Archive for the ‘layoff notices’ Category

Tenure Issue 1: Dismiss the Teacher

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Have you read about the June 2014 Vergara vs. California decision?

High school students in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Alum Rock Unified School Districts brought the case to court because their education was impaired by “bad” teachers that were not dismissed even after long time complaints. These teachers are not the ones you hear about that have sexually harassed girls and boys, that have kept alcohol in their desk drawers in order to take a shot during breaks, or that have disrupted faculty meetings with argument, resorting to insults and physical intimidation. They can be dismissed quickly.

The teachers described in the Vergara decision deliberately performed poorly in the classroom insulting, berating, or ignoring student requests. The students cower in their seats, fearful of asking questions, or shout out in frustration.

Would you not think that there should be a procedure for the principal to dismiss that teacher immediately? It isn’t that easy.

Teachers unions formed long ago to protect teachers’ rights after an unending list of circumstances when a teacher was dismissed for untenable reasons. Now with tenure established, there is a specific set of judicial procedures that must be followed to terminate employment. Teachers are protected from unfair harassment, but “bad” teachers are protected too.

Step One to remedy this situation that wreaks havoc in the public schools is for unions (I’m a member of CTA) to rework the process for dismissal. It’s not hard when a teacher is arrested, but any number of procedures can delay the termination of a teacher like those brought up in the Vergara trial.

It is true that students deserve a qualified teacher who teaches the subject and that treats his or her students with respect. That is how the classroom should be managed, not by dictatorial insult and punishment.

Step Two, with high quality in mind, upgrade the status of teaching. Every education article you read says raise the salary and stabilize the workload so that each state can attract people who will stay in the field.

The quality of teacher preparation must be upgraded and not by slo mo action. California State Universities have begun this effort.

Professional development programs, especially with the Common Core State Standards implementation, can ease the fears about something new. Coalition for Community Schools and Communities in Schools are two organizations dedicated to caring for qualified teachers country-wide. Seek out their models.

Political policy awareness in the state government and the local community is a priority. One of the strongest decisions in the suit was to revise the “last in, first out” teacher layoff policy. The California State Legislature’s goal for the new session will be to rework (with the unions) that part of the tenure regulations. In addition, one benefit in Teach for America’s program is the Leadership for Educational Equity.

How can students be assured of success if the people teachers elect to support education do not step up?


Appreciate Teachers

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

This year Teacher Appreciation Day lands almost at my turn to post. Good!

I’m feeling grateful that my Master’s degree program is almost complete. Yippee! I did well too!

My fourth grade students have performed well this year, and parents are already questioning if I can be their child’s teacher next year. What more can you ask for? A bountiful lunch is always served and greeted with delight, but “thanks” is most valued.

As if the negative words won’t be felt, I have seen a few full page ads thanking teachers again and again. Maybe some influence has been felt as those experts at negativity have heard from constituents, parents, teachers, or children.

How have I learned to speak to students? Find the positive. More likely to stick (if the administration is relentless) than telling kids how bad they are.

I read in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 2012, that San Francisco teachers, having worked without a contract for many years, are ready to strike. It turns out collective bargaining hasn’t worked for them in spite of cooperation through years of budget shortfalls, layoffs, furloughs, increased class size, and elimination of summer school. Nor has mediation worked this time. My mom said I was in my first walkout when I was only a year old. No babysitter was available, so she took me. The district and the local union settled but not until a lot of howling on both sides. San Francisco School District is the big local urban district that is really hurting.

Now that budgets are such a mess in the state (see the EdSource report), I’m happy that our district looked ahead and the teachers are middle-of-the-road types so they listen, even when they have objections.

As long as teachers feel appreciated, and not denigrated, they keep teaching all the children, easy and difficult, in schools in America.

My advice: celebrate and don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

When Are Things Bad?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Think 21st century. The reputation of a public school district depends on where it’s located and the money available. Think of a particular school district in a particular state, any state. Here is a q & a to help establish a rep.

Does it snow in the winter? Students need light and heat. Don’t cut into the cost of electricity. That’s all the U.S. has right now.

Hot in the spring and fall? Everyone wants air-conditioning.

Does the school have a lot of high-income kids or only low-income? Parents want kids to have their own textbooks-either way. Don’t save money by sharing books.

Are a lot of kids packed in each classroom? Have schools been closed and kids stuffed into another school? Parents and students want smaller class size and more teachers.

Do students live far from the school? How far before the school district cuts the busing cost? In some urban areas, students walk or ride bikes; in far off rural districts students just don’t attend, creating drop-out and graduation problems.

Has the school been known for music and sports? Parents and students don’t like those programs to be cut. They will pay fees, raise funds for instruments and uniforms, and drive (with their own insurance costs) to provide these activities, but don’t cut the teachers and coaches.

Have custodians been laid off in the district? And the teachers told to sweep and empty waste baskets? Who do you think does the work? Clue: instructional minutes in the school day. As services are cut, this has long been an exercise in elementary schools. Now middle and high schools.

How long has the school had librarians, nurses, and uniformed security personnel? Are their services being cut?

Has the school district cut the equipment and teachers who provide computer training? Computers are part of the 21st century world. Every graduate needs to have some skill with electronic equipment. Not every student has a computer, cell phone, or Internet service at home.  Or the family income to support it.

Have vocational programs and teachers been cut from the school district? Not every graduate will attend college.

Have counselors, special education teachers, and tutors been cut or eliminated from the school district? Are the services continually on the edge?  Mental health and special education are the most difficult services to maintain and upgrade in a school district.

Look up Texas, New York, and California to see how each of these states have financially chomped up parts of school districts. Forget about test scores, standards, and evaluation. Just look at the school infrastructure.

March! Who Gets a Layoff Notice?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

What a time to think about layoffs. March is disconcerting enough as I’m getting students ready to be good test takers a well as teaching curriculum. I’m also completing a thesis for my master’s degree before I graduate in May.

California elementary school

California elementary school

As a group, my students have learned to write better than I had hoped. My thesis included research in non-fiction writing and how students learn to write better essays when they read non-fiction. I spent writing time this year looking at non-fiction reading and writing techniques. When I examined the last essay, not only had most students used the strategies we had practiced, but some had learned other techniques that were not specifically taught. The project did not require a pre- and post- test; instead I used the standards taught in fourth grade. What an improvement I saw in student writing. I hope they remember next year. And I don’t have to worry about being laid off just as I succeed.

According to the news it must be March, at least for California education regulations. Notice of layoffs must be made by March 15. My district, one of about 990 in the state, has solved its pink slip furor. In this year of budget cuts (depending on what voters decide for initiatives in November 2012), not a single teacher is probationary in my district. If you were hired for this year, you understood from the first day that it was a temporary position and your job ends when the school year ends. In the district there are not even enough teachers for all the positions available, so after returning “leaves” are assigned, only new temporary workers will be added or rehired.

My district is unlike San Francisco schools where pink slips float down from the heavens. Take away the fourteen schools on the superintendent’s low-performance list.  New teachers willing to work in those low-performing schools under the guidelines set out to improve the academic success of students will not be laid off, no matter how low they fall on the seniority list. In a post written last year, schools in Los Angeles were allowed to keep teachers only after a lawsuit about unequal treatment of the students caused by layoffs of new teachers.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has put forth legislation to “lay off teachers at low academic schools at the same rate as others with higher rankings.” See the Editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle of Friday, March 2, 2012.

Which side do I stand on? Most teachers know that unions were started to stop administrators from giving arbitrary reasons for dismissal. Also so that teachers had influence on pay and health benefits.

But now I don’t think we should even hold arguments about layoffs. The California Teachers Association (CTA) needs to cut off such talk and come up with a solution.

After all, do you recall that working citizens have repeated in survey after survey that education is at the top of the list for California and every state in the union? However, when asked to provide funds, most often by taxation, the American people look the other way.

Money Trickles In

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

After rambunctious teacher demonstrations last week from San Diego to Humboldt, California, the news has changed. Not a mere hopeful whisper, the April state tax revenues have actually been tallied in California (and many other states). School districts, at least for the 2011-2012 year, won’t see further slice and slash to their funds.

Teachers have already been notified by union negotiators that announcements will soon be made to withdraw lay-off notifications. The sigh of relief is more like a cumulative whoosh. No one was looking forward to next year and its combination of draconian cuts in services.

A brief update of why: during the first days of the 2007-2008 recession, state budgets were too optimistic about turn around in revenues. That error was soon obvious and so legislative budgets set cautious estimates, too cautious as it turns out. In California, it’s possible that $6.6 billion more revenue will be collected than last year, most of which will go to fulfill the state’s formula for funding schools.

As the demonstrations last week clamored, even while rumors made the rounds, the state still has a large imbalance to the budget. The tax legislation that will sunset this year must be extended to begin to balance the state budget over time.  But the conflict over spending cuts vs. raising revenue remains.

At the state and federal level, for whom and to where money is allocated continues to hurt the actual detailed reforms that numerous public school think tanks wish to implement. It has been a year since Congress began to fiddle with revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Teachers unions want changes to testing, student achievement benchmarks, and accountability. Most conservatives in Congress want to cut various programs funded by ESEA as a way to reduce the deficit. Others feel the state and local Departments of Education should take all the responsibility for flexible dispersal of funds in a state.

The last possibility affects federal Title I monies for disadvantaged children and Title II funds for English Language Learners. How will compromise be made when the National Education Association (NEA) sees that flexible use for those monies only means disadvantaged and ELL students will be short-changed as states try to balance budgets?

Most education think tanks that want to see reform begin, advocate for fully-funded models. Any kind of evaluation is for teachers, administrators, and school boards, including tenure issues. Plans must be clearly designed to support teachers, administrators, and school board members not meeting standards.

Now, with conflicts in many states between teachers and public employees’ benefits and pensions and state legislatures effort to decrease deficits, it seems improbable to bring reforms into the public schools.

Let’s hope the increase in tax revenue isn’t ephemeral, but the forefront of an improved economy.

(See article about tax revenues in The New York Times, May 18, 2011, “For States, a Glimmer of Hope on Deficits” by Michael Cooper.)