Friday, January 23, 2015

Massive Resistance to New Teacher Evaluations or a Slow Transition?

Whether one supports state statutes that require schools to include student test scores in teacher evaluations or not, a new report detailing the extent to which some schools have failed to implement the pertinent California law is shocking.  The Ed Voice Institute's new report, Student Progress Ignored: An Examination of California School Districts' Compliance with the Stull Act, finds:

  • The majority of districts do not formally assess whether or not a student is actually learning when considering the job performance of that student’s teacher.
  • The San Ramon Valley and Upland Unified School Districts are in violation of the law by explicitly prohibiting the use of mandatory measures of pupil progress.
  • Overall, 86.5% of evaluations did not include a connection to pupil progress in their comments. Even in the best district, only 36% of district’s teachers had an evaluation that included any mention of pupil progress.
  • In one district, 100% of teachers received a rating of “meets standards”; however, the overwhelming majority of actual evaluations provided no evidence that students in the teacher’s classroom made any progress in reaching grade level expectations. 

A key policy question is whether this is akin to massive resistance or just another example of the slow uptake of new education policies.  My guess is that it is a little of both.

January 23, 2015 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Continuing Importance of Classroom Observations in Improving Teacher Quality

Over the past few years, states have begun revamping their teacher evaluation systems and heavily relying on data driven assessment.  Prior to Illinois' new system, a pilot program in Chicago Public Schools relied on highly structured classroom observations in evaluating teachers.  A new study analyzes the impact those observations had on teacher and student performance, and emphasizes the continuing importance of those observations, notwithstanding the new rush to have data systems dominate teacher evaluations.  The study concludes:

The implementation of the EITP [ Excellence in Teaching Project] pilot in Chicago occurred prior to the nationwide shift toward more rigorous teacher-evaluation systems. These new teacher-evaluation systems incorporate multiple measures of teacher performance, including value-added metrics based on standardized tests or teacher-designed assessments and, in some cases, student feedback on teacher performance and peer evaluations. Unlike these systems, the EITP was focused solely on classroom observation. What is notable about the version of teacher evaluation systems currently evolving in districts throughout the nation, however, is the continued emphasis on classroom observations, with many systems employing the same observation tool used in CPS under the EITP initiative.

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January 21, 2015 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Is Missing from the Five Big Ideas to Reform Education?

Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education.  The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product.  So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.

Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple.  Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable.  The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.

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December 2, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 10, 2014

New Issue of Law and Education: Value-Added Assessments in Untested Courses and Boarding Schools for Disadvantaged Students

Below are the abstracts for two forthcoming articles in the Winter 2015 issue of the Journal of Law and Education.

Michelle Croft, Ph.D, J.D. & Richard Buddin, Ph.D, Applying Value-Added Methods to Teachers in Untested Grades and Subjects

As more states begin to adopt teacher evaluation systems based on value-added measures, states face challenges in how to include teachers in subjects other than math and English language arts in the evaluation systems. This article reviews value-added methods with a particular focus on alternative approaches to improve teacher evaluation in untested grades and subjects. The article discusses the traditional teacher evaluation system; describes the history of student growth as part of teacher evaluations; provides background on research related to value-added measures generally; and gives information on how value-added measures are being incorporated into evaluations for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects, highlighting where recent lawsuits have been filed.

Shelaswau Bushnell Crier, Beyond Money: Public Urban Boarding Schools and the State's Obligation to Make an Adequate Education Attainable

This article argues that states should add PUB schools to their educational program offerings in order to provide an adequate education to those students for whom the cohesive educational and residential environment of a boarding school would address the unique disadvantages presently hindering their educational attainment. The article analyzes various factors affecting public education and identifies present state efforts to address areas of concern where states fall short. It explains how PUB schools effectively address areas of concern and discusses the utility of the “urban” portion of the PUB school. This article also looks at the cost of a PUB school and presents a dollars and cents cost-benefit analysis, while finishing with a snapshot of current PUB schools and a brief commentary on other public boarding schools in the United States. The article concludes with a statement regarding further areas of exploration regarding PUB schools.

