• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

California Judge Rules Teacher Tenure Unconstitutional

Students in Classroom

A Superior Court Judge in California tossed something resembling a legal hand grenade today in the form of an opinion declaring that state’s teacher tenure rules unconstitutional because of the manner in which they purportedly deny poor and minority children of their rights to an education under the state constitution:

LOS ANGELES — A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under the state Constitution. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.
“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
The ruling, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings to a close the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.
The teachers’ unions said Tuesday that they planned to appeal. A spokesman for the state’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, said she was reviewing the ruling with Gov. Jerry Brown and state education officials before making a decision on any plans for an appeal.
“We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of American’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers. “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.”
In the ruling, Judge Treu agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to get rid of the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of their skills.
Further, Judge Treu said, the least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools filled with low-income and minority students. The situation violates those students’ constitutional right to an equal education, he determined.
“All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience,” Judge Treu wrote in his ruling. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”
But lawyers for the states and teachers’ unions said that overturning such laws would erode necessary protections that stop school administrators from making unfair personnel decisions. They also argued that the vast majority of teachers in the state’s schools are competent and providing students with all the necessary tools to learn. More important factors than teachers, they argued, are social and economic inequalities as well as the funding levels of public schools.
Observers on both sides expect the case to generate dozens more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate who financed the organization that is largely responsible for bringing the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — has indicated that his group is open to funding other similar legal fights, particularly in states with powerful teachers’ unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.
But critics of existing rules hailed the decision as a monumental victory and urged lawmakers to make immediate changes to laws. Mr. Duncan issued a statement saying the ruling could help millions of students who are hurt by existing teacher tenure laws.
“My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift,” Mr. Duncan said. “Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”

The policy arguments against teacher tenure are old and well-known, of course. The idea that length of service should be the predominant criteria in determining whether or not a teacher stays on the job seems to fly in the face of the claims by educators and administrators that the quality of education is their primary concern. If that were the case, then it makes no sense to cut teachers who were only hired recently when budget cuts become necessary without any reference at all to whether or not they are better teachers than those who have been on the job for a longer period of time. Additionally, making it difficult to fire teachers about whom there are legitimate and verifiable complaints (such as a math teacher who has several classes where the majority of students get below average grades on a standardized test) does nothing to help students and everything to protect the entrenched interests of teacher’s unions. Most major proposals for education reform, in fact, include at least some modification of teacher tenure rules that allow administrators to hold teachers more accountable for the quality of the education that they are providing to their students. That strikes me as a reasonable, and long overdue, policy proposal that ought to be enacted nationwide.

Notwithstanding those policy arguments, though, I find myself agreeing with Ed Whelan when he expresses skepticism about the Court’s ruling:

The court extrapolates from state supreme court precedents (precedents that are highly dubious at best but that bind lower state courts) “an overarching theme [that] is paradigmatized: the Constitution of California is the ultimate guarantor of a meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity being afforded to the students of this state.” Never mind that the relevant constitutional provisions the court cites seem to give broad discretion to the “Legislature.” Declaring that the statutes shall be subject to strict scrutiny, the court rushes to the conclusion that they are unconstitutional.

On a first read at least, I don’t see how the court is doing anything other than second-guessing the legislature’s policy judgments.

Not being an expert on education law in general or California law in particular, I am not going to make any claim to know whether or not the Judge in this case was right or wrong on the law. However,I do have some of the same misgivings that Whelan does with decisions such as this where Courts take it upon themselves to make what on their face look to be policy decisions that ought to be something that the legislature deals with, especially at the state level. Courts in other states have acted in a similar fashion in the education area on issues such as how schools should be financed and what standards are appropriate in measuring how well schools are performing. To some degree, the courts are forced into this position by provisions in their state Constitutions which not only empower the state legislature to create and fund school districts or authorize localities to do the same, but also purport to make an “equal” education (or similar language) a constitutional right. Once you’ve done that, then Courts are not only empowered but obligated to act like quasi-legislatures when it comes to education policy notwithstanding the fact that courts in general and judges in particular are ill-suited to make broad public policy decisions for not only the parties in the case before them, but also for the state as a whole. The result is usually one that pleases nobody and doesn’t really solve the problem, which is what is likely to happen in California unless this decision leads to a wider policy debate in the state.

