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Does Vergara Insure Teacher Effectiveness? AB 215

California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt
California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt
L A Times

The Vergara Decision, AB 215

At the Schools with Audrey Linden

The Vergara Decision by L A County Superior Court Judge Treu could have a nation-wide impact that will not bode well for teachers. Judge Treu deemed the laws which have protected teachers hiring and firing unconstitutional. Seniority and due process rights, which are now part of the teachers’ contract have been ruled out of order and struck down. But, Judge Treu ordered a stay and UTLA President, Warren Fletcher already filed an appeal. It could take up to two years for the appeal to be heard. Thus no actions can be taken by LAUSD School District.

This suit was brought by nine students in a group called “Students Matter”spearheaded and financially backed by tech entrepreneur, Dave Welsh, who filed the first lawsuit two years ago. Since the ruling, Welch has taken the suit to New York and has plans to take the suit to other states.

The ruling strikes down the job protections teachers have had for years. Seniority will be a thing of the past and new younger and less experienced teachers will be able to take the place of older teachers with more seniority and standing. Also, if the teachers lose due process rights, they can be fired as “at will employees”.

The argument was that the less than effective teachers are the cause of poor education standards in the classroom. Judge Treu accepted the figures of 1 to 3 percent of California teachers are “grossly ineffective”. That figure is now being questioned and the claim is that these numbers were pulled out of nowhere and have not been proven as fact. This data will have to be substantiated in the appeal.

The big question is whether removing seniority and due process rights will change the real problems that affect the quality of education. UTLA says the Vergara Decision will not solve the problems in the classrooms. It does not address the real problems which are the over-crowded classrooms, discipline issues with suspensions out of the picture, students in need of extra help or special programs as Special Ed, Resource, or the socio-economic issues as poverty and crime that can and do affect learning in the classroom.

There is no one “cookie cutter classroom” which is duplicated from class to class let alone school to school. There are the EOs, English Only students, the ELL, English Language Learners, the ESL, English as A Second Language. There are Resource students, Special Ed students, and students with emotional needs who need counselling. There are socio-economic factors. There are children from homeless families, students in foster homes, students with single parent families in which the one parent cannot provide help with homework. So many factors go into the problems of educating our students that go way beyond seniority or due process and removing these protections does not insure better learning in the classroom. These factors need to be addressed. The answer is not just to have a fast track to firing.

There needs to be smaller classroom sizes, counselling, tutoring, re-staffing, increasing the number of classroom aides, etc. The socio-economic issues need to be addressed as how poverty and crime impact the learning environment.

L. A. Times columnist, Michael Hiltzik wrote an excellent column on the Vergara decision, and he had a very good understanding of the real issues that affect education. The Vergara Decision will have no effect on those issues which he outlined as over-crowded classrooms, over testing, socio-economic issues. He predicted that there would be a shortage of good teachers in the future. Who would want to go into education when there have been no raises in eight years, no seniority, no job protections? Where would one get excellent teachers to sign on?

Jack Schneider, assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and author of “From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse” also wrote an excellent article in the L. A. Times, entitled, “Firing Teachers Won’t Fix Education”. He argues that teachers do not slough off as the years pass and stop caring and stop improving themselves. They cannot because they do attend “staff development". There is new curriculum to learn and master as Common core, there are constant training's, and of course evaluations. Many teachers lack “guidance and support.” “Even gifted teachers need relevant, robust, and continuous professional development opportunities.” "Very few get it, particularly in schools serving high needs students.” “Making it easier to fire teachers…..will do little to insure an effective teacher in every classroom.” Schneider feels it will erode trust that is already strained between teachers and administrators. “Schools and districts should expand coaching and mentoring programs and develop partnerships with scholars at local colleges and universities.” He concludes that “instead of imagining a word in which teachers are easier to fire, we should work to imagine one in which firing is rarely necessary.” He believes an effective teacher is not accomplished by “holding a sword over their heads by by putting tools in their hands.” In essence, schools and administrators should support their teachers rather than punish them. Isn’t this the same model the school districts are saying students with discipline issues need? Use that model with teachers.

Sandy Banks, another L. A. Times columnist, devoted a column, “Tenure Case Sends A Message” to the Vergara Decision. Banks outlined the real issues, one by one and the issues, as such, really were not about ineffective teachers. Banks seemed to understand the educational issues teachers face in the classrooms. “Bigger threats to teachers today are stagnant pay, crowded classrooms, little professional support, and a relentless focus on test scores that stifles creativity, increases workload, and makes teaching feel like a chore.” She got these points in and seemed to understand the issues. She quotes the statistics that 20 percent of teachers leave their jobs each year, and half of the new teachers quit in five years. “public education has become a political football loaded with symbols and agendas captive to private money and hijacked by high-tech trends.” Then her logic fails as she states her opinion in that she thinks the judge’s ruling “a wise and necessary decision.” She states that “job protections won’t matter if teachers get what they really deserve: smaller classes, more administrative support, higher pay, better student services, etc”. Banks fails to state exactly how teachers will get the basic needs which are necessary for them to be rated effective teachers. Taking away job protections will not get teachers the support they need.

Add to the quotient that Governor Brown recently passed a law, A B 215 to fast track the firing of teachers accused of gross misconduct. Appeals of firings can now take over a year will be expedited. Teachers accused of crimes will be given thirty days after being fired to get an independent hearing which would have to start within sixty days. An administrative law judge would oversee and his decision would be binding. This would replace the three person panel. This measure was supported by the California Teachers Association. In claims of sexual misconduct, evidence over four years old could be introduced.

Steps have been taken to make sure in serious allegations against teachers, there would be a fast track to review and fire. This measure also will probably be taken into account in the appeal of the Vergara Decision. In the event the Decision is turned into a legislative act, it may not serve teachers. The L. A. Times did a public opinion poll and the majority of the public who participated would vote to enforce the Vergara Decision and strip teachers of job protections and seniority. The public may need to be further educated on exactly how the Vergara Decision would impact the classroom and be made aware of what teachers’ needs are to become and remain highly effective teachers.

Audrey Linden

Educational Reporter