

    • 000

    I find it interesting that Tony Smith is listed as an expert witness given that he has never held a teaching credential nor taught in a classroom. While he was Superintendent of Emery USD,he did not hold a credential in administration. Smith has since jumped districts going to San Francisco, Oakland and now has moved to Chicago. Under his administration, a teacher who should have been dismissed for clear violations of their professional conduct was not due to Mr. Smith’s poor handling of the case….a case of clear inexperience heading a district as well as no classroom or lower administration experience. Now, it is the teacher’s fault? Let’s paint the entire picture.

  2. Don on April 2, 2014 at 7:57 pm04/2/2014 7:57 pm

    • 000

    What Bill Mayer had to say about tenure:

    “What exactly is the argument for teacher tenure? According to the teacher’s union’s lawyer, “Tenure is an amenity, just like salary and vacation, that allows districts to recruit and retain teachers despite harder working conditions, pay that hasn’t kept pace and larger class sizes.”

    “…Okay, but so is offering them a car. That’s not an argument for why the teaching profession should be virtually immune from the normal threat of termination that just about every other employee in the nation lives under. Additionally, Hollywood writers, producers, and directors all have unions, but none provide any sort of protection like tenure; they mainly exist to argue for compensation and benefits. If you don’t do your job, you still get fired. As it should be. Because this is America, and some amount of job insecurity is a good thing. It’s why when you go to Greece or Italy you find yourself in a line 15 people deep because the person behind the desk doesn’t really care about helping you. Because they’re never getting fired.”

    “Shouldn’t teachers’ unions drop tenure and focus on compensation and benefits too?”

  3. Audie Bock on April 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm04/2/2014 7:21 pm

    • 000

    As creator of the California Assembly Select Committee on Low Performing Schools (I represented Oakland at the time), I am passionately interested in the Vergara case outcome. The dumping and churning of new teachers at troubled schools is a problem we identified long ago, but union rules block retention incentives and defy the healthy accounting rules of FIFO. Inspired by great local charter schools and fellow former lawmaker Gloria Romero’s Parent Trigger Law, I’ve left the classroom to–hopefully–resume the legislative battle on behalf of California students, parents and good teachers in the State Senate. It’s about more than the arguments in Vergara, but this is a dramatic start. http://www.audiebock.org.

  4. Don on April 1, 2014 at 7:37 pm04/1/2014 7:37 pm

    • 000

    LAUSD ‘Teacher Jails’ Fill With Hundreds Of Educators As Misconduct Complaints Rise

    http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20121127/lausd-jails-fill-with-teachers-as-misconduct-complaints-rise

    There’s plenty of comments on this thread and others to protect teachers at all costs and few about protecting students. Students have no voice. They don’t pay dues and they don’t influence elections. Students are statistics. But laid off teachers are flesh and blood.

    There’s no perfect system. I’s rather see a looser dismissal process that errs on the side of students than a system like we have now that allows teachers to get paid for doing nothing in rubber rooms because of cumbersome statutes. That may be the extreme but every parent I know has a story about “bad” teachers.

    What I hear Gary saying is that the problem lies with administrators. They aren’t doing the job. It amazing how many incompetent administrators there are and how few teachers. That’s strange since administrative personnel derives exclusively from the ranks of teachers. Now I get it. All the bad teachers get into management. So let’s fire the administrators in large numbers and Bob’s your uncle.

    Replies

    • navigio on April 2, 2014 at 6:52 am04/2/2014 6:52 am

      • 000

      I’m not sure what teachers jails has to do with the question of teacher effectiveness. They are not used to house ‘ineffective’ teachers (not yet anyway). Think for a moment why those things exist. They are used as a holding place for teachers accused of wrongdoing. If you want to get rid of them you have two choices: leave teachers accused of wrongdoing with the students, or fire anybody who has been accused of wrongdoing. Are you going to argue that either of those two things is more beneficial for students than what exists now? Not sure whether you noticed the administrator quoted in the article you linked to who said teacher jails were well worth it in the long run. Anyway, it is ridiculous to classify teacher jails as ‘protecting teachers at all costs’. And you’re mistaken in trying to equate the essence of my comments with the absurdity you attribute to teacher jails.