That last possibility is perhaps the best thing that could come out of this. As I’ve said before, teacher’s unions do themselves no favors when they resist efforts aimed at greater teacher accountability, and defend a tenure system that protects bad teachers and sacrifices good teachers at the expense of students. If they are really interested in reforming the profession they say they care about so much, they’d be willing to stop circling the wagons and start talking reform.

Here’s the opinion:

Vergara Et Al v. California by Doug Mataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. wr says:

    And so one more profession will be turned into a minimum wage job, and the middle class comes that much closer to extinction.

    But of course the fact that one man has decided to upend the entire educational system as it has existed for decades isn’t judicial activism. That’s only if he’s a liberal.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  2. wr says:

    Doug: “If they are really interested in reforming the profession they say they care about so much, they’d be willing to stop circling the wagons and start talking reform.”

    I can only assume that in the 19th century version of OTB, their version of Doug was writing that if the Sioux were really interested having a decent place to live, they’d be willing to stop fighting the soldiers and start talking locations for resettlement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  3. Yes, because everything that protects entrenched teachers unions and makes it harder to fire bad teachers is a good thing.

    Right?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 16

  4. legion says:

    Well, putting the meat of the decision aside for a moment, I would like to point out that teacher tenure serves a vital purpose – it provides a certain level of job security that is intended as a benefit to balance the otherwise terribly low salaries teachers – especially very junior teachers – receive. I know a fair number of teachers, and the period when their contracts are (supposed to be) renewed for the next year is incredibly stressful. A lot of them could get excellent jobs elsewhere, but for various reasons _choose_ to teach. But they are all, without exception, unable to support themselves or their families without a working spouse.

    If California removes tenure without an offsetting increase in pay or other benefits (as I fully expect they will, despite the current budget surplus), the public education system in that state will crash.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  5. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Yes, because everything that protects entrenched teachers unions and makes it harder to fire bad teachers is a good thing.”

    No, you’re right. The trouble with this country is that workers have vastly too many protections, and we need to make sure that none of them are able to bargain collectively so that we can strip away most of their salary and benefites and then replace them with whoever the new corporate bosses can find who will never question them. That way lies Freedom, right?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 4

  6. wr says:

    @legion: “If California removes tenure without an offsetting increase in pay or other benefits (as I fully expect they will, despite the current budget surplus), the public education system in that state will crash.”

    Which is exactly the point of this lawsuit, which was ginned up by corporate educrats who are looking to privatize and profitize education, getting rich on the backs of your children.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    @wr:

    Well, charter school money (at least in NYC) is scum, and I know Kevin Johnson is as bad as you can get, but is that the money behind this lawsuit? Because the Judge’s decision–that poor people are being intentionally screwed–is not totally the Babbitry you get from the charter school types.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @legion:

    They teachers are going to have to give up the idea that the more senior teachers get to avoid the worst schools and the poorest students. It the teachers unions allowed for incentive pay, a school district could give incentives to senior teachers who teach in bad schools and poor children would not suffer from high turn over and having the least experienced teachers.

    Under the current system, entry level jobs in teaching are generally at bad schools with poor students, and if a junior teacher is willing to suffer through the first few years, they get to move on to become tenured teachers at good schools.

    What is amazing is that liberals have use disparate impact lawsuits to beat up conservatives but are squealing like little girls when they are the victims in such lawsuits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  9. Ol' Nat says:

    (such as a math teacher who has several classes where the majority of students get below average grades on a standardized test)

    If those kids performed the same in the previous year(s), that teacher is actually neutrally effective. If you are teaching “low” kids, not only is your job significantly more difficult, but you can expect your kids to do poorly on assessments. The problem is much larger than the teacher, so it can be extremely difficult to assess the teacher’s effectiveness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  10. PD Shaw says:

    The judge found, based upon the defendant’s own testimony, that 1% – 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective, equivalent to 2,750 to 8,250 teachers, and that dismissing such teachers is rare because the statute makes it prohibitively time-consuming and expensive, if not outright impossible.

    This is sufficient for a thoughtful person to be outraged and demand change, but it is not sufficient to rule the law unconstitutional. Sometimes the law is a ass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  11. DrDaveT says:

    @PD Shaw:

    The judge found, based upon the defendant’s own testimony, that 1% – 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective

    I’ve worked in government labs, successful private industry, not-for-profit, academia, volunteer organizations, and temp work as a student. “1% to 3% grossly ineffective” is about as good as it ever got, in any of those places. Some were worse. I’m sorry, but “we have the usual share of dead weight” is not adequate grounds for revolution.

