3 defense witnesses tell Vergara court collaboration works
Mark Harris | March 11, 2014
The defense in the Vergara vs. California trial got a boost today from witnesses involved with three different school districts – Riverside, La Habra and Long Beach — each describing how collaboration and professional development helps deal with ineffective teachers without any difficulties from the challenged laws in the case.
Susan Mills, Assistant Superintendent of the Riverside Unified School District, testified that district policies have created a collaborative environment, reducing any problems and impact on learning caused by ineffective teachers.
She told the court that a culture of teamwork in which teachers share data and strategies would be disrupted if the criteria for layoffs were changed from seniority to a measure of teacher effectiveness.
“Our district is so based in collaboration, people working together,” she said. If the system changed, she added, teachers “would not be willing to work together and share best practices. People would become competitive.”
Mills’ observations focused on one of the key issues of a case, in which Beatriz Vergara and eight other students are challenging state laws that govern teachers. One statute requires that only reverse seniority to be considered in times of layoffs, rather that measures of teacher effectiveness that depend on student test scores.
Mills also supported the defense — the state and its two biggest teacher unions — on another key issue in the case, asserting that officials in her district have little difficulty identifying ineffective probationary teachers by the state deadline of March 15 in their second year.
Even when State Attorney Susan Carson asked, “Were there any close cases?” Mills said,“No.”
The plaintiffs are challenging the state’s tenure period of two years as being too short for school districts to make proper judgements on a teacher’s ability to enhance student performance.
Plaintiffs also contend that lower income schools receive a greater share of ineffective teachers due to the contested laws. But Mills challenged that assumption, as well, stating that building strong relationships between school administrators and teachers can minimize the disparity in quality teachers between lower-income and more affluent schools.
On cross examination, plaintiffs’ attorney Marcellus McRae attempted to demonstrate that the contested statutes place limitations on even well managed school districts.
He asked Mills, “Riverside Unified School District can’t counsel out all of the ineffective school teachers?” She agreed.
Danette Brown, a veteran of 18 years in the La Habra Elementary School District who currently works as an “academic coach” for the district, also testified that support from her school district has resulted in greater teacher satisfaction.
“Professional development and support for teachers is woven into the fiber of the school district,” she told the court. She said a district policy of designating times for teachers to meet and discuss goals and practices allows them to develop as professionals and improve their craft.
The end result of teacher collaboration, she explained, is “improvement with students,” adding, “In my opinion, teacher development enhances student learning.”
Josh Lipshutz, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, attempted to undercut her, by referring to an interview she gave to a local newspaper in which she stated “Teachers have expressed a lot of frustration with the lack of support they received from the district administration.” She conceded she was quoted accurately.
Lipshutz also pointed out that as former president of the La Habra Education Association, a union, Brown was biased in her testimony. When he asked whether she opposed an effort in the state Assembly efforts to streamline the dismissal process in cases of teacher involvement with drugs, sex with students and child abuse, she said she didn’t recall.
The defense also relied on the testimony of Joe Boyd, Executive Director of the Teacher’s Association of Long Beach, a union, to demonstrate how teacher unions and school districts can work within the parameters of the contested laws.
Boyd testified that in his experience support for teachers and administrators helps resolve problems before school districts must issue notices of unsatisfactory performance.
When asked by defense attorney Glenn Rothner as to the number of cases resolved before going to hearing, he indicated “95 percent.”
Once again, plaintiffs tried to point out that even with cooperation from both teachers and school districts, that the contested statutes are cumbersome and still leave ineffective teachers in the classroom.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Kyle Withers asked Boyd whether he knows the number of times the school district refrained to dismiss due to cost and time. He responded, “I do.”
Asked by Rothner on re-direct how often it has happened, Boyd smiled and said, “Never.”
Previous Posts: Teacher in Vergara v California denies that she was ineffective; Vergara witness says state laws governing teachers work; In Vergara, a defense witness defends districts’ teacher management.