      • Floyd Thursby on April 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm04/4/2014 1:58 pm

        • 000

        Navigio, you always have an excuse to maintain the status quo? Do bad teachers who should be fired at minimal expense exist? Or to you are they like the Easter Bunny or Unicorns? You seem to think they are a fictional entity and don’t exist or aren’t a problem despite tremendous evidence to the contrary. You’re living a dream and avoiding hard truths and making up lame excuses to maintain the status quo. You ought to care more about children than that.

        • navigio on April 4, 2014 at 5:56 pm04/4/2014 5:56 pm

          • 000

          pointing out that an argument was not relevant to the issue is an excuse?

          i said the issue in the trial was why they exist, not whether. that says nothing about my own perception about whether.

          anyway, this article and discussion are not about me. rather, i think its important to focus on the comments and behavior of the people involved. i already mentioned what it would cost to replace 10% of the teachers (in fact i think my estimate is too high by a couple hundred percent). the fact that such a paltry amount is a barrier to action makes me think the issue for those administrators is not really about teacher quality.

          “[Charters schools] are in many ways the gorilla in the room of public education in this country. There is no question any longer that charters are a viable and necessary opportunity to serve all youth. That conversation is gone. The conversation is what will the traditional public school system look like as a result of this.”
          – John Deasy

          ahem.

          • Don on April 4, 2014 at 6:32 pm04/4/2014 6:32 pm

            • 000

            My mistake. I should have provided more context to the linked article. Your point is well-taken, Navigio, in regard to what to do with teachers accused. The problem is that union rules prevent teachers from performing a useful function with pay while awaiting an outcome. When I subbed for awhile I did whatever the school asked me to do whether it was calling parents or filing. But contracts usually prevent teachers from doing such non-classroom-based work.I don’t know if that’s the case in LA or not.

            Regarding the comment from Deasy that you copied, was that from the trial? I’m trying to understand how it is directly relevant to the Vergara case.

            • navigio on April 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm04/4/2014 6:41 pm

              • 000

              Yes, you’re right that there are rules that prevent some options there. in the teacher jail case, im not sure there is a better answer than simply foregoing the concept of even minimal due process. that seems like the wrong ‘solution’.

              I should have put some context as well. the quote from deasy was from when he was assistant superintendent to cortines. it was not from the trial. I personally have always been kind of shocked by that statement coming from someone who was on track to become the leader of the 2nd largest public school district in the country. it sounds to me like he’s already given up on public education. perhaps im being my normally overly pedantic self, but there it is..

            • Floyd Thursby on April 5, 2014 at 2:07 am04/5/2014 2:07 am

              • 000

              That’s the bad thing about unions, they make things too bureaucratic. If you’re being paid you should be able to help out in other areas if that’s what the organization need. Probably some bad teachers could be decent at paperwork or something else so they can still make a living, but the union argues it’s bad somehow. That’s why the Vergara suit was needed. If the union had shown any reasonable willingness to compromise, even fire the bottom 5% so that teachers had some nervousness, they could have saved the vast majority. When they demanded $40,000 to fire a child molester, that was the last straw, they’d already lost me a year before defending a teacher who showed up 50 of 180 days for different reasons, but they lost a lot more people when they made LAUSD pay Mark Berndt that money. If they’re not even willing to set aside their rules and let Berndt be fired with no cost, they are incapable of reason and common sense and you need a lawsuit to confront any organization which doesn’t think and is on autopilot. These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

    • GoTeach on June 12, 2014 at 2:18 am06/12/2014 2:18 am

      • 000

      “administrative personnel derives exclusively from the ranks of teachers” Au contraire. Our district is chock full of administrators who never set a foot in a classroom. Or if they did, it was only the briefest stint to get their foot in the door. And therein lies one of the biggest problems in public education. Most of our policies–both local and nationally–are written by “education professionals”, not professional educators. These people have no idea what it takes to engage a troubled or disinterested student, much less a classroom full of them.

