College & Careers

Declaring war on teachers’ rights won’t improve children’s access to a sound education


Gary Ravani

Gary Ravani

Last year a group calling itself Students Matter filed a lawsuit, Vergara v. the State of California. The lawsuit  challenges a number of labor protections for California’s teachers, including due process rights for dismissals and seniority rights during layoffs.

The suit, which goes to trial next week in state Superior Court, and its backers’ publicity strategy fit firmly within the unfortunate recent tradition of wealthy anti-union ideologues masquerading as civil rights crusaders and education reformers.

A representative of the high-priced corporate law firm pressing Vergara recently wrote an article in EdSource Today attempting to place the suit in the footsteps of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, Brown v. Board of Education and California’s Serrano v. Priest school funding decision.

Let’s examine the real history and evaluate the claims based on fact. Do students and their learning really matter to Students Matter?

Recall the image of Martin Luther King Jr. standing before the multitudes during the March on Washington delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind King stand leading activists from the civil rights community, the faith community and unions. Many today forget the March was as much about how labor and economic justice matters as it was about civil rights.

Now re-imagine that scene with King speaking, but this time with the corporate lawyers and megamillionaires backing this lawsuit standing behind him. Having trouble with that? Most people would.

Dr. King was murdered in Memphis while supporting the labor rights of sanitation workers. To propose there is something analogous between Dr. King’s sympathies and the anti-labor Vergara suit boggles the mind. Labor rights mattered to Dr. King.

The Vergara lawsuit asserts that laws protecting more senior teachers in times of layoff cause the schools to keep “grossly ineffective teachers in classrooms while pushing highly effective, but less senior teachers out.” Yet, one backer of Vergara, the Education Trust West, found in a 2005 study, “While characteristics like experience, certification, and education are not perfectly correlated with actual effectiveness they are certainly related.” If effective teachers matter, then it follows that protecting more senior (i.e., more experienced) teachers also matters.

The article cites purported research in the attempt to define “grossly ineffective teachers.” The technique used is the debunked “value-added methodology.” Reputable education experts, including the National Research Council (NRC), found that no research supports value-added methodology as a reliable way to evaluate teacher effectiveness. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), California’s testing vendor and accountability manager, has posted a study that also “raises serious questions” about the methodology.

So, if reliably measuring whether teachers are “grossly ineffective” matters, why are the Vergara proponents using the grossly unreliable value-added methodology to support their arguments?

Vergara proponents also cite Brown v. Board of Education, which found that segregated educational facilities are never equal. The UCLA Civil Rights Project finds California’s current school segregation situation “extreme.” If school segregation matters, why isn’t Students Matter pursuing that directly?

The article cites the Serrano v. Priest lawsuit, relating to equity in school funding. California’s per-pupil funding is right around 49th in the nation, meaning compared to other states, most students in California’s schools are not receiving “equitable” funding. If equity matters, why isn’t Students Matter pursuing that directly?

The litigators for Vergara miss a fundamental truth about what matters in the classroom: You do not enhance children’s access to a sound education by declaring war on their teachers’ rights.

Clearly, a group of wealthy, self-appointed education reformers is using a high-priced corporate law firm to hide behind a number of child “plaintiffs” to carry out an agenda of undermining the public schools. Less clear is if what really matters to students really matters to Students Matter.

 

Gary Ravani taught middle school for more than 30 years in Petaluma. He served for 19 years as president of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers and is currently president of the California Federation of Teachers’ Early Childhood/K-12 Council.

Filed under: College & Careers, Commentary, Community Colleges, Pay and Tenure, Teaching

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158 Responses to “Declaring war on teachers’ rights won’t improve children’s access to a sound education”

  1. Paul Muench said

    on January 23, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Keeping the teacher corps stable at “undesirable” schools is a real need. Although I think we should wait to see how LCFF addresses that need before seeking additional legal remedies. The rest of this lawsuit is clearly trying to gain leverage on teachers unions. And it sure seems too isolated of a remedy to be meaningful.

  2. Michael Dominguez said

    on January 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Well said.
    The issue has been under the radar because CTA and CFT continue to ignore the assault on teachers. In L.A. the superintendent and the Board have targeted senior teachers for dismissal based on “competence” and perjured allegations of abuse. 1000s of experienced teachers have been forced out to make way for the Great White Hope of TFA and iPads. Soon Vergara will be moot because there will be no experienced teachers with seniority rights. United Teachers Los Angeles is part of this attack and as a member I despair of the future of our profession. Teaching will soon be like a Walmart or McDonald’s job. With 27 years of classroom teaching experience perhaps I can get a job as a greeter at an elementary school. “Welcome to Walton Elementary Number 842 young fellow.”

  3. Brent Smiley said

    on January 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I work with two of the teachers who are named in this lawsuit and they are two of the finest teachers in our state. One, an elderly teacher with over 30 years experience is on the cutting edge of Mathematics education. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who is the common core guru of our school and has held numerous training sessions and coaching sessions with individual teachers to help them change and adapt into the modern methodology of instruction. By the way, I’m not just defending one of my own, in addition to being a member of the same faculty, she was the teacher of my daughter two years ago and single-handedly changed her entire outlook on Math. The root of her being named in this lawsuit is the fact that the student whose parents brought the lawsuit claim the teacher was ineffective because their daughter got a “D” in the class after having always gotten “A”s. What they failed to consider is that their daughter was a gifted child sitting in an honors class and never broke a sweat during elementary school while maintaining straight A’s. Meanwhile, once she came to attend our Gifted Magnet and was surrounded by her peers, the child needed to bust her rear end to get her grades.

    This lawsuit seeks to define ‘good’ teachers as young teachers and ‘bad’ teachers as older teachers. If the judge rules in their favor, he will destroy the entire concept of what good teaching is and how we define it.

    • Manuel replied

      on January 23, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      I can’t believe it. My three children were taught math by this same teacher and I have nothing but praise for her. There is no way she can be termed a grossly ineffective teacher.

      There is no way this teacher would have been hired as a member of any gifted school if she was ineffective. I never heard any complaints about her in my eight years of involvement with the school. And now she is being accused of being ineffective by a disgruntled parent? Unbelievable.

      BTW, I could not find her name in any of the legal filings, other than a mention that this child had a “grossly ineffective teacher in sixth grade.” Either way, isn’t this libel?

      • Mark replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

        Apparently the CTA gave the teachers speaking points and instructions to not mention that they are teachers in their public comments. If you are not a teacher, might I ask how you came to know the name of the teacher who was “libeled”, AKA mentioned in the lawsuit, if you can’t find it in the lawsuit?

    • Mark replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 8:33 am

      You accuse the parents of one child of suing because they did not like the grade their child received. The teachers at CCSF didn’t like the grade they got from the accreditation board so they dug for dirt on the board members and sued them. Why did they wait till then to dig for dirt on the board? Duh!

    • Mark replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I have to say with all the bad teachers I have experienced it defies logic that someone rich with resources as the plaintiff is would casually pick good teachers as an example of bad teachers and thus lose the case they otherwise could win. They still teach logic in some classes, right? I don’t know all these teachers personally, and most if not all of these commenters don’t either, but logic tells me not to bet against the rich guy and his hired gun’s research.

  4. Tom said

    on January 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    In Mr. Ravani’s article he trots out the same old tired tactic of dimishing anyone who has the backbone (and resources) to challenge the status of public sector unions and the generous labor contracts granted by politicans who need their money for reelection. Piling onto this he uses the wealth-is-evil attack that is recently in vogue (again) in the inequality mantra coming from Washington politicians in prepartion for the November elections, which itself is the height of hypocracy given the wealth amased by most of these politicians while in “public service.”

    There are plenty of parents who are wealthy and seek the best education for their kids, just like anyone else, and are not “anti-union ideologues” but do think the unions in California have way too much power and influence because of THEIR wealth thanks to union dues (340,000 members in the CTA paying $1000 each/year in dues is a heck of a lot of money that no other interest can match). Mr. Ravani accusses these wealthy people of trying to “undermine the public schools.” Rubbish.

    As for Mr. Ravani’s assertion that this lawsuit is a “declaration of war on teachers rights,” I don’t know anyone involved in the lawsuit, but all the parents I know with kids in school, low, mid and high income, think teachers are incrediblely important and should get the resources they need because these are the people in front of their kids every day! This is also why most parents want more accountability added to teacher evaluations. We know that accountability leads to more motivated, better teaching, which leads to a better education for our kids. Is this not what you want too Mr. Ravani?

    I also think that Mr. Ravani is confused about what is a “right.” Rights are granted by the Constitution and not through contractual agreements between employees and employers. Making something a “right” is an attempt to get what you think a targeted group of citizens should be entitled to no matter what the negative consequences are to others, like our kids.

  5. Paul said

    on January 24, 2014 at 12:46 am

    With regard to due process dismissal, more also needs to be said about the completely free hand that every California school district a teacher ever goes to work for enjoys in the two years before the teacher gains “permanent” status. Today, this period of at-will employment lasts even longer, because the teacher can expect one or more years of “substitute” and “temporary” (subject to dismissal without cause and without notice) work before the two “probationary” years (subject to dismissal with notice, i.e., at the end of the year, but still without cause) begin.

    ‘Lawyers Matter’ favors keeping teachers as at-will employees for their entire working lives.

    On a separate note, the consideration of seniority in any employment decision is irrational, because longevity is not fundamentally correlated with performance. (For teachers, research shows that there is a dramatic increase in performance during the first five years, followed by a plateau. Experience beyond five years has not been found to have a substantial effect on teacher performance. This must come as a relief to federal, state and district leaders who have created a work environment where high attrition is the norm.)

    Of course, ‘Lawyers First’ is assailing seniority for the wrong reason — hostility toward teachers.

    Fairness should be paramount in employment decisions, and given that researchers still disagree on the empirical markers of a good teacher, let alone on how to produce good teachers, a randomized layoff process would be worth considering.

  6. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 24, 2014 at 4:29 am

    This article is completely misleading. Opponents of any reform to teacher pay, seniority and tenure always try to say this or that method is flawed, as if they are in favor of another method. Let’s be clear, the union position is that all pay, lay offs, promotion, transfer, firing, hiring, etc. should be based only on number of years taught, and that it should be very difficult to fire bad teachers.

    My children have suffered bad teachers. The union was there to defend them at every turn. The union had a chance to come up with a system to get rid of the worst 10-15% of teachers and has never proposed anything. Under 1% are fired over a 40+ year career. No profession is at it’s best when everyone has no fear of being fired. It is well known many teachers take every day available under their contract off, working 180 per year they will take off 12 or more days a year, and even if they aren’t sick will take personal days they don’t actually need. Kids are hurt by this. Some take 14, 9 personal, 5 sick. Pay should be higher for teachers who don’t do so. Tenure should never come, as some teachers are good for 30 years, then burn out. You should always have to obey your boss, work hard, and any teacher taking 14 days off a year instead of coming in as much as possible should worry that the teacher who took 0 or 1 or 2 off last year, even if 5 years less experienced, might be kept over them in a lay off situation. We need to encourage the best and lead the worst out.

    Children are more important than teacher rights.

    Teachers are adults. They can obviously do the job, so if they work hard and follow the principal’s direction and do their absolute best like most professionals, they will keep their job. But pay shouldn’t be on seniority, only on merit. Some 30-year old teachers are better than some 60-year old ones. Pay should be commensurate with value, not seniority.

    Don’t be fooled by this article. The person writing it is not for any alternative means of judging effectiveness, he is for blind seniority/tenure as it’s been for 40 years. I’m not falling for it.

  7. Paul said

    on January 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Floyd, where did you get this nonsense about the terms of employment for teachers?

    First, you forgot to acknowledge that, every time a teacher joins a new school district anywhere in California, he or she can be fired without cause for the first two years, by state law. And I mean fired, specifically, not laid off for economic reasons. Statistical evidence published last spring reveals that this period is longer for most teachers, with “substitute” or “temporary” years preceding the two required “probationary” years. (The economic layoffs of the last few years have also forced many teachers to change districts, which re-starts the at-will employment period in the middle of their careers.) This sort of dismissal, or “non-reelection”, as it is called, is done in the least productive way. The teacher receives a permanent black mark, and is not entitled to know what he or she did wrong — if anything, as there is no notion of cause in the first place. A principal’s or superintendent’s dislike is enough.

    It should also be pointed out that charter schools, which represent a growing share of student enrollment, and thus, of teacher employment, need never grant protection from dismissal without cause, no matter how long a teacher serves.

    The percentage of California public school teachers fired is thus much higher than 1.

    Second, nothing in state law requires school districts (or charter schools) to offer paid sick leave or to allow paid personal days. These benefits are local. The number of days of paid sick leave accrued per year varies widely from district to district. (You suggest that teachers who don’t use their sick leave should be paid more. That is indeed how it used to be. Upon retirement, a teacher could convert unused sick leave to pension service credit. Public sector pension reform eliminated that incentive, for teachers beginning after 2012.) Some districts allow no paid personal days, whereas others have an assortment of excused absence categories, most of which require documentation of an emergency, such as the death of a family member. I’ve read contracts from many districts, and never seen a single one that allowed more than two days of undocumented personal necessity leave — subtracted from sick leave, at that.

    A category of absence perhaps not visible to you as a parent nor familiar to you as a person outside the teaching profession, is professional development. Federal law requires professional development for teachers in low-performing schools, and many districts choose to add their own local requirements. Sometimes, teachers ask permission to attend conferences or workshops voluntarily. (Often, we pay our own registration fees.) The teaching techniques learned during these absences benefit your children.

    Do you have any statistical evidence at all about teacher absence rates? (And as for your personal anecdote, did you somehow gain access to the teacher’s personnel file, to determine the reasons for the absences?)

    Third, your idea of regularly eliminating some percentage of the lowest-performing teachers would only succeed if there were a supply of better-performing replacements. Yes, there is an oversupply of teachers — at present, depressed, levels of educational service, i.e., at the large class sizes of the past few years. This does not mean that the supply is infinite. Nor does it mean that currently-unemployed teachers would perform better than the ones they’d be replacing under your “just fire them” human capital plan.

    Fourth, there is an implication in yours and other commentators’ writing that layoffs should be a public policy vehicle for improving the quality of the teacher workforce. Dismissal for cause is one thing (yes, it’s allowed, and conscientious principals do it), and dismissal without cause (as described above) is another matter, but the annual threat of economic layoffs discourages the best people from becoming teachers. Why would a competent and rational undergraduate student willingly choose a qualification that can only be used for one kind of job, when the possibility of stable employment is so uncertain?

    You cannot have it both ways, a disposable but high-quality teacher workforce.

    • navigio replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 9:49 am

      I have seen contracts in which service in another district counts when measuring experience (eg step level) in the new district. Your comment seems to imply that would be illegal. Am I misunderstanding?

      • Gary Ravani replied

        on January 24, 2014 at 11:31 am

        Navigio:

        I think you are dealing with two issues here.

        Teachers can, and are, brought into new districts and placed on the salary schedule (step and column) based on past experience. This often has some limits depending on district. A teacher with ten years experience could be brought in on step 5 or perhaps step 10. It depends on what has been negotiated. This is an issue of compensation.

        The issue of employee “status” is different. In my experience even teachers with multiple years of experience, and wherever placed on the salary schedule, remain as temporary or probationary teachers for two years or more meaning they can be dismissed without cause. It may be different in some districts, but i have not heard about it. As far as I can tell it is a strict matter of statute.

        For those who express doubt about my assertions in the article i suggest they research the performance of varying states on the nation’s only “national test,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). They will find several correlations: high state NAEP scores go along with high percentages of unionized teachers. These teachers have, in large part, the same labor protection as do teachers in CA.

        As to the kind of test score based “accountability” called for by Students Matter they should click on the link to the National Research Council (NRC) study on same. They should also look up the NRC’s “Letter to Arne Duncan re Race to the Top (RttT).” RttT has much of the same kind of reliance on test scores for evaluating teacher effectiveness. For those who will not look these up to read, allow me summarize the conclusions of the NRC: we do not have, currently, a research base that supports the fair, valid, and reliable use of test score data to evaluate teachers. And if we did, we still shouldn’t do it because such practice dangerously narrows the curriculum. In the longer NRC study, it is asserted that looking at data over the last decade of test based “accountability” there has been little to no increase in student achievement. But there has been that narrowing of the curriculum.

        Several other points: a number of educational scholars point to the fact that many policy makers and pundits make a big deal of “international test scores,” and yet the same folks never recommend actually doing what the high scoring countries do to attain those scores. Those countries do not engage in firing teachers in large numbers. Those countries have an almost seamless system of social and economic supports in place for parents and children. Those countries child poverty rate run below 10% Child poverty in the US exceeds 20% and recent census data puts poverty at #1 in CA while other data -EDWeek- puts CA’s education spending per child at 50th in the nation. You can argue whether Ca os truly at #50 or is really 55th or 57th, but the fact remains that CA’s education spending is abysmal.

        Teacher layoffs in CA are a problem. It was the economic debacle created by the financial sector, and CA’s decades long low funding for education that created this, not seniority rules about layoffs. Getting a pink slip as a new teacher is traumatic. I know, it happened to me twice early in my career. But, coming from a labor family i understood the fairness and objectivity in using seniority as the primary criteria in layoffs. I say “primary” because districts can use other criteria in order to protect certain teachers with special qualifications and protect specific programs.

        Finally, we have two great filters that encourage people not suited to the teaching profession to leave: these are classrooms and children. If you are not suited for teaching there is no more uncomfortable place to be as an adult than facing 30 children who look to you for guidance. In fact, nationally about one of two teachers leave the profession with five years. Research indicates not all of these teachers leave because they are unsuitable. They leave out of frustration over lack of resources and perceived poor leadership.

        Education problems in the US, as well as CA, are complex. The fundamental issues relate to conditions of poverty and education funding. it is seductive to try and scapegoat the “bad teacher.” The very wealthy want desperately to stay very wealthy and work to distract public attention from the fundamental issues and their causes, like tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy as well as growing income disparities. Going on “witch hunts” has always been a very effective means of distracting people. Try and look behind the curtain. There are a number of “mega-millionaires” hiding out there.

      • Paul replied

        on January 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

        Hi, navigio and Gary.

        Gary does a great job of elucidating the difference between salary credit, granted for a variable number of years when a teacher changes districts, and “permanent” status, which districts may legally choose to grant (but in practice never do grant) IF it was achieved in a prior district. When they switch districts, teachers have a legal right to carry over any unused sick leave, but not seniority (which means that they now find themselves first in line for layoffs) and not “permanent” status. The number of years of experience recognized for placement on the new district’s salary scale is at the discretion of the new district.

        It’s instructive to check the certificated personnel action report in your school district’s board meeting agenda packet. You’ll see experienced teachers, newly hired by the district, placed above Year I on the salary scale, but nevertheless give “temporary” or “probationary” contracts.

        There was an interesting case a few years ago of a teacher who had unlawfully (accidentally) been granted “permanent” status by a prior district, and then, exceptionally, by her new district. The new district later sued to revoke the “permanent” status it had granted, and the court agreed that teachers who work part-time NEVER become eligible for “permanent” status.

        • el replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 11:13 am

          Paul, I know you’re concerned about the misuse of temporary status to keep a revolving door of inexpensive labor, but, from the point of view of a district that really wants teachers who will stay for the long term, I think the two year temporary status is about right personally. Some teachers, experienced or not, are just not a fit for a particular school, district, or position, and even with the best of intentions on both sides, sometimes it’s only possible to know that after giving it a go.

