In landmark trial, both sides debate whether teacher protection laws fail students

The teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal laws that the nonprofit organization Students Matter wants a judge to overturn are essential to create a “professional, stable workforce” and attract teachers into a profession with low pay and difficult conditions, a state deputy attorney general said Monday at the start of the much-anticipated Vergara v State of California trial. 

“Eliminating due process and job security could bring about unintended consequences when California is embarking on innovative efforts,” like the Local Control Funding Formula, to improve public schools, Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. The proceedings were streamed over the Internet by the Courtroom View Network.

In the lawsuit, nine students from Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified and three other districts are challenging longstanding legal protections that their attorneys say lead to hiring and keeping “grossly ineffective teachers.” The suit aims at five laws that the plaintiffs say interfere with districts’ ability to make effective decisions: statutes granting tenure or permanent status to probationary teachers after two years, mandating teacher layoffs based on years on the job and setting up a complex dismissal process that turns over appeals to an independent panel. Because disproportionate numbers of bad teachers end up teaching poor and minority children, the lawsuit says, the laws violate the state Constitution’s guarantee to all children of the opportunity for an equal education and should be thrown out.

Four hours of opening statements Monday revealed little common ground, with attorneys for the plaintiffs and for the defense agreeing only that, by the nature of a bell curve, some teachers will be more effective than others. There was no agreement, however, on how to identify those teachers; whether any of the nine plaintiffs actually had the worst teachers; whether the laws or bad managers led to hiring and retaining ineffective teachers; and whether the plaintiffs have overstated teachers’ impact on children, compared with factors like poverty and crowded classrooms.

“We are not saying we have all the answers,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Boutrous. “We are not saying there are not other problems (in schools). We are not asking the court to create an evaluation system. We are not attempting to scapegoat teachers for racism and poverty.”

But, he said, the combination of the laws establishing tenure, ensuring layoffs primarily by seniority and creating an “arduous,” expensive dismissal process together “create a vicious cycle to harm students every day.” They “shackle” superintendents and principals from making the best employment decisions, and the results “scar students for years and sometimes for life.”

In response, defense attorneys said there was no evidence linking the statutes to the assignment of ineffective teachers to schools with the neediest students. They disputed the use of student test scores alone, through a “flawed” methodology called Valued Added Measures or VAM, to identify grossly ineffective teachers. And they said there was no evidence that the nine student plaintiffs had grossly ineffective teachers.

The students, some of whom are now high school students, are expected to appear as witnesses. Beatriz Vergara, for whom the lawsuit is named, will testify that her Los Angeles Unified teachers fell asleep in class and called her fellow Hispanic students the derogatory gang term “chollo.”

But the defense will call to the stand  teachers whom the plaintiffs identified as ineffective to refute those characterizations. One of those teachers, Christine McLaughlin, a seventh grade English teacher at Pasadena Unified, was selected teacher of the year in Los Angeles County last year. Defense attorney James Finberg, representing the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, played video testimonial in which students praised her as an inspiring and caring teacher.

Deputy Attorney General Elias acknowledged that some high-poverty schools do have problems retaining teachers, who move to other schools when they can. But these schools are often “in dangerous areas with difficult working conditions” and a small applicant pool. Throwing out these laws “is not going to break that cycle,” he said. “There is no evidence that the laws force districts” to assign teachers to these schools.

The trial, expected to last at least a month, will pit dueling experts. Those for the plaintiffs will include Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard, whom Boutrous said will present research showing that grossly ineffective teachers – roughly 5 to 10 percent of teachers – create “irreparable harm” for students. Poor teachers lower students’ odds of graduating and getting into a good college, and raise the odds that students will become pregnant, and, over a lifetime, earn less money and save less for retirement, Boutrous said the research will show. Extensive research of more than a million Los Angeles Unified students over seven years by Harvard School of Education Professor Thomas Kane will establish the loss of a half-year learning for students in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher, as measured by test scores, Boutrous said. And that loss compounds for every additional ineffective teacher a students is afflicted with, he said.

But the blame is not the laws but how they’re enforced, Finberg said. Most districts effectively dismiss teachers and make wise decisions in hiring them.

“Good district management is needed for well-run schools,” he said.