  5. Gary Ravani on April 1, 2014 at 4:19 pm04/1/2014 4:19 pm

    • 000

    The “discovery process” for a trial is interesting. The various parties have to stop bloviating and parroting talking points and, under oath, actually state the facts as they know them.

    In a deposition an administrators from one of the originally charged districts (the districts have since been dismissed) stated: “done well in good and right relationship with a high-quality principal and an effective, thoughtful culture in the school, more often than not teachers themselves will say ‘I’m not making it.’ Done well, teachers want to be effective. And, if it’s not a fit, they will leave the profession.”

    In another section of the legal filing it is noted that the LAUSD between 2007 and 2013 entered into 191 settlements with teachers that resulted in the teacher leaving employment. In 2011-12 alone 122 teachers resigned.

    This under current law.

    A point made numerous times during the trial is that, under the guidance of competent management teachers can be and are separated from employment in a timely and efficient manner under current law. Current law tries, in part, to restrict districts from acting against teachers in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Mr. McCrae, above, seems to be arguing that the current law needs to be eliminated for districts with incompetent management so that they can act “arbitrarily and capriciously,” or otherwise be more free to be incompetent. That’s the way to improve education for disadvantaged children?

    Then there is the cost issue. The Plaintiffs complaint stated that it “often” takes “multiple years” and “hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars.” In fact the LAUSD in a “response to special interrogatories” indicated the costs are in the range of $65 thousand in cases that go to hearing and the district prevails. There were a few freakish outlier cases that were thrown into the mix to jack-up the costs.

    During the trial it was revealed LAUSD in the last three years persuaded 786 teachers to depart. Under current law.

  6. Don on April 1, 2014 at 12:17 pm04/1/2014 12:17 pm

    • 000

    K-12 tenure is an anachronism. The original purpose was to preserve academic autonomy, in the mold of Academia, from overzealous parents and administrators in the early era of public schools. Teachers needed tenure to maintain free speech against the onslaught of critics of such “blasphemies” as the Theory of Evolution or fictional works such as Huck Finn. In modern times teachers are rarely fired for the content of lessons. And with the Common Core Curriculum standardized across the nation, sadly, there will be little opportunity for much variation from the theme set forth. The original purpose of tenure is obsolete.

    Tenure’s purpose has evolved as a an employment rather than free speech protection, but California already has employment due process protections making tenure redundant at a minimum. But if it were only redundant removing it would not meet the vociferous pushback of unions. Written into law, tenure provides an ironclad level of job security that is unprecedented and to dismiss a tenured employee requires a long and arduous legal process that exceeds any other profession. It isn’t clear to me why K-12 teachers need this protection whereas others don’t.

    It surprises me that some people on this blog believe that education dollars should be spent in a disproportionate way to dismiss tenured employees. Have they heard about the funding crisis in education? We should be talking about how to reduce costs not how to blow millions on legal fees to do what can be done in every other profession for a fraction of the cost and all at the expense of students. So we have to agree how to identify ineffective teachers. The point that CarolynSF brought up is a good one. But that speaks to the need to properly identify teacher effectiveness, not the need to maintain tenured teachers at all costs and I mean that literally.

    California doesn’t have to remove tenure as they did in Oregon almost 20 years ago. It can be modified to meet the new reality.

    Replies

    • navigio on April 1, 2014 at 5:05 pm04/1/2014 5:05 pm

      • 000

      now spending money to improve the quality of the teaching force is ‘blow[ing] millions’?! i thought teachers were important?

      education dollars should be spent in a way that helps kids the most. period.

    • el on April 1, 2014 at 11:36 pm04/1/2014 11:36 pm

      • 000

      I think if we were to have a straight up discussion of “What should the rules be for removing teachers,” that you’d get a different result and different responses than will appear on a thread like this, about an outside party who has little actual stake in the system running around saying SMASH SMASH ALL THE ROOLZ.

      The rules are what they are for a reason… that is, they counter true and known abuses. Your statement that teachers aren’t fired for free speech because we have these rules means that we don’t need these rules… doesn’t quite pencil out. They weren’t put in there to harm kids and they weren’t put in because someone was bored.

      Now, it is often the case with rules that they can use some tuning and changing. Over the years, many of commenters here have suggested some paths in these comment threads, changes that might benefit all parties (which would include teachers who don’t have to work with crappy colleagues). Thoughtful work can be done to consider what cases are not well served by the existing structure.

      When I was a high school student, my (excellent) math teacher had his job threatened multiple times because certain Very Important Students got a C on their report cards. (I believe the quote went something like, “How will he get into UCLA if you give him a C?”) The forces that create that pressure are still there. Balance is necessary.

    • GoTeach on June 12, 2014 at 2:26 am06/12/2014 2:26 am

      • 000

      “It isn’t clear to me why K-12 teachers need this protection whereas others don’t.” One reason is that teachers face a level of scrutiny in both their professional and private lives that “exceeds that of any other profession”.

      “Teacher gets DUI” “Teacher get speeding ticket”” “Teacher runs red light”…when is the last time you read a headline that said “Plumber gets speeding ticket,” “Proctologist gets DUI,” or Middle manager runs red light” ?

      The expectations for teachers’ conduct outside of the workplace places provide undue opportunities for threatening their jobs.

  7. Don on March 31, 2014 at 9:58 am03/31/2014 9:58 am

    • 000

    We can go around and around with this argument. Not taking into consideration the cost of dismissal does seem to be somewhat of an oversight, especially when both plaintiff and defense witnesses demonstrated that cost is prohibitive. I will not comment further on this aspect of the case.

    Replies

    • navigio on March 31, 2014 at 10:54 am03/31/2014 10:54 am

      • 000

      Sorry Don, ‘prohibitive’ is just another way of saying it’s just not that important. 6% is not prohibitive if we actually care about these kids’ educations.

    • navigio on March 31, 2014 at 11:18 am03/31/2014 11:18 am

      • 000

      And to clarify, when I talk about this being about power I mean that the proponents of this lawsuit care more about the method via which an effective teaching force is effected than they do about whether it actually happens. My line of discussion above is to show that the same outcome could be achieved in a different manner but because it does not achieve the political goal it remains unpalatable. This is one of the real problems in education nowadays. The extreme politicization and polarization has made people (on both sides) care more about how we get there than whether we do.

      • el on March 31, 2014 at 2:31 pm03/31/2014 2:31 pm

        • 000

        Insightful comment, navigio.

        I will point out two other aspects that are often not considered.

        1. There will always be, by definition, a bottom 5%. But, that says nothing about the performance, utility, or ability of those people, nor is there a guarantee that you can accurately identify them.

        2. There is no guarantee that the replacements available will be better than the people you dismiss. That is often part of the reason administrators hesitate.

        And finally, sometimes good teachers and good administrators just don’t happen to work well together. One person’s bottom 5% can be another person’s superstar, if for no other reason than because the assignment needs are different. I say that not because it means those people should be retained at any cost, but just to remind people that not everyone who isn’t retained is flotsam.

        • TheMorrigan on March 31, 2014 at 4:07 pm03/31/2014 4:07 pm

          • 000

          Excellent point, El.

          From my perspective as an administrator at a TPS and a charter, I can say with certainty that the replacements are sometimes worse than what I had in there to begin with. I recall once instance when a particular position took four years to get a decent replacement. The students and teachers called the room “cursed” because no teacher would last more than a year (sometimes less). In reality, while I had numerous interviews on that position, I had difficulty just finding a candidate who I felt synced well with the school and the job. “Good” teachers are not always just waiting to get hired during periods of prosperity.

    • John Fensterwald on March 31, 2014 at 1:29 pm03/31/2014 1:29 pm

      • 000

      Interesting discussion between you and navigio, Don.
      FYI: Here is the link to the LCAP template. I would be astounded if any district includes more legal fees for dismissing more teachers. During Vergara, those current and former superintendents who argued that the law often entails prohibitive legal expenses (John Deasy, Tony Smith and Jonathan Raymond, mainly of the urban bigs) said they faced the untenable choice of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on dismissal appeals that should go to core services. Defense witnesses, like the former superintendent of El Monte Unified argued that teachers can be counseled out of the profession (retirements or resignations) if evaluations are done effectively, with an opportunity for teachers to improve. Plaintiffs argued that too often, “bad” teachers end up resigning with undisclosed agreements and end up being hired by another unaware districts. Or they transfer to another school within the district.

