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About that Other SCOTUS Ruling on Monday

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With so much focus on the horrific Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, we seem to have forgotten about the millions of workers who'll be screwed by the other decision handed down by the Court on Monday in Harris v Quinn. As my friend Dave Johnson wrote at OurFuture.org, 

In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today’s Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.

Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.

An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.

The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a “fair-share fee” that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This “fair-share fee” (union dues) covers the costs of the union’s activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.

The Court decided that the “free speech” interests of those who object to paying for representation outweigh the right of the democratically elected majority that formed the union and the state to enter into a contract that requires home care workers to pay those costs in exchange for the services those costs bring to the employees.

Justice Samuel Alito said that “free speech” means this union cannot collect this fee, writing, “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not wrote to join or support the union.”

The workers can still join unions. They can still collectively bargain. The union is still their sole bargaining agent. They just don’t have to pay fair-share fees because that violates their “free speech.”

As for "Justice" Alito's assertion that this ruling covers only these home care workers who, he claims,  are not the same as other state employees because they work for individuals in private homes, that will now be tested too.

The Washington Post reports

Activists behind a lawsuit pending in federal court in California say the Harris ruling has set the stage for their complaint, which challenges the constitutionality of a California requirement that public school teachers must pay union dues regardless of whether they choose to join the union.

In fact, the majority opinion criticized as “questionable” the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that gave states the authority to compel public employees to pay union dues.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined me on the show this morning to discuss how this ruling could cripple the remaining public sector unions, noting that the private sector unions had already been decimated.  We also talked about the attacks on public education she's facing from all sided - from teacher tenure (which, she explained, is just due process - something all employees should have) and the charter school problem.

For a great explanation of the Harris v Quinn decision, including its history and ramifications, check out Harold Meyerson's "Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More" at the American Prospect.

Every Wednesday morning, I spend some time chatting with Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars. Today, just as we were discussing the technical problems that plagued me all morning and her explanation being Mercury coming out of retrograde today possibly being the cause, my internet went out! Once we got past that, we talked about the insanity of these Court decisions and the burdens on the average American.

Tomorrow, we'll have our pre Fourth of July show...  compete with the No More Bullshit Minute and some fabulous female facts, and whatever the day hands us..  radio or not!

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Decades of research show that teachers are not the problem. #Vergara got it wrong.

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I’ve covered the Vergara trial pretty extensively, thanks to and with the help of my contacts who attended. But unfortunately, there's a sad ending: The judge sided with the billionaires over the public school teachers.

For those of us who paid attention to the trial, it was pretty clear that this was never about how to improve education. If it were, they would have focused on trivial little things that actually matter to, you know, student outcomes and achievement.

Nowhere in the decision does the judge mention important matters like poverty, segregation, unequal funding or the consequences of high-stakes testing. The decision actually reads like like it was written by, you should excuse the expression, a Michelle Rhee-ish "reformer."

What’s amazing is that there was evidence presented by the best education experts that said the “reformers” are wrong. Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Harvard’s Susan Moore Johnson are considered the best in the field of education. The judge completely ignored what they had to say. Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein completely refuted Chetty and Kane, noting that using student test scores to judge teachers just doesn’t work.

AFT president Randi Weingarten really got it right. Here's her this statement:

"It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.”

BUT... there are some rays of hope. First, this was only a superior court judge. Which means it will be appealed. And this is a pretty darned thin decision without much reasoning. Why, it's almost as if the judge said “I don’t like teachers unions, so I’m going to side with the other guys.”

Even one ed reformer pointed out that there are problems with this decision. So let's keep our fingers and toes crossed that this will be overturned on appeal.

Second, CA Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson came out against the decision. He’s doing a fantastic job, which is why hedge funds and ed deformers are funding his challenger, Marshall Tuck, a guy who has never taught.

"All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources, and expertise. Today's ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.

"While I have no direct jurisdiction over the statutes challenged in this case, I am always ready to assist the Legislature and Governor in their work to provide high-quality teachers for all of our students. Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution."

For those of us who really care about crazy things like equity and preserving a public education system that serves all kids, regardless of their zip code, the take away should be this: the privatizers will do anything to create headlines that pits teachers against students.

That is sad.  We have to continue to show that teachers and students are on the same side. When you attack a teacher, you hurt a student. I know that, having taught in public schools for years. Attacks like Vergara must stop.

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GOP Gov. Susana Martinez "can be nasty, juvenile, vindictive, appears ignorant about basic policy"

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"Somebody told me he's absolutely eloquent in Spanish, but his English? He sounds like a retard."

Yes, New Mexico's GOP Susana Martinez laughs and played along as an aide says that about Ben Lujan (former Speaker of the House and father of NM Congressman Ben Ray Lujan).

ProgressNow reminds us that Governor Martinez has "actively promoted her own advocacy for her developmentally disabled sister in campaign ads, media pieces and slickly-produced profiles of her. 'Retard' as a descriptor of people like her sister has long since been considered inappropriate." How's that GOP outreach workin' for ya, Sue?

Mother Jones posted a whopper of a story about a side of Susana Martinez we haven't seen. And by whopper I mean, ouch! Apparently the private Susana Martinez differs from the public Susana Martinez. And as you may recall, public Susana Martinez has been the darling of many a Republican, not to mention a possible 2016 contender.

That may change:

No wonder, then, that many see Martinez, who turns 55 in July, as the party's future. Fox News host Greta Van Susteren touts her "great resume": America's first Latina governor. Former district attorney of a border county. Guardian of her mentally disabled sister. Tax cutter, gun owner, daughter of a sheriff's deputy. The Koch brothers invited her to speak at one of their secretive donor enclaves. Karl Rove singled her out in Time's list of last year's 100 most influential people as a "reform-minded conservative Republican." The Washington Post put her at the top of a list of likely 2016 vice presidential candidates; Romney has boosted her as a presidential contender.... In the media, Martinez is often compared to Sarah Palin [...]

Internal campaign records and interviews with former aides suggest that she didn't dig too deeply into the details of her own proposals: "Aren't we the ONLY state in the US that provides a NM drivers license to illegal aliens?" she asked in a November 24, 2009, email. (At the time, seven other states had similar policies.) [...]

Listening to recordings of Martinez talking with her aides is like watching an episode of HBO's Veep, with over-the-top backroom banter full of pique, self-regard, and vindictiveness. As Martinez and her campaign staff rewatched a recent televised debate, Martinez referred to Denish, her opponent, as "that little bitch." After Denish noted that the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce had given her an award, McCleskey snapped, "That's why we're not meeting with those fuckers." [...]

A major postelection interview with Latina magazine became a punch line after Martinez asked her interviewer to "remind me" what the DREAM Act was.

As ProgressNow notes, Susana Martinez has no problem with references to Democrats as “Little Bitches” and “Little Retards.” There is more audio at that link.

If this is the real Susana Martinez, if this represents what she really thinks about teachers, women, the mentally disabled, and Hispanic business, she's going to have a lot of explaining to do.

There's a lot more where that came from.

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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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