Wednesday, September 24, 2014
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.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
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.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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.
Monday, August 18, 2014
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)
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.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
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
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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,
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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.
Monday, July 7, 2014
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.
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.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
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."
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?
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
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.
Monday, June 23, 2014
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.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
In a surprising about face, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called for a moratorium on relying on high stakes testing in connection to teacher evaluations and student promotion. The Gates Foundation has played an outsized role in education policy over the past decade and has been instrumental in bringing business perspectives to education, which many educators argue is at the root of ill-conceived reform and reform churn. Regardless, this announcement may also have outsized importance. It could be a momentary pause by the business reformers to give them time to regroup, or it could be a sign of the pendulum swinging back toward more reform from within the education community. If it is to swing back, there is certainly a growing grassroots movement behind it. Moreover, it should be no surprise that this statement comes in the wake of several recent high profile lawsuits in regard to teacher rights and evaluations. See here for more analysis of the Gates release.
Monday, June 16, 2014
The Houston Federation of Teachers and a group high-achieving individual teachers have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the "value added" teacher evaluation system recently implemented by the Houston Independent School District. This system is part of the nationwide change in teacher evaluation ushered in through conditions placed on grant applications for Race to the Top and NCLB waivers by the Department of Education. The plaintiffs allege that the evaluation system violates Due Process and the Equal Protection. In particular, they argue the tests and curriculum are not aligned and that they have no ability to challenge the results of the evaluation system. Teachers are then treated unequally and aribitrarily based on these results.
As proof that the system does not work as a practical matter, they point to an award-winning history teacher who has received low marks under the system. In 2011-2012, prior to the new system, the district labeled him as one of the top teachers in the entire district, but the new evaluation system indicates that he makes "no detectable difference” on student learning.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Back in January, the Colorado Education Association filed a class action lawsuit citing concerns over the “mutual consent” provision of the state’s teacher effectiveness law. Under this provision, school districts cannot force different schools to accept veteran teachers who lost their jobs (usually due to budget concerns at low-performing schools). Rather, the teachers can only be placed in new schools if the principal agrees to hire them. A problem arises when a teacher is unable to find a new position within a year and is subsequently placed on unpaid leave. At this point, the teacher has been dismissed as a practical matter, although not formally. The teachers union argued that this violations the normal process that requires a hearing before an impartial officer for dismissals and layoffs under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act.
The trial judge recently dismissed the case. The court found that Colorado’s revised teacher-tenure act makes clear that teachers are not guaranteed contractual rights to continued employment at all. Second, the court emphasized that there is a difference between a teacher being removed from one school and put on leave and a teacher being dismissed from the district entirely. Since the teachers are not being dismissed, but merely put on leave, there is less, if any, process due to them in these situations.
I haven't seen an actual opinion in this case, but based on reports, I find it hard to square this decision with the one reached in North Carolina recently. There, the court found that teachers had vested rights and legislatures are not free to change vested rights without implicating constitutional protections regarding the impairment of contracts and taking of property. If the Colorado decision is defensible, it is because it is correct that this "leave" is not the same as dismissal. But after being at home for a year without pay, those teachers would seem to have a job only on paper.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
LaJuana and I both posted on Vergara v. California (here and here) earlier this spring. The lawsuit alleged that statutes that keep ineffective teachers in place violate students' fundamental right to education (under the state constitution) by subjecting students to subpar educational opportunity. According to LA School Report, the judge agreed this morning:
It was a total win for the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, giving them a victory on all counts in the case, aimed at striking down five laws that govern tenure, seniority and dismissal. Judge Rolf Treu stayed any changes in the laws, pending appeals.
The decision is temporary, and final judgement may take as long as 30 days, depending upon any changes or modifications to the ruling.
Teacher tenure lawsuits have dominated recent events. Just yesterday, I posted on North Carolina's. California's suit, however, is distinct. In California, the court decision is saying that giving teacher's extensive tenure protections is unconstitutional. In North Carolina, the court held that taking those rights away from teachers is unconstitutional. Tomorrow I will post on another lawsuit in Texas similar to North Carolina's. All of these cases will eventually be decided by higher courts. Although in different jurisdictions, the challenge will be developing coherent doctrine that does not create intractable positions between teacher rights, student rights, and policy developments. No easy trick.
Monday, June 9, 2014
As promised in an earlier post on the case, I secured the trial court opinion invalidating North Carolina's teacher tenure repeal statute. Interestingly, the decision was not based on due process, but on the contracts clause in the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution's takings provision. The court reasoned that those teachers in North Carolina who had attained career status prior to the new statute had a vested contractual right in their career status and that the repeal of that right amounted to an impairment of contract, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. Likewise, because those contract rights were vested, the repeal of those rights amounted to a taking without just compensation under state law. The full opinion is here: Download NCAE v State - Summary judgment order 6 6 14
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
A state trial court judge has ruled that North Carolina's statutory repeal of teacher tenure and the early buyout of tenure rights of some teachers before the statute goes into effect are both unconstitutional. The judged issued a permanent injunction, although an appeal by the state is sure to follow.
Last summer, lawmakers moved to phase teacher tenure out completely by 2018, on the basis that the law makes it too difficult to get rid of bad teachers. The legislature also mandated local school boards to offer temporary 4-year employment contracts beginning this fall worth $500 annually to the top performing 25 percent of teachers in the state. Teachers who accept the contracts would be required to relinquish their tenure early.
Tenure, or career status, offers a teacher due process rights in the event of a dismissal or demotion. Its repeal, said Hobgood, is an unconstitutional taking of teachers’ property rights.
I have yet to actually lay my eyes on the judge's opinion, but once I secure it, I will update this post or write a new one if the opinion warrants analysis.
Monday, May 5, 2014
A new report by the Center for American Progress analyzes the teacher and student diversity in all fifty states. While nearly 1 out of 2 public school student are students of color, only 1 out of 5 teachers are. The report's major findings include:
- The gap between teachers and students of color continues to grow.
- Almost every state has a significant diversity gap.
- When we looked across racial and ethnic backgrounds, we found that the Hispanic teacher population had larger demographic gaps relative to students.
- Diversity gaps are large within districts.
The full report is here.