    This is sufficient for a thoughtful person to be outraged

    I don’t see that. A thoughtful person will compare it with the society at large, and find it remarkably good for such a low-salary low-prestige profession.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  12. PD Shaw says:

    @DrDaveT: This is the testimony of a defense witness, called to defend California’s system. It does not mean that only 1% to 3% of teachers are grossly ineffective, it is just what the state will cop to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Pylon says:

    @PD Shaw: it was the testimony of a defence witness that was apparently accepted and adopted by the judge.

    To me the merits of being able to get rid of bad teachers (there are presently ways to do that anyway) are outweighed by the likelihood of getting rid of effective teachers because of some whim or philosophical difference. As we’ve seen lately, some real nuts get elected to school boards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. ElizaJane says:

    I’m pretty liberal and I’m also a tenured instructor, but something had to be done about teacher tenure. There are teachers at my kids’ California schools who literally do not teach, ever, anything. They sit in the back of the classroom and play video games while the kids are assigned units on Khan Academy; they distribute tests on material they have neither assigned nor taught. The students don’t hand in their assignments on time, the teachers don’t care since they won’t be grading the work for another month or two… I could go on.

    I do not believe for a moment that this is only 1-3% of CA teachers: we are in one of the “best” CA school districts and we have more than 3% of teachers like this. In the worst districts the situation must be far worse. Our district gets good ratings because the highly motivated parents send their kids to tutors and to summer school at the local university so they can pass the AP tests. Nobody in most of the AP classes takes the tests unless they have learned the material elsewhere.

    I wish that teacher tenure had ended before my kids went through school. They have wasted incredible amounts of time. And I say this as a tenured teacher — I would be happy to be held accountable for what is learned in my classroom. Honestly, the standards don’t even have to be very high. It just needs to be “didn’t sit in the back of the room all year while kids pretended to do Khan academy.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  15. Grewgills says:

    Additionally, making it difficult to fire teachers about whom there are legitimate and verifiable complaints (such as a math teacher who has several classes where the majority of students get below average grades on a standardized test) does nothing to help students and everything to protect the entrenched interests of teacher’s unions.

    That fact by itself tells us almost nothing. Are other teachers teaching the same students doing better or worse. What is the socioeconomic status of the children being taught? What is the level of parental involvement? Those are just a few of the questions that need to be asked. Punishing a teacher for teaching children that are disadvantaged and behind because they don’t work miracles is beyond idiotic.

    The judge found, based upon the defendant’s own testimony, that 1% – 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective

    Find me a workplace that does better than that and I’ll give you a dollar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. Ol' Nat says:

    @ElizaJane:

    There are teachers at my kids’ California schools who literally do not teach, ever, anything.

    Are those teachers still there because they have tenure, because of the union, or because the whole system is completely broken? I’ve taught at two different districts in CA, and in the functional one, the union was actually participating the culling of dead wood. In both districts I have seen tenured teachers worry about admin coming down on them for performance issues

    because of some whim or philosophical difference.

    as Pylon says.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. Mike says:

    After reading some articles about some of the strong arm tactics of the teacher unions w state politicians in CA, I lost some sympathy. W that being said, teachers deserve protections and I don’t want to see them paid wages or treated like they are in the south. Not sure of the balance though but I am sure it can be found

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. Just Me says:

    I don’t think the elimination of tenure is going to result in a mass exodus of teachers to other states or schools.

    I also think there should be some level of job security for teachers but not to the point that you can go through the motions while your students fail.

    There needs to be a compromise area where teachers can have some security but with accountability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. Scott says:

    Although the bashing of teachers unions is common from the right, there doesn’t seem to be much coorelation between unions and teacher performance. Here in Texas, there are no unions and school performance is pretty much coorelated like the rest of the country: it depends on the wealth of the school district.

    What interests me is the reasoning behind the ruling. If the success of education is so paramount that a judge can declare as unconstitutional a contractual arrangement between the state and a group of employees, what else could be considered unconstitutional: Proposition 13 and other tax measures that have hindered education?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  20. bill says:

    @wr: maybe if the all powerful union just tossed the chronic losers out then they wouldn’t be in this mess? that goes against their mentality though, complete power is necessary for them, and will unravel their power in the future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  21. Rob in CT says:

    The teachers really aren’t the problem in our schools. Seriously, they’re not. The problems are basically about the lives of the kids going to the school (which basically boils down to poverty and its various pernicious effects).

