Teachers union thwarts tenure reform attempt

Shirley WeberThe clout of the California Teachers Association was on full display last week when a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to reform a tenure law that can give lifetime job protections to teachers 18 months into their careers was abruptly withdrawn.

Since her election in 2012, Weber, a former school board president and college professor, has prodded her fellow Democratic lawmakers to not accept the California education status quo. Weber wants to make tenure rules more rigorous and like those in other states, to ensure the Local Control Funding Formula actually does what it was promised to do and helps English-language learners, and to seek state standards that make it easy to gauge whether schools are helping struggling minority students.

But Weber’s push for significant reforms have either been killed in the Legislature or by Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto pen.

Her latest reform measure, Assembly Bill 1220, would have delayed tenure decisions until a teacher’s third year on the job, but would have allowed marginal teachers additional time to establish their worthiness for tenure in a fourth year, and, in limited circumstances, a fifth year. Weber’s bill included a provision intended to make districts put more of an emphasis on professional development of marginal teachers.

The measure won early approvals and initially appeared relatively uncontroversial, with only five Assembly members opposing it in a preliminary June 1 vote. Weber supporters saw the provisions emphasizing helping struggling teachers as a valuable way to reassure teachers unions that the bill wasn’t an exercise in teacher or union bashing.

But later in June, the Assembly Appropriations Committee shaved off the fourth and fifth year tenure consideration provisions – without consulting Weber. Then, on July 6, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, gutted and amended AB1164, a bill he had introduced about foster care policies, so it offered an alternative to Weber’s bill. Thurmond’s version would in some cases allow struggling teachers to win tenure consideration after a third year.

The bill was knocked by reformers as unnecessarily complex and inferior to Weber’s. But its prime supporter – the CTA – quickly rounded up such support that Weber last week chose to withdraw her bill in hopes it could be revived in 2018.

Thurmond then withdrew his bill, suggesting it was only introduced as a way to block Weber and her proposal. Both are members of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

CTA expected to back lawmaker who thwarted bill

The EdSource website connected the maneuvering to Thurmond’s plan to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018 when incumbent Tom Torlakson is termed out. That’s because the CTA has already sent signals it will endorse Thurmond, who has established his pro-teacher union bona fides with such measures as proposing that teachers be given subsidized housing.

The CTA’s strong and early support of Torlakson was key to the low-profile Bay Area state lawmaker winning the superintendent’s job in 2010 after finishing second in the primary, and to his narrow 2014 win over fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck, a Los Angeles charter school advocate with backing from school reform groups.

Tuck has already announced he will seek the job again in 2018.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Education update: Votes coming on teacher tenure, for-profit charters, other key bills

School educationBetween now and July 21, when they take a month off, state legislators will have to decide the fate of bills that passed one chamber of the Legislature and await action in the other. Among those are key education bills that would lengthen teacher probation periods, require more accounting for spending under the Local Control Funding Formula, mandate a later start time for middle and high schools and further restrict student suspensions. What follows is a summary of the bills EdSource is following.

Funding formula transparency

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that school districts provide data on state and federal spending by school in more detail than before. AB 1321, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would go further, requiring a school-by-school breakdown of state spending by the Local Control Funding Formula’s component parts: base, supplemental and concentration funding. The latter two components are allocated to a district based on the proportion of English learners and low-income, homeless and foster children enrolled.

Why it’s important: Weber and student advocacy groups argue the public needs to know if schools with large proportions of high-needs students are getting money intended to go to them. In some districts, that’s clear. In most, it is not. Gov. Jerry Brown and school management groups counter that detailing every dollar spent would add accounting expenses without much benefit — and divert focus from the funding formula’s overriding goal of figuring out how to improve outcomes for underserved students. They argue that it’s premature to change the funding law.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously. Brown is expected to fight the bill as it moves through the Senate — and may veto it.

Teacher tenure

The probationary period for new teachers in most states is three years or longer. In California, it’s technically two years, though realistically 18 months, since the deadline for notifying teachers in the second year is March 15. AB 1220, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would give districts the option of extending probation a third year in instances in which they believe teachers could benefit from more supervision.

Why it’s important: Weber and sponsoring groups argue that districts often let go promising teachers go rather than grant them lifetime due-process protections known as tenure. Districts would make wiser hiring decisions with more time, they say. The California Teachers Association responds that a longer probationary period would send a negative message to potential teachers, compounding the state’s teacher shortage. The CTA wants due-process rights for probationary teachers in exchange for another year of probation. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The Assembly Appropriations Committee weakened provisions of the bill; Weber must decide whether to add them back in the Senate. Senate Education Committee will hear the bill July 12.

Teacher shortage

The 2017-18 state budget includes $30 million to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. Authors of two key proposals that were not funded are moving forward to establish the programs through two bills, in hopes that it will be easier to fund them once they become law. AB 12171, by Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, would create the California Teacher Corps, a teacher residency program in which new teachers would work under a mentor teacher and receive a stipend in exchange for working at least four years in a high-need field, such as special education. AB 169, by Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would establish Golden State Teacher Grants, which would provide $20,000 stipends to new teachers who also agree to teach four years in a field facing a shortage.

Why it’s important: California is facing a teacher shortage in high-cost regions, like the Bay Area, and in specific fields, including science, math, special education and bilingual programs. The shortage is worse in urban schools serving low-income students.

Status: Both bills received overwhelming support in the Assembly. AB 1217 passed the Senate Education Committee on June 28; AB 169 awaits a hearing.

Suspensions for willful defiance

This fall, California will begin evaluating schools on their progress in lowering student suspension rates. SB 607, by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, renews a law due to sunset on July 1, 2018 that removed “willful defiance,” a term with no specific definition, as a justification for suspending students in kindergarten through 3rd grade or for expelling students in kindergarten through high school. Skinner’s law extends the ban to kindergarten through 5th grade and proposes a temporary ban, through July 1, 2023, on willful defiance suspensions in 6th through 12th grades.

Why it’s important: Willful defiance suspensions accounted for more than 50 percent of all suspensions before the current law was passed. Advocates of alternative approaches note that suspensions for willful defiance, which rely on a school official’s interpretation, have been issued for minor offenses such as laughing, and are far more likely to involve African American students than students of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. But nearly 9 in 10 teachers surveyed by the California Teachers Association in 2016 said they need training and more access to school mental health providers if they are going to successfully cut back on disciplinary referrals. The California School Boards Association is asking that the bill be amended to allow suspensions for disruptive or defiant behavior in high school.

Status: Passed the Assembly and heading for a floor vote in the Senate.

Meal shaming

Across the nation, and in many California districts, students who don’t have money to pay for subsidized lunches are given a token meal, like a cup of milk and a piece of fruit, or, in some high schools, nothing at all. Sometimes, their hand is stamped in front of their peers in line, as a reminder to get their parents to pay on time. SB 250, by Robert Hertzberg, D-LA, would establish a uniform, statewide policy to ensure that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees is served a full meal and is not shamed or treated differently than a pupil who is paid up.

Why it’s important: Teachers agree that students who are hungry can’t concentrate on their work; recent research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that student test scores in California rose with good quality school lunches.

Status: The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the Assembly Education Committee 6-0. It will move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

English learner reclassification

Researchers and advocates for English learners agree that determining when English learners are proficient in English and no longer need language assistance needs to be uniform — but are fighting over how to do this. SB 463, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would standardize the four current reclassification criteria: performance on the state assessment of English language proficiency; evaluation by teachers; consultation with parents; and the mastery of basic skills, comparable to English-only students, on the Smarter Balanced assessment. Researchers and academicians want results on the new English language fluency test, called ELPAC, to be the primary factor; the test will debut in 2018.

Why it’s important: A 2014 study found that most districts adopt more rigorous, often subjective criteria for determining English proficiency, and a delay in reclassification can deny English learners access to advanced high school and college prep courses. Bill proponents worry that premature reclassification will deny English learners needed supports. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously and will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee.

Reserve cap

Ever since Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a deal with the California Teachers Association three years ago that places a cap on the amount that school districts can keep in reserve for emergencies, the California School Boards Association has been trying to get rid of it. Neither of two bills in play would do that, but both would ease the restrictions that districts object to. AB 325 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would keep the limits, about 6 percent of the size of the budget for an average district, but set new, tighter preconditions on when they would go into effect. SB 751, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which the school boards association prefers, would exempt most small districts and raise the cap to 17 percent for others.

Why it’s important: That depends on who you ask. The CTA says much is being made over nothing, since the conditions triggering the reserve cap are still years away. Districts say there should be no cap at all under local control, and Brown, the patron of the Local Control Funding Formula, had no business imposing it. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: Talks continue on a compromise. If there’s a deal, it will likely come at the end of the summer. Whether Brown will get involved is an open question.

Ban on for-profit charter schools

AB 406, by Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would prohibit the creation of for-profit charter schools after Jan. 1, 2019.

Why it’s important: There are only six for-profit charters in California. The bill’s author said he was motivated when he learned that a for-profit company obtained millions in taxpayer funds while operating K-12 online academies that graduate less than half of their high school students. The company also allegedly counted students as present for a school day even if they were logged on for as little as a minute. The company last year reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state on those allegations. McCarty said the bill will end the privatization of public education and puts student success ahead of corporate profits. The bill’s critics say the legislation is really designed to curb the charter school movement. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015. He said the bill could be interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate education committee is now reviewing the legislation.

Restrictions on charter school expulsions and suspensions

AB 1360, by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would create new regulations that charter schools would have to follow when attempting to suspend or expel students. It also prohibits charter schools from requiring parents to volunteer for school activities.

Why it’s important: There has been push for all public schools to lower suspension rates, which are disproportionately high for African-American and Latino students. Charter school critics claim that some schools use suspension policies to push out low-performing students. Charter school supporters say the bill infringes on their state-mandated freedom. The California Charter Schools Association says its members should have the latitude to create their suspension and expulsion policies.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate’s education committee is now reviewing the bill.

Late school start

SB 328, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, would require middle and high schools to start their regular school days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2020, except for those in rural school districts that obtain waivers from the state Board of Education to delay implementation for at least two years. The requirement would not apply to so-called “zero period” classes offered at some secondary schools as extra periods before the regular school day begins. It could require the state to reimburse districts for mandated costs.

Why it’s important:  It is based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on teenagers. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, California Federation of Teachers, California Sleep Society and several hospitals, school districts and student advocacy groups.  If adopted, California would be the first state to mandate a later start. The bill could improve attendance rates and graduation rates and reduce tardiness, according to a Senate analysis. However, the analysis also cited “potential unintended impacts” on working and single parents who may not be able to adjust their schedules, districts’ home-to-school transportation costs, extracurricular activities, and before and after-school programs. The California School Boards Association and California Teachers Association oppose the bill.

Status: Passed in the Senate, with 23 members voting in favor, 13 voting against and two not voting. It is scheduled for a July 12 hearing in the Assembly Committee on Education.

Sanctuary state

Senate Bill 54, by State Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit local police and other authorities — including those who work at schools — from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant.

Why it’s important: Immigrants make up 30 percent of California’s population, and half of the state’s children have at least one parent who is foreign-born, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. De León said the bill would bolster trust between immigrant communities and state agencies, and lead to improvements in public safety, school attendance and public health. Dozens of cities and school districts around California have already declared themselves safe havens or sanctuaries, offering varying degrees of protections for immigrants. The Trump Administration has threatened to withhold grants for so-called sanctuary cities and states, saying they hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. Some California county sheriffs have also opposed the bill, saying they can’t afford to lose federal grants and should have the flexibility to cooperate with federal immigration agents in certain situations. Other law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, are supporting the bill. In April, a federal judge sided with two California counties that had sued the Trump Administration over its threat to withhold funding.

Status: The bill passed the State Senate on April 3 by a vote of 27-12. It’s currently under review with the Assembly judiciary committee.

This article was originally published by EdSource.org

New Teacher Tenure Bill Doesn’t Go Nearly Far Enough

Teacher tenureAs things stand, k-12 public school teachers in California are essentially guaranteed lifetime employment if they can get through their first two years on the job. This puts a lot of pressure on principals, as they must decide by March of a teacher’s second year – after just 16 actual teaching months – whether or not someone is good enough to spend their professional career influencing hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of young minds. About 98 percent of all teachers who seek tenure receive it in the Golden State.

There have been several attempts to tweak tenure or, more accurately, “permanent employment status.” In 2005, a ballot initiative would have extended the time it takes for a teacher to become a permanent employee from two to five years. But Prop. 74 went down to defeat, primarily because the California Teachers Association fought it tooth and nail, claiming it was an “attack on teacher due process.” (Wrong! As we have seen time and again, permanent status actually gives teachers “undue process.”)

Then, in 2012, along came Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs in this case argued that tenure (in concert with the seniority and dismissal statutes) causes greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” So it was a case of a kid’s right to a good education v. an adult’s right to a job, and after going through the courts the unions ultimately won and California’s children were the big losers.

But before the State Supreme Court officially put the kibosh on Vergara, Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) introduced Assembly Bill 934 in February, 2016. As originally written, the bill would have placed poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they received a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then, ratcheting up its propaganda, the union trotted out its standard diversionary tactics in proclaiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

Due to CTA arm-twisting, the bill was eviscerated so badly that most of its original supporters decided the cure had become worse than the disease, and it was eventually euthanized by the Senate Education Committee.

The latest attempt to rework teacher permanence comes from California State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. With the sponsorship of Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, two teacher-led activist organizations, the San Diego Democrat has introduced AB 1220, legislation that would extend the current time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. The bill would also allow some teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years an extra year or two in which they could get additional mentoring and be the recipient of other professional development resources.

So depending on the teacher’s effectiveness, the tenure perk would be moved from two to three, four or five years. As things stand now, a principal may not want to take a chance on a teacher who is not doing well in his first two years. But the added time frame might see that teacher blossom…or it might not. Hence, it’s a crapshoot for kids.

The only response from the teachers unions thus far comes from California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt, who says that the bill “really misses the boat in terms of what is needed to improve or make sure that beginning teachers are prepared and ready to assume a classroom.”

However union leaders may try to disparage the bill, it is hardly radical, as 42 states set tenure at three or more years. In fact, three states don’t offer tenure at all, which brings up the question of why do teachers need permanent status? Doctors, lawyers, bricklayers, carpenters and U.S. presidents have no such entitlements. Why teachers? The stock teacher unionista response  these days is that permanent status is important “so that I can advocate for my students without fear of losing my job.” This statement has been making the rounds for a while now and is just plain silly. What kind of teacher or principal would not “advocate for their students?” In fact, to really advocate for your students, you should demand an end to permanence. Period.  Thousands of students stuck with lemons, not to mention their parents and taxpayers, would be much better off.

There is no legitimate reason why we need a law on the books which enables just 2 teachers a year out of about 300,000 to be fired for incompetence, most especially in a state where student NAEP scores languish at the bottom of the barrel. And this is the biggest problem with AB 1220. What do you do with a burned out teacher who, after 20 years in the classroom, is just going through the motions, spending the day ignoring his students as he dreams of retiring to a beach in Hawaii in ten years on his big fat defined benefit pension? The answer is that you can’t do a damn thing.

That said, AB 1220 is better than the law on the books and should be supported…in its current uneviscerated form. But we really need to go much further and promote a system where a teacher must earn his right to stay on the job throughout his career… just like any other professional.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

California Supreme Court Strikes Down Vergara Appeal

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hHere’s an axiom of California politics. When it’s the teachers union against everyone – that’s right, everyone else – the teachers union wins. Yesterday’s decision by the California Supreme Court to not hear the Vergara case is just the latest example.

Prior to losing on appeal, which brought the case to the attention of the State Supreme Court, the original Vergara ruling upheld the argument of the plaintiff, which was that union supported work rules have a disproportionate negative effect on poor and minority students. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in June 2014:

“Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu tentatively ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violated students’ rights to equal educational opportunity. Treu struck down state laws that grant teachers tenure after two years, require seniority-based layoffs and govern the process to dismiss teachers. He ruled that those laws disproportionately harmed poor and minority students… [writing:]

‘All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. All sides also agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school. Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.’”

And the evidence was indeed compelling. Watch these closing arguments in the case, and note that the plaintiff’s attorney used the testimony of the expert witnesses called by the defense attorneys to support his arguments!

But it isn’t just the union’s hand-picked experts who are against the teachers unions, when they reveal under cross-examination that union work rules indeed harm students, and disproportionately harm low-income and minority students. It’s every interest group, every stakeholder. Why, for example, would a teacher want to work in an environment where you come in and you care about students and you’re talented and you work very hard to get through to all of your students and get good educational results, and in the classroom right next to you somebody just shows up every day and doesn’t do anything? They make as much money as you do, and if they stick around, they get increases every year just like you will. If they are incompetent, they will not be fired. And if there’s a layoff, if they’ve been on the job one year longer than you, they’ll stay and you’ll go.

No wonder there’s a teacher shortage. Consider these statistics that measure teacher sentiments regarding the work rules that were challenged by the Vergara plaintiffs:

  • Teacher effectiveness should be a factor in granting tenure:
    72% of teachers agree, 93% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if it were easier to dismiss ineffective teachers:
    62% of teachers agree, 89% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if layoff decisions took teacher effectiveness into account:
    67% of teachers agree, 83% of principals agree.

Then there’s the social agenda of the teachers union. Their social agenda, in essence, is to indoctrinate California’s students – most of whom are people of color, and millions of whom are members of recent immigrant families – into believing they live in a racist, sexist nation, where they are condemned to lives of discrimination and thwarted achievement, when precisely the opposite is the reality. In reality, America is the most tolerant nation in world history, rejecting sexism and racism, and has provided opportunities to people of all backgrounds in measures that dwarf all other nations and cultures. But not according to the teachers union.

But this is California, and what the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets.

One small encouraging sign is the fact that two of the three dissenting attorneys are Brown appointees. The fight is bipartisan. It’s disappointing that judges appointed by Wilson and Schwarzenegger ruled against the plaintiffs, and it is possible that part of their motivation was judicial restraint, i.e., to not legislate from the bench.

Which leaves the legislature to change these rules that are destroying public education in California – jobs for life after two years, nearly impossible to fire incompetents, and seniority over merit in layoffs. Virtually any honest legislator in Sacramento will admit, off the record, that they don’t agree with the agenda of the teachers union. Plenty of retired democrats, including Gloria Romero, former Senate Majority Leader, and Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles, have leveled withering criticism at the teachers union. But active politicians are targeted for political destruction if they stand up to the union machine, and they toe the line.

Parents, students, judges, legislators, and teachers themselves are all subordinates of the teachers union. It will take an extraordinary combination of bipartisan cooperation and raw political courage to change the status quo. But let’s be clear – the teachers union has won again, and everyone, everyone, was on the other side.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

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