 Summary of the arguments

In their opening statements, attorneys outlined the evidence they will present on the laws in question in coming weeks. (To see the slides that Ted Boutrous presented in his opening statement, go here.)

Tenure law

In California, probationary teachers are at-will employees who can be fired without cause but who are entitled to permanent status or tenure, with due process protections, after two years.

Plaintiffs: California is an “outlier,” one of only a handful of states with such a short probationary period, Boutrous said. To bring a recommendation of tenure to the school board and meet legal notification requirements, the decision on whether to give tenure must be made by January of the second year, after only 16 months on the job. Such a short time leads to hurried judgments and mistakes.

Defense: Administrators largely agree that they have more than enough time to identify grossly ineffective teachers, “the worst of the worst,” Elias said. “They will testify that they will err on the side of caution,” denying permanent status “if they have any doubts about it.”

The nine plaintiffs, including Beatriz Vergara, who brought suit against the state. This  slide, without names, was shown in opening arguments Monday in the case. Some of the students attended the session.

The nine plaintiffs, including Beatriz Vergara, who brought suit against the state. This slide, without names, was shown in court in opening arguments Monday. Some of the students attended the session.

Dismissal statutes

Plaintiffs: California has “a broken system,” Boutrous said, with a “byzantine series of hurdles” leading to a right of appeal before a three-person panel that takes control of employment decisions away from districts. Superintendents will testify that they lack the resources to go through the arduous process of firing grossly ineffective teachers, he said. Instead, they adopt workarounds: they pay off teachers through settlements; transfer them to other schools, where they become another principal’s problem; or send them to “rubber rooms,” where they are paid not to teach. Even 62 percent of teachers surveyed agreed that students would be better off if ineffective teachers were dismissed, according to economist Eric Hanushek, who will testify.

Defense: Tenure is not a guaranteed job for life, said Finberg, representing the teachers unions. Due-process protections insure that districts’ decisions will not be made arbitrarily, and protect teachers from cronyism, favoritism or punishments for teaching content, such as evolution, that some school board members don’t like. The small number of formal dismissals is deceiving. In 80 percent of the 530 dismissal actions filed between 2008-12, teachers reached a settlement or abandoned the challenge. And in most cases that go the full route, the districts have won, Elias said.

Layoffs by seniority

State law protects veteran teachers, although there are exceptions for less experienced teachers who have specialized training and who teach in areas where teachers are in short supply, such as special education and high school science.

Plaintiffs: The “last in, first out” statute creates “an irrational system, firing some of the brightest and most enthusiastic teachers while retaining” the worst, Boutrous said. As was proven in the Reed case in Los Angeles Unified, the LIFO statute, as it is known, has decimated the staff at low-income schools schools where newer teachers were disproportionately assigned. A study by an expert witness, Daniel Goldhaber, a research professor at the University of Washington, found that only 16 percent of teachers laid off by seniority would be laid off based on an effectiveness-based system, Boutrous said.

Defense: There is a positive correlation between experience and effectiveness and so “in the aggregate,” more effective teachers are retained than laid off through seniority. And reductions in force should have nothing to do with teacher performance. It is not intended to be “a safety net for districts that have not dealt with ineffective teachers,” Elias said. Without this seniority protection, districts will let go their more expensive teachers, he said.

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


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers.

  • To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective.
  • Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to.
  • EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and offensive comments.
  • EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.
  • Please limit comments to 250 words to prevent comment clutter; if you intend to say more please link out to a place that contains your full comment.
  • Comments with more than one link automatically enter moderation. Comments from new commenters are automatically moderated.
  • Repeated violation of this comment policy will lead to a warning. Continued violations will lead to a ban.

40 Responses to “In landmark trial, both sides debate whether teacher protection laws fail students”

EdSource does not track who "likes or dislikes" a comment. We only track the number of likes and dislikes.

  1. Manuel on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:19 pm01/29/2014 1:19 pm

    • 000

    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 that the resulting article is different than what is in the local cache.

    Most weird.


    • navigio on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm01/29/2014 1:48 pm

      • 000

      this has been going on for months. it seemed to be fixed for a while, though had re-emerged in recent days.

      it is a bummer..

