Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (7/21, Subscription Publication) titled, “Why Are Teachers Unions So Opposed To Change?” makes the case that public schools in the US are failing American children and that teachers unions are partially to blame due to their continued resistance to the reforms that Villaraigosa deems necessary. Villaraigosa says the unions ought not be as critical of the Obama Administration as they are. Villaraigosa also contends that the implementation of Common Core had a positive impact on Los Angeles’ schools.
News from Opening Bell
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News (7/17) reports that California’s new school funding formula has directed new money into a number of districts, creating “an unusual amount of openings this late in the hiring season” for teachers in some parts of the state. The piece contrasts this with most years, in which districts have done most of their hiring for the following year by spring. The new funding formula “is proving a boon for districts that serve large numbers of English learners and children from low-income families.”
EdSource Today (7/11, Freedberg) reports that according to a report from researchers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, increased local control under California’s new education budget law “has given school districts much leeway in adopting the Common Core State Standards,” bringing “the potential to create disparities in implementation the state should reduce.” The study’s authors found that “most districts lacked a comprehensive, coherent plan for the Common Core and that most didn’t have a unifying curriculum tying grades together.”
In a piece for NPR’s (7/10, Westervelt) “Ed” blog, Eric Westervelt wrote that since a California judge overturned the state’s teacher tenure system, much of the rhetoric from both sides of the issue has been of the “give no ground” variety and “risks drowning out educators in the middle.” Westervelt added that many teachers and administrators take a “more nuanced” view and support “tenure protections for teachers — especially against dismissals that could be political or capricious,” but believe “problems with tenure and dismissal need to be addressed” so that administrators are able to “get rid of really bad teachers.”
The Los Angeles Times (6/28, Megerian) reports that California teachers are about to receive paychecks that “a bit lighter,” as the state’s plan to address a $74-billion shortfall in its teacher retirement system goes into effect Tuesday. It “phases in higher contributions from employees, schools and the state over the next several years,” and could be a model for other states if it helps solve “one of the state’s most difficult financial problems.” The plan is designed to erase the shortfall over 30 years. The Times notes that “Texas and New Mexico have already taken similar steps, requiring higher contributions into their teacher pension funds. Both states also reduced retirement benefits, something California did two years ago for newly hired educators.”
Guest blogger Joel Silbermas, a writer and Web video producer, writes in an opinion for the Los Angeles Times (6/20) under the headline, “Don’t Cut Funds For Preschool Again, Gov. Brown.” Silbermas writes that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is too prone to using the budgetary line-item veto to cut funds for early childhood education and that others who argue such programs are unproven are wrong. He writes that “the benefits of early childhood education are in fact widely known, and the results are staggering.” He lists some of those benefits and adds, “These outcomes translate plainly into dollars and cents: It costs a lot of money to house and feed a prisoner or provide treatment for a noncompliant medical patient. By contrast, a healthy, functional adult is likely to contribute to his or her local economy and help it grow.”
Reuters (6/19, Bernstein) reports that California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced a bill to expand tenure protections from the state’s public school teachers to other employees. The move comes despite a court ruling by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week that found that found that the tenure system was unconstitutional, as it is primarily meant to protect teachers’ jobs, and harmed students’ interests. The state has not decided if it will appeal that ruling.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (6/19, Subscription Publication), New York University education professor Pedro Noguera notes the California court ruling, but argues that schools are not failing students because a few bad teachers are protected by the tenure system. He argues that tenure in fact aids many poor, urban school districts, because it allows them to retain teachers who would otherwise be unlikely to stay.
The Sacramento (CA) Bee (6/11) reports in its “Capitol Alert” blog that school officials objected to “last-minute budget language” in a draft bill “that would cap the amount of money California school districts may set aside for economic uncertainties,” limiting the amount “to two or three times the minimum required.” The Bee says the reserve limits are considered “a potential victory for public employee unions resistant to tying money up in reserves,” but administrators consider the limits “‘fiscally irresponsible’ and inconsistent with principles of local control.” The administrators backed a letter send to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) Administration and California lawmakers to object to the draft bill language and its last-minute appearance.
NBC Nightly News (6/10, story 6, 0:30, Williams) reported, “A closely watched case in the world of education,” resulted in a ruling “that California’s tenure protection for public schoolteachers are unconstitutional.” NBC said, “A lot of people will be watching this outcome.”
USA Today (6/11, Toppo) reports the two largest teachers unions “vowed to challenge” the decision. USA Today notes the case “could reverberate across” the country as “other states look to overhaul their systems for hiring, paying and retaining teachers.” The article notes that National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel called the ruling “deeply flawed,” and quotes him saying, “Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.” Noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan took the opposite position on the ruling, USA Today reports that “he said he hoped the ruling would help ‘build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.’”