  8. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    SFUSD has had years when not a single teacher was fired out of 3000. New York averages 10 per year. It is cost prohibitive to fire bad teachers so you get a dance of the lemons. I’m not some idiot you can fool, I have kids in SFUSD and saw wonderful young teachers laid off due to seniority so that teachers everyone complained about could stay. 2 years is nothing. People do great at a job for 30, then start slacking off. In SFUSD you get 9 days personal leave and 5 sick. Now call me crazy, but I’ve gone 10 years without missing a single day of work. If you work 180 days a year and most work 250, and you get holidays most get, I think you can schedule your trips, your DMV days, and your doctor’s visits for the 70 you have off no one else has off. You can also stay in bed on Sunday, or Saturday after toughing it out Friday, to work an extra day. Absence on Friday and Monday is over double the other three days, and that’s not a coincidence. We got over 20% absence on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, even when they gave Wednesday off. Many teachers do not only call in sick unfortunately when there is no other choice but feel it is their right to take those days whenever they want with no explanation. In my view, you should have to worry that it could impact your references, promotion, etc. I would have been afraid to do so. The current contracts make teachers take days off for personal reasons without a care in the world. And I have seen bad teachers, one came 50 days of 180 last year and missed 130, for 4 reasons, and the union was defending her every step of the way. The union automatically defends tenure and seniority. This article implies that the proposal is by the wrong millioanires and being done the wrong way, but if we fall for it and stop complaining, the author of this article is not going to try to get behind an alternative way to get rid of bad teachers and replace them with better ones. The author will quietly focus on other things and accept the status quo where it costs so much to fire a bad teacher few principals even try. The union has had 40 years to come up with a way, and it hasn’t. It prohibits reference checking when you switch. You can’t ask the previous principal how that teacher did. Does the author want to allow this? And as for personnel files, they are not available to be looked at because the union doesn’t allow it. When we had a bad teacher, we heard she had been bad at a previous school, but we were not allowed access to those files and union reps told us, maybe this was her first illness, we should feel sorry for her, all the while prohibiting us from checking with her previous principals or seeing a personnel file. This is a bait and switch technique. I haven’t seen the file, so I must be quiet and go away, there is another method. No, there is no other method, the goal of the author of this is to keep it rare and difficult to fire bad teachers, to keep them taking as many days off as under contract with no consequence, and to keep all pay, promotion, lay offs and seniority based on seniority, not skill, ability, and effort like in most jobs. We need to be more flexible, reward good teachers and fire bad ones, just like any corporation. Pay should be according to contribution, not seniority. The union apologists don’t fool me. You want to maintain the status quo which is why when we turn our heads, you never propose alternatives but disappear. These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

    • navigio replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      Why is it cost-prohibitive? I thought good teachers were the single most important in-school factor? We should be doing everything possible, including spending bunches of money to remove ones that are not good. How can we, on one hand, make the argument about the importance of teachers, yet on the other, say its cost-prohibitive?
      Furthermore, how about making the state fund teacher-related lawsuits/processes separately from education funds. That way we can at least have the kids held harmless for those who still believe its cost-prohibitive?

    • el replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Floyd, for what it is worth, you are confusing certain policies and practices you saw as a parent in SFUSD with the law. Those two things are decidedly not the same. Different districts do have different policies and different contracts.

      I have sat on several interview panels in my district, and references are always checked.

      Any time there are layoffs due to lack of funding and not due to decreased need for services, such layoffs harm children and are disruptive.

      Finally, lots of teachers leave a position without being “fired.” In fact, for many reasons, just as in the private sector, it is almost always the case that a letter of resignation is submitted. Plenty of those resignations are actively solicited.

    • Paul replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Floyd, did you count the number of “non-reelections” (dismissals without cause) and the number of “temporary” teachers (automatically released regardless of performance, with no re-employment rights, at the end of every school year)?

    • Manuel replied

      on January 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Floyd, I find your post outrageous. Those of us who know teachers intimately can attest that the great majority of your statements are false when applied across the board.

      As far as I know, the role of teacher unions is to provide protection from management, not to decide who should be fired and when. That is the job of management and it is not as expensive as they claim. If they can’t do their job, they should be fired.

      • navigio replied

        on January 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm

        Thank you!

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm

        Manuel, this is misleading. Principals change every 3 years at most schools. The cost to fire a teacher is about 100k, and yes it is important, but if a principal and parents are unhappy with a teacher, it should cost 10k or less, or nothing, like in most jobs. For all practical purposes, only terrible teachers will be fired if it costs 100k. In New York they have a rubber room where they put teachers and pay them when they are hurting kids by being bad teachers but they don’t want to spend the huge cost to fire them. I know, it ended, but no they just stay home, and get paid. The teachers union calls any reform proposal attacking teachers. OK, if you want to attack that, then find a way that 15%, not 1%, of teachers get fired over a career after getting tenure so all teachers are at least nervous if they don’t obey the principal, they will be fired, and if they call in sick every day allowed, or the test scores of their students are lower than colleagues in terms of improvement year to year, they will be fired. Performance based should be the only way. The total after getting tenure who are fired is under 1%, over their entire career. Some quit, but few are ever fired, which leads to acceptance of mediocrity. I know many engineers and lawyers who go 3-5 years, even 10, without ever calling in sick, who tough it out and stay in bed Saturday and Sunday or take a vacation day when sick. That’s rare among teachers. There should be a perfect attendance bonus, but teachers unions oppose this. The role of teachers’ unions shouldn’t be protecting teachers, it should be protecting students. You lose me when LAUSD has to pay Mark Berndet $40,000, a child molester, to fire him. You lose me when you say my kids’ school can’t check references and hire a good 5-year teacher over a bad 30-year one if the principal thinks that’s best for the kids. If a 5-year teacher is better, they should be hired every time because they cost less and are better, it’s win win for the kids, but the union would say you have to hire the 30-year teacher, no questions asked, no discretion. Unions shouldn’t decide who gets promoted, hired, or fired. Their interest is in the members, not the prosperity of the organization.

        • Manuel replied

          on January 26, 2014 at 7:48 pm

          You can’t be serious. How could you imply that because principals can’t stay on the job for more than 3 years that teacher dismissals should take less? That’s insane.

          The costs of dismissal are what they are because the administrators do no want to invest in getting at the problem resolved before it has to go to the legal department. I have been involved in my kids’ schools and know that it can be done for less. Maybe your administrators are not as good as mine. Ever thought of that?

          No, it isn’t union rules that provides due process to accused teachers and you’ve been told that over and over: it is state law and local contracts. Yet you keep ignoring this fact. Why?

          Why should 15% of teachers be fired every year? Do you think that teaching is like being a Micro$erf in the days of Steve Ballmer? If you do, then you are seriously in need of an education on the statistics and psychology of labor. OTOH, you might be one of those who has put his faith on this failed system of human resource management. If that is so, there’s nothing to be done about that. Go on with your delusion that floggings must continue until morale improves.

          You complain that teachers take too many sick days. Have you ever spent 6 hours a day every week in a closed classroom with 30 snot-dripping kids during flue season? Do you know that most teachers soldier on until the got bronchitis, sinus infection, or, worse, pneumonia? Any of those is enough to make you rest for several days, doctor’s orders. To me, it’s amazing that they don’t take more days off.

          And, no, a teacher’s day does not end up when the bell rings. Most, if not all, spend hours doing classroom and school work until into the evening. Many go on weekends to work on their classrooms. So, yeah, they should all put off any of the unavoidable demands of regular life on hold until the summer. I mean, how dare they take a day off to take care of their own sick child, for example? How dare they have a family of their own! How dare they have a life!

          The Brendt case is on LAUSD brass alone. They elected to take the easy way out and tried to get him to retire. They wanted to reduce their legal exposure but it still failed. Don’t blame teacher unions for that. That’s on Deasy and his megalomania.

          And, yes, you are completely wrong when you state that unions shouldn’t decide who gets promoted, hired, or fired. It is all up to the administration, whether it be local or at the district’s headquarters. Go yell at them.

          Anyway, I don’t think you get it: the unions is there to advocate for its members. That’s their job by statute. It is the job of the state to define the parameters that determine who should be a teacher (go learn about the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing). And as I already stated (and others have told you ad nauseum), it is the job of the school administration to determine who should be hired, promoted and/or fired. Stop obsessing over what you think should be and focus on reality. And if you really want to change it, then attack the parties responsible for what you don’t like instead of those who are merely doing their job.

          • Mark replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 8:06 am

            You can always tell a teacher’s comments. They are so used to being around people all day who jump when they say jump that they forget they must be civil with adults who don’t!

        • el replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 11:18 am

          Why would we even give people sick days if we didn’t intend for them to be used?

          • navigio replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm

            its a good question. but it begets the question of why they are accumulated when they are not used.

  9. navigio said

    on January 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I think this is about money.

    Let me just posit that about half of teachers are maxed out in terms of ‘step’. And because salary step progression rates tend to flatten at higher step levels, a large majority of teachers (I’m guessing about 75% of them) are probably maxed out in salary (for their class/’column’). (this of course would vary by district, but given the numbers districts are reporting, this is going to be my average guess).

    This makes attacking teacher pay an extremely lucrative strategy, especially given the high variability between lowest and highest salaries (eg commonly 100% overall, and about 60% to 70% for the highest steps or columns).

    Perhaps the most ironic thing related to the attempt to restrict the amount of money that goes to education (for either of the two primary counters to ‘more money’) is that it works to increase the average level of teaching experience and thus pay/cost. It may not actually be an accident that test scores continue to increase even during layoff cycles (though thats a whole separate hot potato).

    I think it’s noteworthy that Paul points to evidence that teaching experience has little/lessened impact after 5 years or so. This seems to make it natural to question why salary schedules continue to increase well beyond that (or at least don’t reflect that particular plateau in any way). (They do in fact usually plateau at some point, but its usually well past that, and maybe more interestingly, they may not plateau in the same way for all classes (‘columns’).) Could that be better explained/justified?

    Paul’s point also makes it seem obvious that more highly compensated teachers would be dismissed for that fact alone, if districts were in fact given that opportunity (actually, I think they’d do that even without the evidence, because their priorities are budgetary, but for now lets assume they can actually make it look justified). Since the goal of this lawsuit is exactly to provide that opportunity, this is why it is about money.

    It may not be an accident that the school districts were removed as defendants.

    Of course, politicians dont dabble in such annoying nuances. Polarized sound bites are how we make policy.

    • Tom replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      At our school in Norcal, we have a kindergarten teacher who makes $103,000/year, total compensation, and she works 1/2 days with paid summers off. Also have a 1st grade teacher making $99,000. Sweet deal if you stay long enough in the profession. Like most public-section contracts, they are protected from performance-based pay, so no wonder that performance drops off for many in later years. Same things happens to engineers at Caltrans or any other State agency. The opponents of performance-based pay argue that we cannot use student test scores to evaluate how well a teacher is teaching, so like Floyd says, what is the alternative? This needs to be addressed before the public (both rich and poor) are satified.

      • el replied

        on January 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

        Obviously, your kids would be much better off if a standardized test was administered to your kindergarteners to prove that she’s a high quality teacher. Never mind that kindergarteners don’t have the motor skills to fill in the bubbles – if she were really good, this would not be an obstacle.

        For what it’s worth, that’s more than any employee makes in my district. Compensation varies quite a lot across the state.

        Normally a teacher that actually works a shorter day would not be paid as 1.0 FTE. It may be that she has other duties that have not been revealed to you.

        • Tom replied

          on January 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm

          No kindergardner can or should take a standarized test.

          This teacher has no other duties but used to teach at the 5th grade level and moved to K in her last few years of teaching without a reduction in pay. Must have a powerful union, and that is a problem for our budgets. Could hire two new K teachers and cut class sizes.

          • el replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 11:22 am

            Appallingly, in many states, they are giving standardized tests to kindergarteners for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers with value-add metrics.

            I doubt that the whole story is “a powerful union.” The administrators would have plenty of ways to give her a 1.0 FTE position, if truly she does not. If they elect not to do so, you could ask them why.

      • dw replied

        on March 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm

        So? Why shouldn’t people at that educational level make that much? Most teachers have five year degrees, so why shouldn’t they be compensated accordingly? They are managers without assistants, secretaries, or staff, they deserve every penny they can get.

    • Paul Muench replied

      on January 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      That’s a really good point. Teacher pay schedules that plateau quickly can substantially remove the incentive to layoff one teacher vs. another. It’s not the meritocratic model, but it matches the education model that we have. Which I take to be all students should get a good enough education. (please notice the careful use of the word should) I think the good enough model matches our democratic beliefs. We can always collectively decide to change what we think is good enough.

  10. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Pay should be based on contribution to the childrens’ education. Kindergarteners can take tests. I tested my own kids before they started kindergarten. 60% of Asian Americans and only 16% of whites send their kids to kindergarten after already having taught them to read and do math, and this not coincidentally correlates to the percentages making a UC, abut 35% of Asians and 8.7% of whites, or a UC or better which goes to about 37 or 9.7. It’s very close. Pay should plateau earlier. I don’t think you get a lot better from 40 to 65. If anything you may lose something due to illness, more missed days, etc. We must allow principals to have the power to make decisions in the interests of children. I’ve seen bad teachers get everyone defending them. It’s not made up. I’ve seen them survive for 5 years. Principals need more power. Pay shouldn’t be based on what’s convenient to teachers, but what value they provide. Security should be nonexistent for underperformers. Children are more important than adults. The author of this article is not iin favor of any alternatives, he is in favor 100% of seniority/tenure, the status quo which has been failing our children and putting our state near the bottom in a nation near the bottom for 40 years. We need to change this.

  11. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 24, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Pay should be based on contribution to the childrens’ education. Kindergarteners can take tests. I tested my own kids before they started kindergarten. 60% of Asian Americans and only 16% of whites send their kids to kindergarten after already having taught them to read and do math, and this not coincidentally correlates to the percentages making a UC, abut 35% of Asians and 8.7% of whites, or a UC or better which goes to about 37 or 9.7. It’s very close. Pay should plateau earlier. I don’t think you get a lot better from 40 to 65. If anything you may lose something due to illness, more missed days, etc. We must allow principals to have the power to make decisions in the interests of children. I’ve seen bad teachers get everyone defending them. It’s not made up. I’ve seen them survive for 5 years. Principals need more power. Pay shouldn’t be based on what’s convenient to teachers, but what value they provide. Security should be nonexistent for underperformers. Children are more important than adults. The author of this article is not in favor of any alternatives, he is in favor 100% of seniority/tenure, the status quo which has been failing our children and putting our state near the bottom in a nation near the bottom for 40 years. We need to change this.

    • Gary Ravani replied

      on January 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Sir:

      Please don’t try and speak for me. You are obviously unfamiliar with education policy. If you make some attempt to investigate “performance pay” you will find numerous experiments over time, all failed. New York just recently dumped tens of millions into such an effort only to abandon it as yet another failure. The concept is based on the idea that there is some well of unexpended capacity in schools that can be tapped by adding some extra dollars in incentives. It just isn’t true. if you explore further you’ll find that even the (holy) private sector has abandoned “performance pay” in large part.

      Again, if you go the National Research Council link provided in the article (the NRC being the nation’s highest scientific body) you will find a comprehensive study on the use of test driven incentive based “school reform.” It has not just been a failure, it has actively damaged the learning of tens of millions of students over the course of the last decade by narrowing curriculum. It is well known that many schools diminished teaching of subjects outside of those being tested. Science, social studies civics, history, art,
      music, PE, etc., etc., have all been neglected to some degree. Those familiar with education policy know this.

      Have you considered how the many teachers outside those tested subjects would be subject to performance pay or test based accountability? There are numerous attempts to do so and they are ludicrous and damaging to education.

      If you go back a few articles on this site you will find reference to a yearly study–Quality Counts–done by the nation’s education newspaper of record Ed Week. The latest study pegs CA’s education spending per child to be last of the 50 states. Some will quibble that the data is a couple of years old and CA has increased education spending a bit (true). So maybe we are not 50th, maybe we are 47th, or even 45th; but, we are still near the bottom of the 50 states. CA is the wealthiest state in the nations and one of the top economies in the world. Is there any excuse for the miserable level of funding provided for the schools?

      There is a powerful relationship between socio-econoic status of students and their school performance. The latest census figures show CA with the highest poverty rates in the nation. The US, the world’s wealthiest nation, has higher rates of childhood poverty than almost all other industrialized nations. Who is to be held accountable for that?

      By the way, it is interesting how both the US and state economies continue to be near the top in the world with all those poorly educated people in the workforce isn’t it? There seems to be some disconnect between the reality of economic performance and the “conventional wisdom” about how well the state’s and nation’s school prepare people for the workforce. Just a thought.

      You obviously have strong opinions and it will be uncomfortable to have those shaken by looking at the empirical evidence. But, the truth is out there!

    • el replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Seniority is only in play when there are layoffs. Layoffs for budgetary reasons alone (and not declining enrollment or a reduction in needed services) are a priori damaging to kids and schools no matter what the reason. Seniority is probably the least expensive way to conduct layoffs as well, which should be seriously remembered when we are cutting for budgetary reasons, and when cuts are being made across numbers so large that no one person is familiar with everyone’s work.

      One can imagine tweaks of scale, like preventing too high a percentage of layoffs from any one school campus.

      Teacher dismissal for cause is an entirely different thing and should be completely independent. Teacher dismissal for cause can and does happen both in times of expanding and contracting budgets.

      • navigio replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 12:07 pm

        seniority comes into play during assignment decisions too (though usually any significant change there is a function of layoffs, eg bumping, etc).

        While the process itself may be the least expensive (I expect that’s what you meant), it has the most minimal impact on the cost of the teaching force because seniority is invariably tied to salary, ie the cheapest teachers are laid off first.

  12. Andrew said

    on January 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

    The substance of the argument, so far as I can see, is that there is some correlation between teacher effectiveness and teacher experience, for some teachers, and therefore 100% of layoff decisions should be based solely on duration of tenure.

    This argument, monolithic as it is, makes little sense. It may not be so senseless that the court system will reject it as unconstitutional in the pending case. But when it is put before California voters in an initiative, the argument will likely be in trouble. We are talking about voters who still have headlines fresh in their minds about beloved young award winning teachers of the year being laid off due to strict seniority rules. With photos of teary students and parents. You can try to convince the voters that laying off the acclaimed young teacher in lieu of a long tenured teacher of very modest abilities and little enthusiasm is good policy. But I’ve seen nothing even close to convincing so far, including in the article.

    The monolithic inability of the teachers unions to find a way to ensure continued employment for such acclaimed young teachers, even in a state ruled by teacher friendly Democrats, makes them highly vulnerable to draconian changes when a dust-up with the voters next occurs.

    • Paul replied

      on January 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Andrew, since when does the responsibility (let alone the authority) “to find a way to ensure continued employment” of certain teachers rest with teachers themselves? The responsibility to fund the education system rests with taxpayers, and decisions about the system are made by voters (or their elected representatives). Adequate — and most of all, stable — funding would make layoffs unnecessary.

      I am not a fan of seniority (see my first post, above), but this case isn’t about finding an effective or equitable alternative, it is about making all teachers at-will employees, subject to dismissal at any time, without cause. Whether in an economic layoff situation (your focus, but only one aspect of the lawsuit), or under day-to-day conditions (my focus, and really the main thrust of the lawsuit), some consistent and balanced rules are necessary. None are being proposed here.

