Protections for teachers really do matter: Vergara v California continues


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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, emphasis on teachers v testing. Please go here for the back story and previous posts. My sources have been keeping me updated, so please feel free to share a story that deserves more attention.

On Thursday, March 6th Dr. Jesse Rothstein took the stand in the Vergara trial. Dr. Rothstein is an economist at UC Berkley.

Rothstein said many important things throughout the day. He effectively made the case that seniority and other protections for teachers really do matter. If you create good working conditions for any worker, you attract better workers. That's pretty basic, not to mention obvious, but these days, that doesn't seem to matter. Ask any fast-food worker, let alone the teachers in this case and so many others like them.

So by attacking teachers, creating uncertainty in the job, and eliminating security, you turn off the best candidates. I can personally attest to that, having worked in public schools for nearly two decades. A stressful work situation isn't good for anyone.

Rothstein also spent a long time critiquing Value-Added Modeling (VAM). This the process by which they measure a teachers effectiveness based on the test results of their students, comparing the gains to other students.

Here's one of the problems with VAM: It assumes students are the same. But we know that poverty exists. And a child who lives in poverty isn't going to do as well or make the same gains as a child who doesn't live in poverty. And poverty is just one of the factors. The truth is that you can't factor everything a child, or a pubescent teenager, might be experiencing, into an algorithm.

You can't judge a teacher based on factors outside of their control. And when you're talking about a person's career or livelihood, it's simply unfair to use such a flawed system. Again, there are so many facets to this, and again, I have witnessed them firsthand.

On the teachers' side, people have been vocal about VAM. AFT President Randi Weingarten has publicly come out against VAM. And here in Los Angeles, the United Teachers of Los Angeles have opposed it. But it's not just teachers who are saying it.

Academics like Rothstein oppose it. It leads to teaching to the test. And as Dr. Fraisse pointed out, testing leads to narrowed curriculum.

To put it bluntly, VAM is a sham, which is what this lawsuit is about. They want to judge teachers based on tests and value-added measurements.

Testing is not new. Testing is not teaching. Testing is not reform. Testing has been the status quo for 20 years. And it doesn't work.

Later on Friday, 20-year math teacher Vickie Decker took the stand. The plaintiffs have named specific teachers as bad teachers in the trial. Students who had a bad experience named their teachers. So these teachers get their moment on the stand to clear their name.

But the lawyers for the plaintiffs have actively sought to exclude the actual evaluations of these teachers. Decker brought the evaluations from the Principal and Assistant Principal at her school, but the lawyers objected and Vickie Decker didn't get to clear her name.

From my own personal observation of how the public school system works (or doesn't), I've seen how a disgruntled or unhappy student who doesn't get along with a teacher or feels they've been treated unfairly can affect teacher evaluations. All too often, those kids don't perform as well as they could in class, making it appear as if the teacher has failed in some way. In some cases, their complaints are valid, but I assure you, in many cases, they aren't. I've also known "bad" (read: good) teachers who have done everything they can to get good results from "bad" (read: recalcitrant, or dishonest, or negligent, or troubled, or vengeful, or needy) students. These are often potentially really good kids with really poor attitudes due to personal or family/parent issues (divorce, drugs, alcoholism, veterans with PTSD, abandonment, apathy, or are "just too busy") that prevent them from succeeding.

It's important to remember that there are two sides to every story, and testing can't and doesn't reveal both sides.

  • "You had problems with the military rape issues I raised in another post (denying that friends in the chain of command can shut down and investigation)"

    That is not what I said. I said that IF that is happening then it is a far bigger problem than the rape issue in terms of dealing with the military, and it more urgently needs to be dealt with, and not by merely removing the legal issue to another venue. If commanders are being "pals" with subordinates and willing to waive regulations in their behalf, then we have a military which is on the verge of not being able to enter the field of battle, let alone win wars. We have a military command structure which is violating the fundamental rules of command. We have a military on the verge of breaking down completely. We don't need to remove the legal issues to another venue, we need to remove those officers from command immediately, and indeed remove them from uniform.

    I don't know if you ever served in the military, but it's hard to describe just how disruptive is is to have officers showing favoritism to subordinates.

    And no, my performance was never affected by the union rules. But I chafed under them because I worked hard and did good work, and was angered to see lazy, shiftless idiots get the better jobs because they were senior to me.

  • David G

    Bill, I think you put on your grumpy hat today. You had problems with the military rape issues I raised in another post (denying that friends in the chain of command can shut down and investigation) and you are having problems with tenure in this fine post by Laffy. I teach. I am a better teacher each year from what I learned before. I'm not lazy nor do I feel tenure protects me from my responsibilities. I don't know what occupation you've found your livelihood generated from, but I hardly doubt you became lazy or complacent. I bet you were a better, more skilled employee or employer the longer you worked. No one accuse you of becoming lazy because you have experience knowing what works and doesn't work. Not every teacher is a saint. But certainly tenure doesn't make them sinners, either.

  • Excuse me? In all my years working at and attending public schools, I remember exactly 1 "lazy" teacher. And yes, teachers can and do get fired. I saw two teachers lose their jobs in my 14 years at one school. The vast majority of teachers do not "goof off" and are far from "sloppy." And nobody but you have claimed they were "saints," just as nobody in the general population is a "saint," but your statements are so inaccurate and insulting, it's hardly worth responding. You've made up your mind based on what again? My comments are based on experience and actually working in the public school system, observing and working along side a number of teachers on a regular basis.

  • I can tell you how the seniority and tenure system works in the labor union settion. It assures laziness and sloppy work. You know that the only thing that is going to get you promoted is the length of time you hand around, and that short of killing someone you cannot be fired, so you goof off and make a pretense of doing your job. I'm sure that what with teachers all being saints, none of them would ever act that way.

  • bpollen

    My father was a teacher (at one point, he was my teacher, principal, and softball coach - glad that didn't last forever.) He used a different approach, I guess. Not only did he not "teach the test," he also graded based, largely, on your personal improvement and the degree of effort you put forward. He figured his job was to teach each student as much as he could rather than teaching them how to fit into the standard sized box.