    The teachers are convenient scapegoats. Poverty is such a daunting problem that nobody really thinks about taking it on. Focusing on teachers, who are our employees after all – is a smaller-bore approach. It’s easier, in a sense.

    I’m pro-worker, as I think capital has a gigantic advantage in our time and needs counterbalancing. From that perspective, this is a bad thing. However, even if I didn’t feel that way, I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for this approach. Even if the education reformers got their way across the board: kill the teachers unions, bring in merit* based compensation, etc., I doubt we’d see measurable improvement in the aggregate, unless we also somehow managed to improve the lives of the students.

    * I am very skeptical about measuring teacher performance. It’s not that it cannot be done. I just don’t think it will be done properly. I think it will probably be done stupidly at a 30,000-ft level. Some testing and number-crunching is necessary, but we’ve already gone nuts with it. This situation will not improve, IMO. It’ll get worse before it gets better (if it gets better).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. PD Shaw says:

    @Scott: The judge didn’t invalidate any contracts or end unions, he struck down three statutes:

    The Dismissal Statute
    The Permanent Employment Statute
    The Last-In-First-Out Statute

    The judge’s analysis was based upon disproportionate impact these statutes have on poor and minority schools. It certainly could be true that these statutes do not pose problems in “white” schools; they may even improve teacher’s quality in those schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Another Mike says:

    @legion: This is the kind of argument that needs some numbers behind it. What is the starting teacher salary in the LA school system? What will a teacher be making after 5 years? What does the median college grad in LA make starting out?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  24. grumpy realist says:

    We’ve never really adapted to the changes in education due to Women’s Liberation, it seems. Back in the 1950s and early 60s, a whole lot of brilliant women ended up being teachers because it was one of the few professions open to them. Came Women’s Lib, and suddenly a whole lot of other opportunities opened up. Nobody seemed to notice that if you wanted to continue attracting top-quality people into the role of teaching, you’d have to be competitive with what else was out there. (Oh, maybe they noticed, but no one wanted to pony up the $$$).

    Add to that other changes in society and credentialism, and the school teaching industry became populated mainly by two groups of individuals: the idealistic, who didn’t insist on high salaries and really were drawn to it by the love of teaching, and the deadwood, which looked for a nice sinecure, surrounding themselves with regulations and credential hurdles to keep themselves employed. Then there’s the intermediate bureaucracy which has been created, many with extremely well-paid salaries attached–equivalent to the bureaucracy monster that has infected most universities and is responsible for the high rise in tuition.

    Maybe we should just knock the whole thing down and build over…..it is a truism that people don’t value what they get for free. If parents had to fight to get schooling for their kids and had to pay for it, would they treat education and teachers with any more respect? Or would they just let their kids grow up at home, gleaning whatever education they could be watching TV?

    Is a puzzlement!

    (I’ve been thinking about this because one of the groups I donate to is a school in Rwanda and you will not believe how determined those kids are to get an education, and appreciate every bit of teaching they get.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    It’s very hard to work up much sympathy for the idea that teachers – uniquely among all occupations – cannot be evaluated for fitness to continue in their employment. It’s particularly funny given that of course teachers do this to students every day.

    A two year tenure rule is insane. A 10 year tenure rule? Maybe. Two years? Ridiculous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  26. Ron Beasley says:

    I am a progressive and for the most part support labor unions but when my oldest son was in high school he had a math teacher who everyone knew was lazy and incompetent. We were actually eventually successful at getting him fired but it took a lot of work over 6 months to do it. The teachers don’t police themselves but let’s be honest the same thing can be said for Doctors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. al-Ameda says:

    I, as the great majority of my friends and associates, have been an “at will” employee for most of my work career, and I do not understand why teachers cannot be on professional services contracts, as are most white collar professionals.

    There are many labor laws that protect any worker from unfair employment practices and questionable terminations, so I’m not sure that removing tenure would put teachers at employment risk.

    It is time to move into the 21st century on this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  28. michael reynolds says:

    I believe:

    1) Schools are actually doing a pretty good job with middle class and upper class kids, doing less well with poor kids.

    2) Bad teachers are not the main cause of our educational problems, but that’s not a reason to keep bad teachers.

    3) Education is being confused with warehousing. If you can clear your mind of the need to warehouse kids so their parents can work, I believe you get a very different view of what education should be. Here’s a hint: the need to have 2000 high school students in one place at one time doing one thing is not about education, it’s about warehousing. Just as a thought experiment let’s start with education, and then think about warehousing separately. And then decide where teachers fit into the process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. pylon says:

    The motivation behind this suit is not as highminded as the judge makes it out to be;

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2014/06/right-wing-judicial-activism-part-7563

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Yes, because everything that protects entrenched teachers unions and makes it harder to fire bad teachers is a good thing.”

