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Education Government The Almighty Buck

California Students, Parents Sue Over Teacher Firing, Tenure Rules 399

The L.A. Times reports that a group of students and parents, fed up with what they see as overarching job security in California schools, are suing in the hopes of making harder for poor teachers to stay on the books. From the article: "The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit, advocacy group Students Matter, contends that these education laws are a violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee because they do not ensure that all students have access to an adequate education. Vergara versus California, filed on behalf of nine students and their families, seeks to revamp a dismissal process that the plaintiffs say is too costly and time consuming, lengthen the time it takes for instructors to gain tenure and dismantle the 'last hired, first fired' policies that fail to consider teacher effectiveness. The lawsuit aims to protect the rights of students, teachers and school districts against a "gross disparity" in educational opportunity, lawyers for the plaintiffs said." Perhaps related.
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California Students, Parents Sue Over Teacher Firing, Tenure Rules

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  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @05:13PM (#46075209)

    stripping away job security typically creates even more, worse problems in the long term with an even faster race-to-the-bottom.

    Citation needed.

    Go against the union in such a drastic manner and you may find yourself with a widespread strike on your hands.

    You're making a profoundly good case for the abolition of all unions. Our children and our future ought not be held hostage to these thugs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 26, 2014 @05:13PM (#46075211)

    I had a teacher who used to turn up 20 minutes late to every lesson, teach for ten minutes and then do her own then for the rest of the lesson leaving the class to get on with it.

    The entire class went to complain about her to both the head of maths and the school head. Absolutely nothing happened and she continued with her usual routine.

    She wasn't even trying to do her job, but it seems the effectiveness, competence or dedication of a teacher can never be questioned.

  • Re:Suing won't help (Score:5, Interesting)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @05:43PM (#46075407)

    There is FAR more to union protection of teachers than featherbedding.

    The people to blame for many school problems and whose effect is largely ignored in the current debate are school administrations.

    Here's a classic written by a (now retired) terrific science teacher who fought the Rutherford, NJ, administration over how they tested students and won in court after a protracted struggle. Steve Masone greatly inspired many of his students, self included. He had the guts to take on a pretty toxic administration when he could have just coasted and sacrificed his students instead. []

    The administrators concerned retired comfortably without consequences to their careers.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @05:49PM (#46075441)

    First of all, why is the Teacher's Union demonized here but the prison guards or border guards' union is not?

    Uhh ... the California prison guards union is very heavily demonized, especially about their financing of campaigns to build more prisons and mandate harsher sentences. But they are usually not demonized by the same people. This is because the teachers unions donate to the Democrats and the guard unions donate to the Republicans. People don't like to demonize the hand that feeds them.

  • My experiences (Score:4, Interesting)

    by raftpeople ( 844215 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @06:02PM (#46075529)
    My experiences: each of my 3 kids encountered two completely ineffective/incompetent teachers in junior high and zero in elementary and high school (although we were aware of 1 in elementary that we fortunately did not have to deal with).

    It wasn't that many but the level of incompetence was astounding and nothing could be done.
  • Re:Tenure? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @06:30PM (#46075703) Homepage

    Tenure? In state-funded primary and secondary schools? In a country as brutally meritocratic as the US?

    Well, let me tell you of a couple of situations in my hometown in which tenure saved teachers' job.

    The first teacher in question taught history, and one of his elective courses was focused on radical protest movements from 1950-1975. The thing was that many conservative elements in town wanted the course to not exist, or at the very least state quite clearly that all the radical protest movements were because of spies from the USSR. They had the ear of the dyed-in-wool conservative mayor, who in this city's structure was also the chair of the school board. They tried several tactics to fire him, including trying to convince the union to accept some nice cash benefits if they allowed a provision in the contract to create a process for firing teachers that were presenting content "detrimental to the community" or similar nonsense. The teacher continued to teach until his retirement, which allowed students to learn about that period in US history in a way that neither their textbooks nor their parents were really showing them.

    The second teacher in question was the advisor of the award-winning school paper. Said award-winning school paper did some investigative journalism and discovered some not-nice things about an assistant superintendent, which they duly published. The assistant superintendent reacted by driving to the school, barging into the paper office, and almost physically threatening the student editor who happened to be there at the time. The paper of course duly reported on this incident in their next issue, so the assistant superintendent went to the advisor and demanded that the advisor give the entire editorial board suspensions for insubordination or some-such. The advisor refused, so the assistant superintendent immediately tried to get him fired.

    So yes, tenure can and does matter, even for primary and secondary teachers.

  • Re:This is a scam (Score:5, Interesting)

    by winwar ( 114053 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @06:55PM (#46075865)

    There is no teacher shortage.