November 10, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Predicting the Education Reform That Election Results Will (or Will Not) Bring

Michael Petrilli, of the Fordham Institute, has offered his post-election prognostication for education reform.  He points out that, following the gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, we saw increases in teacher evaluation systems, the lifting of charter school caps, the expansion of voucher programs, and limitations on "last-in-first-out" teacher retention policies.  He labels these changes positive education reform and predicts that this week's election results will spell more good news on these issues.

While I would contest the notion that these are all "good" reforms, I have little doubt that we will see more movement on these fronts.  It, however, may not be as robust as 2010.  Several important trends have developed since 2010 that may create more roadblocks or speed-bumps for these reforms.  First, teachers have fired back with lawsuits in several states, challenging the constitutionality of certain teacher evaluation systems.  In North Carolina, teachers won.  In Florida, they stand a good chance of winning before the 11th Circuit.  Teacher, of course, have lost in other places like Colorado.  Overall, the results of the lawsuits will likely be mixed, but the represent an important concerted counter-force and demonstrate that some of these measures may be unconstitutional.  Second, charter schools remain popular, but the increase in their number has also brought an increase in scandals and implosions.  This has generated more conversation about the appropriate level of oversight state officials should exercise over charters.  In some locations, it has led to moratoriums on the riskiest charters--online charters.  Third, the aggressiveness with which the Department of Education has pushed these policies has eased considerably, particularly in regard to teacher evaluation systems, due to serious questions as to their validity.  States like Utah and Florida have also pushed back and questioned the legal authority of the Department to compel reforms of this sort, absent new legislation at the federal level.

November 6, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rebalancing Teacher Tenure: A Post-Vergara Guide for Policymakers

The New Teacher Project has released a new report, Rebalancing Teacher Tenure, as a response to the California trial court ruling striking down the current teacher tenure system there.  TNTP proposes "eight common-sense changes to existing laws and regulations that will achieve a more balanced tenure system without stripping teachers of due process," including:

  • Lengthen the tryout period and tie tenure to performance. Teachers should become eligible for tenure after five years and they should receive it on the basis of their success in the classroom. 
  • Hearings should be more efficient and focused on students’ interests. The entire dismissal appeals process should take no more than 90 days, with hearings lasting just one day. 
  • Lower the professional stakes for teachers—but stop tolerating any instances of egregious misconduct. Formal dismissal from one school shouldn’t cost a teacher his or her license. But the system should have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and abuse.  

Read the full report here.

October 3, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Education Advocates Abandon Federal Courts and Flood State Courts

Yesterday, Edweek pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has not issued an elementary and secondary school case in the last five years--a dry spell unseen since before Brown v. Board of Education.  In contrast, there seems to be major litigation filed in state courts every other day.  The NEA just sued New Mexico in regard to its teacher evaluation system.  The press release explained:

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October 1, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

If David Boies Wants to Help, He Should Join School Finance Litigation

David Boies is making headlines again.  This time it is by becoming the chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to challenge teacher tenure laws.  These lawsuits seek to use the precedent and constitutional right to education developed in school finance litigation.  David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, has helped establish and develop these educational rights in a number of cases.  His response is that if David Boies really wants to help education, he should join school funding lawsuits in New York, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Mississippi.  Sciarra's comments strike at the irony of the new and impending upsurge in education litigation.  Boies purports to be viewing education through a civil rights lens now, but to focus solely in on teacher tenure is to ignore any number of fundamental inequalities that stem from funding and segregation, not tenure.  Even if tenure is a problem, eliminating it will do nothing to touch the underlying fundamental inequalities and segregation in schools that purportedly want to get rid of ineffective teachers but cannot.  

September 24, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Low Teacher Salaries Equal Vacancies: Is the Problem Even More Acute?