According to the Los Angeles Times (6/11, Ceasar, Blume), the unions “denounced” the preliminary ruling by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Rolf Treu as “a misguided attack on teachers and students.” Treu ruled “that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss” poor performing instructors. The Times reports that Duncan “called the ruling a nationwide ‘mandate’ to change similar ‘laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.’”
The Washington Times (6/11, Richardson) reports the lawsuit was “filed by nine public school students and backed by...Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch” against the state and the California Teachers Association.
The Washington Post (6/11, Layton) reports the ruling in Vergara v. California “struck down three state laws,” including statutes that “grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call or a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired.” True held that the laws “created unequal conditions...and deprive poor children of the best teachers.”
In its coverage, the AP (6/10) reports that Duncan “hailed the judge’s ruling as a chance for schools everywhere to open a conversation on equal opportunity in education,” and concludes by quoting him saying, “The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems.”
Politico (6/10, Simon) reports that Duncan “signaled his support for the ongoing campaign to reform hiring and firing laws,” noting that laws make it difficult to identify the top teachers and “match them with our neediest students.” Duncan “called the ruling ‘a mandate to fix these problems.’” Politico quotes Van Roekel saying, “Let’s be clear. This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.”
The New York Times (6/11, Medina, Subscription Publication) reports the president of the California Federation of Teachers, Joshua Pechthalt, said the judge “fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric” and the plaintiff’s lawyers “set out to scapegoat teachers for the problems that exist in public education.” Pechthalt added, “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.” The Times notes that the case is expected to “generate dozens more like it” across the country. The Times reports that Duncan “enthusiastically endorsed” the ruling, and “issued a statement saying the ruling could help millions of students who are hurt by existing teacher tenure laws.” The piece quotes Duncan saying, “My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”
The Wall Street Journal (6/11, Phillips, Subscription Publication) reports the teachers’ unions indicated they plan to appeal the ruling. California Teachers Association spokesman Frank Wells expressed confidence in the unions’ ability to “prevail on appeal.” Wells said, “We don’t believe the court is the place to be making these kinds of policy decisions.”
Other media outlets covering this story include the Sacramento (CA) Bee (6/10), the San Francisco Chronicle (6/11), theChristian Science Monitor (6/11), the Education Week (6/11) “TeacherBeat” blog, PBS’ Newshour With Jim Lehrer (6/11), CNN(6/11, Martinez, Cnn), the Washington Examiner (6/11), the NPR (6/11, Westervelt) “NprEd” blog, and US News & World Report(6/10).
New York Activists Energized By California Ruling. The New York Post (6/11) reports that parents in New York were “scrambling to overturn New York’s” tenure laws on Tuesday after the “stunning” ruling. The article quotes Mona Davids of the NYC Parents Union saying, “The California ruling sets a precedent. We want to file the same lawsuit here in New York. For too long, children have been condemned to schools with low-performing teachers protected by the teachers union.”
WSJournal: Case Provides Disadvantaged Students Hope Of Judicial Protection of Rights. The Wall Street Journal (6/11, Subscription Publication) editorializes that Treu made the correct ruling and argues that the case provides disadvantaged students an opportunity to seek protection of their rights from the judicial system.
The Los Angeles Times (5/29, McGreevy) reports that state senators in California on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that would ask voters “to repeal a ban on bilingual education in the state, saying children in other countries are successfully learning multiple languages.” The Times reports that the measure, which would appear on the November 2016 ballot, “divided Republicans, with Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar supporting the measure for giving school districts local control ‘so innovation can take place.’ But eight other Republicans, including Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber, voted against the bill, saying it would worsen the state’s high drop-out rate, which is partly caused by a large number of students being unable to read and understand English.”
The Los Angeles Times (4/25, Watanabe) reports that according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, “in a broad consensus across racial, political and economic lines,” most residents of the state support the Common Core Standards and the state’s new need-based school funding formula. The article also notes that there is strong support in the poll for universal pre-K. The Times contrasts the strong support for the Common Core Standards with more ambivalent opinions--and anti-Common Core legislation--in other states.
EdSource Today (4/18) reports on California’s Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee, which is working on including both career and college readiness in the Academic Performance Index, “the primary measure of school effectiveness.” While the index has generally been based on standardized test scores, a state law passed in 2012 requires that 40% of the API score cover “measures of career and college readiness – an amorphous and poorly defined term that the committee is struggling to quantify.” The education group Linked Learning Alliance advocated before the committee for “programs that integrate academics with career experience,” arguing that students in these programs are better prepared for college and develop an array of “soft skills.” Committee co-chair Kenn Young, superintendent of the Riverside County Office of Education, said the newly reformed API “is not going to be a perfect vehicle.” David Conley, a University of Oregon professor who also presented before the committee, said reforming API would be “an evolutionary journey.”