      • John Fensterwald on Jan 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm01/29/2014 9:28 pm

        • 000

        Sorry for how long it has taken recently to sometimes post a comment. We’re considering some alternatives for comment posting and looking into other server fixes.

        • Paul Muench on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:21 pm01/30/2014 10:21 pm

          • 000

          FYI, for the last couple months I have noticed that it takes “longer” to initially load the EdSource Today web page. After the first time in a day it seems to go faster, so maybe some web caching is helping. I did not change any browser settings on purpose and it seems peculiar to EdSource.

  2. Manuel on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm01/29/2014 1:11 pm

    • 000

    In answer to Filippo (for some reasons, I can’t post it as a reply to his post):

    I am hoping that such questions will be answered during court testimony.

    Please pass the popcorn, will you?

  3. Filippo on Jan 29, 2014 at 5:16 am01/29/2014 5:16 am

    • 000

    Just congenially curious – are the study habits, work ethic, social skills (paying attention, resting ones voice, following directions), intellectual curiosity, sense of responsibility and duty, etc. of the above-pictured students (and their parents?) subject to examination in this legal proceeding? Or is there the (cultural and legal) presumption that, as minors, they cannot possibly bear any personal accountability for their own education?


    • Manuel on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:07 pm01/29/2014 1:07 pm

      • 000

      I’m hoping that such questions will be answered during testimony.

      Pass the popcorn, will you?

  4. Paul on Jan 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm01/28/2014 9:28 pm

    • 000

    Manuel, non-reelection and layoff are governed by different sections of the Education Code. There are separate requirements for preliminary layoff notice by March 15th in any year of probationary or permanent service (temporary service ends after one year, so there is no notion of layoff and no notice for that sizable group of teachers) and for notice of non-reelection in a teacher’s second consecutive full-time year of probationary service within his or her current district.

    As Gary points out, young teachers were historically not at-will employees in California. Until 1983, three years of consecutive, full-time service in the current district were required before a teacher advanced from probationary to temporary status, BUT during that period, the school district had to have — and disclose — a reason for dismissing the teacher. The compromise shortened the probationary period, a gain for teachers (largely undone by districts’ illegal use of temporary status, sometimes for years on end, before probation begins), while making probationary service at-will (a gain for management).

    el and Paul Muench, as Gary points out, dismissal without cause really means without cause. Non-reelection is at the discretion of the superintendent, subject only to acceptance of a summary report (which doesn’t identify the teachers or state the reasons, as there are no reasons, in a legal sense) by the board. The California School Boards Association (CSBA) even discourages board members from casting dissenting votes!

    As for principals, they might be consulted, or they might not, but they have no legal authority to make non-reelection decisions. Case law also makes clear that there is no relationship between evaluations and reelection. As Gary points out, teachers with glowing evaluations are non-reelected. My local district doesn’t involve principals or consider evaluations; non-reelection decisions are simply handed down from the district office.

    The assertion that it takes from mid-January to mid-March for a school board to approve a certificated personnel action report is nonsense. Preliminary layoff resolutions are routinely published and passed just days before that separate March 15th deadline, often because a district is still correcting its seniority list, waiting for news of retirements, or scowering its budget for extra funds.

    A year or more of temporary service, followed by two years of probationary service with a final decision due three months shy of the end of the school year, is ample.

    You cannot, in a field where salaries are low, where the qualification is useless in any other field, and where most of the training costs are paid for by the state, wait very long before deciding to let someone go. Smart people don’t tolerate so much risk. Instead, they choose other professions.

    The right to place a permanent black mark on a teacher’s record without having, let alone disclosing, a reason, also has a chilling effect. Although some non-reelected teachers do find work in other districts, they must, every time they apply for a teaching job for the rest of their lives, disclose the non-reelection.

    Given the state’s investment in teacher training, rational economic policy would suggest doing everything possible to help young teachers to improve. This begins with feedback. There is no feedback in dismissal without cause.

    Unfortunately, whereas the state would save money by retaining teachers, school districts save money by dumping them quickly.

