California goes to court for education reform

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At every crossroads toward the future, it’s been said, tradition will post 10,000 people to guard the past. For frustrated Californians that see the need for significant change in the education system, a major number of those guardians are found in California’s Democratic-controlled legislature and the California Teachers Association (CTA), which is the state’s largest political contributor. Unfortunately, the problems are not new. I wrote at length on the terrible effects of California’s teacher employment laws and practices back in 2005, attacking tenure, seniority, and the evaluation and compensation systems as damaging to students. The depth of dysfunction in California has been documented repeatedly, perhaps most thoroughly in the 2007 “Getting Down to Facts” report, issued by Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice.

One of the key conclusions of the report, based on 22 separate studies it commissioned, was this: Current teacher policies do not let state and local administrators make the best use of the pool of potential teachers nor adequately support current teachers.

Five years later and with virtually no changes to teacher employment, compensation, dismissal, or tenure laws or practices – and no hope of any legislation passing – California’s reformers are following in the steps of great civil rights movements and seeking relief from the courts. In October 2011, a group of families, with support from EdVoice, sued the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to force compliance with a mostly ignored California law known as the Stull Act, which mandates among other things that teacher evaluations occur regularly and that they include student performance data.

Even the current LAUSD superintendent admitted in his deposition that “the current system doesn’t best serve adults or students” and does not focus on “the whole part of an education, and that is how students do.” Now the Democratic mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, has jumped in on the side of the families, filing a friend-of-the court brief insisting on change and noting that LAUSD only evaluated 40 percent of tenured teachers and 70 percent of non-tenured teachers. Moreover, the district’s own task force found “only a tenuous link between evaluations and improved teaching and learning.”

Last month, my colleague at the American Center for School Choice, Steve Sugarman, analyzed the current Reed vs. State of California case that is, at least so far, defeating the “last in, first out” hiring practices that the CTA advocates and most school districts adopt. This policy leads to disproportionate firing of teachers in schools that serve poor neighborhoods and operate in difficult urban areas because the seniority policies of unions and districts place the newly hired teachers at these schools. Thus the trial court found the practice unconstitutionally deprives students of an equal education.

Just last week, lawyers filed on behalf of eight teenage students across the state a third attack on the teaching status quo that demonstrably damages kids.

A San Francisco Bay area nonprofit, Students Matter, is leading the effort, which names four school districts. It has received support from Democrats for Educational Reform, headed in California by another American Center colleague, Gloria Romero, along with Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Parent Revolution.

The suit seeks to overturn five laws that essentially prevent quality teaching, which when it occurs, disproportionately and adversely affects minority and poor communities. The suit contends that California’s tenure law, which grants lifetime protections after only 18 months of in-classroom experience, is an inadequate time frame for determining long-term employment.

It also targets the 10-step dismissal process that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue and results in only rare teacher firings. Last year, LAUSD paid a teacher arrested for lewd acts with students $40,000 to resign. I doubt you could find a teacher fired in California in the last 20 years because students didn’t learn anything in class. As a California school board member, I have regularly signed off on low-six-figure settlements to obtain teacher resignations for unethical actions rather than risk high-six-figure costs and perhaps having to take them back in to our classrooms. It’s nauseating, but it’s the reality of this process in California. Lastly, the suit seeks to overturn more broadly than Reed the “last-in-first-out” legal provisions for teacher layoffs.

Will this all lead to a kind of mini Brown vs. Board of Education revolutionary decision that will eventually change the California education landscape for the better? Hard to tell.

The education establishment, California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators, sued the state in 2010 (Robles-Wong vs. State of California) asserting that California had unconstitutionally failed to fund education. The court said education had no constitutional right to a certain level of funding.

Do California students have a constitutional right to processes that greatly improve the chance they will have effective and competent teachers? When the status quo politics and special interests of the day have stymied progress, the courts have often been the last hope for civil rights, whether they be for racial, gender or sexual orientation equality.

Let’s hope California children find refuge there also.

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Peter H. Hanley is director of Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education, the successor to the American Center for School Choice. The Center remains dedicated to bringing school choice to the center of the political spectrum since Peter led the merger in June 2015. He successfully created the national Commission on Faith-based Schools, which continues at Discovery, to improve the understanding of the important part these schools have in American education and the need for expanding public support for parental choice. In addition, he is the board president of a charter management organization with schools in Oakland and Richmond, California, sits on a Waldorf-inspired charter school board in Oakland, and is in his fourth term as an elected board member in San Mateo, California.

1 COMMENT

  1. Unfortunately these lawsuits are part of a scam being used to usurp the teaching profession. One was instigated by Eli Broad who mentors a group of ” parents” who suddenly became interested in Stull and a law that was rescinded some 30 years ago because it is difficult to adequately and objectively evaluate teachers using standardized testing.we should really consider Broad’s motives for suing LAUSD and close ally John Deasy– a graduate from the Broad academy and close crony of the billionaire and his fellow vulture pholanthropist Bill Gates, whose psuedo organization Student’s First and Michell Rhee are behind the second , which is allegedly a group of students who suddenly comprehend the complex issues associated with tenure and assert seniority and due process are interfering with their right to an adequate education.
    This is about what really matters. It’s about Broadand Gates’ great passion : $$$
    Teachers are not cheap. The war against out profession is not new. With 50% attrition, it’s clear teachers are driven out early and pften, but these tenacious teachers who dare to hold in to positions , become tenured and take thier work seriously are a real problem. They are qualifying for higher pay, pensions, and health care. As we know, Bill Fates would outsource his granny’s job to avoid paying for labor. As for Broad, this busybody seems to suffer from profound OCD and perhaps a hoarding condition.he apparently wants toown LA schools, media and art museums.his interferance is legenday and like Gates aNd Deasy, his ethocal fortitude is limited.
    ALCLU is being lead around by the nose by these people who use exploit thier assets ( what they call our students) to bring down the value of human capitol (teachers) . Teachers 40 and over are the prinary targets as Deasy derails the CBA and shows up on campus to fire teachers on the spot. The district’s rubber rooms are filling up with teachers who are not even sure why tgey are being disciplined. Others are whistleblowers and victims of administrative reprisals; planiffs in cases against the districts, many AA s and,teachers involved wirh protecting teachers’ rights end up being denied due process while on leave with oay. Note in the minutes of board meetings that members never even look at rhe cases of teachers being considered for dismissal.
    The rubbertamp them all through, which means unemployed teachers must face the OAH .
    They must find money for an attorney and are now expected to cover the cost of court reporters, but few can go the distance as LAUSD legal sharks delay these hearings indefinitely, in effect starving teachers out so they can consustebpntly prevail and protect LAUSD from answering for its malignant practices and thevtremendous harm its done to innocent teachers.
    Why isn’t the union intervening? Because it is coposed of corrupt individuals ehose primary concern is their $180 k jobs and career at the district when the union eventually bellies up.i will not be sorry to see it go nor do I feel tenure is necessary as long as there is oversight and accountability for leadership.
    Thats what your next article should emphasize because when you get right down to it, the district is thevreason for Miramonte, for dismisal test scores and for the current budget crisis.

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