      Stable employment, recognition that teachers don’t walk into the profession perfect on the first day, and that, at any stage of a person’s career, improvement requires feedback, support and time, are necessary ingredients for an effective teacher corps.

      Once again, I’m alarmed that anyone would consider periodic layoffs as a vehicle for improving the quality of the teacher pool.

      • Manuel replied

        on January 25, 2014 at 11:27 am

        Paul, I can certainly agree that there are teachers out there that are simply getting by. It happens in every profession, so why should teachers be any different? But, as you know and note, there is a method that has to be followed to remove those teachers from the classroom.

        The problem with this lawsuit is that it brings no evidence at all to prove that those teachers were negligent in their duties. And at least one of those teachers can abundantly document that she is not negligent. Hence, this case is not based on facts but on opinions. Last I checked, those don’t count.

        And, yeah, “culling of the heard” worked wonders for Micro$oft. So why not do it with teachers? What could go wrong?

        • navigio replied

          on January 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

          The ‘evidence’ it brings is that cst results reflect income and ethnicity correlations and thus that there is an equal protection breach. On one hand, the impact of seniority on assignment decisions might be a valid basis for that claim. But there seems no way to link those statutes to the inequality in the other cases. But remember, a few decades ago we moved from using opportunity as an equal protection measure to using outcome as an equal protection measure. As such, outcome may be the only ‘evidence’ needed as long as the system can be show to be a result of the challenged statutes.

      • navigio replied

        on January 25, 2014 at 11:36 am

        to be fair… sometimes i hate that about myself… the lawsuit is about much more than ‘just’ periodic layoffs. Regardless, there are private companies who use exactly that as a mechanism to maintain ‘workforce quality’. Its true people may not always agree with it, but obviously many not only agree with it but believe in its impact. As such, it should not be surprising (or alarming) to see people push that. (whether its effect or fair or a good idea or whatever, is a separate discussion.)

        I agree that the goal here is to effectively make teachers at-will, but when you have policies that are perceived as ‘brute-force’, the responses to them will be in kind. Such is the world of politics.

    • Gary Ravani replied

      on January 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      The young teachers in question are not having their employment put in jeopardy by unions, or employment laws, or by Democrats. Jobs were lost because of the economic crisis created by malfeasance and misfeasance of the financial sector. You know, by guys like Jamie Dimon who just doubled his salary after his bank had to pay billions in fees because of reckless acts creating the economic crisis.

      The public is interested in those things too. Trust me.

      There are numerous studies of veteran teachers, also “teachers of the year,” who lost their jobs because of the debunked test base accountability systems, just like the one justifying the Vergara arguments. The public will learn more about those too.

      As I’ve said before, the truth s out there.

  13. navigio said

    on January 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Btw, should we be less outraged if layoff decisions are made solely based on salary instead of solely based on seniority?

    • Gary Ravani replied

      on January 25, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Navigio:

      It is a myth that layoffs are based “solely” on seniority. Districts have a right to decide programs they want to maintain and programs they want to cut. Teachers of lower seniority but qualified by credential to teach the specific programs can be retained over senior teachers without the qualifications in a process known as “skipping.”

      • Gary Ravani replied

        on January 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm

        I should add that history indicates that school districts often did base layoff on salary with the senior, best paid teachers released without “cause” and without due process. They were also released because they got married or pregnant. Or because they wrote a letter to the paper someone didn’t like. Or because they were known to vote the “wrong” way. Or just because someone in power didn’t like the cut of their jib. Or because they advocated for kids or a quality curriculum in the face of administrative decisions to do otherwise. Or because they taught a book someone wanted to burn. This is why seniority rights and due process were first put in place.

        • navigio replied

          on January 25, 2014 at 7:32 pm

          I agree with that. It is unfortunate that humans have such a short memory span. The ‘reason’ for practically everything lies in that it was historically a response to an unpalatable alternative. The whole point of the comment you responded to was to try to clarify what that alternative was (and might soon become).

        • Mark replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 7:50 am

          I have had a department chair at CCSF suggest I quit school because they didn’t like what I wrote in favor of the accreditation board. Maybe students should get seniority back. We had it for class enrollment but the teachers got rid of it without our input. Hypocrites! Few teachers care how much the required textbooks they select cost, if they even know. They require the latest edition, even when it doesn’t matter for that subject, and even though the previous edition can be purchased for half the amount if the latest. Today a survey of students was released that found 65 percent of students say the price of the textbooks is playing a part in what courses they choose to take. News flash, teachers look out for themselves just like regular workers.

          • CarolineSF replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 9:20 pm

            A CCSF student is advocating closing down CCSF? That’s kind of newsworthy.

      • navigio replied

        on January 25, 2014 at 7:00 pm

        Fair enough, however, I would argue that skipping doesnt bypass seniority, it only creates multiple ‘bins’ of it.

        That said, Im not sure its fair for the union position to say skipping is a substantive policy-based alternative when the CTA fights those definitions as a matter of process in favor of ‘solely seniority’.

        • Gary Ravani replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 2:45 pm

          The unions have both a fiduciary and moral responsibility to see that layoffs are conducted in the most fair and objective way possible. The idea that unions might not challenge a district’s proposals to create protected categories of teachers, thereby triggering “skipping,” is to suggest districts always proceed in creating those categories in a fair and objective manner. That’s not the case. What happens is, the union challenges those definitions/categories and then the administrative law judge listens to the arguments and makes a decision. In my experience the ALJs tend to give districts the benefit of the doubt.

  14. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Gary, you don’t address many of my points and are clearly biased. For one, your article commits the fallacy of ad hominem blatantly. What matters is whether this measure will improve education for children, not whether the people proposing it are African Americans who grew up tough environments and overcame a lot through education (as is the case with some of the proponents, Geoffrey Canada, Kevin Johnson), or rich white lawyers and businessmen who believe this is the right thing to do to reduce poverty. It simply doesn’t matter, but when you compare the demographics of the supporters to the demographics of the civil rights protesters, you are being disingenuous and committing the fallacy of ad hominem. You also know many low income African American and Latino parents are very upset with the quality of their children’s teachers, but they lack the money and resources to file a lawsuit and often don’t even show up to parent teacher conferences and rarely to PTA, so to say a lawsuit or ballot measure is only valid if people you know don’t have the money, resources, time or inclination to get involved suddenly sacrifice everything to fund a lawsuit or a multi-million dollar ballot measure is truly disingenuous and unfair and guarantees a continuation of the failed status quo of all teachers being judged solely on seniority. I for one am thankful some wealthy individuals care enough about our failed education to do the right thing.

    Yes, the lay offs were the fault of the economy, but it was an opportunity to cull the worst teachers in the interests of the children and we squandered it, due to union rules and insistence on those rules and threats to file lawsuits if they were violated, in favor of firing only the youngest teachers. Because you didn’t show discretion in not enforcing every protection available and obsessively focused on keeping seniority in place, we need to change these rules, because you don’t have the care for children, honesty, or ability to see the pluses and minuses in the policy to suspend that to keep those teachers. Your side is rigid, and wants rigid obedience of seniority, not something more complex, lay offs based on years taught. Win an award in 3 years, you’re paid less and less valuable than a teacher who calls in sick the maximum of days each of the past ten years and takes the maximum of personal days and has taught 30-40 years. You believe it should be 100% on seniority, not nuanced, so don’t pretend the proposals are imperfect and should be more complex, you oppose complexity, you want seniority only.

    You are right that we underfund education. Part of the problem is many elites, including even self-professed pro-teacher liberals like Matt Damon, send their kids to private school, so they vote more funding for prisons than schools. Prop 13 is not the problem, though it is unfair in many ways, because we are the 4th highest taxing state after NY, NJ and CT, as an overall percentage of GDP. What is the problem is we don’t prioritize education as much as other programs. I agree we should spend more, but we must be careful to spend any more before we reform teacher employment conditions as they guarantee no return on investment. Washington DC spends triple what San Francisco spends, and gets terrible results. No amount of money can fix a disfunctional school system without addressing home life, support, tutoring, work ethic, etc.

    Another problem I see with many teachers is that, unlike in many countries where they are paid better, most had poor GPAs in college and were not top students in high school. They tend to come from the bottom half of college graduates, which means they didn’t study long hours in college and when there was a party, they were the kids who went to the party, not the kids who said no, went to the library, and hit the books.

    This is reflected in bad advice often given to children. The teacher’s union tries to deflect blame by obsessively focusing on poverty issues. They intentionally ignore the example of the one group who does well in school even when poor, Asians. They don’t hold it out as an example. Asian kids outperform white kids 2-3 quintiles above them on the economic scale. Asian kids study an average of 16 hours a week in California vs. 5.6 for whites and fewer for others, and 60% of Asian American kids enter kindergarten with their parents having taught them math and reading, vs. 16% of white kids, in the state. This, not surprisingly, corresponds to the percentage entering UCs, 8.7% of white kids and 33.5% of Asian kids, in the state, and only 6.9^ of white boys. The average Californian kid spends over 40 hours a week on TV, games, social networking and internet entertainment. Asians, under 15 and those making it to UCs, under 10.

    We need to encourage all kids to study 16-25 hours a week starting in middle school, to turn off the TV and use the library no matter how poor, to use tutoring resources, and that working obsessively is the only way to overcome poverty and get a high-paying job. Not just doing a little more or paying attention, but making education your highest priority, convincing parents to turn off the TV and keep their kids in a room focused, quiet, with a book. But we aren’t doing that. We instead say, of course you waste a lot of time and don’t study much or at all in the Summer or go to a library, you’re poor, what else could we expect, even in spite of stats that low income Asians do exactly that, study long hours, Summers, etc. President Obama once said, you’re never so poor the only decision you can make is to turn on the TV and not do homework with your children. It is one of his best quotes.

    Lay offs need to be based on quality, and all Californians need to work harder.

    We should also give bonuses to those teachers who don’t take their personal days, not an across the board raise. Substitute quality is atrocious. We can do better. Teachers need to feel pressure to work harder. If principals have discretion, teachers will think about playing hookey 9 times a year. You won’t have days like the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with over 20% of teachers saying they’re sick. That was reprehensible, to lie about being sick knowing it would hurt your students.

    • el replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Thousands and thousands of teachers were laid off during the economic meltdown. Where was the money to rank every teacher in every district, one to N, based on their teaching quality? Where was the time?

      And then once you make a list like that, there’s the cost to defend why a particular teacher is #42 instead of #32.

      This blog post from Bruce Baker at School Finance 101 talks some about the various strategies one might use, and the consequences of each. I suggest further reading on that blog using the keyword ‘seniority.’
      http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/thinking-through-cost-benefit-analysis-and-layoff-policies/

      I assure you that many districts in fact did strategically choose what programs to cut. Smaller districts probably have an advantage there.

      One thing to note about Asian families is that even when they are relatively poor, many come from a legacy of being highly educated, but perhaps with credentials that did not transfer to those same jobs in America.

  15. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    By the way Gary, my kids go to public schools, 2 to the top public high school in Northern California, Lowell. All the kids know some teachers are far better than others. They choose, and you can see some are far more popular. Principals know who the lemons are and they get the job over better, younger teachers. Parents avoid certain teachers. You are completely disingenuous when you complain that all these ways of measuring have failed. You don’t teach to the test, you have to look at the tests, any child who is convinced to study and do their homework and prioritize learning by their teacher and taught well in the classroom will get them easily. They are not hard questions. You can teach a bad student tricks, but good students will dominate these tests. All my children are underrepresented minorities (black and Latino) and score in the top 3% of these tests. Good teachers will get good results. Teachers need to convince parents to do the right thing as well.

    The union has undermined every effort to rate teachers by quality and encourages a current system in which 99% of teachers are rated as “satisfactory”, whatever that means. Look at the US test scores compared to other nations, and the CA scores to other states. I for one, am not “satisfied” with the performance of 99% of teachers, or 99% of students passing the exit exam the union pressured into being watered down to the point of becoming ridiculously easy to pass. It’s not “satisfactory”. It’s atrocious.

    We all know that there is a huge difference in teacher quality and that the union and teachers have actively resisted every effort to rank and rate teacher quality, and have caused it not to be effective, just like the teachers cheating in Georgia undermined the test accountability. That’s the point. Principals need to be able to fire the teachers who don’t work hard to implement the reforms. Now teachers can fight reforms every step of the way passively and have no consequence if they have seniority.

    You are very much defending the status quo with very questionable ad hominem logic. You know as well as I do without a wealthy sponsor, this lawsuit and ballot measure don’t happen. So you hope to pressure the idea that it’s only valid if the poor make it happen, knowing it will go away as an issue for another 20 years if we hold it up to that rule, that it is bad if it doesn’t come from the poor. This is intellectually dishonest and is blatantly ad hominem.

  16. Gary Ravani said

    on January 25, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Sir:

    You have many opinions, but again refuse to reference the empirical data. This leads to issues. Take up your arguments with the scholars on the National Research Council. By the way, Asians have the highest household incomes in CA. As I said, school performance tends to track household wealth (and parental education levels).

    • Paul Muench replied

      on January 26, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      On a different but related topic, the Atlantic is reporting that family structure matters most for upward social mobility. I assume this means that families staying together despite external pressures greatly benefit children. I think this link won’t work on this site, but here it is anyways. Searching on some of the text should be a good substitute.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/why-is-the-american-dream-dead-in-the-south/283313/

      • Paul Muench replied

        on January 26, 2014 at 10:28 pm

        That study is also another clue that desegregation will still likely be an issue we’ll have to confront even with LCFF.

        • navigio replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 7:49 am

          underfunding exacerbates segregation. when schools do not have the staffing ratios, or even staff to handle the kids they have, parents will be more likely to choose the available alternative: schools with kids that are easier to handle. this is probably the biggest source of segregation in high diversity districts. it is unlikely that lcff will ever be sufficient to address that.

          • Paul Muench replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 10:25 am

            I suspect fears about violence, both real and perceived, will also be a big issue. That keeps parents away from schools that are considered decent academically. Maybe that is what you meant by “handle”.

          • navigio replied

            on January 27, 2014 at 2:31 pm

            yes, i dont like that term ‘handle’ (originally had ‘manage’ in there). The point is insufficient staff allows some school environments to be more chaotic than they might otherwise be and this ‘frightens’ people away. its true much of it is only perceived, though some is not. and as it relates to segregation, perceived is enough to create the problem.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 3:05 am

        I agree 100%. How people can justify divorce knowing it cuts your kids odds of a degree by half and knowing that over 50% of the time, the new marriage will also end in divorce, is beyond me. However, we still need to find a way to make teaching a profession that you have to do what your boss says, work hard, and show up as much as you can and feel pressure, just like lawyer, engineer, sales, etc. Teachers don’t deserve to have a job for life guaranteed, and it hurts kids. But I agree, cutting divorce and integrating our schools are big issues. Sadly, many who claim to be liberal in CA support private schools which add to segregation, even in so-called liberal San Francisco. Pelosi, Matt Damon, Feinstein, to name a few. Liberals aren’t unified in the benefits of integration, even though a new study came out proving there is no academic (SAT, test scores) advantage after controlling for income to going to private school, so it only causes social segregation and hurts children who are left behind. Asians divorce less, which contributes to better scholastics, but the culture also is a factor. It’s not about self-esteem for nothing, you have to have a chip on your shoulder and earn your self-esteem.

  17. Mariah Sanchez said

    on January 25, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you Floyd for bringing up an obvious point. I’ve followed ballot measures for many years and the reason most fail is that there is a lot of manipulation on both sides. Bills masquerading as pro-environment are sponsored by oil companies. The opposition combs through ads with a fine tooth comb looking for some small clause they can misrepresent. They literally pay lawyers hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with worst case scenarios or misleading arguments. Then they have celebrities who know little about the issue appear in commercials, sounding like authorities on the subject matter. Then even if the authors didn’t make a mistake, they attack the proponents. They know most members of the liberal establishment fully know if they upset the teacher’s union, their career is over because the union will start a whisper campaign about them and donate to their opponents in the primary, so they dare not speak out against LIFO (Last In, First Out) policies. You’re also right Gary Ravani has never been active in finding ways to cull the bad teachers or reduce absenteeism. He’s quiet on that and reacts to people trying to do a wonderful thing for our students. I call foul on this one too.

    As for Asian Americans, I think you missed his point. I am from Southern California and in a city which was about 40% Asian and 40% Latino. Most worked in the same profession and earned equal income. I won academic awards as a Latina, but 90% of those who did were the Asians.

    Floyd’s point is that Asians are the only ethnicity who, as a group, perform well in school even when poor. My parents moved around a lot and I can tell you, poor whites do very poorly in school, Redding, Fresno, Mendocino County, San Bernadino County. Asians actually perform well when poor. They don’t just study over twice the hours white kids do because they have more income and those with low income never study and those with high income always do. I live in the Bay Area now and the top schools are not in the richest white suburbs, but the nearly all Asian suburbs. Fremont Mission and Cupertino are districts with lower average incomes than Orinda, Marin County. In the Fremont Mission district, there’s an area with 8 Kumon/Sylvan learning centers in 2 blocks. There is an admirable and tremendous focus on studying and education. Asians make more income on average because they focus on education, but you can see the source is the extra effort and work they do in school. Poor Asians still study many hours and do better in school than middle income whites. The apologists for LIFO and the status quo conveniently ignore this because it doesn’t lead them to focus on their failure to convince poor kids to work hard. We hard that school lunches and breakfasts would help kids study, then when they don’t we hear that kids are hungry. Even when the families get food stamps and school breakfast and lunch and there are food banks and churches everywhere. My family didn’t get foodstamps because my parents were illegal immigrants, and I never went hungry. I studied and got into UC Davis and got a scholarship. I knew you had to study a lot to get there. My husband is Asian and his parents are on board with how we raise our kids but my parents say I make them study too much.

    Trust me, if every Californian followed Asian cultural norms, we’d be the #1 state in the U.S. in terms of test scores. If every Californian child studied 16 hours a week or more, we’d be #1. Dismissing Asian performance due to parental education and income is misleading. Take Asians whose parents are not college grads and who are of average income and compare it to white kids whose parents earn over 100k, the Asians will have higher test scores. 32.6% of Presidential Scholars last year and the last 5 Spelling Bee winners were Asian. Asians are 4 x as likely to get into a UC (over 3.5). No, that isn’t all from income. It comes from a culture which insists on long hours studying and rejects excuses and puts education as the highest priority.

    Teachers should be pointing this out and convincing all children to turn off the TV and study 3-4 hours a day, summers, and weekends, like Asian American kids do, for the most part. The Economist had a great article a few years back about America’s Lazy Schoolchildren. We ignored it to our peril. Our kids study less than European or Asian kids. Income does not explain it. Our culture is anti-intellectual.

    You are looking for an excuse to maintain the status quo. I agree with Floyd. I still haven’t found an alternative proposal to get rid of the worst teachers and make teachers embrace reform. I too have seen it resisted in Fremont. Teachers tend to fight reform rather than embrace it. Principals need to have muscle to say, make this reform work, or find another profession.