    These days, yes – it’s abundantly clear that the ‘reform’ movement has only two goals:

    1) Destroy teachers’ unions as a political force.
    2) Loot and destroy public education.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  31. pylon says:

    From the above:

    Students Matter, the non-profit that funded the multi-million dollar suit, is founded and primarily funded by David Welch. Welch made his fortune in fiber optics, first serving as CTO of SDL when the company went through a $41 billion merger with JDS Uniphase in 2000 and later founding Infinera.

    In 2010, Welch founded Students Matter, claiming his “passion for public education arises from his roles both as a parent of three school-aged children and as an employer in two highly successful start-ups in Silicon Valley.” Students Matter was unique, as an investigation by Capital & Main discovered, because Welch “had virtually no background in education policy or any direct financial stake in the multibillion-dollar, for-profit education and standardized testing industries.”

    However, Welch quickly cozied up to organizations and individuals that work to privatize America’s once-great education system:

    Yet Welch and his nonprofit play a special role among a group of other nonprofits and personalities whose legal actions, school board campaigns, op-eds and overlapping advisory boards suggest a highly synchronized movement devoted to taking control of public education. The David and Heidi Welch Foundation, for example, has given to NewSchools Venture Fund, where Welch has been an “investment partner” and which invests in both charter schools and the cyber-charter industry, and has been linked to the $9 billion-per-year textbook and testing behemoth Pearson. Welch has also supported Michelle Rhee’s education-privatizing lobby StudentsFirst, most recently with a $550,000 bequest in 2012.

    StudentsFirst also turned up on an early list of Students Matter’s “advisory committee” that included ardent education privatizers Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution and NewSchools Venture Fund. Both StudentsFirst and NewSchools Venture Fund also appear on a list of Vergara supporters that includes the California Charter Schools Association, along with Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent (and onetime Vergara co-defendant) John Deasy and former Oakland Unified School District superintendent Tony Smith.

    Meanwhile, Welch lives in Atherton, home to the most expensive zip code in America, where the cheapest house on the market in 2013—”a 1,194-square-foot, two-bedroom bungalow”—listed for $1.2 million. And Welch is in good company, with Eric Schmidt, Charles Schwab, and Meg Whitman all living in the Valley enclave. So with his own children facing no meaningful obstacle towards obtaining a first-rate public education, Welch “recruited” nine children primarily from low-income communities, “saying teacher job protections harm their ability to get the ‘adequate’ education they are promised in the state constitution.”

    And that tactic, argued in court by a legal team co-led by George W. Bush’s Solicitor General Theodore Olson, paid off today in the courts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  32. pylon says:

    Anyone associated with Michelle Rhee is bad news.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  33. Barry says:

    @Modulo Myself: “Because the Judge’s decision–that poor people are being intentionally screwed–is not totally the Babbitry you get from the charter school types. ”

    Actually, it is. They always cloak themselves in an altruistic desire to help the worst-off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  34. Barry says:

    @PD Shaw: “The judge found, based upon the defendant’s own testimony, that 1% – 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective…”

    I’d love to apply that to judges – does anybody here think that so few as 10% of judges are grossly ineffective?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  35. Barry says:

    @ElizaJane:

    “I’m pretty liberal and I’m also a tenured instructor, but something had to be done about teacher tenure. ”

    ‘Dear Penthouse Forum – I’m a regular reader of your letters, but never really believed that they were true – until it happened to me! I was taking a shower from my regular two-hour workout, which keeps me looking pretty good, when the doorbell rang. I wrapped a towel around my waist, and answered the door. The mailperson was shocked at first, but then commented that she was due for her lunch break, and that a sandwich in her truck didn’t seem so appetizing…….’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  36. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “Add to that other changes in society and credentialism, and the school teaching industry became populated mainly by two groups of individuals: the idealistic, who didn’t insist on high salaries and really were drawn to it by the love of teaching, and the deadwood, which looked for a nice sinecure, surrounding themselves with regulations and credential hurdles to keep themselves employed. Then there’s the intermediate bureaucracy which has been created, many with extremely well-paid salaries attached–equivalent to the bureaucracy monster that has infected most universities and is responsible for the high rise in tuition. ”

    That’s a lot to write with zero proof.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  37. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda:

    “I, as the great majority of my friends and associates, have been an “at will” employee for most of my work career, and I do not understand why teachers cannot be on professional services contracts, as are most white collar professionals. ”

    We live in a country where teaching biology contradicts the beliefs of probably 40% of school boards.

