Archive for March, 2016

CTA Up Against Another Suit 

Sunday, March 6th, 2016
teachers in low-income public school

teachers in low-income public school

The California Teachers Association (CTA) and every other public employee union in the U.S. is waiting for the decision before the Supreme Court on the case over agency fees (see January 2016 post). Now that Antonin Scalia is no longer with us, and since Congress is unlikely to give in to pressure to approve a justice in an election year, a decision is more likely to go in favor of the unions.

Now CTA faces another suit. On Thursday, February 25, 2016, three judges from the California Appeals Court heard a suit brought by student plaintiffs. Their lawyers state that tenure laws give ironclad job protection, making it difficult to dismiss teachers deemed unqualified. The suit claims that these rules deprive students of good teachers and quality education. The union feels that such regulations help recruit and retain teachers.

The issue of tenure has been debated for years and in California a 2014 landmark decision Vergara v. California struck down five state statutes dealing with tenure awards and rules governing teacher dismissal. In the Superior Court of Los Angeles, judges agreed that the statutes violated student rights to equal education, allowing poor-performing teachers to remain in classrooms indefinitely. Poor and minority students are most affected because openings are found more often in low-income neighborhoods and school administrators are obligated to fill those jobs with whomever applies.

On the one hand, teacher unions put the blame for poorly qualified teachers remaining in the classroom on school district administrators. Many give tenure too easily. They do not follow up relentlessly on the procedures to dismiss poorly-performing teachers which administrators claim can be expensive and time-consuming. Nevertheless, in Long Beach the system does work with dismissal handled efficiently. In San Jose tenure and dismissal negotiated changes are on hold awaiting the appeals decision.

On the other hand, the group Students Matter from which the nine plaintiffs were chosen to bring the suit is financed by conservative business giant, David Welch, a long-time supporter of suits against unions. In addition, Partnership for Education Justice, started in New York to bring similar cases, supporting suits against tenure rules, is funded by conservatives Eli Broad and the Walton family. Their interest is long-standing to change public schools.

It’s true that a USC/Los Angeles Times poll establishes that a majority of California voters want change in tenure and dismissal regulations. Any teacher who has worked in a low-performing public school understands the desire to change tenure and dismissal regulations. They all wish to make more expedient decisions on the dismissal of well-documented cases of poor classroom performance and unwillingness to improve, even after assistance to the teacher from unions and other teachers in the school.

Especially, teachers in low-income schools want to make the system of hiring teachers for open positions stronger. Seniority, however, plays a role in the revolving door at these schools. Low-performing schools have more openings at the start of each year. New teachers leave for family reasons or because they are forced out by ‘last in – first fired’ (LIFO) to make room for longer-employed teachers (not necessarily well-qualified) when another school loses students.

A plan for filling those classes with experienced, well-qualified teachers must be found; seniority because of LIFO must change. “The case has already served the function of drawing increased attention to the tenure system we have,” says Stephen D. Sugarman, UC Berkeley School of Law. It’s not clear that the courts will uphold Vergara, he says, but it could trigger legislative responses.

A school of both new and experienced makes a good teaching community. A decision for the unions or the students, either way, means do something to stop this stress on equal education.