In February, the Associated School Board of South Dakota, together with the School Administrators of South Dakota, sent out a survey to superintendents across South Dakota in all 154 districts. According to the results, almost 75% of the 130 who responded felt that one of the main reasons schools have been having trouble hiring and retaining quality teachers is how low the pay is. In fact, "[a]s of June, more than 30 percent of South Dakota teaching positions posted this year remained open when they probably would have been filled by the end of May in previous years," according to the director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, Rob Monson. As a result, multiple S.D. educational organizations will be presenting a plan to raise teachers' salaries to the legislative planning committee on Monday. The group will be presenting the draft of a bill that "would create a teacher enhancement fund in an effort to raise teacher salaries in the state," using both state and local funding.

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September 9, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Can Education Be Reformed Without Equality?

On its face, the title of this post is rhetorical, but the authors of Badass Teachers Unite! would argue it is the key question dividing themselves and "reformers."  For those unfamiliar, Badass Teachers is a group--not quite as radical as their name might suggest-- that "is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning."  They charge that reformers are taking the position

that schools in depressed areas can be radically improved without doing anything to improve conditions in the neighborhoods they are located in, [which] flies in the face of the common sense of anyone who lives or works in such communities, so much so that it represents a form of collective madness! The idea that an entire urban school system (not a few favored schools) can be uplifted strictly through school-based reforms, such as eliminating teacher tenure or replacing public schools with charter schools, without changing any of the conditions driving people further into poverty is contrary to anyone’s lived experience and has in fact, never been accomplished anywhere in the world. Let me break down for you what the no excuses approach to school reform means in commonsense terms.

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September 3, 2014 in Equity in education, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 18, 2014

NPR: When High Stakes Testing Leads to Academic Triage

NPR's piece yesterday on the Atlanta cheating trial touches on broader points of how educators can find themselves moving from an accountability culture to academic rationing of time to meet standardized test expectations. NPR discusses how we may think of cheating as outlandish behavior but that high-stakes testing at any level (bar exam passage rates, anyone?) can lead educators to adopt tactics that fall short of cheating but are also educationally ineffective. From the NPR article:

Daniel Koretz, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert in educational testing, writes in Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, that there are seven potential teacher responses to high-stakes tests:

1. Working more effectively (example: finding better methods of teaching)

2. Teaching more (example: spending more time overall)

3. Working harder (example: giving more homework or harder assignments)

4. Reallocation (example: shifting resources, including time, to emphasize the subjects and types of questions on the test)

5. Alignment (example: matching the curriculum more closely to the material covered on the test)

6. Coaching students (example: prepping students using old tests or even the current test)

7. Cheating

Strategies 1 through 3 pretty much describe what high-stakes testing is supposed to do: raise standards, ignite harder effort from teachers and students, and produce more learning.

Strategies 6 and 7 clearly undermine the effectiveness of tests as a metric of learning, and hurt students in the process. Perhaps 95 percent of educators will never go there.

Strategy 4 (reallocation) and 5 (alignment) are ambiguous. If the test is high quality — if it captures all the most important subjects students need to know — then changing school to prioritize those subjects is, again, exactly what we want to see. In other words, if the test is excellent, then "teaching to the test" can be a very good thing.

On the other hand, if the test captures only a few of the subjects students need to know, or emphasizes, say, memorization over comprehension, then reallocation and alignment can cause students to miss out on other important parts of learning.

Read more here.

August 18, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Journal of Law and Education's Fall Lineup: Charters, Teacher Evaluation, and Ethics

The Journal of Law and Education's upcoming Fall issue includes a particularly timely set of articles dealing with the new era of teacher evaluation and the ethics of education leadership.  The abstract for each is below. I cannot help but mention that this is the third article by Preston Green that I have posted in the last few weeks. Kudos to Professor Green

An Analysis of the Policy, Research, and Legal Issues Surrounding the Exclusion of Charter Schools from the Teacher Evaluation Revolution by Preston Green, John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education, University of Connecticut

Abstract: Analysts such as Diane Ravitch have pointed out that charter schools try “to have it both ways” by obtaining public funding under state constitutional law while having private school autonomy with respect to student and teacher rights. This article contributes to the national discussion by analyzing the legal and policy implications of exempting charter schools from the teacher evaluation policies that apply to traditional public schools.

Evaluating Evaluation: Assessing Massachusetts School Districts' Implementation of Educator Evaluation Requirements by Ranjini Govender Dowley, Policy and Government Affairs Director, Stand for Children Massachusetts

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August 7, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Louisiana Adds Its Name to the List of Schizophrenic Litigation over Common Core and Teacher Rights

Seventeen Louisiana legislators have filed suit, alleging that Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's adoption of the Common Core Curriculum did not comply with the necessary process required by the state's Administrative Procedures Act.  This case is the inverse of the one dismissed last week by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  There, the legislature had repealed the Common Core and the state board argued that the legislation violated the board's constitutional authority to supervise education.  In Louisiana, the legislature is claiming the board acted unlawfully in adopting the common core.

The Common Core, teacher assessment changes, and NCLB waivers--which prompted the first two reforms, are producing schizophrenic litigation.  Almost every week has brought new litigation,

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July 23, 2014 in Federal policy, State law developments, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

David Sciarra and Billy Easton Weigh In on New York's Teacher Tenure Lawsuit

The Times Union ran this commentary by David Sciarra and Billy Easton yesterday.  Thanks to David for sharing.

Sound Education Child's Right

With much fanfare, a novel lawsuit filed in Staten Island alleges teacher tenure, due process and lay-off procedures violate the constitutional right of New York school children to a "sound basic education."

Without offering specifics, the complaint baldly asserts that these procedures result in classrooms filled with "incompetent" teachers, especially in schools serving at-risk students.

The complaint also presents no evidence to suggest that ending tenure or altering due process protections for teachers will somehow improve student outcomes. Nor could it because there is none.

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July 16, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 7, 2014

New York Lawsuit Alleging Teacher Tenure Laws Violate Student Rights Filed

The New York lawsuit pitting students rights against teachers, based on the same theory as Vergara in California, has been filed.  The plaintiffs claim that N.Y.'s current tenure laws "violate the State Constitution's guarantee of a 'sound basic education' by making it difficult to fire bad teachers and by protecting the most veteran teachers in the event of layoffs, regardless of their quality."  Both this case and the recent decision in California are monumental and the road ahead is far from certain.  As Michael Rebell remarks, "[i]t is basically unprecedented for a court to get into the weeds of a controversial education policy matter like this."  The New York Times article on the case is here.


July 7, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Department of Education Makes New Push for Equitable Distribution of Quality Teachers

The U.S. Department of Education announced its Excellent Educators for All Initiative today. The purpose is to help ensure equitable distribution of quality teachers.

“All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, zip code or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation's teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better. Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions, but we must work together to enhance and invigorate our focus on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.”

The three-part Excellent Educators for All Initiative includes:

  • Comprehensive Educator Equity Plans
    • The Department is asking states to analyze their data and consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new, comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally-developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators.
    • Chief State School Officers will receive a letter today from Secretary Duncan asking them to submit their new plans by April 2015. These plans were first created in 2006 and are required by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
  • Educator Equity Support Network
    • The Department is investing $4.2 million to launch a new technical assistance network to support states and districts in developing and implementing their plans to ensure all students have access to great educators.
    • The network will work to develop model plans, share promising practices, provide communities of practice for educators to discuss challenges and share lessons learned with each other, and create a network of support for educators working in high-need schools.
  • Educator Equity Profiles
    • To empower communities and help states enhance their equity plans, the Department will publish Educator Equity profiles this fall. The profiles will help states identify gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and minority students, as well as shine a spotlight on places where high-need schools are beating the odds and successfully recruiting and retaining effective educators.
    • In addition to the profiles, the states will receive their complete data file from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). States will be able to conduct detailed analyses of the data to inform their discussions about local inequities and design strategies for improving those inequities.

For more information, see here.

July 7, 2014 in Federal policy, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Teacher Tenure Litigation Spreading Quickly, Part II: Reasons to Be Cautious

As emphasized at the end of my post earlier today on the spread of litigation (and policy initiatives) attacking teacher tenure, ineffective instruction is a serious problem in disadvantaged schools, but the causes and solutions are not obvious as the cases might imply.  The California litigation is premised on the notion that tenure and due process protections are the cause and getting rid of them are the solution (along with replacing them with value added-metrics).  This may very well be right.  I will reserve judgment for a while longer.  Without endorsing the contrary position either, I offer this from the LA Times as food for thought:

[The]s ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu declaring all sorts of job protections for teachers "unconstitutional" is being hailed by a certain category of education activists.

What's curious about this is that they seem to have a unanimous view about the reason California schools are supposedly so bad: It's the teachers unions.

Not the imbalance of financial resources between rich districts and poor. Not the social pathologies--poverty, joblessness, racial discrimination, violence--that affect educational attainment in disadvantaged communities. Not California's rank at the very bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to the quality index published by EducationWeek. That's 30% below the national average of $11,864, reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state.

But California ranks much higher compared with other states in measures of teacher incentives and working conditions, so clearly those are the factors that need to be changed.

To Judge Treu and the plutocrats who funded Vergara v. California, the lawsuit on which he ruled, what's "unconstitutional" about California's school system is that teachers have too much due-process protection from being fired.

 Observes David B. Cohen, a schoolteacher and associate director of Accomplished California Teachers, an education advocacy group associated with Stanford University, one should be "suspicious of wealthy and powerful individuals and groups whose advocacy for children leads to 'reforms' that won’t cost a cent, but will weaken labor."

June 26, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Teacher Tenure Litigation Spreading Quickly

Over the past two weeks, there has been a steady stream of news of lawsuits and court decisions regarding changes in teacher tenure, evaluation, and rights.  California, North Carolina, Colorado, and Texas have all seen major decisions or lawsuits. See here for a host of posts.  Now, New York is prepared to join the group, apparently emboldened by the California decision finding that teacher dismissal processes were at odds with students' fundamental right to education.  According to Edweek:

The suit will be brought on behalf of plaintiffs across the state, said Devora Allon, a litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which is taking the case pro bono. As with Vergara, it will take aim at three state policies on the grounds that they are preventing poor and minority students from receiving an equitable education under the state constitution. Article 11 of the New York constitution guarantees a right to "sound, basic education," and it's under that clause that the plaintiffs will sue. 

The suit will take aim at teacher tenure, which takes three years to earn in New York; the state's infamous "3020a" disciplinary proceedings for getting rid of a tenured teacher; and the statute governing the order of layoffs in the Empire State.

Politico also reports that former Obama White House aides will also play a major role in shaping a public relations campaign similar to the one that propelled the California case into the national spotlight well before a decision was even issued.  Edweek reports there are another half dozen similar suits in the pipeline.

The White House and major law firm connections raise two significant issues.  First, the White House has had enormous success in pushing value added teacher assessments through Race to the Top funding and NCLB waivers.  There has been some political push-back at the local level, but the White House has basically won.  Why now push even further through less transparent and indirect means?  

Second, why would one of the nation's largest law firms jump into the teacher debate.  In my experience recruiting large law firms to take on civil rights cases pro bono, they tended to like cases where there was clearly a "right" side, either in law or morally.  This is not to say the cases were not controversial or legally difficult.  They always were one or the other, but the cases also uniformly screamed of injustice.  Cases styled after California's do not easily fit this model because the cause of and solution to the problem of ineffective teachers in needy schools is not obvious. Does Kirkland and Ellis not know enough about the underlying educational issues to appreciate they have jumped into an atypical pro bono case?  Has it assessed the case, but reached a reasoned conclusion that it is on the right side?  Or is it just looking for a high profile case?

June 26, 2014 in Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Expert Witnesses, Judicial Inferences, and the Case of California's Teachers

Two weeks ago, a California trial court sent shock waves through the education system by holding that California statutes that limit the removal of ineffective teachers and disproportionately expose poor and minority students to these teachers violate those students' fundamental right to education.  This holding raises major issues regarding the identification and measurement of ineffective teachers.  We might know that there are ineffective teachers, but reliably identifying them is another matter altogether.  

The current position of the federal government and many other education reformers is that ineffective teachers can be identified through value-added modeling (VAM) that statistical measures the impact that particular teachers have on student growth from year to year.  Two of the leading proponents of this approach are Professors Raj Chetty and Tom Kane of Harvard.   The judge's opinion in Vergara relies heavily on Chetty and Kane for its factual predicates, without directly addressing their underlying assumptions in regard to (VAM) and the identification of ineffective teachers.   In pertinent part, the judge writes:


I am one of the most firmly committed individuals to the notion that students' constitutional rights to education are sacrosanct and among the very first obligations of legislatures.  I would also tend to agree that disproportionately exposing poor and minority teachers to ineffective teachers and cutting off remedies to this problem violate students' rights.  But over time, I become increasingly less certain of exactly how we apply those two legal principles to real world facts.  The judge in Vergara identifies the problem, but seems to assume its factual cause and remedy.



June 24, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 23, 2014

State Admits Violating the Education Rights of Philadelphia School Children by David Sciarra

Newsworks published this essay last week by David Sciarra:

In March, Philadelphia's state-operated school district filed an extraordinary legal complaint with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the Court to approve changes in school staffing levels and the way teachers are transferred and laid off, effectively nullifying portions of a collective bargaining agreement between the Philadelphia School District and the teachers union.

Much attention has focused on the district's request for changes in teacher staffing and work rules. But unnoticed is the district's stark admission of the deplorable conditions that Philadelphia's school children must endure after 17 years of direct state control over their education.

In the court filing, the district says it wants to ease lay-off and transfer rules caused by an "unprecedented gap" between available funding and what's needed just to maintain services at "prior year" levels. The district then describes the services it hopes to maintain, levels so palpably inadequate as to fall far below even minimum education standards.

The complaint details the sub-basic education programs and support services now in district-operated schools. The district describes teacher and support staff as "bare bones," at levels "20 percent smaller than the year before and 33 percent than just three years ago." The district concedes it has made "very steep" layoffs, a one-third reduction in employees in just three years, leaving schools with "barely adequate" staffing.

The district goes on to catalogue a parade of resource deficits plaguing the system: over 40 schools with no guidance counselor of its own; three-fourths of schools with no librarian assistant; and "significant cuts" to instructional materials and supplies, enrichment opportunities for students, extracurricular activities, administrative support and school cleaning services. And, of course, as parents of Philadelphia children know all too well: closing 24 neighborhood public schools.

The complaint also acknowledges the "short supply" of school nurses, a fact familiar to Philadelphians in light of the deaths of two young students in schools lacking a full-time nurse in recent months.

Even more remarkable, the district pinpoints the state's $300 million aid cut in 2011-12 as being at the "root" of these serious deficiencies. And the district presents no evidence that the relief it asks for — making teacher layoffs and transfers easier — will generate any real budgetary savings. The district doesn't offer the Court a plan for bringing teacher and support staff back to reasonable levels, reducing class size, providing interventions to struggling students, and keeping neighborhood schools open, safe and clean.

The district's filing is the legal equivalent of asking the Supreme Court for permission to rearrange deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.

What the district's complaint avoids is stating the obvious: the abject failure to provide city students with the basic resources necessary to achieve Pennsylvania's own academic standards. And the reason why is also obvious: The school district — and the entire state — is engaged in an ongoing and severe violation the right of Philadelphia students to a "thorough and efficient" education under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Aside from the school district, the state and the teachers union, Philadelphia school children are not represented before the Court. At a minimum, the Court should appoint special counsel to represent their fundamental interest at stake in the case: the opportunity for an education to prepare them for productive employment and engaged citizenship.

It is also imperative that the Court, in considering the lawsuit, direct the District and State Education Department produce a substantive, concrete plan of action to promptly address the severe deprivation of basic resources endemic in Philadelphia's State-operated schools.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the last-resort guarantor of the right of Philadelphia children to a constitutional education. The evidence in the district's complaint is overwhelming: Education in Philadelphia schools is neither thorough nor efficient. The state, through the school district and the Department of Education in Harrisburg, has utterly failed these children. It's now up to the Court to act on their behalf.

David also addressed similar issues in the California school teachers' lawsuit here.

June 23, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (1)