    We live in a country where having students read the declarations of secession by the Confederate states would grossly offend the school board (hint – look at their stated causes).

    We live in a country where at least one state has banned teaching critical thinking.

    We live in a country where people look at Mark Twain using authentic language for racial terms and think that he’s evil (where ‘evil’ means ‘racist’).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  38. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “There are many labor laws that protect any worker from unfair employment practices and questionable terminations, so I’m not sure that removing tenure would put teachers at employment risk. ”

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  39. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “Bad teachers are not the main cause of our educational problems, but that’s not a reason to keep bad teachers. ”

    It is, however, a reason to not trash a system by attacking the wrong cause, especially when ‘attacking’ that cause will damage the system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I’ve worked in government labs, successful private industry, not-for-profit, academia, volunteer organizations, and temp work as a student. “1% to 3% grossly ineffective” is about as good as it ever got, in any of those places.

    I’ve only ever worked in private industry, but 1% to 3% grossly ineffective would be a dream. It’s more like 10%-13%.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s very hard to work up much sympathy for the idea that teachers – uniquely among all occupations – cannot be evaluated for fitness to continue in their employment.

    Except, of course, that teaching is unique among all other occupations. In most jobs, the worker’s output and effectiveness can (with some large variations and exceptions) be correlated with how smartly and effectively SHE works.

    In teaching, by contrast, the teacher’s output depends on large part of how smartly and effectively HER STUDENTS (and their families) work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  42. SenyorDave says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My wife taught for almost twenty years, ten years at the beginning of her career as a middle school teacher, then after a ten year break, another ten years as a kindergarten teacher. She loved the teaching part, tolerated the administration part. I would go in two or three times a year when she taught kindergarten and I saw just how skilled a teacher she was, and it is a skill. Her kids loved her, the parents loved her, and she changed lives, especially teaching a one of the lowest income areaes in her county (full disclosure – it was Montgomery county, MD, one of the wealthier counties out there).
    All this beiong said, she probably would not have entered teaching without a viable tenure system. You can love a job, but financial security is important to most people. When you teach, you basically give up the opportunity to make a high salary. Montgomery county paid well for teachers, and they have a pretty good pension plan (which, of course, is next on the chopping block for the education “reformers”), but she almost certainly would have ended up making more in the private sector.
    The bottom line is when she retired she was making about 70% more than an entry level teacher. Who is to say that she wouldn’t be fired as a cost-cutting measure? That’s what they do in private business all the time, and the reformers ultimately want to run public education as a business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  43. Grewgills says:

    @grumpy realist:

    the deadwood, which looked for a nice sinecure, surrounding themselves with regulations and credential hurdles to keep themselves employed.

    The credentialing hurdles are ridiculous. The credentialing process other than the student teaching and perhaps one semester of the work is near to worthless. I have over 15 years of teaching experience, 5 of that in college and university*, yet apparently I am not qualified to teach high school biology during the regular year or summer school**.

    * the rest in private schools where I was well evaluated and my students did well
    **I teach at a small university that doesn’t have many summer offerings, so I was looking for summer work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  44. michael reynolds says:

    @SenyorDave:

    No one has job security. Certainly not after just 2 years on the job. California teachers are demanding (and until now getting) what no one else gets.

    Had the teacher’s unions done a better job of self-policing, had they not leapt to the defense of every lousy or abusive teacher, had they not used their muscle to get this ridiculous system in the first place, they’d have a lot more defenders today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  45. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No one has job security. Certainly not after just 2 years on the job. California teachers are demanding (and until now getting) what no one else gets.