    When you hear that schools are having a difficult time getting teachers, that indicates that the school/district/state is an awful place to work.

    It's not unusual for there to be five applicants for every science position. There could be 30 for an English position. It's even worse for primary education. The only place there might be a shortage is in Special Education.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @07:17PM (#46075995) Journal

    There used to be a saying that went something like those who can will do, those who cannot will teach, those who cannot teach will coach and those who cannot coach will become politicians.

    There is not a teacher shortage- there is an ability to pay teachers shortage. I know of plenty of teachers with state credentials who cannot find work because there either is not enough room in the schools or schools are pinching their budgets so tight that increasing class room size and decreasing teachers is a way to pay for it. These teachers have been on the substitution lists for years and actually hold other jobs waiting for an opening which is usually created by someone retiring unless a new school is built. Some of them have went into the charter/private schools arena in order to put their teaching credentials to use. It's probably no wonder why people claim the charter schools produce better students- they end up with not only picking and choosing the students but with the fresh and innovative new talent to teach them.

  • Re:This is a scam (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lucm ( 889690 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @08:51PM (#46076633)

    Is there any demonstrated correlation between college grads and losing a few teaching days?

    10 calendar days per year less than the national average. 1 hour less per day than the national average. This adds up to Chicago students losing two full school years (or more) compared to the national average by the time they get to college.

    I don't know if you really need a scientific study to make the demonstration that 2 years is a huge gap, but one thing is for sure: the odds that such study could be done by someone who went to school in Chicago are tiny - with a college graduation rate of 12%, which is 1/3 of the national average and even lower than Alaska.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hermitdev ( 2792385 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:04PM (#46076735)

    The attacks on the public teachers' union might be a viewed as a concerted attack, because they are exhibiting a concerted attack against any and all that would improve the quality of public education at the expense of the public teachers' union. Parents and taxpayers alike are sick of paying for what is obviously a failing (or failed, depending on perspective) system. This is not a condemnation of all or even the majority of teachers. You don't see unions protecting bad employees to the same extent in other industries. Teachers' unions present no incentive to excel and the mentality actively discourages it, because it makes other union members look bad. It's like teaching to the lowest denominator, but now you're tell the teachers to be the lowest denominator.

    Not everyone is the top of the cream (both teachers & students). In my opinion, the biggest problem with the public education system is that we predominantly teach to an age. You're 12, so you're going to learn 'A' this year. You're 15, you're going to learn 'B' this year. Never mind some students are capable of learning 'A' & 'B' in the same year, while it may take a year or more for others to learn just 'A'. There are also instances where students exhibiting self learning are actively discouraged, ridiculed or penalized (the source may be either other students or even the teachers).

    You can say what you want, but this culture of imposing equality is what is causing the generative decline of our educational system. We actively hold back capable students so the less capable don't have their feels hurt and feel inferior. Doing this actively destroys our society and does harm to less advantaged students with greater abilities. Public education in the US is sadly about making sure everyone makes the lowest common denominator, rather than excelling. Meeting expectations does no one a service. Exceeding expectations does, even more so when those are raised.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pizza ( 87623 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:12PM (#46076791) Homepage Journal

    I know of plenty of teachers with state credentials who cannot find work because there either is not enough room in the schools or schools are pinching their budgets so tight that increasing class room size and decreasing teachers is a way to pay for it..

    Meanwhile, as the budgets are being shrunk, the number of mandates that the school system must undertake increases.

    A few years back Florida imposed mandatory background checks for everyone who came into contact with kids. There was no additional funding given to the school boards to implement this, so they eliminated teaching positions to pay for it. Oh, and lost more than half of the folks who volunteered their time to help out with school activities (ie after school programs or even stuff like "Hauling kids to weekend band practice") because the hassles outweighed the benefit of sheparding any other kids than their own.

    ...yeah, teachers are the root of all evil in our school system.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @09:40PM (#46076955)

    Teachers aren't allowed to have a say in what they teach


    Teachers are not scientists. They are not the ones performing experiments and establishing the most likely theory. They should not be the ones deciding willy nilly to teach their hypothesis over the scientifically backed theory.

    If a teacher decided to teach what they wanted, and taught my child bollocks then I would be absolutely furious, I'm absolutely ecstatic that the teachers are explicitly banned from doing that.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @01:15AM (#46078009)
    It goes back to the Satires of Juvenal (1st Century AD):

    They all want to know about style, what sort of cases, And the summing up, and the shots that are likely to be Fired by the other side, but not a single one wants to pay. ‘You’re asking me to pay? But what have I learned?’ ‘It’s surely the teacher’s fault, if our young dunce feels Nothing stir in the left side of his chest, as he fills my Poor head for five days with his ‘dreadful Hannibal’.

  • Re:Dangerous... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 27, 2014 @02:51AM (#46078327)

    "There is no reason for a teacher to be politically protected, if they're doing their job objectively, and teaching facts and not ideologies."
    There is no reason for a Judge to be politically protected, if they're interpreting the law objectively, and ruling based on facts and not ideologies.

    End of the day, teachers need to be protected when little Johnny comes home and asks mom and dad why the teacher said he came from monkeys and his bible school teacher said he didn't. Or that condoms protect from STDs when we all know they don't actually work and it's a liberal conspiracy to give everyone AIDS. Or that 2 - 4 is -2, when you just KNOW in your HEART of HEARTS that 2 - 4 is 0 because you can't take more than 4 away from 2. (Yes, I've actually had this argument with a full-blown adult.)

  • by starcraftsicko ( 647070 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @05:53AM (#46078875)

    If you are against tenure, you are against the following: ... (3) due process, ...

    (3) This story is in fact about due process at work. The people filing suit are against tenure and are using due process to fight it.

    I really can't speak for California, but in the Northeast US ( Pensylvania and North ), Tenure == Due Process.

    In my area, a new teacher ( 3years in some states, 5 in others) can be fired or "non-renewed" without a stated reason. In practice, new teachers are given good reviews mid-year and booted without comment or useful feedback. Such would-be teachers are almost unemployable after this, and the lack of feedback means that they can't work to address preceived flaws in case they do find a way to work again.

    Experienced teachers can be dismissed for any legal reason. This is usually some combination of illegal activity (bank robbers can't be teachers usually), immoral behavior (porn stars are not encouraged to continue a teaching career), incompetence (yep, you can lose your job for incompetence), and insubordination (boss tells you to be on time, you aren't...). Of course, cause has to be documented. And except for the first two (illegal, immoral), a single incident is generally not sufficient grounds for action. This is good, a single parent complaint should not end a teacer's career.

    The "problem" is that when ANYBODY is terminated for cause, their terminaion can be appealed in the state courts. This is not unique to teachers, but unions are in a good position financially to challenge these terminations, and so they do so nearly every time. Ex-employees of private firms generally cannot afford the legal fees to do this, and so generally don't challenge. The union provides the resources to access "due process".

    The legal appeals process favors the district if the situation is well documented and if all of the rules were followed. The key to this is making sure that you have administrators with time to spend on process. A solid HR staff can help backstop this. Of course, the only thing that voters and unions agree on is that administration is a waste. And HR looks like more administration. Districts lose these cases a lot because administrators have other priorities and so don't do a great job with documentation or process.

    In my current state, employees terminated for cause are not permitted to collect unemployment insurance. Private employers are more likely not to name a cause and accept the bump in their unemployment costs. This also tends to discourage lawsuits ( a bird in the hand...). School systems don't usually have this option with tenured (due process enabled) staff.

    Big private companies tend to have the middle managment, HR types, and processes in place to cover themselves when they want to terminate for cause and contest unemployment. Small companies do not, but don't contest.

    It's that simple.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @10:45AM (#46080281) Homepage

    You've hit the nail on the head. There are some corporations (e.g. Pearson) that have been salivating over how much more money they could make from our educational system. The first step was to convince us that our current system was broken. The second step was to blame the teachers. The third step was to "convince" politicians (who have no educational background) that the business' solution of constant testing was the cure. They test in the beginning of the year and then they test at the end of the year and if the students don't do well enough, the teacher gets fired. No qualifiers such as said teacher's students are intelligent but don't do well on standardized tests. Or, since the test is very secret and not audited by a third party, that the test itself was flawed.

    Of course, the corporations have a financial incentive for students to fail. Schools with failing students might buy more test prep books, sign up for teacher training sessions, administrator training sessions, or other goods/services the corporation provides. Schools with students doing well don't generate more corporate profits. In New York's first round of testing, only 31% of students passed.

    Just to add insult to injury, New York has adopted a system called EngageNY which is essentially a script for the teacher to follow. It tells the teacher what to say, when, for how long, and in what manner. It literally is broken down into 10 minute segments instructing the teacher on just what to do during each. There is no leeway for teaching in a different manner that the teacher's students might understand better or for spending more/less time on subjects. Teachers are expected to teach according to the script. Of course, this makes teachers nothing but glorified actors who can be swapped out for other people at a moment's notice. (Think about every teacher who inspired you to learn and ask if that teacher was unconventional or sounded like they were robots reading a script.)

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin