Archive for public schools

LGBT educators can be fired for being gay: Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on LGBT educators and discrimination in the workplace this time around. 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. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

So. Should a teacher be fired for being gay? No. But does it happen? Oh yes. Yes it does.

One of the horrible realities of the Vergara trial is that if the plaintiffs are successful in eliminating due process, it takes away protections for LGBT educators.

David Atkins has a really important piece about teachers who have been fired without due process: Gay teachers who have been fired for being gay. Here are the opening and closing sentences of his post, but what he wrote in between the two is a must-read:

One of the more insidious aspects of the billionaire assault on teachers is the effort to make public teaching an "at will" occupation in which a teacher can be fired at any time. [...]

This is what will happen to public schools in California and eventually across the nation if Vergara goes the wrong way. All so a few billionaires can get even richer by turning students into commodities.

You see, without tenure, if a teacher irritates an administrator, or many parents complain in a community that happens to be homophobic, that teacher could be let go. They don't have to give a reason, just "We're not renewing your contract."

It has happened in California. And it could happen in our public schools if they are successful.

On Thursday, Shannan Brown, a former Teacher of the Year from San Juan School District, told a compelling story about the need for due process.

She said, "When I was a newer teacher in the district, before I had received tenure, I had shared with my colleagues that I am gay. And they told me not to tell the administrator and to not announce that because it could affect my - the employment decisions regarding me."

This teacher had to stay in the closet. If she had been dismissed because of a homophobic administrator, she would have never been teacher or the year and students would have missed out on having such great teacher.

It's the bigots who need to be educated.

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"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions": Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on teachers' working conditions this time around. 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. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

Before I continue with the latest on the case, I'd like to share two things with you, both express much of what I've experienced personally. The first is an excerpt from a letter to the editor at Californian.com. Please link over to read the entire thing, it's worth it. The writer is president of the Pájaro Valley Federation of Teachers:

There is so much that moves me to tears in our profession: The student who has an “Aha!” moment; the teacher who pays hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket to feed hungry kids; the alumnus who comes back just to say “thanks.”

Improving the quality of public education should be an emotional battle. There is so much at stake. But it shouldn’t be the ideological, political battle that Kerwin, Bhakta and the other backers of the Vergara trial have made it out to be.

Francisco Rodriguez D.

Watsonville

The second is this, from an opinion piece at the Orange County Register written by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, who represents California’s 41st Congressional District and was a former community college trustee:

[R]ather than contemplate recruitment and retention strategies former [Florida Gov. Jeb Bush] joins a new group of conservative education partisans looking to undermine workers unions by pitting teachers against students in the public debate... [I]t is naïve to believe that stripping away teachers’ workforce protections is a panacea. The stories used by advocates for Bush’s position are largely anecdotal and are supported by neither the academic data nor those who work in the classroom. [...]

 Teachers are overworked and underpaid; the line is a bit cliché, but it is still true. For those of us who teach, it is more than a job; it’s a calling, a career and a life-long commitment. It is the classroom teacher who is on the front-line, working to address the deep and complex issues our schools and student are facing. We do it because we want to give back to our communities and see future generations succeed. [...]

A system that does not allow for development and growth, but attempts to motivate with threatening ones job is setting itself up for failure.

Now for today's trial round-up. Working conditions matter. Immensely. Testing, on the other hand, does not tell the whole story, not by a long shot:

Yesterday began with Jeff Seymour. He spent 25 years as superintendent of the El Monte School District. As a former superintendent, he said the current law allows administrators enough time to observe and evaluate teachers before they grant permanent status.

Think about that. An administrator says that it works. But the high-priced lawyers pressed on.<

The second witness of the day was Betty Olson Jones, a teacher and former president of the Oakland Education Association. And she had a lot to say.

She talked a lot about the struggles teachers have in high-poverty schools.  She pointed out that teachers want to help, but if you put them in high-poverty/high-needs schools and don't give them the tools and support they need, you can't expect the standardized test scores to go up.

"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions," she said. 

This is so true. If you create a toxic environment for teachers, that affects the students. How can it not? And schools in high-poverty areas of Oakland have a higher teacher turnover rate. Again, that. Affects. Students. Continuity is so important for kids to thrive and learn. I say this as someone who worked in classrooms for nearly two decades.

The thing that is becoming abundantly clear in this trial is that the Plaintiffs' argument relies on standardized test scores.

The lawyers keep asking about "learning gains" as evident on state standardized tests. But we know that standardized tests don't accurately reflect either learning gains or a teacher's ability or effectiveness. I wrote about this in previous posts. Again, please follow my Vergara link for those posts.

When they keep asking about "learning gains," it shows that the premise of their argument is wrong. You simply cannot judge teachers based on test scores. But, sadly, that's what they want to do.

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Vergara v California: Painting teachers unions as the bad guys

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teachers unions read sign thank teacher via Matt Gibson- Shutterstock dot comPhoto Credit: Matt Gibson / Shutterstock.com

Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with an emphasis on teachers unions this time around. 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.

Yesterday there was testimony for Joe Boyd, the executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach.

The plaintiffs were desperate to find someone to confirm their argument, so they asked Boyd the following question:

“And you don’t know how often Long Beach Unified has refrained from seeking to dismiss a tenured teacher for unsatisfactory performance because of the costs and time required to dismiss him or her pursuant to the dismissal statutes; correct?

When Boyd responded, “I believe I do,” there was no audible gulp from the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Even though this is the crux of their case – that districts avoid removing teachers because of time and money – they didn't want to no the answer to this question.

Boyd’s response: “Never.”

Yesterday the case also took an anti- teachers union turn. We've known all along that this is an anti-union trial. But it was on full display when they began cross-examining Boyd. They asked him about his salary and the California Teachers Association. What does his salary have to do with teachers dismissals? Nothing. And the judge pointed that out.

The plaintiffs' lawyers regularly roll their eyes in court. They're often quite rude, but it went to new levels when they snickered during the testimony of Danette Brown, an elementary school teacher in La Habra.

Think about that. An elementary school teacher is testifying in court. That has to be unnerving enough, to say the least. And the high-priced lawyers, in fancy schmancy suits who went to top-tier law schools, sit there and laugh at her as she testifies. Very Mean Girly, very intimidating, very unprofessional.

They also brought up a strike that she participated in. Hold on, okay, what does the strike have to do with this? Why are they bringing up the legal right to strike during a case that has nothing to do with that? Why, here's the answer now!

They want to paint unions as the bad guys. Oooo, teachers unions bad! They do stuff like protect workers rights and vote Democratic. But they're being called the villains.

Big surprise.

Stay tuned...

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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.

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Vergara v California continues: Public schools vs billionaires

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As promised, here is an update on Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California. Please follow the link for the back story.

My first Vergara post caused a bit of a stir, but that's a good thing for a couple of reasons: One, that means people are paying attention, and two, it means they care enough to communicate, and communication is everything.

So, per my sources, yesterday the Vergara trial resumed. The defense had two interesting key witnesses.

The first was Dr. Robert Fraisse. You've probably never heard of him, but he has a 40 year career in education. He was a classroom teacher, assistant principal, counselor and superintendent of several different school districts and now he's head of the school of education at California Lutheran University. This man knows what he's talking about.

He made some really important key points during his testimony. First, it's important to note that the education administration expert said that permanent status (aka tenure) is important. Teaching conditions matter and giving teachers stability helps attract the best teachers to a district. He made it clear that having due process through tenure doesn't mean you're protecting bad teachers... and that he was able to remove ineffective teachers even after they had tenure.

To clarify: Their case is that tenure protects bad teachers. One of the top people in the education field just showed that they are wrong. Moving on...

Another key point he made was about how the achievement gap is actually an opportunity gap: “I believe that the achievement gap is really an opportunity gap, and that is an all-of-the-above proposition in terms of looking at things as important as prenatal counseling for moms who are pregnant, preschool opportunities.”

But the part that stood out the most for me was when Fraisse began talking about the arts. As a former theater instructor, I can tell you first hand that you can't measure that work on a standardized test. It's not even an option. Impossible.

Fraisse got into the unintended consequences of Standardized testing. Because that's how these ed deformers label bad teachers, based on test scores. One word: Oy.

Fraisse said: "And in my opinion, based upon my experience, it would be a narrowing of the curriculum if we simply had teacher evaluations based on a standardized test score. "

"Certainly it would go away from the full breadth of offerings in music and the arts; which I'm not even sure how you would measure by a standardized test whether that music teacher, whether that art teacher or shop teacher, is doing a great job and making a difference in the lives of kids."

Think about that. You can't measure the difference we make in the lives of kids based on a test score. My personal experience: A few of my students told me that what we did in our theater classes saved their lives. Literally. Test scores don't register that kind of impact, now do they?

The trial continued with testimony of Christine McLaughlin. She was named by one of the defendants as a bad teacher. But what do you know! It turns out that she was a a Pasadena Unified Teacher of the Year. During her testimony she was revealed to be a highly-qualified, highly-lauded and incredibly innovative teacher. Yeah, real "bad."

As the LA School Report points out, McLaughlin successfully refuted the accusations against her.

To be continued. As Rachel Maddow would say, "Watch this space."

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Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California

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public schools trailer for Going Public doc

We're all abuzz about what's happening in Ukraine and Darrell Issa's asshatitude, but there's another important story that deserves attention, and it's about our schools. What is taking place in my home state can make a real difference; it involves a lawsuit, by billionaires, against the state of California claiming that tenure and seniority violate the state constitution.

But you and I know that it's just another way to go after unions and teachers. This case hits home, because I spent over fourteen years working in public schools as a theater arts educator and director.

The trial is now underway. You probably haven't heard about it because it hasn't gotten much coverage. It's called Vergara v California, and I have a source or two at the trial who fill me in daily.

Basically, a tech entrepreneur opened a non-profit, got money from billionaires to sue the state of California because-- ta daa!-- they don't like teachers. Seriously, that's what it boils down to.

They claim that fair working conditions for teachers hurt students. Again, seriously, that's what they're saying. Even though the research tells us otherwise. See, while these people are backed by billionaires and ideology, the defense in the case is backed by research and pesky things called facts.

The defense's first witness was a woman named Dr. Susan Moore Johnson. She's one of the most respected researchers on education policy. She's an education professor and researcher at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Here are some highlights from her testimony:

- Due process allows teachers to do their best work: "It's essential that the people who work with students, primarily the teachers, are able to do their best work, and that means that the conditions of their work have…to ensure that they have the resources they need, the time they need and the conditions they need to teach well."

- Better working conditions mean greater student improvement: "When we took the data from the surveys and identified the schools that were rated as very favorable working environments, favorable working environments, unfavorables, and we linked that to student achievement using a student growth measure which is used in the state of Massachusetts, we found that student improvement was greater in schools where teachers reported better working conditions."

- Laws around tenure, seniority and due process help retain good teachers: "Teachers remain in schools where there are strong and effective principals who deal fairly with them and with students and create environments where they can do their best work. Teachers want to be able to teach effectively, and schools that enable them to do that are schools where they will stay. And that's regardless of the income level of the school."

So who do we believe? The experts in educational research and the teachers who spend every single day working tirelessly in the classrooms... or the billionaires and anti-union folks who are trying, yet again, to destabilize our public schools?

Rhetorical.

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WalkerWorld: Achievement gap between black and white Wisconsin students “unacceptably high”

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walker world

The LaCrosse Tribune is reporting on how things are going in Scott Walker World, specifically how fourth- and eighth-grade students are coming along.

The good news?

Wisconsin fourth- and eighth-graders are scoring at and above national averages in reading and math, according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests released Thursday...

The bad news?

... but the results also showed the state’s achievement gap is the highest of all 50 states.

Wisconsin’s gap [between black and white students] is the highest in each of the four areas tested among states, according to the NAEP testing data. [...]

The achievement gap between black and white Wisconsin students is “unacceptably high,” DPI said. Wisconsin’s black students’ average scores were some of the lowest in the country.

Gee, could it have anything to do with his budget funding school vouchers, charter schools "leaving public schools on life support"?

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