The New York Times (4/17, Medina, Subscription Publication) reports that for more than two months, attorneys have been arguing in a California court “whether California’s laws governing teacher tenure, firing and layoffs violate students’ constitutional right to an education,” and by early July, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu “will deliver the first legal ruling on the case, which has attracted national attention.” In many states, “opponents of tenure rules, who have tried and largely failed to bring about changes through state legislatures, are looking to this case as a test of whether taking their arguments to court could prove more successful.”
Stateline (4/2, Lu) reports on the trial Vergara v. California. Nonprofit group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students. The plaintiffs allege that the state’s employment laws “leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students many of them low-income and minority fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution.” Teachers unions contend that inadequate education is not due to poor quality teachers, but rather “inadequate resources, large class sizes and lack of parental involvement.” Sandi Jacobs, managing director of state policy for NCTQ, said California is one of few states that doesn’t consider student performance when evaluating teachers. Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy, cautioned that the models used to measure teacher performance may be unreliable. The article also considers employment policies and performance incentives in schools across the US.Read More
Palm Springs (CA) Desert Sun (4/6, Leff) reports less than 40 percent of high school students in California are “completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities.” A senior fellow at the state’s Public Policy Institute estimates that if the trend continues, California will have a million less college graduates than it needs in 2025. John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, says when only considering those who graduate and do it in four years, the statistic drops to 30 percent statewide, 20 percent for Latinos, and 18 percent for African-Americans. As Latino children are now a majority of California’s public school students, many are “framing the problem as a civil rights issue.”
Stateline (4/2, Lu) reports on the trial Vergara v. California. Nonprofit group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students. The plaintiffs allege that the state’s employment laws “leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students many of them low-income and minority fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution.” Teachers unions contend that inadequate education is not due to poor quality teachers, but rather “inadequate resources, large class sizes and lack of parental involvement.” Sandi Jacobs, managing director of state policy for NCTQ, said California is one of few states that doesn’t consider student performance when evaluating teachers. Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy, cautioned that the models used to measure teacher performance may be unreliable. The article also considers employment policies and performance incentives in schools across the USRead More
The Sacramento (CA) Bee (3/30, Kalb) reports that the Sacramento City Unified School District, which is one of the California CORE districts granted a NCLB waiver, “has begun ranking campuses and sending educators to other schools to coach their colleagues” at low-performing schools. However, the Sacramento City Teachers Association “objects to a promise that Sacramento City Unified and seven other districts made to link student test scores to teacher evaluations” and is fighting the accountability plan. The piece notes that the California Teachers Association “has been providing support to the SCTA,” and quotes state union President Dean Vogel saying, “We have been really, really clear in California ever since (federal grant competition) Race to the Top that we did not believe using student test scores to evaluate teachers was a good idea.”
The Los Angeles Times (3/28, Blume) reports that both sides made final arguments Thursday in “a groundbreaking, two-month trial challenging teacher job protections in California,” with both sides claiming to be representing the best interests of students. Noting that the lawsuit “seeks to overturn a set of laws that affect how teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure,” the Times reports that the plaintiffs allege that those laws “hinder the removal of ineffective teachers,” resulting in “a workforce with thousands of ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.” The plaintiffs argue that this impacts low-income and minority students disproportionately and violates the state constitution. Attorneys for the state’s teachers unions “countered that it is not the laws but poor management that is to blame for districts’ failing to root out incompetent instructors.”Read More
EdSource Today (3/20, Adams) reports that ED’s Office for Special Education has given a $200,000 grant to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as part of its $25 million, five-year mission to “improve instruction for children with” disabilities by implementing “reforms in 20 states, including this newly announced effort in California.” The California effort will focus on “curricula at the colleges of education, credentialing standards for teachers and administrators in both general and special education, and measurements of successful educator training programs.”
In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle (3/19), former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, who is currently the chair of the Emerson Collective Education Fund, writes that under California law, it is “nearly impossible to remove known, chronically underperforming educators from the classroom,” and writes in support of Vergara vs. California, a lawsuit that “asserts that the state laws providing automatic lifetime employment for failing California public school teachers are unconstitutional.” Ali portrays the case as pitting “the power of teachers” against the impetus of “protecting the right of every student in California to strong teaching and a quality education.”