      • CarolineSF on March 31, 2014 at 5:07 pm03/31/2014 5:07 pm

        • 000

        Reality just doesn’t seem so simple and pat. A friend who teaches in a high-poverty Bay Area middle school told me about a colleague who came from a wealthy district elsewhere in the nation, where he had been a star teacher. (He really wanted to move to the Bay Area, and this was where he landed.)

        He was completely overwhelmed, to the point of utter inability to manage the classroom. My friend told me that a social leader in his class instigated the other kids to “Christmas-tree” the Scantrons on their California Standards Test.

        So: Incompetent, highly ineffective teacher or not? Clearly, it depended on what environment he was teaching in.

  8. Don on March 30, 2014 at 11:31 pm03/30/2014 11:31 pm

    • 000

    Navigio, the SBE only released the final LCAP template (or at least they were supposed to) last week and the LCAPs are not due until July 1. If a district released its LCAP already it would have had precious little time to carry out the process of community engagement and the formation of a plan based upon feedback.

    That administrators can dismiss teachers at great time and expense doesn’t mean they are remiss for failing to do so. The length of time required and the commensurate institutional and legal costs incurred are barriers that administrators cannot overlook when deciding how best to meet the needs of students with scarce dollars. There wasn’t significant debate at trial over the issue of cost and time – only a mild disagreement between bad and worse and ridiculous. The onerous nature of both are a matter of record. When only a handful of teachers are dismissed over many years it isn’t due to the fact that administrator are routinely inadequate in all regions over long periods of time. It is due to the problems inherent in the statutes and how they have evolved.

    You seem to be implying that teachers are without fail adequate and that administrators are without fail inadequate.

    Districts, from richest basic aid to poorest, all have an abysmal record of dismissing ineffective teachers. That is not because all these districts are poorly managed, but is due to the long, difficult and costly process the statutes have created.

    Are you maintaining that ineffective teachers should remain in classroom? I hope not. Let’s talk about how to move them out in a reasonable, respectable and efficient manner.

    Replies

    • navigio on March 31, 2014 at 12:49 am03/31/2014 12:49 am

      • 000

      I’m not implying, I am stating: when teachers are inadequate to the extent you claim they are then administrators are without fail inadequate. Either teachers matter or they don’t. You can’t say they matter more than anything else then say but it’s not worth firing them cause you want to spend the money on something else. By saying that you are claiming there is more value in things other than having the effective teachers. Take your pick.

      Btw there was a point not too long ago when schools had more money than ever before. Don’t remember any new push to fire ineffective teachers. I’ll wait and see what happens with LCAPs though. I won’t hold my breath. People already thing rubber rooms are a bad idea.

      And you forgot two possibilities for why more teachers aren’t fired: they are not as bad as you think or administrators just don’t care.

    • navigio on March 31, 2014 at 1:45 am03/31/2014 1:45 am

      • 000

      And by the way, have you see the research that says removing 5-10% of our lowest performing teachers would put the US at the top of the worlds rankings and do away with the achievement gap? That’s peanuts. Teacher compensation only makes up about 65% of our education budget. That means we could add on about 6.5% and use that money to simply pay ineffective teachers to stay home (actually it would be less than that because existing teachers are mostly in the higher salary brackets). That seems kind of worth it, no?

      And btw, another reason we don’t fire more could be that we don’t know how to figure out who is ineffective. Think about what impact removing seniority laws would have if that’s the case.

  9. Don on March 29, 2014 at 10:26 pm03/29/2014 10:26 pm

    • 000

    Witnesses for both sides testified that incompetency is a problem. The defense maintains that under current law administrators can remove ineffective teachers and technically that is true. However, in practice the time and cost of doing so is a burden to school districts and the end result has been that they usual don’t try.