    I’ll close by pointing out two dubious claims in the lawsuit:

    1. That teachers spend 25 years in the classroom. California does not have a system for tracking teacher retention. National statistics inducate that 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years. We claim BTSA Induction reduces attrition, but we only survey teachers who have completed BTSA, which they have 5 years to do, and we never compared results before and after the introduction of BTSA.

    2. That it costs districts money when site administrators have to testify in dismissal hearings for teachers with permanent status. Administrators are neither paid extra nor replaced when out for short periods of testimony. There is no financial opportunity cost, either, as their regular duties do not save or generate money. (This claim is much like the claim that teacher turnover costs districts money. In fact, turnover reduces average teacher salaries, saving thousands of dollars per position per year — forever. Here again, there is no financial opportunity cost associated with the time that a principal spends interviewing replacement teachers. School districts are disingenuous, just like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, which promote themselves to the public and to anti-trust regulators as “low-fare” carriers. Meanwhile, their financial reports and investor presentations boast of hard-won increases in average airfares.)

    Let’s be honest: school districts want teachers to be at-will employees throughtout their careers, because replacement is always cheaper (for districts) and easier (for districts) than retention.


    • Paul on Jan 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm01/28/2014 9:31 pm

      • 000

      In my second paragraph, the sentence should read, “advanced from probationary to permanent status”, of course!

      • Ann on Jan 29, 2014 at 12:23 am01/29/2014 12:23 am

        • 000

        The pay isn’t low for a BS….in my opinion.

        • Paul on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:40 am01/29/2014 7:40 am

          • 000

          Hello, Ann.

          Teacher pay and benefits vary from district to district, as do practices that determine which category of pay and benefits young teachers receive. If you’re talking about Carmel (generally thought of as the state’s highest-paying district), Woodside, Pacific Grove or Pleasanton, then yes, a small segment of the teacher workforce is well-compensated.

          In the main Central Coast and East Bay districts, teachers start at between $37,000 and $42,000, and this rises anemically, often over a period of 15 years. Many of the districts I have in mind don’t provide benefit subsidies normal for white collar professionals, either. It’s common to find free dental (worth $65/month/person insured) and free vision ($15/month/person), but only a partial contribution toward individual health insurance and none at all for one’s dependents. Districts contribute 8.25% to STRS. This is a mere 2 percentage points above what private employers pay to Social Security, and in most cases, those employers provide 401(k) matching for professional workers. Teachers who last fewer than five years (a substantial but unknown number, as there is no retention tracking system in California, even forfeit the district’s 8.25% STRS contribution, whereas Social Security credit is permanent, and portable across professions. It should be noted that even shorter periods of service would be one if the consequences of the changes that the litigants are seeking.

          A California teacher must have a minimum of four years of undergraduate and one year of graduate study, and complete an induction program, which, in terms of academic units, amounts to a second post-graduate year. Although most California teachers earn their teaching credentials at public universities, where the state pays most instructional costs for all majors, the student share (tuition) has risen sharply in recent years.

          Statistically speaking, teachers earn less than police officers, firefighters, nurses, and public transit bus drivers, and those professions require fewer years of postsecondary education (no years, in the last case).

          • navigio on Jan 29, 2014 at 8:41 am01/29/2014 8:41 am

            • 000

            Often the lowest salary are not k-12 teachers but ECE teachers. Thus the actual starting k-12 rate may be slightly higher than what is reported.

  5. Mark Twainfive on Jan 28, 2014 at 7:07 pm01/28/2014 7:07 pm

    • 000

    We will always have some teachers who are viewed by some as less competent just as we view some doctors, plumbers, lawyers, policemen, politicians, and etc. as less competent. Today, we are all experts at judging others level of competence. I usually judge those who agree with my beliefs as very competent and of course those who have views which I do not agree with as very incompetent! There is the basis for how I view the world of competence. However, there was that one teacher I hated at the time I was in her 5th grade class at Lyon School because she made me work more than I wanted to in order to get a good grade. I would have filed a law suit to have her fired but back then we never thought about suing our schools or teachers. Good thing I did not sue her because looking back, Mrs. Madden turned my life around and my mother sent me the newspaper several years back with her obituary in it. I still think about the impact she had on me. It is sad because no one probably ever told her “what a wonderful teacher she was”. I pray for my grandchildren’s future that we stop destroying our valuable public school system before it is too late. There are never any simple answers like get rid of this or change that, so all we can do is expect each person to do their best under sometimes very difficult circumstances.

  6. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm01/28/2014 3:38 pm

    • 000

    Public school students, parents and taxpayers have been living for 40 years with the “unintended negative consequences” of California Teachers Association rules that enshrine two-year teacher tenure, inflexible last-hired-first-fired staffing rules and the now-scandalously cumbersome, lengthy and stacked out-of-district administrative hearings for teacher dismissals.

    It’s past time for changing such entrenched practices. CTA — the richest and most powerful lobby in Sacramento — should be part of making it happen. The status quo is no longer acceptable. Change will enhance the status of teachers and will improve public education in our state.


    • Gary Ravani on Jan 28, 2014 at 5:33 pm01/28/2014 5:33 pm

      • 000

      Actually, you’re a little off in your history there. At one time there was a 3 year probationary period, but the teacher could only be non-reelected “with cause.” School administrators wanted to do way with the “with cause” part, because it could be challenged, so the quid pro quo was to do that but reduce the probationary period to 2 years and eliminate cause and due process.

      Teachers routinely spend a year or so as “temporary teachers” where they can be evaluated as frequently as administrators so desire. Add to that the probationary period and, realistically, most teachers spend more than the required two years of probationary status. Sometimes it 3, 4, or 5 years or more.During the temporary status period teachers can be dismissed without cause at any time. During probation the teacher can be non-reelected without cause but then notified that are not being retained by March 15th. Even if teachers receive exemplary evaluations during temporary or probationary status they can, and are, released “without cause.”

      Obviously, if the teacher commits an act that violates the law or good professional conduct, they can be removed from the classroom by management immediately. When the State Auditor examined certain issues in the LA District it found that delays in dealing with teacher conduct were due to management not following its own policies and procedures. When there were excessive delays in bringing the few cases that went to hearings re teacher performance it was primarily due to attorneys for management asking for delays. When all was said and done, the only individual i am aware of who was cited by the CA Credentialing Commission for not following the law and Ed Code it was a certain district superintendent who just happens to be mentioned in the article above. A good reason to be talking about “bad teachers” and “bad laws.” Keeps public attention off of what you might have been up to, or not up to as was the case.

      The bottom line is, management has plenty of time and opportunity to determine if teachers are qualified or not. Then, if they haven’t done their job, it becomes the union’s fault or it’s a problem with the law. Makes sense, right?

      • Paul Muench on Jan 28, 2014 at 7:29 pm01/28/2014 7:29 pm

        • 000

        What are the problems with waiting for 3 years instead of 2?

        • Gary Ravani on Jan 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm01/28/2014 11:04 pm

          • 000

          If someone proposed that as legislation with the caveat that non-reelection would be “with cause only” and therefore possible to challenge and subject to due process the parties might well be willing to discuss the topic. Maybe.

          • Paul Muench on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:08 pm01/29/2014 7:08 pm

            • 000

            I understood the self-interest point of view. Does your response mean that is the extent of the reasons?

          • navigio on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm01/30/2014 8:26 pm

            • 000

            why would anyone agree to that? from an administrative position it would actually be more restrictive than what exists today.

    • An OLD Teacher and Proud of it!!! on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:40 pm01/29/2014 11:40 pm

      • 000

      Perhaps you are right. End the status quo. Fire all the old timers who have all the experience and expertise. Hire all those young chicks right out of college and let them find out how hard it is to teach kids who come to school with more on their minds than learning. Let them find out the hard way that many of our poor students come to school with empty bellies and fearful hearts. Let those young teachers learn how hard it is to teach these kids when no one at home can help them with their homework or greet them with kiss when they get home from school. Toss out those tenured teachers who have dedicated a quarter of a century to teaching their students how to read, write, and become valuable members of society. Toss those old teachers out because their students can’t compete with their peers in richer neighborhoods for books, life experiences, and stable homes. These kids come to school with years of catch up ahead of them. Do I care that my test scores don’t look as good as my fellow teacher who teaches at a richer school? When the kids’ test scores become more important to me than teaching what my kids need, then this old teacher with 26 years of experience and a heart full of love for her students will toss in her white board markers. Until then, let the status quo be d…. I have kids who need me and know that I will NOT abandon them just because of politics. I won’t be persuaded by some snot-nosed principal with less than 5 years teaching experience tell me that the latest and greatest program will be the best thing since French toast. never mind that I, an old timer, saw the very same program NOT work the first time I saw it 20 years ago. Experience knows a thing or two! Status quo be …d…

  7. CarolineSF on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:34 pm01/28/2014 3:34 pm

    • 000

    And by the way, don’t forget that correlation doesn’t equal causation. I would suspect that witnesses with an agenda are claiming that it does, and trusting that observers and the press forget that essential point. It needs to be emblazoned.

  8. Jann GT on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm01/28/2014 3:27 pm

    • 000

    I wonder who will be willing to teach with no job security and very low pay. My daughter-in-law who holds only a BA makes more in her first year as a lab tech for an oil refinery than I do as a veteran teacher with several credentials and advanced degrees.

    While I don’t think that I would suffer under this change because of my teaching work, I do believe that an administrator might want to save a bit of money a replace a veteran teacher with someone who only costs half of my salary. Tenure protects me from that kind of corruption.

    In no way would I recommend any young person enter the field of education–though I have loved the challenge of working with unique individuals and trying to share a love and skill with literacy. The pain of being a teacher in a society which does not value education or teachers is not for the meek. Thank goodness that youth are ever so much more interesting and kind than the adults in my culture.

  9. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman on Jan 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm01/28/2014 3:15 pm

    • 000

    This is a historic and important case that has taken years to come forward: it’s past time to deal with the issues being presented. The plaintiffs are not demons: they are public school parents and students with concerns common to every tax-paying parent and public school student in the State of California.

    The caveat to avoid unintended negative consequences for teachers’ well-being is disingenuous and self-serving. We need to change existing teacher tenure rules to a longer probationary period. We need to remove ironclad last-hired-first-fired regulations to sustain excellence and allow staffing flexibility. We need to eliminate lengthy, cumbersome and stacked administrative hearings for teacher dismissals. These positive changes will improve our public schools and actually enhance the status of our teachers.

    Unintended negative consequences? We have lived for at least 40 years with the unintended negative consequences of existing skewed regulations, to the detriment of California public education. It is unfortunate that comments raised here today apparently are true-blue California Teachers Association (CTA) voices. As the richest most powerful lobby in Sacramento bar none, CTA representatives are vigilant defenders of status quo official union truth, but substantive change is needed. I hope it happens as a result of this case.


    • CarolineSF on Jan 28, 2014 at 11:53 pm01/28/2014 11:53 pm

      • 000

      Why is it unfortunate that teachers would speak up against being demonized? Wouldn’t that be expected? (Though I don’t believe most people speaking up here are teachers; I’m not, though my husband is, and my mother and mother-in-law are retired teachers.)

      • Ann on Jan 29, 2014 at 12:14 am01/29/2014 12:14 am

        • 000

        methinks they are mostly teachers… one is being “demonized”.

  10. CarolineSF on Jan 28, 2014 at 10:59 am01/28/2014 10:59 am

    • 000

    In my kids’ high school, a new teacher proved to be very problematic. The principal announced that that teacher wouldn’t be returning after his second teaching year.

    A forceful and vocal, albeit clueless, parent started to gather support for mounting a protest AGAINST letting the teacher go, a “Save Mr. Doe” petition.

    Just to show how complicated it is.

    For the record, I was the one who definitively dissuaded the parent from pursuing the plan to protest.

  11. el on Jan 28, 2014 at 9:03 am01/28/2014 9:03 am

    • 000

    If I could make the rule by fiat, I would keep the two year probationary period and I would also streamline the removal process. I would keep layoffs as seniority based.

    Here are my reasons:

    1. If a teacher is ineffective, two years (18 months) is a good period of time to come to that conclusion, that the teacher either is going to keep improving or should be replaced. In the first year, you’re still thinking of the good qualities in the interview and hoping those will come out. By the start of the second, you know if that’s likely or possible. Extending this period simply means that administrators will take longer to remove the teachers that aren’t working out, to the detriment of kids and to the process. Three or four years is actually long enough to lose track of who is probationary if it’s not top of mind for the administrator, especially in a school with a lot of turnover. It is my opinion, based on my particular observations, that lengthening the period would have the effect of lowering the bar for who becomes permanent.

    2. It is completely possible to remove a tenured teacher who is not working out, and there are methods other than the dismissal process. (The advent of the ACA, actually, may help a lot with older teachers who used to hang on past their retirement eligibility to keep health insurance for their younger spouses.) But, it is certainly cumbersome for everyone if the teacher elects to fight. We can ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing while also making it less time consuming and less expensive for everyone. At the end of the day, if the district really doesn’t want that teacher and has followed the law and process for dismissal, it doesn’t really benefit anyone (even the teacher) for the CPC to force the district to take the teacher back.

    3. Layoffs are always destructive and painful. We should avoid having them at all. When they do happen, choosing by seniority is at least clear to everyone. Districts could choose to alter this by making seniority per school or per region, so that all schools share the pain evenly. In any case, there are less destructive solutions to the issue of some schools losing more of their teachers than others.

  12. Manuel on Jan 28, 2014 at 12:02 am01/28/2014 12:02 am

    • 000

    Sorry, I can’t help but point out that Slide 28 repeats the canard that the administrative panel is weighted in favor of teachers by insisting that both position (other than the Administrative Law Judge) must be teachers. In fact, one is a certificated person who is chosen by the district. True, most administrators maintain their teaching credential current, but that doesn’t make them automatically be in favor of the accused teacher.

    But we have discussed this before…

  13. David B. Cohen on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:55 pm01/27/2014 9:55 pm

    • 000

    Chetty and co-authors are economists. They are not experts in education or measurement in education (psychometrics). Most responsible researchers outside of economics (and many in that field as well) have said to the limited extent VAM may have uses in understanding something about teaching and learning, it’s not ready or appropriate for use in actual high stakes decisions. It does not follow that schools can or should attempt to identify effective teachers by the means Chetty used. Any policy or legal advice he might offer would seem to be based on observations about what happens to numbers if you change some of the variables in the equation. Changing people and systems is a different matter.

  14. Manuel on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm01/27/2014 9:42 pm

    • 000

    John, which bell curve are you referring to in the article? The one describing the perceived ability of teachers or the one describing the students scores that form the basis of VAM?


    • John Fensterwald on Jan 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm01/27/2014 10:21 pm

      • 000

      Actually, I now have the link to the slides that the plaintiffs attorney, Ted Boutrous. presented in his opening statement. The slide you refer to was prepared by economist Eric Hanushek, who will testify in the case. It is #11.

      • Manuel on Jan 27, 2014 at 11:53 pm01/27/2014 11:53 pm

        • 000

        Thank you, John, for keeping an eye on Student Matters’ web site.

        According to Slide 11, the graph seems to state that teachers to the right of -1 standard deviation are deemed effective. But the graph does not identify what the units of the horizontal axis are (the vertical is expected to be the number of teachers at that “score”). What is being measured that defines that effectiveness is not mentioned in the slide. However, the slide does identify the source of the information as being Hanushek’s paper on “The Economic Value of Higher Teacher Quality.”

        I’ve found a copy of the paper and this graph is not included. What I did find is the following:

        The basic approach to estimating teacher effectiveness begins with a model of student achievement (A)
        for student i in grade g as a function of lagged achievement, a fixed effect for each teacher (delta_j), and other factors (X) that might affect performance as in:
        (2) A_it = (1 – theta)A_it-1 + delta_j + beta X_j + nu_it

        I recognize this equation as a variant of VAM where A_it is the “score” in a given test and the rest the coefficients needed to relate the score in the prior time-period (A_it-1) that then get adjusted to get the resulting matrix to be “solvable.” I can only assume that the delta_j, which is supposed to be teacher’s effectiveness value, is what is being plotted in the graph. The next question would be which district provided the scores used to grade these teachers which then ended up in this graph. Looking for that primary source proves to be a futile task because the citation simply has a table of estimates again produced by yet another VAM study. I punt.

        Anyway, measuring teacher effectiveness this way is, to me, nuts because the method is nothing else but an exercise in fitting into a relationship factors that have little to do with each other. Labor economists who do this for a living (like UCB’s Rothstein, himself one of the reference of another reference) have criticized this approach as unstable from year to year and so “noisy” as to be totally unreliable.

        Given this, I find the reliance of one researcher’s poorly documented ideas as fundamental to the validity of this case to be a grotesque manipulation of a tenuous application of mathematics. As they say in certain parts of the world, just because the monkey is dressed in silk finery does not change the fact that it is still a monkey.

        God help us all if this case is won by the plaintiffs.

  15. el on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm01/27/2014 9:00 pm

    • 000

    “Those for the plaintiffs will include Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard, whom Boutrous said will present research showing that grossly ineffective teachers – roughly 5 to 10 percent of teachers – create “irreparable harm” for students. Poor teachers lower students’ odds of graduating and getting into a good college, and raise the odds of students getting pregnant, and, over a lifetime, earning less money and saving less for retirement, Boutrous said the research will show.”

    I suspect being a foster kid is a lot lot worse than having a poor teacher.

    What about living in a neighborhood with a grossly ineffective police department? I bet that has all those same effects.

    I’ve seen that research. I think that the way it is cited by people grossly overstates the actual correlation. Just as an example, I think it turns out that putting kids in preschool has more positive effect than their bad teacher has as a negative effect.

  16. el on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm01/27/2014 8:55 pm

    • 000

    navigio, as a practical matter, the non-reelect has to go out by March 15 IIRC. As I understand it, administrators are taught that it is bad practice to surprise a staff member with one – they should know it is coming. Thus, a scenario might be that the teacher was kind of on the bubble at the end of the first semester but the principal thinks there’s the possibility for improvement. At the end of the academic year, doubts are in place and before the next academic year begins, a pretty clear plan would be laid out. Generally by December or so said administrator is going to have a pretty clear idea of whether or not that staff member will be allowed to stay on.

    Even these new teachers have a year-to-year contract unless it was set up as a more temporary position.


    • Manuel on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm01/27/2014 9:39 pm

      • 000

      el, isn’t that a change caused by the requirement that pink slips go out by March 15, especially now that lay-offs have been triggered?

      I don’t recall that this was the case, say, 20 years ago…

  17. navigio on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm01/27/2014 8:11 pm

    • 000

    I noticed deasy said tenure is granted after 18 months. But ed code says only on the 3rd consecutive yearly contract is a district required to grant permanent status. Why did he say 18 months?


    • Manuel on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:31 pm01/27/2014 9:31 pm

      • 000

      He is playing possum.

      18 months is two 9-month periods.

      School is 180 instruction days, which works out to about 36 weeks.

      A month is roughly 4 weeks.

      Hence, two 9-months-periods with 4-weeks on each “month” is the amount of time a teacher spends on probation before being granted tenure.

      It wouldn’t have the same impact as saying two years (24 months!), would it?

      No, the poor administrator only has 18 months to make a very important decision. How could s/he be expected to do a good job in such a short period?

      It’s all about spin, don’t you know?

      • Manuel on Jan 27, 2014 at 11:58 pm01/27/2014 11:58 pm

        • 000

        Well, how about that? I am wrong in this cynical interpretation.

        An explanation (a talking point?) is found in slide 21 of the plaintiffs’ attorney opening remarks. (see post by John below for link to slides.)

        But it still boils down to the same thing: the poor administrators cannot figure out if a teacher will be effective or not over the time they are doing the evaluation.

        This can, of course, be turned around: what if the administrator does a lousy job in observations and deems a perfectly good teacher as a lousy one? It could happen, no? Wouldn’t that be grounds for someone to appeal the decision to not grant “tenure?”

        • Ann on Jan 29, 2014 at 12:06 am01/29/2014 12:06 am

          • 000

          “They will testify that they will err on the side of caution,” denying permanent status “if they have any doubts about it.”

          It can and does happen. First year teachers poorly trained in our ed schools have a steep learning curve in an actual classroom. Having to make this judgement, which denies a teacher permanently from attaining tenure(at least in our district), half way through the second year is wrongheaded and culls some very promising educators.

Template last modified: