Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vergara Monologues - Piercing the Fiction to Reach the Inconvenient Truths in the Tenure-Crushing Decision by Cal. Suprerior Decision

This week California Superior Court Rolf Treu created a national earthquake with his decision that tenure was unconstitutional. Teacher unions are bracing for more toxic astroturf mobilizing by the pro-privatization, anti-tenure millionaires in other states.  However, as the New York Times noted on the occasion of Mona Davids' (of the New York City Parents Union) lawsuit against teacher tenure in New York State, the road forward for a legal challenge to teacher tenure faces a shakier road in New York.

Vergara Monologues - Discussion in a One-Dimensional Echo Chamber 
The decision was treated matter of factly by the media. Shocking as it is, yet it is merely part of just another utterance in a media vortex echo chamber of corporate education reformer agendas, as alternative perspectives are rare. It is very telling that as the media from the top media outlets down to NPR affiliates as WNYC sustain the privatizer talking points, yet for power houses our side is left to one nationally recognized powerhouse (Diane Ravitch) and just one national newspaper of prestige with a sympathetic columnist (Valerie Strauss and her Answer Sheet column at the Washington Post).

So, the very, very pivotal point was made at the Ravitch's blog, that the assumptions in the case were quite flawed. Some of the Vergara case plaintiffs actually attended schools that did not have teacher tenure. Additionally, at this blog, I have frequently made the comment that the media and policy makers must recognize that there are factors that impact upon student performance. Family income, community climate (tranquility or danger and anxiety) are major determinants that impact upon performance. Thus it is a cavalier expectation to demand that teachers produce students as top-performing as those in affluent neighborhoods.

Note how the both the details of the story and reality of Oakland communities comes through in this expose of a blog post, June 11, at Ravitch's blog.

The Vergara Trial Teachers Were Not “Grossly Ineffective”

I was curious to learn whether the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial actually had “grossly ineffective teachers.” The answer is “no, they did not.”
Not only did none of them have a “grossly ineffective” teacher, but some of the plaintiffs attended schools where there are no tenured teachers. Two of the plaintiffs attend charter schools, where there is no tenure or seniority, and as you will read below, “Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness.
It turns out that the lawyers for the defense checked the records of the plaintiffs’ teachers, and this is what they found (filed as a post-trial brief in the case): (See pp. 5-6).
“Plaintiffs have not established that the statutes have ever caused them any harm or are likely to do so in the future. None of the nine named Plaintiffs established that he or she was assigned to an allegedly grossly ineffective teacher, or that he or she faces any immediate risk of future harm, as a result of the challenged statutes. The record contains no evidence that Plaintiffs Elliott, Liss, Campbell or Martinez were ever assigned a grossly ineffective teacher at all. Of the remaining five Plaintiffs, most of the teachers whom they identified as “bad” or “grossly ineffective” were excellent teachers. Because none of the five Plaintiffs are reliable evaluators of teacher performance, their testimony about the remaining purportedly ineffective teachers should not be credited. Nor could Plaintiffs link their assignment to purportedly “bad” or “grossly ineffective” teachers to the challenged statutes. Not a single witness claimed that any of Plaintiffs’ teachers were granted permanent status because of the two-year probationary period, would have been dismissed in the absence of the dismissal statutes, or would have been laid off had reverse seniority not been a factor in layoffs. Indeed, Plaintiffs did not call any administrator of any of Plaintiffs’ schools to corroborate their testimony or in any way connect the teachers they identified to the statutes they challenge. Furthermore, any threat of future harm to Plaintiffs caused by the challenged statutes is purely speculative. Plaintiffs Elliott and DeBose are high school seniors who will almost certainly graduate in spring 2014. Plaintiffs Monterroza and Martinez both attend charter schools that are not subject to the challenged statutes at all. Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara both attend a “Pilot School” in LAUSD that is free to let teachers go at the end of the school year for any reason, including ineffectiveness. As for the remaining three Plaintiffs, there is no concrete, specific evidence supporting any claim that they will be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers due to the challenged statutes; instead, their claims are based on pure speculation.”
One of the plaintiffs (Monterroza) said that her teacher, Christine McLaughlin was a very bad teacher, but McLaughlin was Pasadena teacher of the year and has received many awards for excellent teaching (google her).

Surely, there must be “grossly ineffective” teachers in the state of California, but no evidence was presented that the plaintiffs in the case had teachers who were “grossly ineffective.”
What about turnover of teachers in high-poverty schools in California:
Betty Olson-Jones, former president of the Oakland Education Association, testified: “Oakland has an extremely difficult time retaining teachers. The statistic that I was always struck with was of the beginning teachers in 2003, there were about 300 who began in Oakland, and by 2008 about 76 percent of those left. Generally, the turnover rate is about 50 percent, even higher among some — in some schools. I feel that part of the reason is that the conditions are very difficult, very high-poverty rate in Oakland, lack of support services. Oakland has very few counselors, nurses, one librarian left, high class size, high standard of living in the bay area. Children come with a lot of needs that aren’t fulfilled, and teachers are expected to make up that difference and are agonized often by their inability to do so because they lack the support and the conditions to do so.”
What about working conditions? Anthony Mize taught at the Vergara sisters’ school. He testified: “There was a back-to-school night where there was drive-by shooting 30 to 50 yards from behind my classroom. I remember talking with a mother at the time. And I was just about to say to the mom, ‘and your son has trouble paying attention,’ and seven to nine shots rang out.”
None of this testimony impressed the judge.
For a fuller statement by the defense in the case read this submitted document.

Curious selection of California as the poster state
Computer entrepreneur David Welch bankrolled the case. Much attention went to the fact that California teachers get tenure after two years of satisfactory service. This distorts the national picture. For, as we see in the map below, this is an exceptionally short tenure-granting period. Three years of experience is the norm.

The negative effects of staffing turmoil
The last decade has seen much turmoil at the staffing level of schools. An institutionally hostile working climate has led to increasing turnover. We note this with the idea in mind that improved teacher quality comes with years on the job. Yet, with the median number of years of experience among teachers in the field declining students in the current era are getting more teachers that are just learning the craft and fewer that have become polished through experience.

The education reform hallmark of churning teachers in and out of the system, thus negating the possibility that school systems will ever pay promised pensions to many educators, is strongest in lower income communities.  Here, note the continuing theme of aggressively driving staff turnover in this piece noted in the Journal of Black Higher Education. It cites a study by Susan Headden for the Carnegie Foundation, "Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society."

High turnover among new teachers in public school classrooms undermines school stability, serves as an impediment to educational reform, and hurts student achievement, a study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching finds.

The report, Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society, found that new teachers quit in large numbers largely due to the fact that they receive inadequate professional development opportunities, insufficient emotional backing, and inadequate feedback with respect to their performance.

Indeed, the report found that between 1988 and 2008, rates of teacher attrition rose some 41 percent, and in many urban school districts more than half the new teachers hired leave within five years.

The report also found that teachers at public charter schools are 40 percent more likely than teachers in district-run schools to transfer to another school and 52 percent more likely to leave the teaching profession altogether.

As a result, the profession as a whole is younger and less experienced than it was a generation ago, and that, according to the report, is putting a strain on district budgets, serving to undermine school cultures, and lowering student achievement.

Teacher attrition not only costs school districts more than $7 billion a year in recruitment
and induction expenses, the report notes, it also impedes the implementation of educational reforms, disrupts relationships among teachers and between teachers and students, and negatively affects students, especially in majority Black & Latino and low-achieving schools.