    I’m not sure that “poor pay, no job security, increasingly shaky pensions, and you can get fired based on how well someone else takes a test!” is going to really attract the best minds into teaching, though….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  46. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: Yes, that is true. It is also true in many school systems teachers are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to decision making and authority. Bus drivers and lunchroom workers are often given more deference and importance. Add to this the top down decision making from career bureaucrats, politicians, judges, and lawyers. There was a time when schools were ran by principals and teachers. And don’t forget the “fads” that administrators jump on that are always the holy grail to learning. The US often is compared to other countries in terms of student achievement. Well, how about comparing what teachers in many school systems have to do on a regular basis: help serve, supervise breakfast, supervise traffic, help at carnivals, sell tickets and supervise dances/ ball games, and a host of other duties, including the dreaded bus duty. It seems that teachers these days have to do a lot of supervising. I would ask these judges, politicians, and bureaucrats how much time they have actually spent in a classroom, and would they be willing to spend a few weeks with a teacher?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  47. Rob in CT says:

    Holy shit. Tyrell, that was a cogent, well-thought-out post with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  48. Robert Levine says:

    I work in a unionized workplace with tenure protections. There are good reasons that unions have negotiated such provisions, and they can work well to both protect employees from unfair dismissals and to still allow management to maintain a competent workforce.

    In my workplace, the bar to dismiss someone is high, but the process appears far simpler, far cheaper, and far quicker than what is described in the ruling about the dismissal process in California schools. And we have had a number of employees dismissed under that process, as well as a few where the dismissal was overturned.

    It is not clear to me that the reason for the complexity of the California process is solely because of what was negotiated between districts and teachers’ unions, suggesting that there might be simpler alternatives that would be acceptable to all except those who believe that the only thing wrong with schools are unionized teachers.

    Having said all that, the ruling does appear to be what Doug describes; policy-making masquerading as judging. If tenure protections are unconstitutional, at what point does inadequate teacher pay become similarly unconstitutional? Or inadequate funding (ie taxes that are too low)? I’m not sure these are things that those who applaud this ruling would be eager to see adjudicated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  49. Tyrell says:

    @Robert Levine: There have been some court rulings in our state that have done exactly what you are talking about – education funding in some districts was ruled to be inadequate. But does a judge have authority to order a tax increase ? If they did, they would get voted out or recalled immediately. Some judges have ordered schools to improve their education efforts, especially to minorities and low income groups. Knd of hard to do in a state and county that have cut funding to the schools. Some schools are now so over enrolled they have students sitting out in the hall, much to the consternation of the fire marshall. Teachers are leaving in droves. Pay has been frozen for years, so now a beginning teacher makes little more than unskilled labor. So any court ruling regarding funding is meaningless. No politician dares to vote a tax increase. Voters will usually approve bond issues, but that money goes for new construction/remodeling. Strange that they always find the money for a big pay raise for the superintendent every year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  50. grumpy realist says:

    @Barry: So what are you getting miffed about? That we’ve got idealistic teachers in place? That we’ve also got a lot of deadwood? That most women have found greener pastures to go to?

    I also thought it had been pretty much established that the bulk increase in university population (with associated costs) is due to the increasing number of Assistant Deans, Education Coordinators, and other middle-level management that somehow inserted itself in the system. It’s pretty certain that the increase in tuition costs aren’t going to higher professors’ salaries, what with the flat salaries and the increasing dependence upon adjunct Profs (talk about bad salaries and no job security!). So where is the money going?!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  51. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. a country that doesn’t value its educators very quickly discovers it won’t have any. We have to stop treating elementary, middle, and high school education as nothing more than baby-sitting. There’s a reason why the Asian countries are eating our lunch.

    That’s why I’m grumpy enough to tear down the entire thing and start over from scratch. If parents don’t value education, then their kids can be the ones to go out in the fields and pick beans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  52. Tyrell says:

    @grumpy realist: Years ago teaching staffs were more reflective of society: men, women minorities. Now schools are made up of mainly white women (no offense to anyone, that is what I see on school staff listings). Minorities found better jobs, and the men; well I don’t know. Hispanic teachers? Rare around here.
    Pay is not the only factor. People going into teaching know ahead about the pay. The biggest factor that shows up on a lot of surveys is the lack of respect for the profession. Teachers who have years of experience, advanced degrees, and other credentials (“master” teachers that others go to for help) are treated no better by the administration than a mill worker is in a factory. Politicians visit schools just long enough to get their picture taken.
    “Just do it “

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  53. al-Ameda says:

    @grumpy realist:

    That’s why I’m grumpy enough to tear down the entire thing and start over from scratch. If parents don’t value education, then their kids can be the ones to go out in the fields and pick beans.

    I couldn’t have expressed it much better than that.

    Too many parents do not value education at all. The parents who care are the ones who get involved, walk the walk, and talk the talk.

    In any state, in any region, in any metropolitan area – It is not hard to find the good public schools. They’re generally where there are middle class to upper middle class families, parents are white collar, they value education, they’re involved in the school, and they hold administrators and faculty accountable. They expect their children to do the work and go on to good colleges.