  18. Mariah Sanchez said

    on January 25, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you Floyd for pointing out the inconsistencies. Asian achievement is not based on income, you’re right, anyone with eyes can drive around and see the Kumon and Sylvans and kids at the library in Asian areas like Cupertino or the Mission Fremont District. That stat is true, Asian Americans study 16 hours a week vs. 5.6 for whites. Let’s congratulate Asian Americans on their hard work and encourage others to follow in their footsteps. You don’t achieve the UC stats by income. It takes sacrifice, hard work, not looking for excuses. Saying Asians achieve based on income when poor Asians study more and get better SAT Scores than upper middle income whites is looking for an excuse.

    The truth is, the opponents of measures look through them with a fine tooth comb searching for misleading arguments to make. If they find something they can exaggerate, they do. If not, they attack the proponents. Liberal politicians are afraid to stand up to the union because it will donate to their opponents in a primary, start a whisper campaign against them, and support their opponents. They knwo their career is over if they do, and the parents of kids in public school, particularly poor and minority, clearly don’t have the resources to fund a lawsuit or ballot measure, either of which takes millions of dollars, so to lay back and know you control the politicians and the poor have no money to do this, and then attack the measure because someone well off donated to make it happen, is just saying that no matter what you’ll find any excuse to oppose ending LIFO.

    Polls have shown over 70% of Californians oppose LIFO. If we vote on the issue, LIFO will end and principals can then force teachers to get on board with reforms and work hard or find other work. Teachers have undermined reforms due to seniority/LIFO. However, if we attack the proponents, or make random arguments about not this one, they’re attacking teachers, we can do it a different way, then not propose any way to improve teacher quality, as Gary has never proposed an alternative to pressure teachers to not take sick days they don’t need or work harder and cull bad teachers, then we will get more of the failed status quo.

    The only thing the empirical data prove is it hasn’t been tried deeply enough. If you pay teachers more based on their students’ test scores, you better believe they’re going to be pressuring their students’ parents to force their kids to study all weekend, turn off the TV, get tutors, and you better believe they’re going to come in Friday and stay in bed Saturday and Sunday, and not call in sick the Tuesday before a 5-day Thanksgiving break at over 20%. Teachers will work harder if there are rewards and consequences and children will benefit. It’s basic human nature.

  19. Carole Chang said

    on January 26, 2014 at 1:11 am

    I am offended that you trivialize Asian American’s academic achievement by arguing they are only a result of higher income. The reason we are over 3.5 times as likely as a white high school student in the state to get into a UC or better has very little to do with income. We sacrifice a lot of free time, sleep, etc. to achieve this. We rarely date before college and limit time spent on relationships, we watch far less TV, we organize our behavior in a way to maximize educational achievement and we imprint a great work ethic onto our children. My mother made me study every day of the Summer and most of my friends could do whatever they wanted. Trivializing our sacrifice is not cool.

    And if you consider the right to keep your job even when everyone considers you a lemon as something which shouldn’t be attacked, you sure do have another thing coming. No one should get away with what some teachers get away with. That’s not a right I see as worthy of being defended. No one is attacking teachers, there will be the same number of total teachers regardless, but bad teachers should be replaced by good ones and no one deserves a guaranteed job for life ever. America is moving further away from that models and teachers need to get with the program.

    • Paul Muench replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 11:36 am

      One of the best clues that getting rid of “bad” teachers will not help the profession is that the teaching profession already has high turnover. The “bad” teachers are there for a reason. Taking a look at the data from Teach For America is instructive. Here is a blurb from their website:

      “Unfortunately, teaching in high needs schools in America is already a revolving door, regardless of how teachers have been prepared. Nearly half of all teachers leave the classroom within five years – with a disproportionately high number leaving from high-need schools. If more veteran teachers were choosing to stay in these schools there would be less demand for Teach For America. In fact, our teachers are more likely to stay in the classroom during the first two years than traditionally-trained teachers. Specifically, 92% of our first year teachers return for a second year compared to 82% of first year teachers in high poverty schools and 86% of all new teachers. Although we only require a two-year commitment, 61% of our teachers return for a 3rd year and a full third of Teach For America’s 32,000 alumni are still in the classroom today. Many of those who leave the classroom continue to be strong advocates for education, both within the field and outside. School leaders tell us that they value having multiple teacher pipelines to choose from. All told, Teach For America corps members and alumni account for less than one percent of America’s current classroom teachers.”

      You can find that here:

      http://www.teachforamerica.org/our-organization/faq

      If teaching was such a great opportunity then you’d see more TFA teachers staying in the profession.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        Part of this is due to teacher’s unions insistence that all lay offs be based on seniority and that you can’t offer significantly more money to take these jobs so that young teachers taking this on and thriving can earn more than older teachers in a more popular school. In SF, they tried to not lay off teachers based on seniority and prioritize teachers in the worst schools, and the union fought them believing seniority was more important. Now you have the union posting on this board how crucial it is, but when in SF it came to a choice between seniority/tenure as law of the land, and improving these schools by suspending seniority for them, the union chose the former. It consistently does so. Most people here obviously haven’t seen ‘Waiting for Superman’.

        • navigio replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 2:57 pm

          Floyd, that movie is not reality.

          And for what its worth, there was a fight a few years ago in LAUSD to suspend seniority in some hard to staff schools. This was in response to a very high number of teachers in those schools who got pink slipped. The problem is, that was a result of the budget cuts, not seniority. People choose to leave those schools at such a high rate (in some as many as 25% per year), that when budget-induced layoffs come, most of the lower seniority teachers are in those schools. the ACLU attempted to address the symptom by asking to have those schools skipped in the layoff process. UTLA attempted to address the cause by suggesting some changes that would make teachers more likely to stay in those schools in the first place (from one of their docs):

          UTLA supports specific research-based strategies to improve the intractable problems of high turnover and hard-to-staff schools at the heart of the ACLU case. These proposals include:
          - Providing extra resources to address safety issues.
          - Offering financial incentives for teachers who stay at or move to hard-to-staff schools.
          - Recruiting the strongest and most collaborative principals to these sites.
          - Expanding collaboration and planning time for teachers.
          - Infusing resources to address safety issues on campus. • Ensuring systematic involvement of teachers and parents in school decision-making.
          - Implementing an effective teacher support, development, and evaluation system.

          Fail to do those things but suspend seniority and you still have the turnover that is the root of the problem. Note that this turnover has many negative effects even when layoffs are not happening.

          • el replied

            on January 28, 2014 at 10:52 am

            In addition to UTLA’s suggestions for making those schools more desirable, decreasing class size at those schools would make them more attractive to teachers and probably boost student outcomes. You could also staff them with additional classroom aides and counselors to increase teacher support, and ensure that all their maintenance needs are met and facilities are up to date.

        • Paul Muench replied

          on January 27, 2014 at 3:18 pm

          I’m not sure what number to attach to “disproportionate”, but I think there is still significant turnover in all schools. As for how seniority impacts “less desirable” schools, I’ll repeat my comment that I think we should wait for LCFF to impact teacher placement before we proceed with additional legal remedies.

  20. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 26, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    If you think Asians getting nearly 4x as many into UCs as whites and scoring hundreds of points higher on the SAT is based on money, you aren’t paying attention. Asians have done better since they earned less than whites, and those who do, still do better. Asians study 16 hours a week vs. 5.6 for whites, in high school. No matter how poor you are, you can study as many hours as you choose. It’s not all a part-time job, most teenagers watch TV, hang out with friends, listen to music and do a lot of other things. You aren’t paying attention of you think that’s what it’s based on.

    • Lucille Fong replied

      on January 26, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      Interesting topic. Gary, teachers should encourage all kids of all races to put studying as a much, much higher priority and believe their high school behavior determines their future income, because it does. Elementary school and middle school behavior do as well. It isn’t income. Work ethic and rejection of mass culture is key. Also, the popular idea self-esteem helps is just plain wrong, kids with something to prove and an inferiority complex do better in school as it drives them. Their daughter was admitted to both Harvard and Yale, so following their parenting would benefit any parents. And their kids. I just got this email from a friend and will buy this book:

      In early February, Amy Chua and her husband are releasing a book on the traits of successful cultural groups in America. Amy Chua is the woman who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”.

      The book is called: “Triple Package”. There are ten successful groups named. It includes Chinese, Jews, Mormons, Asian Indians, Cuban exiles, Iranian refugees, Nigerians among others. It is extensively researched because of the controversial nature of the subject matter. If you are interested here is the Amazon link:

      http://www.amazon.com/Triple-Package-Unlikely-Explain-Cultural/dp/1594205469/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390789921&sr=1-1&keywords=Amy+Chua

      I have ordered it. Perhaps there are some classroom applications in the book since both authors are educators. The book warns that the traits dissipate in the third generation so success is not based on “inherited abilities”.

  21. CarolineSF said

    on January 27, 2014 at 7:05 am

    “Floyd,” since Lowell does exceptionally well even with what you describe as so many “bad teachers” in its classrooms, does that call into question the concept behind this lawsuit, which is the claim that “bad teachers” are the cause of low academic achievement? Discuss among yourselves. (SOTA alumni mom myself.)

    • Floyd Thursby replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Part of this is due to teacher’s unions insistence that all lay offs be based on seniority and that you can’t offer significantly more money to take these jobs so that young teachers taking this on and thriving can earn more than older teachers in a more popular school. In SF, they tried to not lay off teachers based on seniority and prioritize teachers in the worst schools, and the union fought them believing seniority was more important. Now you have the union posting on this board how crucial it is, but when in SF it came to a choice between seniority/tenure as law of the land, and improving these schools by suspending seniority for them, the union chose the former. It consistently does so. Most people here obviously haven’t seen ‘Waiting for Superman’.

    • Floyd Thursby replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Caroline, this doesn’t prove anything. If you are in SF you know Lowell chooses the kids who are smartest and have the best work ethics, needing nearly straight As in difficult middle schools. Of course they can overcome bad teachers. Most teachers at Lowell are good, but there are some terrible ones. You know as well as I the best students in SF go to Lowell, so these kids don’t let little things make them slack off, they are diligent and overcome. The students make Lowell one of the best high schools in the country. The teacher quality is about equal to the other high schools. Lowell is great because it’s a magnet and can choose the best children who study hardest. Just like SOTA can choose artists who really work hard at their art and have great skill. There are very few magnet schools in California, but they are a different ball game, Lowell is like Boston Latin, selective based on the quality of the child’s work ethic. Few schools are like that.

      • CarolineSF replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 9:30 pm

        You’ve also made the point that anyone who’s familiar with education is aware of, “Floyd”: a school’s achievement correlates with the students attending the school. High-poverty schools always struggle unless there are one or more outlier factors at work. “Bad teachers” in a high-poverty school may suddenly become great teachers at selective Lowell or SOTA, or at a school that serves an entirely privileged population.

  22. Bea said

    on January 27, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Sigh.

    A “bad” teacher doesn’t make it past the probationary period without a bad administrator. Once due process kicks in, it is incumbent upon the administrator to document that the teacher in question is not suited for the classroom. We have all had experience with teachers (new and experienced) who need improvement or to seek a career that better fits their skills.

    What Vergara, Floyd and others fail to do is to hold management to their responsibility in this process. VA alone is not going to yield great teachers. It takes observation, feedback, professional development, peer support and regular evaluation to grow a great staff. Sure, the union plays a role in requiring that process be followed, and sure, there are times when roadblocks get thrown up. But if administrators are doing *their* work effectively from the teacher’s first day on the job, then these issues are moot.

    A bad teacher doesn’t stay in the classroom without a bad administrator somewhere along the way.

    • Floyd Thursby replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      You make it harder for them to do so with the rules, and you know principals switch jobs every three years. An extra year for tenure doesn’t do it, what you need is pressure throughout the career not to take days off which are not necessary (absenteeism is horrendous and worse as a percentage than most professions, which is outrageous considering teachers have summers and extra days off for personal reasons). You need to make it easy. Also, a teacher could be good for 25 years, then start calling in sick the maximum and slacking off, or having a breakdown. It’s not whether they can do it but whether they are giving their best effort each year, even their 40th year, just like other jobs, and following the principal. With tenure/seniority, teachers can and do blow off reforms and principals.

  23. Mark said

    on January 27, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Gary

    A teacher representative in favor of the status quo? What a surprise!

  24. Mark said

    on January 27, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Gary

    Speaking of students rights, oh, I forgot, only teachers have rights. A disruptive student in a class at CSSF had fellow students complaining they were afraid of him. The teacher, perhaps for PC reasons, refused to do anything. Then he scared her too so she had him thrown out of class, no questions asked.

  25. CarolineSF said

    on January 27, 2014 at 9:41 am

    It’s my understanding that in the fiasco involving the sex criminal teaching at Miramonte Elementary in LAUSD, the LAUSD bureaucracy was in a total stall in dealing with the situation — entirely due to administrative processes, unconnected to any union defense of the teacher. Is that accurate?

    • Manuel replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Yes, that is accurate.

      But if you want to establish the complete paper trail from primary sources it would not be easy. It’s doable, though, as any good reporter knows.

  26. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Caroline, you really need to wake up. Watch ‘Waiting for Superman’. Have you ever had a terrible teacher all the parents wanted to sse fired and seen how hard it is? You seem biased. If you think it isn’t prohibitively difficult to fire bad teachers you weren’t paying attention when they had the lay offs and horrible teachers were kept on and great ones laid off. What a blown opportunity!

    • el replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      I am in fact aware that it can be difficult to remove certain teachers that probably should be removed. I am also aware that it is often possible to get problematic teachers out by persuading them that it’s in their best interests to move on.

      That said, I also remember my excellent math teacher who had a fight on his hands because he gave a “C” to more than one student with an angry and aggressive parent. “This teacher has wrecked my son’s chances to get into UCLA!” was a common assertion. Funny how not doing your homework can affect your grades.

      The due process for teacher removal might be improved, but the rules that are there are there for real reasons where quality teachers were targeted and railroaded out. Throwing out the system is not an improvement.

      Having sat in on interviews for a variety of administrator positions, I’ve been interested to see how different the attitudes of administrators are district to district, as to whether a bad teacher is something that can be addressed or something that can’t. A lot of this does turn out to be very local and specific to the culture, contract, and conditions in a particular district.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        The teacher’s union has had years to know about this and has not put in place a system for removing bad teachers with tenure faster. They just oppose every way it is ever tried and then say we should do it another way. You don’t want to do it at all, be honest. I have never seen it. You admit it’s a problem but don’t proactively do anything about it. You shouldn’t have to convince or persuade them. Teachers will follow principals and reforms if they know they have to. If you allow teachers to say no thanks to reforms, you can never really strongly change things and implement reforms. The union knows the obstacles make it so a third of the teachers who should be fired will and two thirds won’t, at best, then they say if all administrators are perfect, all will be well.

    • navigio replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      you need to be able to explain how good administrators are able to do it. if thats possible despite the law, that then the law must not be the problem..

    • CarolineSF replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Have also read Diane Ravitch’s debunking of the long string of factual inaccuracies in “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” and recognized it as a propaganda film made to tell a particular story, funded by interests with a strong and extreme political point of view.

      John Fensterwald also debunked falsehoods in “Waiting for ‘Superman’s’” purported story of a Bay Area student.

      What I’ve seen in real life, as I’ve said here before, is an administrator who “couldn’t fire” a problem teacher, and when a new administrator arrived, the problem teacher was quietly gone.

  27. Gary Ravani said

    on January 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    “The socioeconomic status of a child’s parents has always been one of the strongest predictors of the child’s academic achievement and educational attainment. As Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson point out in chapter 3 in this volume, students in the bottom quintile of family socioeconomic status score more than a standard deviation below those in the top quintile on standardized tests of math and reading when they enter kindergarten. ”

    This statement comes from a recent study completed by Prof. Sean Riordon at Stanford University. I don’t believe it trivializes children’s academic success at all. And, of course, hard work as well a good work habits count a lot. But, as Riordon points out, habits, skill sets, etc, do not come with equal opportunity access. Some of them come from having a middle class family background and some from attending tutorial programs like Kumon, Sylvan and SAT preparation courses. Those advantages do not come free of charge. Those are accessible to those who have disposable income.

    The ethnic composition of attendance at the UC system is a complicated story. For starters, has to do with
    Prop 209 (restricting ethnicity based diversity policies) and the entrance criteria (subject in many ways to those “tutorial” programs previously mentioned). UC made a significant effort to substitute SES criteria for ethnicity and, I believe they made some real dents in economic diversity, but there were still negative effects on Black and Hispanic attendance. Even the advances in economic diversity have had some significant negative impacts from the effects of the financial crisis and huge increases in college costs. Again, the “disposable” income question.

    • Manuel replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      Gary, back in the day, the number of Asian-descent students was minimal for a variety of reasons. That’s why they were included in the Affirmative Action.

      But all that changed in the 80s with the influx of many Asian immigrants who came solely to place their children in the elite public colleges. Why did they come? Economics, mostly. Plus a belief that the transfer of Hong Kong to the PRC would seriously destabilize the region. (Plenty of documentaries out there that explored this, BTW.)

      The result is that these children were able to qualify for UC admission, for example, in greater numbers than the local whites during the affirmative action days and thoroughly beat them at the meritocracy game after Prop 209. The result is people like the two Chinese-surnamed posters who have sacrificed so much to be where they are. (I personally do not consider the price worth it considering how the “return-on-investment” is currently evolving.) It is a grand experiment on sociological change and we have no idea how it is going to play out in a generation. (Although I am willing to bet that they will be “Americanized” just like all other groups before them.)

      Anyway, to get back to the topic, the belief that a good student will overcome a bad teacher is in direct conflict with what this lawsuit claims to be a major harm.

      Personally, I think that “they” will burn the village in order to save it. It will be only then that we will be able to tell them “I told you so.”

  28. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Gary, you haven’t addressed the study which shows Asians study 16 hours a week and whites 5.6. Asians being over 3.5 times as likely to enter a UC as whites can’t be explained by 209 ending favoritism for black and Latino students, and Native American. Why does Mission Fremont beat Sausalito and Orinda?

    You like the paradigm of caste and the idea that if we just spent more money and gave across the board, seniority/tenure/due process guaranteed raises to all teachers, test scores would improve and inequality would decrease. When a group defies that by overachieving their class level by hard work, you try to dismiss it. The truth is, the general American culture of encouraging self-esteem is errant. You need something to prove, some insecurity, to work the kind of long hours it takes to get into a UC. Money helps, but you have to also want to go to that SAT class. In New York City, they tried offering free classes to anyone to help them get into their elite 4-5 high schools which are similar to Boston Latin in Boston and Lowell in SF. At first only Latino and black kids could attend, but an Asian sued and won, and now anyone can attend, but it’s free. You just have to be willing to give up your Saturday. Over 50% of the attendees are Asian now vs. 16% of NYC’s public school students.

    Most black and Latino and poor white families could find the money for an SAT prep course or Sylvan by canceling a vacation or cutting back somewhere. In many schools, you clearly see the Asians are wearing less expensive clothing than the black and Latino and white students, so there’s an area where you could pay for it right there. Asians more often make the moral decision to put money towards a class or book rather than something conspicuous, or to spend all Saturday studying instead of having fun, or to spend an evening reading rather than watching TV. There is a cultural component.

    You ignore this, but any poor person could follow this example. One of President Obama’s greatest quotes is “you are never so poor the only decision you can make is to turn on the TV instead of doing homework with your children.”

    Believing you control your destiny and putting time and effort in pays off, and Asians prove that. So you should give them credit and encourage others to emulate their priorities. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, focus on what you can. You don’t give Asians much credit.

    And the reasons the SES criteria didn’t diversify the schools enough is because poor Asians are in those schools and poor Asians study as hard as upper middle class whites and others. Class is no barrier to them. The same thing happened in San Francisco with Lowell, they came up with criteria to try to get more blacks and Latinos in and they failed because poor Asians and in some cases Russians, spend more hours studying and take those spots, even when on Welfare. Poverty never stopped anyone. Lowell students worked harder in middle school than the others, which is why they got in, and over 40% are on free or reduced lunch and over 20% on free lunch, and it is only 2.4% black and 6% Latino, so over 30% of Lowell High School is non-black or Latino and eligible for free and reduced lunch.

    These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

    Floyd Thursby.

    • el replied

      on January 27, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Since you’re telling me it’s all about kids working hard and putting in those extra hours… I’m not sure how it is that you think the teachers matter so much then.

      I also have come to understand, with all due respect, that there are sadly a lot of children out there who do not have so much control over their own destiny that they could choose to study for hours and hours on their own. The teachers take all the kids, including the ones that live in a new place every few weeks (or even days), and the ones whose parents keep them home from school to babysit the baby, and the ones whose homes are bonechillingly cold in winter and the ones who don’t have a place to keep a library book safe.

  29. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Gary, most children follow their parents’ example, but teachers need to step in and teach children they can work hard, and do better than their parents. Teachers don’t do a very good job of this. In San Francisco, I’ve heard teachers discourage parents who say they want to get their kids into Lowell. I’ve seen teachers tell kids, everyone should just do an hour a day, but they don’t realize the kids getting As are studying 3-5 and weekends. They just assume they are smarter. They should be advising the poor kids, if you want to have more, if you want to have a better job than your parents, you need to study 15+ hours a week. They don’t tell kids, look Asians are studying 16 hours a week and getting into UCs at three and a half the rate/likelihood white kids are, so if you want to get into a UC, it isn’t genetic, study that many hours and you’ll get in and have a high income.

  30. Lucille Cheng said

    on January 27, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Gary, when you say 209 caused Asians to send more kids to UCs, how does this explain how whites get in at 8.7% and Asians at, I believe, 33.5%? It’s supposed to be 12.5%, and the dominant group is being pushed out by the hard work of Asians. Are you suggesting we have a quota for each race at equal to it’s percentage int he population? Should we make the UCs half men, half women, instead of the current 58% female ratio? Personally, I think that’s a terrible idea. I sacrificed almost every weekend my friends played in high school, and I feel our hard work should be seen as an example to others to achieve more. If you artificially limit each group with quotas and make it easier for whites to get in than Asians, you’d lose the opportunity for society to model their parenting and behavior on the group that gets in the most. You lost a chance to emulate the most successful and replicate their successes. Imagine if tomorrow, all families insist their children study weekends and summers, 20-30 hours a week, fewer than 10 of TV, use the libraries, no matter how poor, and read hours a day. We’d certainly be a better state, and I know that as our percentage in UCs gets bigger and bigger, everyone will follow the way we raise our children and everyone will benefit.

  31. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 27, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Gary, when you say 209 caused Asians to send more kids to UCs, how does this explain how whites get in at 8.7% and Asians at 33.5%? It’s supposed to be 12.5%, and the dominant group is being pushed out by the hard work of Asians. Are you suggesting we have a quota for each race at equal to it’s percentage int he population? Should we make the UCs half men, half women, instead of the current 58% female ratio? Personally, I think that’s a terrible idea. I sacrificed almost every weekend my friends played in high school, and I feel hard work should be seen as an example to others to achieve more. If you artificially limit each group with quotas and make it easier for whites to get in than Asians, you’d lose the opportunity for society to model their parenting and behavior on the group that gets in the most. You lost a chance to emulate the most successful and replicate their successes. Imagine if tomorrow, all families insist their children study weekends and summers, 20-30 hours a week, fewer than 10 of TV, use the libraries, no matter how poor, and read hours a day. We’d certainly be a better state, and I know that as the Asian percentage in UCs gets bigger and bigger, everyone will follow the way we raise our children and everyone will benefit.

  32. Gary Ravani said

    on January 27, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Lucille and Floyd:

    Are you the same people? LOL

    Somebody missed a stroke on the old mouse there!

    Floyd: What would you say to Sam Spade if he caught you in such carelessness? The Maltese Falcon awaits.

  33. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 27, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    My wife tried to post that and there is an error with the web page where it wouldn’t let her post it, it said error, fill out all information. So she wrote it again, filled it out, same thing. Then I cut and pasted it, made a couple small changes for reasons such as I am not Asian, and then posted it. Then, afterwards, it allowed it to post. Neither of us is the name we post under, but it says you can use pseudonyms if you stay consistent. But then multiple times, it blocked her from posting, and we couldn’t figure out why. These are her words, but due to web errors I thought it would only allow me to post if I’d already posted, maybe had a rule of one name per computer as we share a computer. Someone needs to fix this as she tried to post twice and it said it wasn’t allowing it and only allowed it after my post went up.

    As for Sam Spade, he probably would have killed me for less. The Fat Man’s good friend Wilmer Cook the young boy hadn’t gotten to me first, which spared me the chance to be killed by Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Joel Cairo or Spade, or live to find out I’d come half way across the world chasing a false dream.

  34. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 28, 2014 at 1:38 am

    Gary, I must give you credit for recognizing the name, you are a true intellectual to read Hammett and/or see classics. I’ve used this name for years and only a couple have recognized it.

    • CarolineSF replied

      on January 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

      Hey! I knew it. That’s why I address you as “Floyd” in quotes, “Floyd.”

  35. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    There is something wrong with this web site which caused this. Neither of you has addressed my main points as to the Asian work ethic and time put in. 5.6 vs. 16 hours a week isn’t based income. Caroline lives in SF, surely you see the tremendous effort put in, all the Kumons and Sylvans, and the kids getting into UC Berkeley and the UCs. Are you both suggesting there should be racial quotas so we can’t see that Asians work harder and it is covered up? Or should we give credit to a group which studies very hard even when in poverty?

    • navigio replied

      on January 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      the website will not let you post the same comment multiple times and sometimes the website does not display your comment right away (known issue), so that could be what you’re seeing.

      Floyd, even the plaintiffs do not disagree with the impact of poverty. You seem to have a problem with people recognizing that poverty has an impact.

      Check this out: the ‘achievement’ gap for SED and non-SED is actually higher for Asians (and Whites) in CA than for either Blacks or Hispanics in ELA. This is especially the case in high school.

      For Math, the Asian gap is more on par with the other 2 primary ethnic minorities, though it is still slightly higher than that of Hispanics in most Elementary grades, and higher than or equal to that of Blacks in half the Elementary grades. So the poverty-induced ‘achievement gap’ is very much alive and well for Asians in this state, despite the anecdotal situations you are presented with. And more importantly, despite the cultural and behavioral differences you seem to think should be completely countering the impact of poverty.

      Of course, if you agree with the plaintiffs, then even the Asian achievement gap is a result of tenure and seniority statutes. Doesnt quite sound like how you described your own school though.

      Regardless of these meaningless tangents, the crux of the lawsuit is that these statutes actually cause these achievement gaps. This is a really important point (well for me anyway). Because you’re commenting on this story, I expect your belief is that those unacceptable behaviors you’ve noticed are the very things that have caused the achievement gaps in this state. Or are you just looking for a dog-pile? It would be helpful to know which, and if the former, how. :-)

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 30, 2014 at 12:34 am

        Navigio, do you actually think seniority/tenure helps achievement? As for the achievement gap, it is not about poverty, it’s about habits. Yes, most poor people are from single parent households and have parents who did poorly in school, and parents who are more likely to watch TV and not help with homework, but if poor people do help with homework, the results come in strong. This is an article which is interesting. Someone spoke about this, a principal, at a 2008 education conference, and some people had such a desire to censor him that he stormed out in protests. It’s a taboo to talk about in this society, and it is rare that it is discussed in the open:

        http://www.neatorama.com/2008/07/23/why-do-asian-students-perform-better-in-school-than-latinos-hint-its-not-simply-socioeconomic-background/#!tXblR

        It’s easy, and politically correct, to attribute the “racial achievement gap” separating Asians and whites students from Latinos and blacks ones to socioeconomic status and class size.

        But Asian and Latino students in the same socioeconomic boat (say, those who recently immigrated from Vietnam and Mexico) get very different grades in school – so what’s the reason?

        In this interesting article in the Los Angeles Times by Hector Becerra, students from the Lincoln High School discussed the issue still considered taboo by many:

        Both the neighborhood and student body are about 15% Asian. And yet Asians make up 50% of students taking Advanced Placement classes. Staffers can’t remember the last time a Latino was valedictorian.

        “A lot of my friends say the achievement gap is directly attributable to the socioeconomic status of students, and that is not completely accurate,” O’Connell said. “It is more than that.”

        But what is it? O’Connell called a summit in Sacramento that drew 4,000 educators, policymakers and experts to tackle the issue. Some teachers stomped out in frustration and anger.

        No Lincoln students stomped out of their discussion. Neither did any teachers in a similar Lincoln meeting. But the observations were frank, and they clearly made some uncomfortable.

        To begin with, the eight students agreed on a few generalities: Latino and Asian students came mostly from poor and working-class families.

        According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team.

  36. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 28, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Caroline, having seen what you’ve seen in SF, having seen lemons maintained and strong young teachers fired during the recession, do you think that the holy trinity of seniority/tenure/due process needs to be changed to be more reflective of most jobs? I’ve seen this hurt children, and Gary claims it won’t help education.

    If tenure/seniority is something which benefits children, why don’t the Pacific Heights millionaires insist their children’s private schools adopt it as a policy? The fact is, there is no academic benefit to private schools after adjusting for income as proven in a recent book ‘The Public School Advantage’, because private schools hire more easily. However, if a teacher is bad, they do get fired. They hire a lot of teachers who are not of high quality, and then let them go. If a teacher starts performing badly even after 25-30 years, they fear no consequence. Caroline, have you noticed the high absenteeism the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of over 20%? Have you seen how your child learns very little with subs? This is because teachers feel they won’t be held accountable and can just take a day off when they choose. This would change if Vergara or the ballot measure win.

    • navigio replied

      on January 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      El posted a link to another site that did some calculations on what the impact of different types of layoff scenarios would result in. That is pretty instructive to read.

      PH millionaires dont have political interests fighting to steal the dollars that are in their schools. They dont have to hire people who make decisions for budgetary and political reasons rather than pedagogical ones. Gary made the point a few times that our educational laws are generally responses to previous and unpalatable situations. This doesnt mean they are the ideal, but it does mean the alternative is very often not the ideal either. That is an important point.

      You should be worried that one of the biggest concerns in public education today is simply finding sufficient funding to float a minimally-staffed set of schools. We have district administrators talking about how its impossible to do the jobs they were hired to do, and only if we remove any and all barriers will they be able to do their jobs (and they get big bucks, these people). If they cant do it now when the process is well-defined and even rote, how will they do it when they have to actually evaluate people with methods that have proven to be bad? Who do you trust more, people who are well-paid but admit they cant do their jobs, or teachers who essentially give up their lives to come into classrooms filled with dozens of children every single day. If you have bad teachers in your school, you should be upset at your principal and your district leaders. Where is that outrage? You dont sound like one bent on excuses.

    • el replied

      on January 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      The vast majority of teachers I encounter feel extremely accountable to their kids, and even over-accountable for things they cannot control. Teachers in my district put in a lot of extra time and effort not just for the academic work they’re supposedly judged on, but adding elements like field trips which substantially increase their stress and workload, for no extra compensation than the gratitude of kids and parents. And heaven forfend if Outdoor Science School has to be scheduled the week before STAR testing… but they do it anyway, because it’s what’s right for the kids.

      Administrators, and other teachers for that matter, have a lot of options to express disapproval other than straight up firing someone.

  37. Gary Ravani said

    on January 28, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    The following is an excerpt from an interview with the president of Barnard College. Something to think about. She talks about “women,” but i think the comments could be generalized to many students.

    “Now you spend your days with 20-year-old Barnard students. Play anthropologist for a second. What do you see about these women that we don’t?”

    “They’re coming out of high school exhausted. The pressure in high school is killing these kids. By the time they get to college, they have been fighting for three or four years to get the perfect SAT scores and get into A.P. classes.”

    “So women in high school are experiencing a kind of miniaturization of what you describe in the book, relentless pressure to be perfect in every area.”

    “It’s a much wider set of pressures than when you or I experienced growing up. It’s not just grades, it’s extracurriculars. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve seen who have started their own NGO’s before they’re 18.”

    “Is there something almost obnoxious about that?”

    “It’s horrible! Most people don’t know how to change the world by the time they’re 18.”

  38. CarolineSF said

    on January 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I’m in a position where I’m not really supposed to give opinions and am trying to stick to observations.

    I will point out that the school models espoused as “solutions” for low-income children of color by the Pacific Heights millionaires are polar opposite in every possible way from the schools those millionaires send their own kids too.

    The philosophy behind this Vergara brouhaha is part of that: the notion that experienced teachers are inherently “deadwood” and “burnouts”; that a stable teaching force is inherently a negative; and that inexperienced young teachers with a brief crash course bring “fresh energy” and so forth to the classroom, and are thus superior to an experienced, stable teaching staff.

    That’s not the philosophy and those are not the practices employed in the Towns, Hamlins, Stuart Halls, SIs, Convents, Bransons, Universities, Bays etc. to which the Pacific Heights millionaires send their own children. For their own children, they do espouse respected, experienced veteran teachers and low staff turnover.

  39. CarolineSF said

    on January 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Also, my husband is a sub, so watch your mouth, “Floyd.” I’d like to see you do his job for even one day. OK, back to my opinionless viewpoint now.

    • Manuel replied

      on January 28, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Caroline, I liked you better when you were unemployed. ;-)

      Alas, having a hubby who is a sub makes for a precarious living. So, back to having no opinion you had to go. Oh, well, our loss…

    • Manuel replied

      on January 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Caroline, I’d like you better when you were unemployed. ;-)

      Alas, carrying on with only the salary of a substitute teacher is to live too close to the edge, so off you had to go into an opinionless existence. It beats being broke…

    • Manuel replied

      on January 29, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Caroline, I’d like you better when you were unemployed. ;-)

      Alas, carrying on with only the salary of a substitute teacher is to live too close to the edge, so off you had to go into an opinionless existence. It beats being broke, though…

  40. CarolineSF said

    on January 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Thank you, Manuel!

    • Manuel replied

      on January 29, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      You are welcome, and please forgive the multiple postings.

      They were made because my browser was not refreshing its cache and for some strange reason made it look like comments were not being posted.

      After “clearing” everything (cookies, cache, history, etc) for the last 24 hours, then everything was there.

      This is the first time it has happened this way and I don’t understand why WordPress is not clearly indicating to my browser that the resulting article is different than what is in the local cache.

      Most weird.

  41. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 29, 2014 at 3:37 am

    Caroline, no one is saying low turnover is not a good thing. I’m just saying there should be a mechanism where the bottom 15% of teachers are forced to leave the profession if someone better is willing to do it, and for significantly less money. The scale should be higher for beginning teachers but not go as high for the most senior teachers, as it is not based on contribution but politics. I think after 5 years, there is not an improvement commensurate with the improvement in pay we see between years 5 and 30, and I don’t believe it reflects contribution. I am strongly against the Hamlins and Burkes of the world due to enhancing segregation in a supposedly liberal City, but I do note their policies. They do fire the worst teachers. The worst teachers I’ve seen, ones the union defends ad a noble cause and fights for, would never be allowed to teach a Pelosi, Feinstein, Newsome or Getty, or all the others. Racism is alive and well in San Francisco, as the Pacific Heights crowd will not send their kids to schools in their own neighborhood simply because it would include the Fillmore and be diverse, but rich whites in Los Gatos/Saratoga, almost all white, basically the same people as PH demographically, almost all go to public school. It’s avoided strongly when it involves integration. The main reason for private school is not teacher policy, but it is interesting to note they don’t make rules making it incredibly hard to fire a bad teacher. In fact, it is pretty easy. A recent study showed no academic/test score benefit to private school after adjusting for income, so I believe the popularity is an attempt to insulate children from others not like them.

    Gary, you basically are saying you dismiss Asian achievement because they are too stressed and will crack later. I have heard this since the ’80s, this prediction which essentially attempts to negate Asian achievement in one area by predicting, it won’t pay off, it will come back to bite them later. It doesn’t. Asians get better test scores when they start Kindergarten because 60% of Asian American parents, vs. 16% of whites, teach their kids to read, write and do math BEFORE starting kindergarten, do flash cards with them, etc. They make the moral decision consistently if there is a choice between studying and goofing off. However, they do better in middle school, which shows by Lowell admissions, one of the few high schools around which is public and admits students based on merit and human quality rather than a lottery, the best students in SF go to Lowell, the others go elsewhere. They also do better in college. However, despite predictions they’ll burn out in college, at every college Asian Americans get better grades than whites, including the Ivy League and Stanford where they are held to a higher bar (needing 140 more SAT points out of 1600 on average on the claim they’re not as well-rounded despite stats that they do more extracurricular activities than white kids do by about double). However, they don’t crack after college and now make more money than whites, 30% more, despite many being immigrants in low wage jobs. Also, they don’t make more money but live miserable lives. They save a higher percentage than whites, wear worse clothes, blow less money, and statistics show that at each income level, they save a higher percentage. They also are significantly happier than whites.

    The prediction of Asians cracking has never been proven statistically. It is just something thrown out there to discredit their hard work and success. It’s kind of how the head of the union brought up Asian gangs, despite stats that show Asians commit murder in the US at 1/7th the rate non-Hispanic whites do.

    And I never criticized subs. I just said that it is disruptive and kids would get a better education with the teacher toughing it out and coming in every day possible. Most of us work 250 days a year, and teachers 180-185. I think you should be able to take care of personal duties on the 65-70 days off. The higher percentages on Mondays, Fridays and the Tuesday before Thanksgiving statistically prove a high percentage of teachers are not honestly sick and have no personal need, but just feel like playing hookey. That’s not only a bad example to children, it hurts them. Subs do an admirable job, and we need some, but in my view, morally, a teacher should only call in sick or take a day off if there is no reasonable possible way to avoid it. I went 10 years without a sick day and really believe if you are a moral person, you tough out Friday and stay in bed Saturday, and save the appointments for 4 PM or Spring break. I’m not saying no teacher should ever call in sick, but you should see a significant percentage in any given year not call in sick at all. However, you don’t see that. I know principals who tell me each teacher takes all their personal days. That is wrong. I think they should postpone the raise this year until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving has under 5% absenteeism, and the average day under 2%. That would motivate all teachers to only take a day off if there is no other option. The cost of subs, and the damage, are huge.

    The philosophy behind Vergara is that principals should be able to make decisions. Every teacher should be nervous to take a day off they don’t have to, because it will affect their STAR Test improvement average and the principal may suspect they are faking it. That’s how most of us feel, and teachers should be no different. We need to improve the test results to be the # 1 state and #1 nation, as we once were. It’s not that all teachers are bad, it’s that some are and those who are shouldn’t have a job for life. Trust me, I’ve seen teachers every single parent wanted to fire, who missed over half of days for different reasons and didn’t try, and they last 5 years with many teachers defending them like they were a liberal cause. It’s not a liberal cause to defend teachers who are bad and hurting kids, it’s a conservative cause because it is keeping kids in poverty and not giving them the education they need. It is hurting inequality. A liberal cause is saying the highest priority is children’s rights, way higher than teachers.

    Most in the union if they have to choose between the two, choose teacher job security every time. This is morally wrong.

    • TheMorrigan replied

      on January 29, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      I have a problem with the bottom 15% argument.

      As a retired principal of middle school and high school, I can tell you that I had years when all of my teachers were functioning at high capacity. If I fired the bottom 15%, I would have stupidly broken up my high functioning team for a pretty poor opportunity that I might strike the lottery and get a “better” high functioning 15% with replacements. The odds of that are terrible. There are reasons most companies no longer employ stack ranking anymore:It does not foster collaboration, collegiality, or common sense. Given enough time, it cannibalizes the company. I wanted my teachers to work together, and while they might or might not be friends with each other, I hoped that they were friendly with each other. In addition, it is tough to fill some positions. Finding certain math, foreign language, science, and SPED teachers can be a nightmare even in tough economic times. NCLB did not make my job any easier.

      I also had years when most of my team were high functioning and a few were moderately or low functioning. In these cases, I did my best to work with those who needed help. Pushing or flushing the problem away did not solve the problem at my school. I realized early on in my career that all it did was exacerbate or prolong the problem. In most cases, working with the low or moderately functioning teachers delivered better results than creating a revolving door of new potential problems. There is no guarantee that new, better teachers will replace the ones I already had. There was no guarantee that my lowest 15% was lower the ones that might replace them. The 15% argument is just an arbitrary percentage that may or may not affect certain schools during some years. Anyone who actually works at a school knows what happens from year to year changes.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 29, 2014 at 2:34 pm

        TheMorrigan, you are right that 15% is arbitrary. No, you shouldn’t have to lay off any percentage, but you should be able to call a teacher into your office who took every possible personal and sick day and isn’t performing well and clock watches and say, if you don’t prove to me you want this job, there are people who do, just as they do in private industry. In some schools, every teacher is good. I’ve seen my kids’ school have all decent teachers, some mediocre but no one I would consider firing, but mostly very good, with one bad one every parent avoids their kids getting into, and whose kids learn less. The school is about 32% white last names, roughly 10% of that is Russian Immigrants, it’s about 27% white but about 5% multiracial and adopted. It’s about 62% Asian. The rules for diversity are that every class has to have roughly equal numbers of males/females, Asians, whites and other. The white parents all request teachers, are mostly in PTA, and the Russians aren’t as involved for the most part as they are immigrants.

        You could always tell the lemons by looking at their roster, they needed 6-7 whites out of 22, and for the lemon, her class would always have 6-7 Russian or Soviet names, because they didn’t make requests. It was very predictable.

        As for you getting another bad teacher, yes, this phenomenon was documented in ‘Waiting for Superman’. The bad teachers are pressured out of one school, but due to seniority rules, they get first pick of other jobs within the district. This is because it is cost-prohibitive to fire bad teachers, so the lemons dance around from school to school. In my opinion, if a teacher is pressured out of one school, they should be the last person another school hires and other schools should be able to choose who to hire based on references, interviews, and quality, and NOT SENIORITY! Under the current law pressured by the unions, a bad lemon gets first pick at another school because of their seniority. The Vergara lawsuit or Davis/Rhee initiative would change that. Considering how sympathetic you were to underperformers, in my view if you ever fired a teacher, they should never be able to teach again anywhere. The percentage could be 7 and it could be 20, I haven’t done an analysis, but whatever it is, we should all agree that bad teachers do exist, that some teachers can be good for 30 years and then go bad, and that they should face pressure to give their absolute best effort, which is proven to be not the case with 20+% absence the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. If that happened at my company, I’d meet each person who called in sick, make them nervous, and make sure it didn’t happen again, make them uncomfortable, but principals can’t do anything to cut down on absenteeism due to the holy trinity of tenure, seniority, and due process.

        The fact remains, teachers being fired is very, very rare.

        • CarolineSF replied

          on January 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm

          The principal in one of my kids’ schools basically cleaned house when he arrived, managing to move out several teachers who had been regarded as problems.

          In another comment I mentioned one who was let go as his probation period ended (to refresh memories — a parent mounted a protest against letting the teacher go; I was the definitive parent who countered and stopped the protest). Other than that, none of the several teachers who left was fired. For whatever reason they decided to retire, change careers etc. This is what savvy administrators do.

          For that reason, statistics and claims about how many teachers are actually *fired* are invalid and misleading.

          • navigio replied

            on January 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm

            totally. its not only a black mark if you get fired, but even if you are non re-elected during probation. most teachers will resign if they know that is coming. for that reason, the ‘fired’ metric is useless. well, at except politically..

        • TheMorrigan replied

          on January 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

          There is no guarantee that removing tenure will solve problems. In my opinion, you would just be replacing one problem for another. Take a look at schools where tenure doesn’t exist and ask yourself these questions:

          Are their scores any better there? [while in a few cases this is true, in most cases, no, they are not]

          Do students like going to school more at these schools? [no, there is no difference in student motivation or initiative]

          Are teachers doing a better job at these schools? [no, especially since teacher turnover is significantly higher]

          You’ll find that once tenure is removed other problems begin to surface. Teacher turnover, for instance, was averaged less than 9% at most of my schools. Do you know what it is for most charters and non-tenured schools? It is much higher, between 25%-30%. Having a revolving door of new teachers every year will not help students or the school. And it will make a principal’s job even harder. If 30% of my staff of 45 were replaced every year, I would have very little time for my other administrative duties. If 30% of my high school teachers left every year, I’d have close to 30 teachers to acculturate to my school’s conditions/procedures. Simply put, I will be less effective as an administrator because I cannot make division of myself. I have just traded one problem for another.

          And by the way, during my time, I did talk to four separate teachers about frequent and suspicious cases of absenteeism. One left teaching altogether after we had our talk. The other three simply stopped doing it when I highlighted it. Tenure, seniority and due process did not interfere with the management of any of my schools. It made my job harder at times, and I can recall the painstaking rules I had to follow because a union member was breathing down my back, but it never stopped me from doing what I had or needed to do.

  42. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 29, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Gary, there was an article recently about how rich, mostly white parents, who never let their kids take a bus or go to public school, try to make their kids appear down to earth by pretending they started a charity in Bangladesh when their parents hire guards and advisers to go with them. The woman wrote essays for $7500 for rich kids and felt guilty after, said she’d have felt better if she’d been a call girl, felt she was doing something extremely morally wrong.

    http://nypost.com/2013/08/25/tutor-reveals-ivy-admissions-madness-of-rich-penthouse-parents/

    The book ‘The Price of Admission’ by Daniel Golden shows how Asians, and non-connected whites as well, are cheated out of a chance to go to the Ivy League by many non merit-based preferences, including Legacy (which the UK eliminated for Oxford and Cambridge, but we haven’t for our Ivy League schools), faculty preference, elite sports few kids play, donor preference and the concerted and misleading efforts of rich boarding schools to make their kids look better than they are. Trust me, a lot of these rich white kids with a silver spoon in their mouth are morally, intellectually, and in terms of work ethic inferior to many Asian kids admitted to UCs and not Ivy League schools.

    If you think all kids should study 20-25 hours in high school to get into the top college possible, which you should as an educator advise kids to do all they can to achieve their maximum potential, you have to give credit to groups who sacrifice time others don’t to achieve this. When you walk past a park and see 25% of the kids playing are Asian, then walk past the library and it’s 95%, on a Saturday, that is a moral decision and should be admired. When you see an average of 50 hours of TV/social media/video games in the average California kid, but 12-15 for Asians, this is a moral decision and it is not being well-rounded. These are wasted hours, not important time volunteering, doing arts or playing sports, Asians do all of these more than whites, and socialize as much. When you see 5.6 hours and 15 for Asians, you have to give them credit for making that sacrifice. We will be the #1 state and nation if we convince all kids to study most of a weekend day and some of the other and several hours a day and turn off the TV or game.

    You seem to really not want to give Asians any credit whatsoever, and I can’t figure out why. You assiduously avoid recognizing their sacrifice and superior moral behavior in these matters. It isn’t a coincidence Indian Americans have won 5 straight spelling bees and were all of the top 10 this year. It takes a lot of sacrifice and should be admired. You should point out the UC stats to your students to convince them all to follow a successful example. For some reason, you resent Asians because they disprove the poverty guarantees poverty doctrine of the extremists, so you are intellectually incapable of giving them an ounce of credit for sacrificing over 10 hours a week others aren’t willing to sacrifice. You come up with one argument after another to discredit their sacrifice and achievement when it is rich white kids doing this NGO scam, note Asians. You come up with one argument after another, and none are valid. You have to give credit where credit is due. If one kid studies 5 hours and another 20, the one who studied 20 deserves our admiration for his or her sacrifice, just like girls deserve more admiration than boys over the past couple of decades for their superior habits.

  43. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 29, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    The San Francisco Education Fund published in 2008 a report in which it contrasted the teacher composition in San Francisco of low achieving schools and high achieving schools. Their studies showed that the incidence of novice teachers was three times higher than the high achieving schools. The rate of new teachers leaving the teaching progression was high. Within two years, 17% of the new teachers in low performing schools would leave the profession or transfer out. On a national basis, within five years, one half of new teachers leave the profession. Inquiries into the causes of this phenomenon has turned up the lack of teacher development and support as a major cause. New teachers do not have the skills or experience to deal with the type of challenging environment representative of low achieving schools. This is the problem with seniority, the more experienced teachers end up using seniority to go to the choice schools, so you can’t pay more to work at bad schools or send the best teachers there to fix things, as they do in many countries.

    I posted something last night which is now gone. Gary, there are huge bugs in this system, which is why there was a double post. Now I wrote a post last night which is gone. You used that to say I did something wrong, but this site has significant bugs in it.

    As for Asians, there has long been an effort to discredit their achievement because they run counter to the idea that poor kids do worse and your performance just tracks income. Asians commit murder 1/7th what whites do, but people talk about Asian gangs. Asians do better in high school, and you hear they’ll burn out, but they do better in college too. Then they earn more. People say they’ll burn out in college, no. Not in grad school, not in the working world. Then finally, recent studies have shown Asians are happier than any other group, so they aren’t making money but miserable. Your prediction of a burn out runs counter to facts that on average, those with better grades in high school do better in college, those with better grades in college end up more successful and happier, etc. The burnout never happens. You seem to not want to give Asians credit for working harder and getting better grades, and I don’t understand why.

    • CarolineSF replied

      on January 29, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      “Floyd,” are there any fields in which higher seniority and greater workplace success leads to workers’ losing their discretion over what assignments to accept and being forced to accept the most difficult, stressful and taxing working conditions?

      I keep wondering about that when I hear calls for requiring more experienced, more successful teachers to accept assignments to low-performing schools. Have so-called “reformers” really thought this concept out? Wouldn’t the likely result be that teachers would stay to the point that they started being forced to accept the toughest assignments and then look to change careers?

      And, “Floyd,” presumably you’re not a fan of Teach for America, since its philosophy holds that new teachers are superior to experienced veterans: “New teachers do not have the skills or experience to deal with the type of challenging environment representative of low achieving schools.” So you’re breaking with the “reform” sector on that point?

      Also, in what countries are the best teachers sent to “bad schools”? “This is the problem with seniority, the more experienced teachers end up using seniority to go to the choice schools, so you can’t pay more to work at bad schools or send the best teachers there to fix things, as they do in many countries.”

      • navigio replied

        on January 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

        fwiw, i know teachers who explicitly choose against the choice schools because of environment or because they feel they can make more of a difference in more challenging environments (though its obviously more complex than just that decision). they dont go whole hog and make things as hard on themselves as possible, but i do think its much harder to be a good teacher at more difficult schools. Put in another way, in some private schools, a teacher barely has to do anything.

        UTLA suggested paying extra in challenging schools to try to keep teachers there (personally, I think providing adequate resources would go further as an incentive. LCFF seems designed for something like that if the money actually makes it to schools..).

        I think a study just came out about a pilot of such a program. I didnt read it in detail yet, but the results implied it did not make much difference (either for incentive or performance).

        • Floyd Thursby replied

          on January 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm

          Navigio, every effort at improving teacher quality has some study that says it made no difference, yet you ignore studies that Asians do better when poor, study nearly three times the hours whites do, and get into UCs at over 3.5 times the rate. You ignore the study that over 20% of teachers called in sick the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which proves some are lying beyond the shadow of a doubt.

          I call bull on this. It’s just common sense. Seniority and tenure is not the way to encourage hard work. Teachers deserve to have tenure/seniority taken away just because of what they pulled the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That was a crime and hurt children.

          I don’t believe you honestly believe teachers wouldn’t work harder if they were incentivized and that there are some bad teachers.

          In SF, some teachers choose such schools, but most choose the easiest schools to teach at. If you could offer real money, if a teacher under pressure to make their mortgage could make 10k more by taking a job at a challenging school and knew that at the end of the year, all teachers would be interviewed, and references checked, and they could get that big raise if they were hired, they’d work harder. If the person checking the reference asked, said teacher is allowed 14 total days off including sick and personal. How many did he/she take last year? And those who answer 0 would be up first for a job with a 10k raise. Do you really think this wouldn’t reduce absenteeism? You’re a true believer if you don’t see this.

          • CarolineSF replied

            on January 29, 2014 at 8:29 pm

            I agree with the concept of offering higher pay at hard-to-staff schools.

            As a person of non-youth (albeit a relatively healthy one), I am really troubled by this ongoing bashing of people for taking sick leave. In general, many of us acquire some health problems as we age. Others are unlucky and get sick even when they’re young. Teachers are especially subjected to contagious illness spread around by students. A person who believed in karma would really be issuing some cautions.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 12:46 am

            Caroline, I agree teachers should be able to take sick days when they are truly sick, I just think a moral person tries their best to avoid doing so. When it’s over 20% the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, lying is part, though not all, of the problem. To me, if teachers are doing their best to minimize sick days, and only they know deep down in their heart if they are, if I, a diabetic, can go a decade without missing a day, and 6 years another time, and I often have a cold or flu, then at least some teachers should not miss a day most years. You should see a range, but it should be common. I am 100% for teachers taking a day off if they are absolutely sick, but if you are taking a “mental health day”, meaning a day off, just because you want to, that’s wrong. You and I both know, if it’s over 20% the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and higher on Mondays and Fridays, I’m suspicious. If someone says they couldn’t make it to work on Friday, but Facebook shows them taking a hike on Saturday (one of my kid’s teachers), I am suspicious. I didn’t say anything, because I don’t know, but I think it’s quite suspicious and I think you should be able to admit that a significant percentage of the absences are due to dishonesty and teachers not giving their best effort to minimize absence. I don’t mean coming in sick and coughing all over the place, I just mean not taking a day off unless you physically have to. If it’s honest, I’m for it, but if it’s considered a benefit, I’m opposed to it. I’m not bashing the honest, but I will say if it’s 22% the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I guarantee you well over half of those were lying, and if the culture condones that, we need to change the culture.

          • el replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 8:39 am

            Floyd, you’re obsessed with this 20% teacher absenteeism before Thanksgiving… and I’m getting more and more skeptical. First, this is certainly not a statewide phenomenon. Second, districts make calendars and get teacher input, and can put holidays where they want to minimize such issues. Third… the real problem is STUDENT absenteeism before Thanksgiving, and that’s why a lot of districts have gone to just punting and giving that whole week off in the calendar on purpose.

            But seriously, in a district the size of SFUSD? I’d be surprised if they have a reservoir of substitutes that large, especially substitutes available the day before a holiday. It’s hard for me to believe such a situation would go unnoticed in the press.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 12:54 am

            Caroline, the SF union fought this and opposed all the incumbents because they wanted to protect teachers at the hard to staff schools from lay offs and pay them more. They also sued, and won, to stop it. The union is not your friend if you agree with this issue. They even recently defended child molesters and pressured LAUSD to pay Mark Berndt over 40k.

          • navigio replied

            on January 29, 2014 at 10:25 pm

            I was not passing judgement on the study, merely mentioning that I’d read it since it is pretty relevant for the discussion going on here. Thought people might be interested. I am well aware that every topic usually has ‘studies’ that say opposite things. I am sure it has some problems. Most of them do.

            To be honest, I have no idea why you keep bringing up how much Asians study. As I pointed out, the poverty gap exists for Asians as well, so clearly it has some impact even where you claim it does not.

            Anyway, I dont understand why you completely ignore the issue of poverty (did you notice even the plaintiffs dont?). It doesnt have to be used as an excuse as you claim it is. Remember, the whole goal of testing is to identify need so that we can figure out how to focus resources. The idea of using them to measure teachers is counter to how they were intended, and even designed.

            But even then, what is the point of arguing for study habits? Does that mean its all on the kids? If so, that implies teachers dont really matter (you seemed to say this about Lowell, but maybe that doesnt apply to poorer kids?). Obviously if teachers dont matter, the lawsuit is moot.

            Furthermore, I also dont understand why you dont try to make the connection between the statutes challenged in the lawsuit (or even the behavior you dont like) and the test results of minorities or socioeconomically disadvantaged students. The claim is that these are the things that actually cause the low test scores, but no one has yet to show how. They dont seem to do that at Lowell. And for the gaps that exist statewide, are you claiming that all bad teachers are assigned to poor kids? Or all racist ones? Something? Anything? I’m truly interested in a discussion.

            Call bull all you like. That’s not going to close the achievement gap. But at least call bull to the people who are in charge. You still havent said why you dont blame principals and district admins for this behavior when their underlings misbehave.

            But calling bull in public is disingenuous. By repeating that teachers call in sick whenever they can and take all their sick pay even when they are not sick, you are extrapolating your anecdotes to the general teaching force. That’s, to put it nicely, inappropriate. I can call your anecdote and raise you 10 back, but it wont matter, because thats how anecdotes work. Since we dont have that problem at our poverty school, I guess we cant really blame tenure or seniority for any of this now can we?

            You really should get to know some teachers on a personal level. Just recently I ran into one who brings her son to soccer practice on friday nights because her husband works late. There she sat in her chair, in the middle of a field on a cold Friday night (not even evening anymore) doing, you guessed it, grading papers (I saw her for a whole season, doing the same thing, every night, more than 12 hours after she had to be on campus for start of middle school). The idea that all teachers dont inherently care about their kids is abhorrent. Go to another schools, ideally a more challenged one, and think about how much commitment it takes to come to school every day, excited and with a smile on their face. In spite of having to deal with some parents who apparently think they suck no matter what they do. Call bull when you see someone doing something you dont like, but leave your bull there and dont spread it around over the entire profession just to make some political point. Its not only rude, but wrong.

            Since you seem so bent on studies, how about reading up on Bill Gates’ comprehensive teacher survey that was released sometime last year. You’d be amazed at the kinds of things that teachers actually said would contribute to them not only doing a better job, but even providing incentive. Relatively few even mentioned pay. Most important was adequate support, both in staffing and in resources. There was a whole laundry list of things before pay was ever mentioned. But they must be greedy money-grubbers who dont give a wit about the kids they teach.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 1:18 am

            Because Asian achievement proves hard work can overcome poverty. Poverty is a factor, yes. It makes it harder. But many sacrifice money to go to Kumon. We all decide our priorities. Libraries give much to many, but some live near one and never go. Some tutors are never used. All students, rich and poor, should obsess over grades, not appearance, popularity, sports, TV, games, etc. Asians prove that obsessing over grades leads to success and higher income, and Asians are better parents, 60% prepping kids for kindergarten with flashcards and reading lessons vs. 16% of whites. We should all follow their example and even kids in poverty will achieve more than they do now. Whoever does best should be followed.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 2:05 am

            Here is a great article about how culture and emphasis is more important than poverty, here’s a quote and the full article and link. It shows how apoligists and proponents of the status quo ignore Asian achievement. Correlation is not causation. Most poor have worse attitudes towards education, but if the poor choose to study harder, they won’t be poor long. Asians and other immigrants prove this. Read below, and check the link.

            “In talking with my Asian education colleagues in New York City, I found they held similar views.”Poverty may explain part of it, but Asian immigrants are poor AND they have a language barrier, so how do you explain the disproportionate results?” one asked. Everything I knew about poverty just did not add up when Asians came into the picture. (For that matter, immigrants from the West Indies — another minority group who have generally outperformed Blacks and Hispanics — also defied this explanation.)

            I have readily believed poverty was the sole reason for the lack of achievement, yet I couldn’t explain why many Asians have overcome this (or perhaps I did not want to confront it). Having taught in Title 1 schools (by definition, poor) in New York’s Chinatown, I knew that in most cases both parents worked long hours — usually in restaurants or clothing factories, leaving grandparents to look after children. Yet they overachieved (I read that one parent retorted, it’s not that we overachieve, it’s that Americans underachieve). Almost all Asian parents showed up to parent teacher conferences and consistently asked me to give their children more work and support. If parents could not show up, their grandparents would, with kids in tow to translate. That helps build and sustain a culture prioritizing education.”

            http://theeducatedsociety.com/asians-on-education-what-poverty/

            All this talk in education about poverty being the major reason for poor academic achievement and performance got me thinking: Is it really just poverty?

            No doubt it plays an important role. Researchers Hart & Risley’s well-cited longitudinal study in the early 1990s found that children in welfare families were exposed to substantially less language at home than in professional families: A difference of 300 words spoken per hour, which extrapolated over a year would result in 11 million words versus 3 million. Language experience tightly linked to large differences in child outcome. Not only do those in poverty tend to have less books in the home and less rich language spoken, but their home life is generally less stable:

            Almost one in five children in poor or low-income families had moved in the last year, which means disrupted schooling and stress. In 2007, 1.7 million kids had a parent in prison, including one in fifteen black children. In 2008, around 460,000 children spent time in foster care. In 2009, 2.2 million were being raised by grandparents or other relatives…Poor kids are more likely to be raised by single mothers and to have parents who didn’t finish high school or go to college. Even just living with other poor people seems to harm kids. Those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods have lower reading scores; so do low-income kids who go to schools where the student body is 75 percent or more minority. Most black and Latino kids attend such schools. By the age of 2, poorer children have fallen cognitively behind those from wealthier families. (See full article, It Takes a Village, Not a Tiger)

            Noted education historian Diane Ravitch believes poverty is the culprit. The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss wrote about it. The results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) spawned discussions that pointed to it as the culprit for our low rankings. Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principal (NASSP) Dr. Gerald Tirozzi found that our low scores could be explained by our relatively high poverty rate of 20%. No other developed country has one out of every five children living in poverty. Had we used comparable data, U.S. would actually come in first internationally. I even wrote about the its significance in my post, Can Schools Overcome Poverty?

            With all this support, poverty appears to be the only culprit. So why have I started to feel uneasy with this conclusion?

            Maybe because The Educated Society is about looking at the bigger picture, leading me to puzzle over why apologists exclude Asians in poverty discussions. After all, first and second generation Asian immigrants have historically toiled in urban Chinatown ghettos, yet academically “overachieved.” Along with whites, they have generally performed at the top of all academic measures. Only more recently have these neighborhoods started to gentrify.

            On the other hand, The New York Times recently reported that the proficiency of black students was even bleaker than expected. Distilled scores from NAEP, considered the respected national standard, revealed that only 12% of black fourth grade boys were proficient in reading along with 12% of black eighth grade boys in math — compared to 38% and 44% for whites respectively. State scores in New York and Los Angeles made similar reports.

            Apparently poverty can’t fully explain this, since “poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches,” according to the article. California’s 2007 report stated that almost half of impoverished Asians were at or above grade level in English Language Arts, compared with a quarter of Hispanics. Its results spurred state superintendent Jack O’Connell to tackle the uncomfortable topic about pernicious cultural factors at work among minorities.

            O’Connell is not alone. Respected researcher and economist Dr. Ronald Ferguson, who is black, used quantitative data to convey this culture gap. Part of it, he asserts,

            …is that black parents on average are not as academically oriented in raising their children as whites. In a wealthy suburb he surveyed, 40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites. In first grade, the percentage of black and white parents reading to their children daily was about the same; by fifth grade, 60 percent to 70 percent of whites still read daily to their children, compared with 30 percent to 40 percent of blacks. (See full article).

            Though he also ascribes economics and teacher bias to the blacks’ lower academic performances, Dr. Ferguson is clearly not mincing words — it is not just poverty, but a cultural deficit. This conclusion echoed similar and controversial reports by then-sociologists James Coleman and Patrick Moynihan in the 1960s regarding student background and family, respectively.

            In talking with my Asian education colleagues in New York City, I found they held similar views.”Poverty may explain part of it, but Asian immigrants are poor AND they have a language barrier, so how do you explain the disproportionate results?” one asked. Everything I knew about poverty just did not add up when Asians came into the picture. (For that matter, immigrants from the West Indies — another minority group who have generally outperformed Blacks and Hispanics — also defied this explanation.)

            I have readily believed poverty was the sole reason for the lack of achievement, yet I couldn’t explain why many Asians have overcome this (or perhaps I did not want to confront it). Having taught in Title 1 schools (by definition, poor) in New York’s Chinatown, I knew that in most cases both parents worked long hours — usually in restaurants or clothing factories, leaving grandparents to look after children. Yet they overachieved (I read that one parent retorted, it’s not that we overachieve, it’s that Americans underachieve). Almost all Asian parents showed up to parent teacher conferences and consistently asked me to give their children more work and support. If parents could not show up, their grandparents would, with kids in tow to translate. That helps build and sustain a culture prioritizing education.

            After school programs also made up a big part of that culture, a tradition imported from the Far East. These supplemental programs, known as buxiban in Chinese, juku in Japanese, and hagwon in Korea, flourish in Chinatown all year round — after school, weekends, and summer. Some were locally funded and some were private, and all of them thrived. I know, because I’ve taught in two of them as well. Though some included physical activities and Chinese language instruction, academics was the priority. Not sports. Not arts.

            I think former teacher Martha Sadler presented her view best in an article for The Santa Barbara Independent in 2007. Having worked in the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD), she could not make sense of the Hispanic students’ low academic ratings despite strong teacher support:

            Puzzling over this during one of my school breaks at LAUSD, I decided to go visit Castelar Street Elementary, a school in a Chinese neighborhood that continually received high test marks even though most of the students were English language learners from low-income families. The teachers were very good, but not better than those I had watched at my school, and their room decor was not nearly as attractive and print-rich.

            I watched five different classes, and then followed a mass of kids to the neighborhood library, where they studied in an upstairs workroom. The scene was not much different from any other homework hall, though there were parents and grandparents watching the kids. They couldn’t really help with the actual assignments, but watched patiently as the children worked, talked, and afterward ran around the library, annoying the other library patrons until closing time.

            Perplexed as to how this made for high test scores, I walked outside and found myself nose to nose with a Chinese school, located almost next door, where many of these same students spent several hours on the weekend studying in Mandarin or Cantonese. Education was everywhere in this little slice of Chinese culture. As I asked random parents why they thought their school did better than others, it was also pointed out that Castelar offers tutoring on the weekends.

            Santa Barbara has a Chinese school, too, begun in 1994 by UCSB Chinese lecturer Jennifer Hsu. On Sundays, about 80 children study Mandarin reading and writing for two hours, interspersed by an hour of arts like calligraphy and folk dancing. The teachers are mostly parents, and the administrators are all volunteers.

            Hsu explained to me that Asian cultures have been studious for thousands of years. It goes all the way back to Confucius in China, who was part of a flowering of philosophical schools circa 500 BCE, around the time the Chinese started using chopsticks and developed their writing system. Confucius was not only a scholar, but a teacher of literature, history, art, music, sports. While many of the parents at the Santa Barbara Chinese School are successful engineers and professors from Taiwan, Confucius’ emphasis on education wasn’t just for the elite – it spread throughout the classes and the region, elevating the importance of a good education across China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and beyond. That explains a lot.

            One Santa Barbara Chinese School parent – whose children are staggeringly accomplished in sports, music, and scholastics – emphasized the role of poverty as a major factor in low achievement. Although the mother has a degree, she stays at home in order to raise her children. How, she asks, can people do that if they are working all the time?

            “If my kids had a choice,” she said, explaining that she makes her children schedule playtime in with their more studious activities, “they would rather go play outside with their friends than play piana Any child would, but they have to discipline themselves. How can their family teach them this self-discipline if they are away from home working so much? The children go out to the streets to find a family feeling, and with a bunch of kids hanging out together with no adult supervision, guess what’s going to happen?”

            Working-class struggles aside, the mother also pondered the cultural quandary, saying, “I don’t know how much the [Hispanic] cultures treasure education.”

            The school condition, its resources, or even teachers were secondary. The Asian emphasis on education took precedence over the parent’s job, as in the aforementioned mother’s case. I drew parallel experiences teaching in New York’s Chinatown. Here parents sacrificed their limited paychecks to pay a substantial amount for top after school programs. Those who could not joined non-profit cultural organizations with after school services, like Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) or Immigrant Social Services (ISS). The cultural emphasis on education completely overrides any other priority in the child AND the parents’ life.

            My conclusion? Yes, poverty does matter, but culture matters more. This may not sound new, but in light of the current education debate pointing to poverty as the ultimate culprit of anemic achievement, it is in fact very significant. Thus, the surest way to address the achievement gap is not to focus on what impedes students (the negative), but what helps them (the positive). Given this framework, poverty is not the answer. Building a positive culture of education matters tremendously more, as Asians have found. It overcomes the language barrier, and it overcomes poverty. But they have had thousands of years to build it. How can we begin?

          • navigio replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 2:04 pm

            Maybe we should, but we don’t. So what then? Your points about Asians are irrelevant unless they lead to some policy change that achieves what you want to achieve.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

        Singapore, Germany, Poland, France, South Korea, Finland, Japan. There is a book ‘Surpassing Shanghai’ about this.

        I am not for younger teachers or for older teachers, I think all teachers should be judged as to good and bad. You’re trying to make me choose. The current system says all old teachers should be paid more, given more choice assignments, and be more protected from lay offs than all newer teachers. We need to find ways to give credit where credit is due. If teachers are better, they should be rewarded, if they take tougher assignments, same. We should give a 30-year old star teacher more than a 60-year old lemon teacher.

        Also, Asians should get credit. You live in SF, surely you see how hard Asians study and how it helps them get into Lowell and top colleges. Look at all the Kumons and Sylvans. You can say the parents are rich, but then compare their clothes, their cars, and look to see if they rent out their basement and turn their extra breakfast room into a studio while most white families “feel more comfortable not living with strangers”. They make sacrifices to pay for tutoring. I’m not for private schools because they cause segregation, but when you pay for tutoring, you help your kids and the poor in your schools by needing less help, freeing up the teachers to help those kids, and you also set a good example.

        Teachers are probably better on average with age, so I don’t believe new teachers are always better, but if they are they should be paid accordingly and recognized accordingly, which will cause all to work harder. Your paranoid scenarios won’t happen, if a teacher works hard, calls in sick as infrequently as possible (which you haven’t addressed, your kids must have been hurt by teachers playing hookey before, I guarantee it if you are in SFUSD, which I attended and my kids do), and is diligent, schools will want to keep them.

        You have a hidden agenda for opposing this. It isn’t logical based on what you say. If you want the best teachers, seniority/tenure/due process, the system we have now, is not the way to do so.

        Let’s put it this way, do you think if we mandated Google and Silicon Valley companies and law firms do all assignements, pay, and assignments by seniority and tenure, and have no penalty for taking 9 personal days a year and 5 sick days out of 180, or more since they work 250, that productivity would go up or down? Do you think Google has over 20% call in sick the Tuesday before Thanksgiving? Surely Caroline you have seen these egregious abuses, and for some reason stay quiet about it. You haven’t addressed the absenteeism issue at all. You also haven’t given any credit to immigrants for studying long hours and getting higher GPAs and SAT Scores.

        • CarolineSF replied

          on January 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm

          So wait, both sides of the education debate say that Finland deeply respects its teachers, requires a high level of academic achievement of them, pays them well, treats them as high-level professionals — but doesn’t let them choose where to work and forces the most accomplished to take the hardest, most taxing jobs, giving the plum jobs to the beginners and the less successful? I haven’t read this book, but this claim seems awfully sketchy to me and calls for some fact-checking. I can ask Pasi Sahlberg, Finland’s chief of education, on Twitter.

          No, I haven’t seen egregious abuses by teachers. I think one would have to be looking through a lens of extreme hostility to (even hatred for) teachers to imagine such things. I think it’s fairly obvious when someone is looking through such a lens, though WHY is not all that clear to me. I think it reflects and perpetuates an attitude of deep hostility to and contempt for education, one that already pervades our society. People who express that deep hostility to teachers often profess to care deeply about education, which might make one wonder. As the wife of a sub, obviously I have some idea of the degree of teacher absenteeism. It doesn’t seem any higher than, say, newspaper copy editor absenteeism to me.

          People who view teachers with such deep contempt might really consider spending a day in a school sometime. I spent vast amounts of time volunteering in my kids’ schools (Lakeshore, Aptos and SOTA) before the nest emptied and I went back to work full time. If you had done so, you would have a much clearer picture, “Floyd.” It’s hard for a decent person, to be so filled with hate when you’ve spent some time working side by side with the targets of the hate.

          Yes, of course I’m well aware of the accomplishments of Asian students — probably more so than most people on this thread, for a non-Asian. I haven’t weighed in in that discussion, but as a San Francisco public school mom for 26 kid-years obviously I’m aware of it — our district is plurality Chinese and my kids went to school in a Chinese world. Before that, I worked in San Jose for many years and saw the Vietnamese students all listed as valedictorians and spelling bee winners (undoubtedly leaving the old-time city leadership disconcerted, since their kids weren’t on those lists).

          I haven’t followed that thread of the discussion closely so I don’t know whose toes I’m stepping on, but here goes. Many Asian students’ achievement (overall, on average) deviates from the usual situation in which achievement correlates with socioeconomics. Some Asian demographic subgroups are outliers in this situation, and that’s very definitely true for the largest subgroup in my world (my world, not necessarily THE world), Chinese students. There are obviously cultural reasons. Prof. Yong Zhao at the University of Oregon gives some insightful (and amusing) analysis of some of this.

          One thing that a San Francisco public school parent also observes is how desirable many Chinese families find our schools, something Dr. Zhao also discusses. My kids had classmates and yours undoubtedly have too, “Floyd” (whether you’re aware of it or not), who were “parachute kids,” sent by their families in China to live with relatives or even family friends so they could attend public school here.

          As always, discuss among yourselves.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 1:10 am

            No hatred at all Caroline, Alamo, Presidio, Lowell. I feel most teachers are quite good. OK, my stat was wrong. However, you can’t tell me 12% of teachers did their absolute best to make it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, article in the Examiner, but just couldn’t make it. I have several good friends who are teachers and agree on this issue. One openly brags about the days off and uses them to work at his second job. Some oppose other teachers doing so. Some feel it is their right. But if it’s usually 7.5% and 12 the day before, even best case scenario which is that none of those 7.5% ever lie, that means 4.5%, or 1 in 21, lied the Tuesday before thanksgiving. However, I think a lot of professions have far under 7.5% daily absence. I know Google has far less than that. The article below says the average corporate percentage is 2.5%. If teachers had incentives and could lower this to 2.5%, nervous a principal may choose them for a layoff or bad reference, we could save a ton on sub costs. 2.5% is reasonable. 7.5$ is not the sign of a great work ethic. The U.S. gets most teachers from the bottom half of college graduates, and Finland from the top, and pays them better. But they get lower absenteeism. 7.5% is not a sign of a great work ethic, and 12% is criminal/atrocious. If you don’t criticize that, you automatically defend teachers no matter what. I support most teachers, but the absenteeism is a problem. Read the links.

            http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/3134/unscheduled-absenteeism-on-rise-at-us-workplaces-

            http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sfusd-sees-rise-in-number-of-educators-calling-out-before-thanksgiving/Content?oid=2636052

          • el replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

            If you work for someone like Google and you have a doctor’s appointment, you don’t have to take the day off to do it. You can schedule your lunch to be the appointment time and you can work a little late that day. This is not so for teachers and sometimes life cannot be scheduled to happen only in summer.

            If teachers want the day before the Thanksgiving break off, it makes perfect sense to make a calendar more to their liking. Adjusting the calendar costs the district nothing and if it improves morale, it’s absolutely worth doing as a free perk. As I mentioned in another comment, the experience in our district was that parents took the kids out early, perhaps in part because we are rural and travel to anywhere takes much of a day, so they started thinking about giving Wednesday off, and then on top of that, there’s the sense that a two day week is mostly wasted educational minutes – the kids are distracted and it breaks the rhythm – and if a large section of the class is absent, the material will have to be repeated.

            In our district, teachers have every opportunity to comment individually and as a union before the calendar is adopted by the school board. In addition to taking input as to when time off is nice for staff, teachers have strong opinions and insight about how holidays affect their classrooms in terms of uninterrupted blocks of learning time and with where they fall in relationship to various exams.

            And finally, the calendar should be maximized for student attendance as well. Lots of schools have ‘ski week’ because they found parents were taking kids out for a week instead of settling for a three day weekend. Small changes in the calendar can thus affect attendance, revenue, and student achievement.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm

            El, you avoided the key point. Do you feel teachers should only take a day off if they are actually sick or have no other option and have done their best to schedule a doctor’s appointment say, at 4, on Saturday, or on a day they have off that others don’t? In SF for instance, there are 5 days most businesses are open, most doctors are open, plus most doctors have 4 PM appointments teachers can make, or 4:30. What you don’t recognize is they gave the Wednesday off in response to absenteeism, and now the Tuesday is a huge problem. DO you think it’ morally wrong to call in sick when you’re not sick? We teach children not to lie, and to me, this is lying. Should we expect teachers to do their best to call in sick or take personal days the absolute minimum? I think so. I see no reason the U.S. average should be 2.5% while teachers are 7.5% in SFUSD. I think it is a sign of a poor work ethic to call in sick three times as often as the national rate when you already work 185 days vs. 250 for those who are only calling in sick 2.5% of the time. A diligent person will find a way to make most such appointments on the days they already have off. You haven’t addressed this. Do you feel it is OK to call in sick or take a day off simply because you can, and you are tired, knowing it hurts the children in your care, or do you believe teachers should do their best to minimize this?

          • el replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

            Floyd, I do agree that absenteeism can create performance problems. I also think it’s between the teacher and the principal, and not something you and I have any weight on. Generally such situations are admin/confidential. Administrators can and do ask for a doctor’s note when they’re working with a problem employee.

            Teachers also may be absent due to professional development, administrative meetings, and the like. Or it could be a sick child, parent, or spouse or some other emergency.

            The reality is, life happens, to all of us. That’s part of why we allot sick days.

            You’d think by now that doctors would change their schedules to run 4-9 pm to fit with all the kids and workers who need to see them but still need to work, but I stopped holding my breath long ago. You will appreciate how much I fumed when I had to go into an orthodontist’s office and it had a helpful and condescending sign saying that unfortunately most appointments were during school hours, and your kids were just going to have to suck it up and miss school to get their braces adjusted. (That they were also running an hour behind schedule and it was before lunch did not improve my opinion.)

            If changing the school year schedule makes teachers happier, it’s sure a heck of a lot cheaper than a 5% raise. It’s literally the least we can do to improve morale with the resources we have. There’s nothing magic about Thanksgiving being a 4 day weekend.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 1:14 am

            Also, as to Asian Achievement, here is another article. I agree with you Caroline. But we should try to get everyone else to achieve at this level. It proves there is a way to succeed even when in poverty, and teachers should make more of an effort to point out, if you study 15-20 hours a week, you’ll make six figures, if you study 5 hours, likely minimum wage or below average. 10-15 hours a week extra from ages 11-18 are the difference between 20-30k and 100-150k. But few teachers do this. And stats show most of this time is spent watching TV, playing video games or on social networking. I believe that Asians prove, our schools aren’t that bad, in fact they’re pretty good, Lowell is amazing, and SOTA is very impressive, but even Balboa, Washington, Lincoln, Galileo, Mission, others… provide an amazing opportunity for success to those who work hard.

            http://www.danielmiessler.com/blog/if-the-problem-were-simply-sub-standard-american-schools-asian-and-indian-kids-would-be-doing-poorly-as-well

            Liberals love to blame poor Black and Hispanic performance in American public schools on the lack of school quality, e.g. lack of updated textbooks, no laptops for kids, etc. This has been the standard liberal narrative for decades (I’m an SF liberal myself, btw). But does this assessment match the data? Does it match what students and teachers see every day in American schools? Does it match what we see in society?

            No. If either of the following statements were true, Asian and Indian kids would be performing poorly in American public schools as well:

            1.American public schooling is simply poor altogether, and it’s impossible to do well
            2.American public school is biased against non-whites, which is why blacks and hispanics do so poorly
            But Asian and Indian kids are academically dominating. These students aren’t just outperforming Blacks and Hispanics in the same exact schools, they’re also outperforming White students. Why is that? How are Asians and Indians doing so well in an academic environment that’s supposedly hard to thrive in?

            The answer is culture. Some cultures are conducive to academic performance, and others are not. Quite simply, the problem isn’t poor schools, the problem is poor parenting.

            One fallback defense against this is often that of socio-economic status, e.g. “Well, this is simply because these high-performing Asians come from rich families, and the Hispanic kids are poor…” But this doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Here’s a clip from an article in the L.A. Times on this very subject, titled “Trying to Bridge the Grade Divide”.

            To begin with, the eight students agreed on a few generalities: Latino and Asian students came mostly from poor and working-class families.

            According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team.
            I find it highly ironic that liberals claim to be the ones interested in protecting minorities, yet they are the ones championing this horribly destructive narrative of “bias against non-whites” in the academic environment. Most Indians are pretty dark, and yet they graduate high school, attain bachelors degrees, and graduate degrees at higher rates than Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites.

            And no, it’s not time to start looking for a pro-Asian or pro-Indian bias. We need to stop looking for ways to avoid unpleasant truths. Some cultures excel at raising children who succeed, and some cultures do not. The longer we choose to avert our eyes from this painful fact, the more harm we do in the name of equality. This simply has to stop. ::

          • navigio replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 4:12 am

            Floyd, it sounds like you are merely replacing the poverty excuse with the culture excuse. In the end, this is about public education policy. Sitting on our hands waiting for horrible parents to mend their ways is not going to help the kids in our schools. Neither will blaming poverty and culture on teachers. Providing schools adequate and effective resources will.

            Btw the poverty gap exists for Asians as well.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on January 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm

            Yes, but it is much smaller. If you go to a library on a Saturday, you see so many Asian kids there. Teachers need to convince parents and children that they can have a great job if they work hard as children. We should have public service announcements lauding the amazing statistics Asians achieve and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. Asians were 32.6% of Presidential Scholars last year vs. under 6% of the U.S. Teachers don’t do enough to point this out. Asians prove we could do better. The U.S. has less class mobility than Europe, but we could do better with A. an open mind, B. a way to eliminate bad teachers instead of protecting them and C. a relentless focus on education and study hours of children and D. a war on TV, video games and social networking as huge time wasters. I’m not making an excuse. I’m saying we need to change our mainstream culture and emphasize the importance of education.

  44. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Gary, are you saying to be for teacher rights then you have to be for tenure after 2 years, it costing 100k plus on average to fire a teacher with burdensome due process, and all promotion, transfer, pay, lay offs, etc. be based on seniority alone? Did you actually come out of ‘Waiting for Superman’ saying we should do things exactly as we have for 40 years and change nothing? Did you root for Darth Vader in ‘Star Wars’? Did you see ‘Won’t Back Down’ and come out of that saying LIFO forever? You seem to be framing the whole argument in an illogical way that assumes, to not be attacking poor victimized teachers, you have to want the status quo, and the only thing holding kids back is poverty. And if one group does well despite poverty, you trivialize it, predict they will get stressed out and crash, ignore evidence to the contrary, and change the subject.

  45. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 30, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Gary and Caroline, you seem to accuse me of being anti-teacher implying I have to agree with everything the union stands for or I’m wrong, but over 70% in polls favor changing seniority, tenure and due process. Read this article from this past Thanksgiving in the Examiner. Due to heavy absence the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, SFUSD changed the calendar to give that day off almost 10 years ago. However, instead of saying thanks for the day off, for convenience, teachers now at a 12% rate, vs. nationwide 2.5 averages on an average day, call in sick the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. An attempt to appease them was met with more dishonesty. Please read. I don’t see how you can honestly defend teacher and not comment on this.

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sfusd-sees-rise-in-number-of-educators-calling-out-before-thanksgiving/Content?oid=2636052

    SFUSD sees rise in number of educators calling out before Thanksgiving

    The SFUSD has considered making Thanksgiving a weeklong holiday in light of worker absences.
    A large wave of teacher and worker absences swept across the San Francisco Unified School District on Tuesday — the last day before a long holiday weekend.

    On a typical day, 7.5 percent of the teachers in the district are absent, according to the district. But Tuesday, that percentage was about 12 percent — a level that has the district rethinking next year’s academic calendar.

    According to the district, there were 611 teachers and paraprofessionals who requested the day off Tuesday. The number was high enough that there were not enough substitutes to fill all of the vacant positions. While the district was able to fill 493 slots, 107 positions had to be filled with district office staffers who hold teaching credentials, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

    The issue of sick calls before holiday weekends is not new for the district, Blythe said. A previous pattern of many teachers requesting substitutes on the days leading up to Thanksgiving led the district in 2004 to change its calendar to have schools closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

    Find nearby stories News Bayou“However, it seems that there are a number of teachers who have moved to take the Tuesday before the holiday off,” Blythe wrote in an email.

    Because of the large absence rate, Blythe said, Superintendent Richard Carranza has asked the committee that sets the academic calendar to consider taking off the entire Thanksgiving week next year.

    If that move is made, the two instructional days lost that week would be moved to either the beginning or the end of the school year.

  46. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Again, when I have stats, people ignore it. Does anyone think it is OK to call in sick and hurt children when you’re not sick? Personal days are for when you need them, not just because you feel like it. 10 years ago people were complaining that 4 days off wasn’t enough, they needed a day to travel. Then they gave it, and got 12% the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Caroline, this was in the Examiner. You don’t have to be some teacher-hating psycho the way you argue to find these facts, that teachers have 7.5% absenteeism in SF and the US rate is 2.5, which doesn’t include vacation, this is calling in sick or taking days off for doctor’s appointments. The days are there in case someone needs them, but many are taking these days off when they don’t need them, and kids are suffering. This is a problem with all public union jobs, including BART, Muni. Absenteeism is far higher, which hurts productivity, when bosses are not allowed to pressure people to do their best to work as much as possible. A day off if you need it because a day off to enjoy, and people expect it. This is wrong because kids learn much less with subs. I count the days off for my kids, one year I made a chart, and every one missed ten days, over 10 teachers in total. This needs to change and is hurting children. You avoid commenting on the 7.5% vs. 2.5%. That’s a difference of a day a month. Newspaper editors are union, so it may be the same, but if I called in sick 7.5% of the time there would be hell to pay. I haven’t called in sick now in over 5 years and I’m over 40.

  47. CarolineSF said

    on January 30, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I haven’t researched the veracity of the figures and don’t trust the sources without doing so myself.

    Of course we should all be paragons who never get sick, and scorn people who do. How could I argue with that?

    Regarding the day before Thanksgiving vacay, an enormous number of students don’t show up, and learning is fairly disrupted in a two-day week (or even, previously, a three-day week). It may be that teachers are thinking that not much learning is happening in any case.

    In wealthier counties, so many students were pulled out by their families for Tahoe trips in late winter that they (Marin, San Mateo) eventually declared a ski week so the absenteeism wouldn’t disrupt the school schedule. As always, discuss among yourselves.

  48. navigio said

    on January 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Floyd, you should find out how much time teachers are out of the classroom for common core professional development. I would not be surprised if it’s much more than that 7% you cite.

  49. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Read the Examiner Article I posted. No, it is not based on that. It’s the district average. They don’t count it if you go to professional development. Here is the article.

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sfusd-sees-rise-in-number-of-educators-calling-out-before-thanksgiving/Content?oid=2636052

    Caroline, again, I don’t scorn people who get sick. I criticize people who pretend to be sick when they are not or take a day off for an appointment they could have scheduled after school or on a day they get off anyways. If the U.S. sick/absence outside of vacation rate is 2.5%, and SFUSD is 7.5%, either teachers are different from the rest of us and get sick more, or some are not doing their best to come in every day.

    I know this is anecdotal, but I had a friend who worked at BART. He went 4 years without calling in sick and when time for promotion came up, he mentioned this in a meeting, how reliable he was. Several colleagues told him that he made everyone uncomfortable and didn’t get the promotion because they like taking maximum days off allowed under the contract, and that if he wanted to be considered for supervisor, he needed to take the maximum days off to not show everyone else up. He did so and 2 years later was a supervisor.

    This is over 30 years ago, and I am not sure if it applies to now, but I do believe that in many professions, you only call in sick if you did your best and can’t make it, and in some, it’s considered OK to call in sick when you are not, or take a personal day when you don’t need one. I’ve seen teachers take 5 personal days to go to Italy. I’ve heard teachers talk openly about it in front of me. Personal days, if you read the definition, are supposed to be only if you need them. They’re not a benefit. There is some dishonesty involved in this norm. I’m not being hateful to point it out. Is the Examiner hateful?

    • navigio replied

      on January 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Why are missed days for other reasons not a problem? The teachers are still not with the kids and they are instead with a substitute. That is worse for kids, right? Or is not about the kids?

  50. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 30, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    El, I think that there is nothing magic about 4 days, but the point is they made it 5 days 10 years ago to accomodate teachers wanting an extra day, and then 12% called in sick to make it 6 days. That’s not right. 5 is enough. I agree, life happens, but to say it’s private is misleading because principals don’t like it but according to union rules, they can’t do anything about it. They can’t say, you know what, you called in sick the maximum and you’re 55, and you didn’t explain and I don’t believe it was something extraordinary, and another 30-year old teacher didn’t call in sick once, their kids learned just as much, and due to the step plan she’s earning 55% what you are, costing us 55%, and performing better, helping kids more, and saving us money on subs by never calling in sick last year, so I’ll lay you off and not her, I’ll keep her, because that’s what’s better for the children.

    The principal can tell the teacher they don’t appreciate it, but to fire that teacher will cost $100,000 plus and lead to a huge headache wiht the union.

    So these private, confidential meetings are not a real thing. The truth is, teachers can take as many days off as allowed in their contract with no fear of any negative consequences whatsoever.

    Showing up will show on test scores, which is why teachers should be rated, and receive a bonus, on test score improvement. But the union opposes this.

  51. TheMorrigan said

    on January 30, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    It did not cost me $100,000 to fire a teacher. The rational for this number is very misleading to the public and in argument. There were plenty of times that I had to deal with things unrelated to teachers that took up my time. In fact, most of what I did was unrelated to teachers that ate up my time. That is a very misleading number.

    In middle and high school, more than 50% of the teachers do not teach subjects that are tested with state tests or district benchmarks. They cannot be rated this way. In K-6, teachers in K-2 are not tested either. So, in essence, the whole test-based teacher accountability, also known as VAM, works with less than half of a district’s teaching staff. And from my own experience, the teachers who abused the system the most were not English or math teachers anyway. I suppose we could judge their worth in some other even more removed and fallaciously reductive way, however. I’ve read that some RttT states are doing that. How well is that working for them?

    There are over 50 years of studies that contradict the point of extrinsic teacher-based monetary incentives or merit pay. The union opposes this (and the last time I checked so does ACSA) just because it doesn’t work for this group of professionals and it is divisive. And the last time I checked, the ones that are in effect right now always have the strong odor of scandal and malfeasance associated with them (see DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas).Is there one that doesn’t? Nope. So why would we even want to bring that nasty package into a school system when it has been shown again and again to be wasteful and ineffective? Teachers, for the most part, would be incentivized by simply having decent working conditions and fewer students in a class. In addition, giving them more respect would do a whole lot more for them than giving them an extra 1K in their pocket. And you don’t even have to pay them an extra 1K.

    • navigio replied

      on January 30, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      there is one very expensive example that is often trotted out by lausd, however, that one comes with some interesting caveats. turns out the teacher was accused of sexual harassment before he got tenure, but was given tenure anyway (whoops?). then, supposedly the district was afraid to fire him because he was handicapped. was it drawn out and expensive? yes. was it the fault of tenure or seniority? no.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on January 31, 2014 at 1:38 am

        I believe teachers should be able to be fired by a principal if the principal feels they are not giving their best effort or doing a good job. 7.5% average absenteeism in a profession with 65 extra days off a year anyways is atrocious. Some teachers do their best, some don’t. We need to be divisive if that means dividing good and bad teachers. Just like if you’re at a company, you check a reference, schools should, and should be able to hire the best teacher. I agree with your other points, but you seem to want across the board solutions. What if we gave an extra 2k to all teachers who didn’t call in sick more than once, or who missed under 2.5%, the national average? That would incentivize showing up, avoiding subs, and raising test scores. As to the K-2 argument, no, it’s K-1, 2d graders are tested. Someone is trying to delay it to 3d. The less testing, the more this argument makes sense. That’s part of why we must keep testing 2d graders. We can give tests in other areas too. Testing cuts past all the BS. Stats don’t lie and we’ll know which teachers are best by this.

        • el replied

          on January 31, 2014 at 6:35 pm

          2nd graders are tested, but the “value-add” methodology depends on there being a test score from the previous grade… on different material… to know whether each student comes to that teacher as a high or low performing student.

          My daughter attended an elementary school with one class per grade and a relatively stable student and teacher population. Watching the scores over the years, they were all over the map. One class does great in 3rd grade and tanks in 4th. Another tanks 3rd grade and aces 5th. They had about as similar experiences as you can possibly create and the result is… noise. Talking to teachers, sometimes the addition or subtraction of even one student is enough to change class dynamics dramatically. I know in other places studies have been done that correlate score changes with snow days and local murders and on what day the STAR is given (it’s not at the same instructional day every year).

          In addition to TheMorrigan’s point that many teachers subjects aren’t tested, just to get a valid sample you probably would need 5 years of student data. That’s a long time to wait for a decision. I’d rather have the principal make a judgement in years 1 and 2 based on what she sees on the ground.

          I’m waiting for the day when people say we should fire PE teachers because not enough kids can run a 6 minute mile.

          • Manuel replied

            on February 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm

            Come on, el, you and I know that it is the PE teachers’ fault that most children are obese. They are clearly not doing their job teaching children to be fit!

            Fire ‘em all and hire US Marine Corps drill instructors!!! They will surely whip our children into shape!!!

        • Manuel replied

          on February 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

          “2.5% absenteeism?”

          Really?

          I call bull on that claim. Here it is, just for you again:

          Gallup, hardly a bastion of teacher apologists, conducted a poll of 109,875 full-time workers and asked them how many days they had missed from work due to health issues.

          It turns out that the number of days absent from the job correlates on the chronic health conditions of the respondent (surprise!) as well as her/his body weight. Gallup gives the number of unhealthy days per month for six different groups with varying combinations of factors. Lumping all results into a single one gives an average of 1.4 day/month, for a total of 16.86 days/year. Since the year has 260 working days (and even less if holidays are included), this yields at least a 6.5% absenteeism rate for working Americans.

          Your claim that teachers call in sick 7.5% of the time, a mere one extra percentage point than the national average for working Americans, is not surprising since they are exposed to much more disease than the rest of us. (Yes, those kids they teach are extremely efficient vectors of the flu, both nasal and stomach)

          Oh, and tests, as conducted in the K-12 system in the USofA right now right now, lie all the time. But I’ll leave that for another time.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on February 4, 2014 at 2:24 am

            I supplied the link, people don’t call in sick once every three weeks in any other field I know of. 2.5% is the U.S. Average. As for tests, you take the average over several years, and it’s going to be accurate. The new tests will be more accurate. Do you honestly trust seniority more than individually looking at test scores, real principal evaluations (ones in which you don’t just pass everyone blindly), and absence average combined? If so, I don’t believe you’re being honest. You’re just looking to find excuses to maintain the status quo. Sometimes bosses are wrong, but companies run more efficiently. California companies are the envy of the world and our schools are near the bottom. I trust the second format. I don’t believe you honestly trust seniority more. I believe you’re just looking for any excuse, hope it goes away, and want seniority to last another 25 years even though you know it’s not best for children.

  52. Floyd Thursby said

    on January 31, 2014 at 1:49 am

    A lot of times they criticize administrators, but they operate under rules which make it difficult to fire bad teachers. Also, the union consistently chooses to defend bad teachers. I’ve never seen the union take a step back, make an impartial analysis, and say, you know what, this teacher is damaging our reputation, not trying their best, and hurting their students, we will pass on backing him or her. They always act like the teacher’s noble and the people who want to fire him or her the bad guys, breaking some rule, speaking out in the wrong way, violating some clause, they pretty much obsessively and consistently defend teachers. Every time. If they analyzed individually, I’d respect their position more, but it’s basically automatic. I’ve seen them defend teachers that no one with brain wave patterns could honestly defend, and they lost me when they did that. I lost all trust that they were even capable of every seeing the other side.

    When you use words like nasty, divisive, you are supporting the status quo. You may say, we should change the status quo another way, but I heard that 25 years ago, following people like you just means another generation of bad teachers will stay on the job hurting kids. We have to find a way to change that, and all the alternative ways haven’t worked.

  53. Don said

    on February 11, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    The central premise of Vergara is it that teachers are afforded more protections than all other professions and the difficulty associated with dismissal as a result of these protections raises a constitutional question. Should student achievement suffer so teachers can enjoy these employment protections? How does removing these barriers to dismissal harm society more than the harm caused by keeping them?

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