Courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle and the City Club of San Francisco host a City Summit forum for California Democratic gubernatorial candidates, ( l to r) John Chiang, Antonio Villaraigosa, Delaine Eastin and Gavin Newsom on Oct. 24, 2017.

In one of the first debates among the four leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates, only one — former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — expressed enthusiasm for taking on controversial teacher tenure and seniority laws in California.

“Yes, I would reform it as governor, because we have to address the fact that system is broken when so many poor children and so many children of color are not making it in this state,” Villaraigosa said in the debate sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle at the City Club on Tuesday.

By contrast, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the current front-runner in the November 2018 race, argued that a more important issue to address was the “crisis” of demoralized teachers.

Villaraigosa backed the highly contentious Vergara lawsuit that charged that minority students’ constitutional rights were violated by being taught disproportionately by less effective teachers as a result of the state’s seniority and tenure laws.

The trial judge in the case ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but his ruling was overturned by a higher appeals court. The issue died, at least in the courts, when the California Supreme Court declined to overturn the appeals court ruling.

Villaraigosa pointed out that California was an outlier by allowing teachers to get permanent status within the first two years that they are on the job.  He said when he was mayor, teachers could decide which classes they wanted to teach, based on their seniority, even if they weren’t always the most qualified to teach them. Seniority, he said, “should be a factor, but not the only factor.”

Newsom, who last weekend received the endorsement of the California Teachers Association, took a different position.

“None of us is for bad teachers,” he said. “None of us is standing here defending lousy teachers.”

At the same time, he said, the issue “has been litigated,” referring to the Vergara lawsuit.

“The biggest crisis we have is the demoralization of teachers and the need to recruit more teachers, and retain more teachers, and train more teachers,” he said.

“Firing teachers is not a school reform strategy,” he said.

Rather than through the courts, he said the issue could be addressed by the Legislature or through collective bargaining agreements at the local level.

“There is a right way of doing things, and there is a wrong way of doing things,” he said. “You have to build trust and partnerships.”

“If you want to go fast, go alone,” he said. “If you want to go far, you have to go together.”

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said she had talked with many teachers who themselves feel that two years is too short to make decisions regarding tenure or permanent status. But she said, “If you have a shortage of teachers, this is a silly conversation. They (school districts) are not laying them off in two years or five years, because there is no one wanting to take their jobs.”

She also lamented what she called “the demoralization of the profession,” suggesting that focusing on tenure would do nothing to address it. “We ought to be looking our teachers in the eye and saying ‘thank for taking the most important job in America.'” She suggested that other issues were far more important than focusing on teacher tenure. “We have to create more opportunities for teachers to earn a living wage, more time to collaborate with each other, time to constantly be improving their abilities,” she said.

State Treasurer John Chiang said bluntly that he did not support the trial court judge’s ruling in the Vergara lawsuit declaring California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional.

Without providing details, he said he does support “updating the due process standards (for teachers) in the state of California.” But like most of his fellow candidates, he said it was more important to address the working conditions teachers face.

“We have to look at how we intervene and support teachers in the classroom, how to address teacher shortage issues, the teacher recruitment issue, how teachers can get the training and professional development they need so we can ensure that they are successful.”

What else did they say?  For the entire debate, go the San Francisco Chronicle website here. 

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  1. David B. Cohen 2 months ago2 months ago

    Mr. Raymond, I'm sorry your son felt the loss of this teacher. The elimination of seniority considerations would not simply make this problem disappear. It would have a chilling effect across schools and districts where layoffs were pending. What is the incentive to support a colleague with whom you might be in competition for a job? (And with the messed up health care approach in this country, loss of a job can mean loss of … Read More

    Mr. Raymond, I’m sorry your son felt the loss of this teacher. The elimination of seniority considerations would not simply make this problem disappear. It would have a chilling effect across schools and districts where layoffs were pending. What is the incentive to support a colleague with whom you might be in competition for a job? (And with the messed up health care approach in this country, loss of a job can mean loss of health coverage). We know older teachers would be targeted, creating a disincentive to plan a long career in one place. Relying on one anecdote about one teacher is a convenient way to avoid the broader issues, and the fact that seniority provides stability and predictability. Lets solve layoffs through funding. And if we have a system that makes some people think we have too many ineffective teachers, you have to ask what’s wrong with a system that (in theory) keeps hiring ineffective teachers – or much more likely, hiring potentially effective teachers and then failing to develop and support them.

    And as for the idea that standing up to the union is key to improvement, do a little more reading and research. Unionization is a benefit to schools and districts, and it isn’t hard to find districts where unions and administration can work together for the most part to support schools and kids. Using Los Angeles as the basis for a conversation about California is generally a mistake. There’s nothing comparable to LAUSD in the rest of the state: It’s larger than the next nine largest districts combined.
    https://goo.gl/9gAtsS
    https://edsource.org/2014/why-public-education-needs-teachers-unions/65723

  2. Jonathan Raymond 2 months ago2 months ago

    Try telling your 7-old-son why you have to lay off his amazing teacher whom he loves because she makes learning fun and ignites his curiosity, imagination and love of learning. When I was superintendent in Sacramento, I had this conversation with my son. I told him I was doing my job and enforcing the law in California which requires school districts to lay off teachers based on the date they were hired. I shared this … Read More

    Try telling your 7-old-son why you have to lay off his amazing teacher whom he loves because she makes learning fun and ignites his curiosity, imagination and love of learning. When I was superintendent in Sacramento, I had this conversation with my son. I told him I was doing my job and enforcing the law in California which requires school districts to lay off teachers based on the date they were hired. I shared this emotional story with the trial judge during the Vergara lawsuit. What I didn’t say was what my son told me after I explained the law. “Then it must be a pretty dumb law.” From the mouth of babes comes wisdom.

    All the candidates for Governor are correct in their responses. Tenure needs work, teachers need more support and respect, we need to make a profession people are clamoring to join. What’s in the way? Our public education system is falling short on so many levels. Yes, the teacher tenure and seniority laws are broken and should be fixed. There are good examples from other states on how California might approach this. More importantly, however, is the urgency to address the crises in teacher and educator moral and wellness. Until we address the systemic working conditions, cultures and climates in our classrooms and schools, all other issues are simply problem solving and short term fixes while the underlying issues persist.

    What’s needed more then ever from our leaders in Sacramento and beyond, is a new vision for public education – a North Star – that speaks to educating and developing the whole child. Whole child education places students at the center guided and facilitated by a teacher skilled at meeting the needs of their children, and supported by other adults in their schools and classrooms such as fellow teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians, nurses, administrators, and families. Whole child education places a premium on relationships – relationships between students, educators, family and community. Building and strengthening these relationships built from places of understanding, empathy, and compassion is a must place to start.

  3. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 2 months ago2 months ago

    Where’s the conversation about educating children? Only Antonio Villaraigosa has ever stood up to the teachers’ union to improve California children’s public education. CTA knows this as so has early-endorsed Gavin Newsom. Maybe voters will take note.