    I live in such an area. My wife served for 5 years as a trustee on our local school board. I can tell you that administrators and staff who don’t do a good job are let go – it does happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  54. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: The schools you mention usually have leaders (principals or headmasters) that have full authority, hold students accountable, and dismiss any student that causes foolishness. I am not one for this “0 tolerance” policies where a 6 year old is suspended or arrested for bringing a squirt gun or drawing a Civil War sword. I am talking about getting the disrupters and hooligans out, like schools used to do. Now the principals and teachers’ hands are tied.
    The term principal actually stands for “principal teacher” : principals used to actually spend part of their day teaching in a classroom. Boy, those days are gone.
    For an example of how an excellent school is ran, see Capital Prep, Hartford , CT; ran by Mr. Steve Perry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  55. Ol' Nat says:

    @al-Ameda:

    If parents don’t value education, then their kids can be the ones to go out in the fields and pick beans.

    I know—why don’t we make it so that people have to pay to go to school! That’s such an easy solution!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  56. Barry says:

    @PD Shaw: “This is the testimony of a defense witness, called to defend California’s system. It does not mean that only 1% to 3% of teachers are grossly ineffective, it is just what the state will cop to. ”

    And the plaintiffs didn’t make a case that it’s higher, despite being backed by the huge money from the education looting movement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  57. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “I, as the great majority of my friends and associates, have been an “at will” employee for most of my work career, and I do not understand why teachers cannot be on professional services contracts, as are most white collar professionals. ”

    The single biggest problem with the USA today is that a majority of the peasants resent any other peasant whose better off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  58. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “Had the teacher’s unions done a better job of self-policing, had they not leapt to the defense of every lousy or abusive teacher, had they not used their muscle to get this ridiculous system in the first place, they’d have a lot more defenders today. ”

    Garbage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  59. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “So what are you getting miffed about? That we’ve got idealistic teachers in place? That we’ve also got a lot of deadwood? That most women have found greener pastures to go to?”

    I actually stated what I was miffed at – please have a friend explain it to you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  60. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “That’s why I’m grumpy enough to tear down the entire thing and start over from scratch. If parents don’t value education, then their kids can be the ones to go out in the fields and pick beans. ”

    Gawd, but that’s really, really dumb. A bunch of a-holes and looters want to destroy the system, so you’d help them?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  61. al-Ameda says:

    @Barry:

    The single biggest problem with the USA today is that a majority of the peasants resent any other peasant whose better off.

    I’m not sure who you’re talking about, it’s certainly not me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  62. al-Ameda says:

    @Ol’ Nat:

    I know—why don’t we make it so that people have to pay to go to school! That’s such an easy solution!!

    This just in: Public schools are not free. All of us pay for public schools through our state and local taxes. Renters pay for schools through the rent payments they pay to their property owners. We all pay for public schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  63. Ol' Nat says:

    @al-Ameda:
    I knew you’d parse that one out. The schools are “free” in the sense that they are a public good. However, you generally get what you pay for—meaning people of means in search of good education either move to wealthier districts or send their kids to private schools.

    The lawsuit hinges upon the idea that many families don’t have that option, and your comment about them not valuing education is not fair.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  64. al-Ameda says:

    @Ol’ Nat:

    The lawsuit hinges upon the idea that many families don’t have that option, and your comment about them not valuing education is not fair.

    I did not parse that at all. As you also pointed out, schools are not “free.” Also, Many parents do not in fact value education – that is not an unfair or controversial comment. As I indicated above, I favor accountability in schools for all parties – students, teachers, administrators and parents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  65. Ol' Nat says:

    @al-Ameda:
    Sure, many parents do not value education. I can’t imagine that correlates very strongly with income, though.

    If you are living at or below the poverty line, it doesn’t matter how much you value education—you are still significantly more likely to have to send your kids to crappy schools with deadwood teachers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  66. Grewgills says:

    @Ol’ Nat:

    If you are living at or below the poverty line, it doesn’t matter how much you value education—

    you are less likely to be able to feed them three squares a day, you are less likely to have time to spend with them at home, you are less likely to have the time or ability to help them with their homework, you are less likely to be able to afford school supplies, your child is less likely to have slept well or had a good breakfast, etc, etc, etc. Those effects are far greater than the difference in quality of educators at one school vs another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  67. Ol' Nat says: