Thursday, April 28, 2016
The Huntsville (AL) Education Association (HEA) sued Huntsville City Schools last week alleging the district illegally revised procedures for determining when a teacher will be found ineffective and violated the state's open records act by withholding a list of the names of teachers it considered to be ineffective. The controversy began last December when Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski (who is no stranger to controversy) gave a presentation to principals entitled "Guidance for Dealing With Teachers Who Are Not Effective." During that presentation, Dr. Wardynski and the district's attorneys purportedly provided the principals with a list of the district's ineffective teachers. Both the Huntsville Education Assoc. and the state teachers' union requested the names, but the district allegedly refused the request. The HEA has asked the state court for a preliminary injunction allowing the HEA to see the new standards and list before the City Schools takes any action and for injunctive relief requiring the City Schools to turn over the materials under the open records law. The complaint is here.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Can a New Student Loan Forgiveness Program Save the Teaching Profession and the Commitment to Public Education?
Congress is considering a bi-partisan bill to address the national teacher shortage. The bill would extend additional higher education loan forgiveness to teachers who stay in the classroom for a specified number of years. Currently, two different federal programs offer loan forgiveness to teachers. One requires 10 years of service and the other 5 years, but teachers cannot apply for both at the same time, so to take the full benefit, a teacher would need to work 15 years. Under the new bill, teachers could participate in both programs at once, taking full advantage of them and discharging their loans within 10 years.
The million dollar question is whether this change would have a serious effect on those who might consider entering the profession and whether it would improve the quality of teaching over the long-term. It surely will not hurt, but given the depth of the structural problems confronting our teaching workforce, this new program is likely to only tinkering around the edges. As I describe in my forthcoming article Averting Educational Crisis: Funding Cuts, Teacher Shortages, and the Dwindling Commitment to Public Education,
Extreme teacher shortages swept the nation this past fall, revealing that the education crisis that began during the Great Recession is far from over. From 2008 to 2012, nearly every state in the country imposed budget cuts on education. Cuts of more than one-thousand dollars per-pupil in a single year were routine—the equivalent of a teacher aid in every classroom or the entire science and foreign language departments combined. Some states experienced massive cuts in multiple years. In North Carolina and Florida, per pupil funding fell from over $10,000 to the $7,000 range in just a few years. These funding cuts affected a wide array of educational services, but the most significant were regarding teachers. Lay-offs, pay cuts, and new high-stakes accountability systems dissuaded the next generation of talent from even pursuing a teaching career.
As states finally began to replenish their teaching ranks this past year, they found that teachers were in very short supply. At the same time that states were making cuts to traditional public education, they were enacting huge increases for charter schools and voucher programs. In many instances, districts struggled to hire even the most minimally qualified individuals. Just to ensure warm bodies in the classroom, districts resorted to desperate measures—billboard advertising; hiring substitutes and college interns on a full-time basis; and seeking district-wide exemptions from teacher-certification requirements. In some districts, these drastic measures were not enough to stop class cancelations and teaching overloads. The teaching demand in California, for instance, is forty percent higher than the supply of individuals seeking teaching credentials this year. Current projections indicate the shortage may get worse before it gets better.
As suggested in this quote, this shortage is also having a toxic interaction with the way public schools, charters, and vouchers have been funded over the past several years. While public school funding has dipped tremendously, charter school and voucher funding has doubled and quadrupled in many instances. More here.
 Motoko Rich, Across Country, A Scramble Is on to Find Teachers, N.Y. Times, Aug. 10, 2015, at A1.
 Noelle M. Ellerson, Am. Ass’n of Sch. Admins, A Cliff Hanger: How America’s Public Schools Continue to Feel the Impact of the Economic Downturn 8 (2010) (sixty-six percent of districts reported cuts to state and local revenues between 2008 and 2009 and eighty percent reported cuts between 2009 and 2010).
 Bruce D. Baker et al., Is School Funding Fair?: A National Report Card 12–13 t.2 (3d ed. 2014); Marguerite Roza, Breaking Down School Budgets, 9 Educ. Next (Summer 2009) (specifying programing costs in public schools).
 Bruce D. Baker et al., Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card 8 (2015).
 Derek W. Black, The Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure, 104 Cal. L. Rev. X (forthcoming 2016) (describing new teacher evaluation systems and changes to hiring, firing, and tenure policies); Exec. Office of the President, Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom (2012) [hereinafter Investing in Our Future], (reporting a loss of 300,000 teachers); Marjorie A. Suckow & Roxann L. Purdue, Cal. Comm’n on Teacher Credentialing, Teacher Supply in California: A Report to the Legislature Annual Report 2013–2014 16 (2015) (finding a 55% drop in the number of persons pursuing and completing education degrees in California).
 See, e.g., Kristen A. Graham, Looking for a Few Thousand Substitute Teachers, The Inquirer Daily News, Sept. 1, 2015, http://articles.philly.com/2015-09-01/news/66074823_1_retired-teachers-subs-philadelphia-teachers; State of Cal. Comm. on Teacher Credentialing, District Intern Credentials 3 (2015) (permitting interns to teach after 120 hours of training or six credit hours of course work); Andrea Eger & Nour Habib, Crisis Hits Oklahoma Classrooms with Teacher Shortage, Quality Concerns, Tulsa World (Aug. 16, 2015) (in a month and a half, the Oklahoma Department of Education received 526 requests for teacher certification exemptions).
 Eger & Habib, supra note 6; Rebecca Klein, Kansas Underfunded Education and Cut Tenure. Now It Can’t Find Enough Teachers to Fill Classrooms, Huff. Post, July 31, 2015 (reporting school district started year with uncertified teachers and had to use substitutes).
 Rich, supra note 1 (state issued 15,000 teaching credentials, which was 6,500 short of the open teaching positions).
 See Title II Higher Education Act, Data Tools, https://title2.ed.gov/Public/DataTools/Tables.aspx (last visited Nov. 23, 2015) (finding a sharp drop in the number of students pursuing education degrees); Suckow &Purdue, supra note 5.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
The North Carolina Supreme Court has overturned a 2013 law that repealed teacher tenure, holding that the repeal violated the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. For over forty years, North Carolina's teachers were tenured under the Career Status Law, which set the rules for employing, retaining, and firing of public school teachers. In 2013, North Carolina's General Assembly passed a law that revoked the Career Status Law, allowing school boards to decide not to renew a teacher’s contract for any reason except for a few reasons otherwise prohibited by state law. The North Carolina Association of Educators, Inc. and a handful of tenured teachers challenged the law, arguing that the law was a taking because it applied retroactively to previously tenured teachers and prospectively to probationary teachers who were already on track to tenured status. The state supreme court found that the Career Status Law was an implied term of the teachers' employment contracts upon which they relied in accepting lower pay for the anticipated benefits of job security. That security was removed by revoking the Career Status Law and replacing it with a new system that allowed local school boards and teachers to enter into annual term contracts. The court noted that the State's justification for the passing the law, to alleviate difficulties in dismissing ineffective teachers, was unsupported by any evidence that such a problem existed. The court concluded that the State could not show that it had a legitimate purpose, or that if it were legitimate, retroactively ending teacher tenure was nevertheless an unnecessary and unreasonable step to achieve that purpose. The case, North Carolina Association of Educators, Inc. (NCAE) v. North Carolina, No. 228A15 (N.C. April 15, 2016), is available here.
Monday, April 18, 2016
California Court of Appeal Deals Legal Assault on Teacher Tenure a Major Blow, Laying Bare Its Shallow Assumptions
Last week, the California Court of Appeals reversed the trial court that sent shockwaves through the nation when it ruled that California's tenure and seniority statutes were unconstitutional in 2014 in Vergara v. State. As detailed here, the plaintiffs' and trial court's reasoning were riddled with numerous problematic assumptions about the causes of ineffective teaching and the disproportionate number of uncertified and low quality teachers in predominantly poor and minority schools. The Court of Appeals was nicer in its assessment, but reached the same conclusion. It wrote:
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Minnesota is now the third state to entertain the theory that teacher tenure and seniority protections violate students' state constitutional right to education. Unable to locate the actual complaint, I have had to rely on the initial news reports of the claims, but three points seem pretty clear. First, the case is modeled on the lawsuits from California and New York and is being funded/coordinated by the same policy and media advocates. Second, according to the Star Tribune, it claims that "Minnesota laws protect teachers who should no longer be in classrooms, thus preventing thousands of students from getting a high-quality education." Or as one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in the case states, “This is a conversation about students’ fundamental right to an education and the laws that get in the way of that right.” Third, the lawsuit attributes achievement gaps between students to tenure. “When we look throughout the country at places where there are harmful teacher employment statutes and significant achievement gaps, Minnesota was one of the first states that popped up as a place that could use this kind of help,” said Ralia Polechronis, executive director of Partnership for Educational Justice.
From what I can tell, it also falls victim to all the same simplistic assumptions about teacher quality and equal educational opportunities. Unless plaintiffs unearthed new data and trends in Minnesota, the plaintiffs have no basis to believe that teacher tenure actually has a negative causal effect on educational opportunity. As detailed in The Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure, 104 California Law Review 79 (2016), numerous different factors affect teacher quality and educational opportunity. Prior plaintiffs may marshaled almost no evidence that tenure has any causal effect on the quality of teachers who choose to teach and stay in a particular school, much less evidence that tenure is a significant factor in the quality of education a school offers. If tenure does not have a significant causal effect, it cannot support a constitutional claim. It is not enough to argue that tenure is bad policy. Good or bad, policies of this sort fall within the discretion of the legislature.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Mississippi's chairman of the House Committee on Education, John Moore, has renewed his bill to place limits on teacher's activities while at school. Some call the bill a directive for teachers to "shut up" or to "muzzle teachers." Given the larger context of education budget battles over the past year or two in the state and teachers' role in it, the bill may be aimed at tamping down political activity among teachers while at school. A local reporter offers this summary of the bill:
[The bill levels] $10,000 fines and revok[es] teacher licenses. But without any provision for who can file a complaint, or to whom, it appears the education chairman's bill is reactionary and not well thought out. Snowden's bill, while similar, is not as toxic and is more measured. It only has fines of $100 for the first offense and $250 for each further offense, to be investigated by the secretary of state's office. Complaints can be filed by "any state or federal oversight, enforcement or regulatory governmental entity," which includes those poor, harassed legislators.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Acting Secretary John King Apologizes to Teachers; Can He Take Federal Policy in an Entirely New Direction?
I was skeptical when President Obama first announced John King as the Acting Secretary of Education. In his previous job as New York's Secretary of Education, King had been the subject of significant criticism and controversy. He was effectively run out of one town hall meeting in which he was promoting the state's adopting of common core standards. Coming out of that meeting, he cancelled his next four public appearances. This was not enough to keep organizations in New York from calling for King's resignation. His rise to the U.S. Department of Education, however, made perfect sense. He seemed like a guy committed to the administration's vision for education regarding testing, teacher evaluations, and common core standards. But I have to admit that in his new position King is showing signs of an entirely different vision.
Yesterday, he offered a somewhat stunning apology for the Department's actions over the past several years. As one media outlet reported:
In his first major speech, the acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King apologized to the nation’s teachers.
Speaking to a small group of teachers, students and local politicians here last month, just three weeks after taking over the post, King admitted the USA’s education debate over the past few years has been “characterized by more heat than light,” and that despite reformers’ best intentions, “teachers and principals, at times, have felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces.”
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Chicago Schools with the Most Disadvantaged Students Have the Most "Ineffective" Teachers, According to New Study
As detailed here, new teacher evaluation systems that measure teaching effectiveness based on students' achievement test scores are riddled with serious flaws. One of the most obvious is the likelihood that those systems will simply rate teachers with the weakest/most challenged students as the most ineffective. The hope of some, however, is that one might be able to demonstrate that districts are assigning teachers who are, in fact, the least effective to disadvantaged schools--a serious equity concern under both federal and state law. It is hard to say definitely which of these two possibilities a new study of Chicago schools reveals, but it tends toward the later. Either way, it is bad for Chicago Schools. The new study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research finds that:
teachers with the lowest scores on the REACH Students teacher evaluation system are overrepresented in schools serving the most disadvantaged students, while teachers with the highest observation scores are underrepresented in these schools.
The study uses data from the 2013-14 school year, which represents the first comprehensive snapshot of evaluation scores for Chicago Public School teachers under the new REACH Students teacher evaluation system. This includes value-added scores based on students’ gains on tests, as well as scores from observations of teaching practices in classrooms.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Guessing the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court justice's vote based on what he or she says during oral arguments is a dicey proposition, but Justice Antonin Scalia left little doubt of his position today in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), Reuters reports. The Court will decide in Friedrichs whether the teacher-plaintiffs' free speech rights were violated by forcing them to pay the union "agency" fees for collective bargaining and other expenses that supported political causes with which the teachers disagree. During today's argument, Justice Scalia reportedly equated the CTA's collective bargaining duties to political activity such as lobbying. If Justice Scalia's comments reflect his view of the case, the CTA's hopes that he would side with the union as a public-sector employer have been dented. Without Justice Scalia's support, CTA would lose a crucial fifth vote on the Court. The case may also decide the viability of the Court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court held that nonunion public sector employees could not be required to fund political activities to which they objected, but could be required to fund activities that benefitted all employees, such as collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance procedures.
Friday, December 4, 2015
New Mexico's Teacher Evaluation System Struck Down, Raising Equally Serious Questions About the Challenge to Tenure in Other States
On Wednesday, the trial court in Stewart v. New Mexico enjoined New Mexico's value added method [VAM] of teacher evaluation. Although the state is free to continue to use its VAM for diagnostic or other purposes, it cannot use it for high stakes purposes of terminating teachers or placing teachers on notice of future termination. Nor can it use the VAM to revoke licenses or deny raises. At this point, plaintiffs have only secured a preliminary injunction. The state will get a second bite at the apple if the case moves forward to a full trial, but the court's opinion indicates any number of problems with the VAM that will require major reworking if the state intends to re-implement its system at any point in the future.
Throughout its opinion the court reaches findings that demonstrate the general unreliability of New Mexico's VAM. This is most obviously demonstrated by random variations in how the VAM affects teachers from district to district and year to year. The randomness stems from fundamental flaws, such as arbitrary cut scores purporting to separate ineffective from other teachers, a disconnect between the evaluation of students' standardized test scores and the calculation of teachers' VAMs, and numerous different types of data errors that render ratings invalid. The problems may have best been summed up by a superintendent who admitted that he could not tell the judge why a teacher was rated as ineffective. He just knew that was her rating.
This opinion stands in stark contrast to the 11th Circuit decision in Cook v. Bennett, 792 F.3d 1294 (2015), which upheld Florida's VAM notwithstanding even more egregious problems, such as rating teachers based on student scores in subjects that they did not even teach. See here for my prior analysis of that case.
More globally, the findings in New Mexico also demonstrate a fundamental flaw in constitutional challenges to tenure in Vergara v. California and Davids v. New York. Vergara and Davids claim that grossly ineffective teachers deprive students of their constitutional right to quality teaching. There are several problems with their theory, see here, but the underlying problem is that the method by which they purport to label teachers ineffective--VAMs--is unreliable itself. In other words, even allowing the idea that retaining grossly ineffective teachers rises to the level of a constitutional violation, plaintiffs in California and New York lack the tools to reliably deal with the problem. As such, their proposed solution would be unfair to teachers and likely violate due process.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
A new report by the Commonwealth Institute shows a net loss in teachers and resources over the past six years and growing student need. The net result is a school system in a worse position to serve its students today than before the recession:
Recent headlines have suggested that Virginia has 5,000 fewer positions in its K-12 schools now than before the beginning of the recession. The problem is actually much worse. Taking into account growing student enrollment, Virginia’s schools are missing over 11,000 positions, including 4,200 teachers. Also missing from Virginia’s schools are an additional 1,500 instructional staff, who should be assisting teachers in the classroom and helping students outside of it, and 5,500 support staff, who should be keeping the schools safe and running, getting students to and from class, and caring for student’s physical and behavioral health.
These missing positions stem from a combination of schools eliminating positions that they can no longer afford to support and schools not hiring staff to keep up with growing enrollment. Schools made these tough decisions because the state cut school funding moving out of the recession, pushing a greater share of the cost onto cashstrapped localities. In turn, as school divisions responded to budget pressures, they started to reduce staff and cut salaries.
Get the full report here.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
For those who missed it, Edweek published a chart and synopsis of all the current litigation challenging states' teacher evaluation systems. Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Texas all have ongoing cases. Most of those states actually have more than one case proceeding.
For a background explanation of how those teacher evaluation systems work and the practical and legal flaws embedded in them, see here.
Monday, September 21, 2015
The briefs are in the appeal of Vergara v. State. Amici in support of the state are exposing a huge evidentiary flaw in the plaintiffs' case: the lack of causation. For those who are new to the case, last year a California trial court held that teacher tenure was unconstitutional, concluding that tenure prevented schools from removing grossly ineffective teachers. The court reached a similar conclusion in regard to the state's "last-in-first-out" statute, which requires reassignment and retention be based on seniority during reductions in force.
The San Francisco Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the Education Law Center wrote:
Plaintiffs . . . did not show, nor can they show, that the challenged statutes require the retention of clearly ineffective teachers or that those statutes resulted in assignment of teachers incapable of delivering curriculum and instruction to students in particular classrooms, schools, or districts. That is, plaintiffs did not show that the “Permanent Status Statutes,” and in particular, Education Code section 44929.21, subdivision (b), requires districts to reelect ineffective teachers at the expiration of their two-year probationary period. . . . Plaintiffs focused on the processes for dismissing teachers . . . . While plaintiffs critiqued these processes as a matter of public policy, they did not produce sufficient record evidence establishing that the statutes required districts to retain unqualified and ineffective teachers. . . .
At best, plaintiffs presented anecdotal evidence that in some instances, the challenged statutes could contribute to retention of ineffective teachers. However, the trial court’s analysis, given the record below, does not show or support a causal connection between these statutes as compared to the many other factors linked to teacher quality, and the deprivation of a constitutional education in specific California districts or schools.
Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk's brief on behalf of constitutional law professors was even more specific:
Friday, August 21, 2015
A new study by Seth Gershenson, Stephen Holt, and Nicholas Papageorge finds a disturbing trend of racially disparate expectations for students based on race. The abstract offers this summary:
Teachers are an important source of information for traditionally disadvantaged students. However, little is known about how teachers form expectations and whether they are systematically biased. We investigate whether student-teacher demographic mismatch affects high school teachers’ expectations for students’ educational attainment. Using a student fixed effects strategy that exploits expectations data from two teachers per student, we find that nonblack teachers of black students have significantly lower expectations than do black teachers. These effects are larger for black male students and math teachers. Our findings add to a growing literature on the role of limited information in perpetuating educational attainment gaps.
More specifically, they find that "relative to teachers of the same race and sex as the student, other-race teachers were 12 percentage points less likely to expect black students to complete a four-year college degree. Such effects were even larger for other-race and other-sex teachers, for black male students, and for math teachers. In addition to being statistically significant, these effects are arguably practically significant as well, as they constitute more than half of the black-white gap in teacher expectations."
Read the full study here.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The New York State Education Department has released the data from the standardized tests administered to elementary students at the end of this past academic year. The opt-out movement scored a much bigger victory (if victory was its goal) than I ever would have imagined. Some students opted out for valid health and other reasons, but a whopping twenty percent of students refused to take the tests without any valid excuse. Presumably they objected based on principle.
A five or so percent opt out would have done little to upset the status quo, but one of this size has enormous ramifications. First, as a condition of receiving federal education money, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) mandates that 95% of students take the test. The Secretary of Education has the power to waive a number of requirements, but the Secretary cannot waive this requirement. Congress wanted this one to stick. As analyzed in an earlier post, this poses a real quandary. The purpose of the provision was to make sure that schools did not conveniently exempt their weakest students from the test to push up their pass rate. But when students simply refuse to take the test, holding the school accountable seems unfair and contrary to the purpose of the Act. The Secretary could take a page from the reasoning of King v. Burwell (the recent Affordable Care Act decision offering a creative reading of the Act to save individual tax credits) and ignore the statutory language and violation. But absent creative reasoning, New York is in violation it cannot escape.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Sheri Lederman, a 4th grade teacher in Great Neck, New York, with 17 years of experience, is challenging New York's value added method (VAM) for evaluating teachers. In 2013-14, the system rated her as "ineffective." This struck her as implausible due to her long track record of strong student achievement results and positive evaluations by her superiors.
Monday, July 20, 2015
In The Constitutional Challenge to Tenure, I spend an extended amount of time evaluating the merits of teacher evaluation systems that rely on students' standardized test scores work. This might appear to some as a digression, but the the attacks on tenure are premised on the assumption that these new evaluation systems can tell us who needs to be fired. If only it were so. Thus far, these evaluation systems have proven speculative and unreliable. Yet elevating the prominence of teacher evaluation systems would appear to be a primary goal of the movement.
Last week, the advocates and attorneys who brought us Vergara v. California made this more obvious. They filed a second lawsuit to force sixteen California school districts to do more to evaluate their teachers based on students' test scores. They argue that collective bargaining agreements in those districts are prohibiting the districts from evaluating teachers in accordance with state statute. The complaint is here.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
This blog's title is the bottom line takeaway from Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery, and Roddy Theobald's new study Uneven Playing Field? Assessing the Teacher Quality Gap Between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students. The abstract explains:
Policymakers aiming to close the well-documented achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students have increasingly turned their attention to issues of teacher quality. A number of studies have demonstrated that teachers are inequitably distributed across student subgroups by input measures, like experience and qualifications, as well as output measures, like value-added estimates of teacher performance, but these tend to focus on either individual measures of teacher quality or particular school districts. In this study, we present a comprehensive, descriptive analysis of the inequitable distribution of both input and output measures of teacher quality across various indicators of student disadvantage across all school districts in Washington State. We demonstrate that in elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms, virtually every measure of teacher quality we examine—experience, licensure exam scores, and value added—is inequitably distributed across every indicator of student disadvantage—free/reduced-price lunch status, underrepresented minority, and low prior academic performance. Finally, we decompose these inequities to the district, school, and classroom levels and find that patterns in teacher sorting at all three levels contribute to the overall teacher quality gaps.
Friday, July 10, 2015