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California Supreme Court Strikes Down Vergara Appeal

Here’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 justices 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.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

RELATED ARTICLES

Calif. Justices Won’t Hear Appeal in ‘Vergara’ Teacher Tenure Case
Ben Hancock, August 22, 2016, The Recorder

State Court Upholds California Teacher Tenure Laws
By Hillel Aron, August 22, 2016, LA Weekly

Vergara ends — California Supreme Court refuses to take up teacher tenure case
By Sarah Fovot, August 22, 2016, LA School Report

Two denials of review, five separate statements, in education cases
August 22, 2016, At the Lectern: Practicing before the California Supreme Court

 

ACLU Joins Unions to Attack California Charter Schools

About 6.2 million students attend California’s K-12 public schools. Of those, over 570,000 are enrolled in public charter schools. Most of these charter schools operate with a degree of management autonomy and teacher accountability that goes well beyond what is permitted by the union work rules that govern traditional public schools. These charter schools themselves are accountable – if they don’t deliver better academic outcomes cost-effectively, they are closed down. They are a laboratory for excellence in education and administration, and they’re working. And their success is a tremendous threat to teachers unions.

Enter the ACLU. In a study released earlier this week, the ACLU said it had identified 253 schools with “exclusionary policies,” and noted “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” The exclusionary policies were (1) exclusion based on academic performance, (2) discrimination against English learners, (3) pre-enrollment essays or interviews, (4) illegal parent/guardian volunteer requirements, (5) requirements that discourage undocumented students.

If you consider the ACLU case on its merits, there isn’t much to argue about. Traditional public schools receive funding to admit all students, and charter public schools must do the same. But the entire premise is flawed: schools should be able to develop unique identities in order to offer a diverse set of educational choices to our diverse student population.

Examples of such diversity are inspiring, and range from the Eagle Academy in Harlem, which is attended almost exclusively by African American young men, or the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. These schools deliver outstanding academic results, they cannot possibly admit everyone who wants to attend, and they are exclusionary.

Some of the premises underlying the ACLU’s case are easily contestable, because they are rooted in a concession to mediocrity that has taken over public schools. Instead of making charter schools change their policies, why not change the rules? For example, why aren’t all public schools engaging in “pre-enrollment essays or interviews”? Why don’t all public schools require parents to volunteer some time at the school?

As for violation No. 2 – our public schools are academically segregated as it is, with the high-achieving students exclusively taking AP courses that relegate their exposure to the rest of the student body to hallways and common areas. Should a charter school focus on attracting top students? And if some of them did, how would that differ from what already occurs with AP courses?

The ACLU’s case with respect to the other violations is, at least, easier to justify on moral grounds. Of course we should be admitting students who don’t speak English as a first language. Of course we have to educate children regardless of their immigration status. But the vast majority of charter schools aren’t trying to exclude these students. Most charter schools are non-profits, with supplemental funding provided by philanthropists with the noblest of intentions. Charter schools are an attempt to deliver educational excellence in communities with some of the worst-performing traditional public schools in the U.S. The ACLU is missing the forest for the trees.

If the ACLU wants to fix public education, it might throw its considerable legal might behind the upcoming final round of the Vergara case, likely to be heard in the California Supreme Court next year. The plaintiffs in this case argued that the right to a quality public education is a civil right, and that students in low-income communities are denied that right through inferior public schools. They specifically challenged three union work rules which they demonstrated had a disproportionately negative impact on education in low-income communities: (1) granting teacher tenure after less than two years of classroom observation, (2) “last-in, first-out” policies whereby seniority trumps merit in layoffs, and (3) dismissal procedures so onerous that incompetent teachers are almost never fired.

Where is the ACLU with respect to Vergara?

The ACLU has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. When it comes to civil rights issues they are as likely to defend someone on the far right as someone on the far left. For this they have earned animosity and respect, depending on whom you ask. But if the ACLU intends to be truly impartial on the civil right to a quality education, at the least it may use its resources to support the plaintiffs in the Vergara case.

As for the ACLU’s salvo against charter schools? The organization should realize that charter school operators are almost invariably motivated by nothing more than providing excellent education to underprivileged students. They should be making it easier for them to do that, not more difficult.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Quality Education Remains Thwarted by Teachers Unions

An article in today’s American Prospect, of all places, offers an in-depth look at just how little progress has actually been made towards restoring quality education to California’s public school students. Because the article appears in a publication that is “dedicated to American liberalism,” and because “American liberalism” depends more than anything else on billions in annual political contributions from government unions, you almost have to read between the lines to realize who the bad guys are.

Nonetheless, “California’s Ed Reform Wars,” by Rachel Cohen, all 3,200 words of it, is a fine piece of work. Read it closely, if you can stomach the facts. The bad guys – a matter of opinion, of course – are the government unions. The victims? California’s students, and the future of this great state.

Covered first is the uncertain fate of the Vergara case, funded by wealthy activists – many of them liberals – in the Silicon Valley. The plaintiffs are public school students whose case was founded on the argument that union work rules, specifically the policies governing tenure, layoff and dismissal policies, cause disproportionate harm to students in low-income communities. During round one, two years ago in a Los Angeles courtroom, reformers were mesmerized by the brilliant closing arguments of the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, along with the ruling by the judge in the case, who emphatically agreed.

That was then. In April of this year, by a 3-0 vote, the California Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the original Vergara v. California decision. The case will now go to the California Supreme Court. Its chances aren’t great.

But shouldn’t elected officials, not the courts, make policy decisions? In a perfect world, that would certainly be true, but in California’s state legislature, as Cohen herself writes, “Following the original Vergara decision, Republican lawmakers introduced a package of three bills to extend the time it would take a teacher to earn tenure, to repeal the “last-in, first-out” statute that makes layoff decisions based on seniority, and to establish an annual teacher evaluation system. These bills, however, got nowhere in the Democratic-controlled statehouse.”

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because then a democratic Assemblywoman who takes money from government unions, Susan Bonilla, tried to push legislation through that might reform at least some of the employment statutes that protect bad teachers. Cohen writes:

“Bonilla proposed, among other things, giving principals the option of waiting until a teacher’s third or fourth year to grant tenure, and placing poorly performing teachers in a program that would provide increased professional support. If the ineffective teacher received another low performance rating after a year in this program, Bonilla’s legislation would enable schools to fire the teacher through an expedited process.”

Might that be watered down enough? Might that not have a chance? For the children?

Forget it. Despite endorsements including one from the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, the teachers union issued an “action alert” to their members, calling the bill “an all-out assault” by “corporate millionaires and special interests.” The bill was going to go nowhere in California’s union-controlled legislature. So Bonilla tried again. As Cohen reports:

“In June, Bonilla introduced an amended version of her bill, one that would require new teachers to work for three years before becoming eligible for tenure. Her bill no longer included provisions to create a new teacher evaluation system, to require teachers with poor performance reviews to be laid off before those with less seniority, and to remove many of the dismissal rules that administrators found frustrating.”

Not much left there. Just a bill to marginally extend the probationary period before teachers acquire tenure. But still it was opposed by the unions, and it died in committee by a vote of 9 to 2. The two legislators who voted in favor were due to be termed out and therefore could vote their consciences.

When it comes to government unions, perhaps the teachers union most of all, the lack of support for bipartisan reform is not a mystery. Government unions in California collect and spend over $1.0 billion each year, which gives them the ability to financially dominate any election, anytime, anywhere, whenever they choose. But there’s more to it. These unions use their financial and organizational power to anoint not only politicians, but also bureaucrats, teachers, and anyone in the business community who may have any need to work with the government bureaucracy. They can anoint, or they can target. Best friend or worst enemy? Take your pick.

Liberals know this, but they tolerate the teachers union because along with all that money the union gives their candidates, the union political agenda matches their own – bigger government, more regulations. They don’t understand, unfortunately, that more regulations favor big business and destroy entrepreneurs who deliver the competitive innovations that have improved our lives. And they certainly don’t put enough importance on innovation in education.

Someday liberals may care enough “for the children” to stand up to the teachers union. Don’t hold your breath.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.