Posts Tagged ‘seniority’

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.



Why Struggle With Teacher Tenure?

Friday, July 4th, 2014

A month has passed since the decision in Vergara vs. California that decided teacher tenure was the culprit for poor student outcomes in failing schools. We’ve heard from judges, foundation leaders, school of education “experts,” teachers, and parents, all claiming to have student success at heart.

If only the dropout rate could improve; if only graduation from high school improves; if only Common Core State Standards are given enough time to be incorporated in the curriculum; if only suitable testing strategies are field-tested before testing and analysis begins. Oh yes, and if only teacher retention rules are abandoned that lead to bad teacher hold outs and weak education for students. Will all of these problems disappear by eliminating tenure?

Teacher tenure has long been a goal of teachers unions. One hundred years ago teachers could be terminated for getting married, for venturing into a social setting, for teaching an undesirable subject, to let a school board pal obtain a position, and a myriad of other minor and not so minor infractions. Union bargaining negotiated tenure to abolish those hateful customs. In California, public school teachers are granted tenure, employment for life, after 18 months with good evaluation reports. Every state has their own education regulations regarding tenure for public school employees. Unintended consequences loom, all blamed on tenure practices set forth under collective bargaining.

Conservative state and local legislative groups go straight for tenure abolishment without thinking about the known consequences. Evaluation based on insubstantial standardized test models defines weak teachers. Biased personal judgments by administers, unable or unwilling to define worth from incompetence given all the factors going on in a school, lead to bungled teacher evaluations. Rulings to jettison teacher tenure make student teachers, who have examined the poor salaries and now realize they will have no security while learning to perform in a school, think twice. How are any of these outcomes going to improve student success?

Think! Avoid unintended consequences: Try paying a stipend and allowing student teachers to gain more experience before they enter the profession (see post 6/9/14). Revise collective bargaining to establish a 5 year renewable contract, providing some stability for new teachers but also giving time for administration to rate teachers. (See Elliot Seif’s “Letter to the Editor”, New York Times, June 17, 2014).

Advocate for the following to keep good teachers: support Congress persons and local legislators who are not afraid to vote for legislation that affects students in public schools; revise collective bargaining rules about seniority so the good but newest teachers are not dropped because of budget cuts and experienced teachers are urged to take on a position in a poor-performing school.

Do not depend on the court (local, district, appellate, or supreme) to get rid of tenure, a controversial education policy. The court may identify the issue, as in Vergara vs. California, but the legislature, local school districts, and teachers unions must be involved to establish change. (See Michael A. Rebell from Teacher’s College, Columbia University.)

Dilemmas for California Schools

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Recent media news shared states’ compromises on tenure and dismissal of “poor” teachers, certainly a concern for low-performing schools.

small island high school

small island high school

These issues were reported as part of the talks on teacher evaluation outcomes. This week California newspapers are taking sides on the legislature’s Assembly Bill 5. This bill finally revises the Stull bill, longtime and out-of-date legislation that designated procedures for California teacher evaluation.

Like most evaluation legislation, this bill has pro and con appeal and a compromise position has not appeared. The bill was designed to take advantage of the United States Department of Education’s application for a “waiver” to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates for 100% student grade level proficiency on state-designated exams in reading and math by 2014.

Long time complaints about the inability to reach the NCLB goals have come up against the need to improve teacher, administrator, and school evaluation, including tenure and dismissal for poor performance.  The use of yearly state exam data for evaluation fingers a sore point.

Aside from local teacher evaluation controversy, the current U.S. government administration constantly attacks the year-old Congressional resistance to passage of proposals for state aid to provide jobs for laid-off teachers (and police and fire fighters) in order to stay on track to improve student academic success.

In addition, tuition tax credits and continued financing of Pell grants for college students is in danger of spending cuts. Government aid for college completion to prepare graduates to enter the job market with fewer horrendous debt burdens should be valued as an economic boost. Nevertheless, spending cuts to education are possible in the new year depending on the November election results.

In November in California, Prop 30, the tax initiative to benefit school budgets, dominates the news. In the meantime, however, legislators, teachers’ unions, and the public must confront the AB 5 bill.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) supports the bill’s “meaningful feedback to teachers to help them improve their craft.” San Francisco Chronicle, “Open Forum On Teacher Evaluation” by Eric Heins, August 24, 2012. The article stresses the wording in the bill to provide collaborative reform from teachers, administrators, and community. The evaluation process spelled out in the bill clears up the uncertainty and inconsistency in the earlier legislation and requires evaluation more than once a year.

The bill’s critics (New Teacher Project, Center for Future of Teaching and Learning, EdSource among many) reject the bill because it removes the requirement to use state student assessments as one measure of teacher performance.

While the state education superintendent, Tom Torlakson, insists the bill will be a successful application for a waiver, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education disagrees.

Just as the Obama administration continues to justify job proposals to help schools in spite of obstruction, the California state legislature must find a compromise (as 38 states have done) between the powerful CTA and multiple dedicated education groups to establish a satisfactory teacher-administration evaluation process.

Waivers Set Off More Change

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The news that five more states have received waivers from Congress’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act adds up to 29 states so far that have requested help from the United States Department of Education.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which has cluttered Senate and House committee desks since the 2007 date for revision, still has not made it to any votes. Therefore, action by the U.S. Department of Education allows states to make changes. Several other states who have sent applications for waivers have not received notification yet. And Iowa, for instance, had no measures for teacher performance in its application and was returned for further development.

For a state to get a waiver to abandon NCLB goals of 100% student academic grade level status by 2014, the application must have new reasonable standards in place that evaluate school and teacher progress for student academic success. The waivers must emphasize service to special education, English Language Learners, and economically disadvantaged youth. Test scores on a yearly summative test must be used as only one of several factors such as peer review, graduation rates, and attendance to establish school success.

Waivers are big news. Another specific issue in the media concerns middle school age students. (See New York Times, 6-18-2012, The Middle School Conundrum) Should those students be relegated to separate schools with teachers who are isolated from elementary teachers? Often, especially with budget cuts by state legislatures, teachers do not receive professional development that may open eyes to the range of academic and social/emotional issues for that age student.

The question comes down to support K-8 schools or 6-8 middle schools. Honestly, the configuration of school demographics and infrastructure for each school district will determine the outcome. Either way, the administration and faculty must set up the school program to care for the intellectual range and be sensitive to the emotional needs of these students.

No state education department want students to fail a reading or math course, have a poor attendance rate, receive marks for unsatisfactory behavior. That student is unlikely to graduate.

With the possibility of failure or success in mind, Ohio has been in the news for revising its school goals. (See The Plain Dealer 7-2012) With a GOP governor and legislature, a Democratic mayor in Cleveland, a strong superintendent of Cleveland schools, and 2010 Race to the Top funds, the state will put a new plan in place by the 2013-2014 school year, affecting all state schools but especially Cleveland.

The most important changes were agreed to by all from the governor to the teachers. The school principals as well as teachers will be observed, asked to establish yearly goals, and be evaluated on them. Principals will be required to assert more academic leadership, not just address the budget and discipline. Evaluations for all school employees will determine hiring, moving to another school, and raises. Seniority will not be the factor it once was. Besides test scores, staff will take part in team professional activities and engage the community.

For Cleveland Schools, the need for change is most important. The schools have depressed scores which has led to Watch status. Passage of a tax bond will be required to support changes in Cleveland.

Hope for success.

Raise Your Voice! Resist! Reform!

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Union! Union! Sometimes good. Sometimes too late.

Last year Los Angeles needed a legal settlement before the district spread layoffs around, not keeping to the rule of seniority. Earlier this year, San Francisco had its chance, wiping away seniority when turning around failing schools. Of late Oakland Public Schools teachers face the same long-established union rule, waving their hands in resistance to a plan to reform some of its very low-performing public high schools-first of all, by ignoring seniority and making all teachers re-apply to teach in the three high schools. See “Teachers resist radical reform” by Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2012.

If only a decent teacher-administrator-school evaluation was part of California’s Education Code. Some education experts blame the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers for resistance to change the rules. Other pundits cheer the need to bargain. Think of the current debacle in Wisconsin.

The state legislature has proposed a considerable number of bills to address education issues, but only one calsl for evaluation legislation for each district. Money seems to be the first issue.

Assembly Bill -AB 18 has offered the largest reforms depending on funds, even supported by Tom Torlakson, current Superintendent of Instruction. AB 721 and AB 1741 have been read to the legislature to promote similar reforms for post-secondary education, including mechanisms to restore funding.

On the other hand, there is a pro and con silent argument over the part of the education code that requires sex education and proposes a bill to “opt out.” Look at AB 1756 versus AB 1857 which includes teaching curriculum on sexual violence and requiring administrators to perform specific roles similar to requirements in elementary schools (AB 1880). Senate Bill-SB 1080 supports particulars of sex education also.

Speaking of funding, the big issue for California schools from kindergarten to post-secondary is the passage (or not) of one of the initiatives in the November election.  Bills that address the funding issue are AB 2202 and SB 1461 for post-secondary services.

The only bill that addresses evaluation-seniority comes in here-is Senate Bill 1458, written it seems to benefit the Tom Torlakson and the state’s Department of Education if a waiver proposal is sent to the U.S. Department of Education. The bill asks for changes to teacher and student accountability; changes to the scores used as benchmarks for the state’s Academic Performance Index (API); and graduation rate changes.

Will such a California bill pass and be signed? There are months and months to wait for new legislation in 2012.