    The defense also claims that many teachers are counseled out of the school or quit under pressure and though that is true, too, LAUSD would dismiss 350 teachers at a minimum right now. Plaintiff witnesses testified to the effect that the number is likely much higher. Many ineffective teachers are bounced from one school to another.

    El, I believe McCra was right on with the comment “Children can’t control whether they live in a well-managed district,” (McRae) – .
    Do you think the State is responsible for the management of the districts? LCFF has reduced the authority of the CDE. The State and Federal ed codes are the responsibility of the districts to follow via funding, guidance and accountability reporting, i.e. Consolidated Application and more recently the LCAP, etc.

    Occasionally the CDE will have to take receivership of a district in bankruptcy like Oakland a few years back, but otherwise I see very little oversight of Districts. In recent years monitoring has been downsized considerably and LCFF really puts the responsibility squarely on the LEAs. Schools with high numbers of ineffective teachers would not fair better under State control. The laws themselves are the problem, not their application. If that wasn’t the case we would see some districts with substantially high dismissal rates.

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    • navigio on March 30, 2014 at 1:32 am03/30/2014 1:32 am

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      The CDE never had any authority over personnel issues. And LCFF is only about how funding is used.

      If you concede that it is possible to fire ineffective teachers but districts choose not to do so based on budget priorities then you are also admitting that the state is not providing districts with the resources to do their jobs. In that sense the state is at fault, but not in a direct or decision-making capacity. And more importantly, the challenged statutes have nothing to do with that funding mechanism. Furthermore, I don’t understand how you can say the lack of action is a district decision yet the problem is not how the laws are applied.

      LCFF provides us an intriguing opportunity. We are going to ostensibly get an influx of funding to those very districts where all these bad teachers supposedly exist. I have not yet heard of one LCAP that has chosen to take that funding and direct it toward the costs of dismissing ineffective teachers. Even as we incessantly hear that that is the single most important factor in a student’s (specifically disadvantaged student’s) educational attainment, or lack thereof. This lawsuit is about power. Nothing more.

    • el on March 30, 2014 at 10:08 pm03/30/2014 10:08 pm

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      If children don’t live in a well-managed district with quality administrators, I fail to see how making it easier to fire teachers will make their education better. Terrible administrators who couldn’t hire the correct staff and dismiss inadequate staff in a timely manner are unlikely to know which staff needs dismissing. They’re also unlikely to be able to retain the good teachers those kids need… no one likes working for a lousy boss.

      In addition to the state, the County boards of education have some oversight, and are a bit closer to the issue, should they care to wield their influence.

  10. Don on March 29, 2014 at 6:11 pm03/29/2014 6:11 pm

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    My research is better than your research.

    I’ve learned not to overlook what is staring me in the face. Years of experience as a teacher and parent in public schools is instructive. Teaching, like any type of job, is populated by exemplary, average and incompetent people. We can and should define what constitutes teaching competency and determine how many teachers are incompetent, but incompetency exists. I have never seen nor heard of a school that did not have all three of the above categories of teachers, though I’m sure some do exist. Every school I worked at and the ones that my children and my friend’s children attended had the teachers that parents avoided like the plague. Teachers were well aware of those among them who did not belong and dragged down the profession for all of them.

    But perhaps this line of reasoning is too proletarian for this blog.

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    • navigio on March 29, 2014 at 9:00 pm03/29/2014 9:00 pm

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      The question in the trial did not seem to be whether they exist but why.

  11. David Pepperdine on March 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm03/28/2014 1:54 pm

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    Teachers’ unions should be illegal.
    They have ridden roughshod over constructive changes for way tooo looong.
    See the movie “Waiting for Superman”.
    It’s heart-breaking.

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    • Gary Ravani on March 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm03/28/2014 4:11 pm

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      Heartbreaking and total baloney. It is a bit of manipulation by a gifted film-maker.

      You should understand that the highest achieving states in the US on the only national test, the NAEP, are also the states with the highest percentages of unionized teachers. Kind of blows your premise out of the water.

  12. Gary Ravani on March 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm03/28/2014 12:53 pm

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    This reminds me of a discussion on another topic re charter schools. There are big arguments being made over some rather small numbers.

    Take Chetty’s assertion, using the grossly unreliable VAM, that the difference in lifetime earnings for a student with one teacher v. another teacher is $50K. Assuming the “student’ has a career from 25 to 65, that’s 40 years. That’s $1,250 per year. Assuming the work year is 50 weeks, that’s $25 per week. Or, a medium latte and a small cookie a day. Much ado about nothing, if the calculations were correct, which most legitimate experts assert, is not the case.

    And then you have McCrae’s dubious dance with the numbers: only an “average” 2 of 277,000 teachers are dismissed by the CPCs! Oh, the humanity! He is, of course, using the wrong denominator. It’s not the total number of teachers in the state that says something, it’s the number of teachers who are up for dismissal that is the right denominator. Over and over testimony was given that when handled appropriately–by competent management– the small number of teachers deemed as underperforming leave and/or retire without going to a hearing. This also says nothing about the real crisis, the huge number of teachers (35% to 50%) who leave the profession in the first five years because of lack of resources and poor leadership.

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    • Paul Muench on March 28, 2014 at 4:22 pm03/28/2014 4:22 pm

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      I agree this suit is over small potatoes. We need to pay teachers a lot more and completely remake the profession. Now that would be real 21st century education.

  13. el on March 28, 2014 at 10:58 am03/28/2014 10:58 am

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    Wow, there are some fascinating statements in all that.

    Raj Chetty, another Harvard economics professor, crunched test score data on 2 million students over two decades and concluded that replacing the worst-performing 5 percent of teachers would increase college admissions, lower pregnancy rates and raise average lifetime income per student by $50,000.

    Seriously, (significantly) reduce pregnancy rates? And yet, I imagine Prof. Chetty has not proposed this for Harvard: firing the bottom 5% of Harvard professors every year. I suspect it could also be found boost lifetime earnings of Harvard graduates by $50,000 over 40 years, increase graduate admissions, and reduce student pregnancy rates.

    I also appreciate this one:

    “Children can’t control whether they live in a well-managed district,” (McRae)

    I might submit that the state could be said to have a responsibility to ensure districts are managed well. I would humbly point out that administrators are relatively easy to fire and that there are a lot less of them.

    And as for layoffs? I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times: the solution with layoffs isn’t to create a more byzantine process for deciding who gets the axe; the solution is not to do them unless there’s a reduction in needed services (like declining enrollment). Remove and discipline teachers for underperformance when needed and don’t fret about layoff algorithms. Layoffs for solely financial reasons are intrinsically harmful no matter what strategy is used.

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    • navigio on March 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm03/28/2014 3:47 pm

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      I agree with you a out layoffs, though I’ll point out that there obviously are those who won’t. In some sense this entire case was premised on the fact that layoffs due to budget cuts are an ‘opportunity’ to improve the workforce. In fact, one might even see that as a ‘strategy’ recommendation. Heaven help us.

    • Floyd Thursby on April 4, 2014 at 1:55 pm04/4/2014 1:55 pm

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      The layoffs would have been a great opportunity to get rid of teachers everyone knew were bad. Instead they stayed on and many good ones left the profession. Your whole line of reasoning is stupid, passing the buck. So we shouldn’t change a lay off rule obviously hurting kids unless Harvard does the same, a private institution? Really? You basically just think we shouldn’t change this harmful law no matter what if you’re grasping for that. If Harvard did this you’d find another excuse. It’s a lot harder to become a Harvard professor than a teacher in California, as anyone who has kids in public schools can attest to.

      • TheMorrigan on April 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm04/4/2014 5:16 pm

        • 000

        Floyd,

        Please read the comment policy and pay special attention to this sentence: “To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective.”

      • navigio on April 4, 2014 at 5:46 pm04/4/2014 5:46 pm

        • 000

        you realize chetty is a professsor at harvard, right?

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