Survey: Teachers support changes in state job protection laws

VergaraThe majority of public school teachers who participated in a new survey support changes in state teacher job protection laws that were the focus of last year’s landmark ruling in Vergara v. California.

The findings were somewhat of a surprise in that the poll, conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research for Teach Plus, a national nonprofit that focuses on professional development for teachers, sought responses from only full-time district public school teachers, omitting charter school teachers, private school teachers and part-time teachers.

Under California law, all full-time district public school teachers must be members of the union or pay an agency fee to the union.

The defendants in Vergara — the state, along with its two big public school teachers unions, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — have appealed the ruling. If the lower court ruling stands, the legislature would be compelled to rewrite the laws struck down — on tenure, dismissal and layoffs.

While the 500-plus teachers surveyed were not asked directly about the Vergara ruling, they were polled about their feelings on those three issues.

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Teachers to petition Supreme Court in case vs. CTA over dues

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

In a case that has implications for millions of public employees in more than two dozen states, a group of California teachers is planning to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against the California Teachers Association (CTA) over union dues.

The case involves a state’s right to require public employees to pay dues to a union, known as “agency shop” laws. California and 25 other states currently require public employees to pay union dues. The teachers, with lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs and co-plaintiff Christian Educators Association International, are arguing that agency shop laws in California violate their freedom of speech.

The plaintiffs were cleared to petition the Supreme Court following a ruling yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found in favor of CTA, based on previous Supreme Court precedent, according to the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing the plaintiffs.

CIR has worked to expedite the proceedings through District Court and the Court of Appeals by asking that they decide the case quickly without trial or oral argument. Essentially, they elected to lose the case in the lower courts and have argued that the only court with the authority to “grant them the relief they request” is the Supreme Court, CIR stated on its website. 

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Vergara witness says state laws governing teachers work

Cal-Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein

Cal-Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein

The battle of the experts continued today in Vergara vs. California as an expert in labor economics and public policy called by the defense provided rationales for keeping in place the state laws governing teachers that are under challenge in the case.

Jesse Rothstein, a professor at Cal-Berkeley and a former senior economist on the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors, testified that the two-year tenure statute was adequate to identify ineffective teachers and still help school districts attract new employees.

He also said a “last-in, first-out” process that favors seniority in times of staff reduction is more fair and objective than so-called “value-added” models that take into account student performance to measure teacher effectiveness.

And he said the dismissal statutes protect teachers against “arbitrary and capricious decisions of employers” who might want to get rid of certain teachers.

These three issues — tenure, dismissal and seniority — are central to the case, which began more than a month ago. The nine student-plaintiffs are trying to show that California’s laws governing the issues combine to deny public education students access to a quality education.

The state and its two big teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — are trying to convince the court that the laws are fine as they are, posing none of the pernicious effects the plaintiffs claim.

Rothstein’s testimony, under direct questioning by Jim Finberg, representing the unions, was largely focused on opinions derived from his own studies and those of others that took general views on the subjects at issue in the case. Rothstein left the strong impression that he believed the laws, as they are, do not impede academic performance because of ineffective teachers.

But later, under cross examination by Marcellus McRae, the plaintiffs lead lawyer, he admitted that he knew little about how the laws play out in California and that none of his own work specifically reflected public education policies in the state.

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Vergara defense lawyers preview their case — if they need it

Martha Sanchez, a parent who is 'sick and tired' of corporate interests in public schools.

Martha Sanchez, a parent who is ‘sick and tired of corporate interests’ in public schools.

As defendants in the Vergara trial were asking the court to dismiss the case, attorneys for the state’s two biggest teachers union met with reporters outside the courthouse to offer a preview of arguments they intend to make if the judge denies their request, and the trial resumes next month with witnesses for the defense.

Jim Finberg, lead counsel for the California Teachers Association said existing teacher tenure protections, “help school districts recruit and retain highly effective teachers.” He said the laws being challenged help keep a stable workforce in schools which is vital to student learning.

Finberg added, “Without job security, teachers would have to worry about teaching evolution or Islam.”

Pasadena teacher Christine McLaughlin, who will be testifying on behalf of the state, said plaintiffs have offered no alternatives.

McLaughlin, who was honored a teacher of the year by the county, teaches at Webster Elementary School in Pasadena Unified School District, one of the schools that has been identified as “ineffective” in the case.

“The anecdotes plaintiffs have tried to use as evidence have no connection to these laws and could have been given by students in any other state with widely different laws governing teacher employment,” she said.

Dean Vogel, president of the state’s other big teachers union, the California Teachers Association, called the lawsuit, which is financed by Students Matter, “an ideological red herring, financed by billionaires to pit parents against teachers.”

That sentiment was echoed by parent and community activist Martha Sanchez.

“I am sick and tired of private companies using parents to advance their own agenda,” she said.

Defense lawyers were expected to file their motion to dismiss this afternoon.


Vergara suit on teacher dismissal opens, courtroom packed

Gavel2A lawsuit that could lead to a seismic shift in teacher tenure and dismissal methods is underway today in a packed Los Angeles courtroom.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is expected to take the stand.

Courtroom seats are being assigned by lottery – with limited press seating available. We will do our best to update our readers as the trial unfolds.

The case, Vergara vs CA is brought by a group of students who claim they have a civil right to an education and that state law that protects teachers and pushes them into lower income areas is discriminatory. The families of the plaintiffs are in full force today in the courtroom.

The case has gotten attention in editorials: Both The LA Times (Protect good teachers, fire bad ones) and The San Jose Mercury News (Teacher tenure, seniority, due process rights will get much-needed scrutiny in court) printed pieces.

A high profile team of lawyers including Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to strike down the same sex marriage ban, will argue on behalf of the students.

Defendants include the State of California and the two largest teachers unions in the state, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT).


Teachers Unions Chagrin: Waiver Process Left Them Out

Sad-TeacherThe two biggest statewide teachers unions — California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — have problems with the waivers granted to eight school districts from the federal program, No Child Left Behind. The objections, however, are more about how they came about than what they mean.

“My guess is that there are probably some elements in there that we would embrace, but I think the process itself is flawed,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “Somehow, the women and men who are actually in the classrooms doing the day-to-day teaching were left out of the process of improving our schools. It’s just not going to work.”

The waiver request was put together by superintendents from eight school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, who received guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and other third parties. Elected school boards were not asked to sign off.

Pechthalt added: “It’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all reform.”

The CTA expressed similar objections to the waiver agreement, blaming Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“By approving this waiver, Secretary Duncan once again demonstrates how his rhetoric that educators be actively involved in education change is just that – rhetoric,” CTA President Dean Vogel said in a statement. “Not one of the local teachers’ associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application.”

UTLA President Warren Fletcher declined to comment.

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Mixed Reactions to New Teacher Dismissal Bill

Assemblymember Joan Buchanan

AB 375, a new bill meant to streamline teacher dismissals, could be headed for quick passage after clearing the State Assembly’s Education Committee with a 7 – 0 vote Thursday.

The bill’s chance at passing is undoubtedly aided by the announcement last week that the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, was joining forces with Assemblymember Joan Buchanan and Senator Alex Padilla to support AB 375.

But the alliance of Padilla and Buchanan and the quick pace of action in the statehouse have left some observers confused and concerned. Is AB 375 a watered-down teacher dismissal bill? Or have the unions, legislators, and education advocates finally come to a working compromise that will help streamline the teacher dismissal process?

Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, praised AB 375 as a “step in the right direction.”

But he also expressed reservations.

“I think we’d argue that there’s more consideration to be done here. We thank [Buchanan] for moving in the right direction, but we think we could push envelope a little further,” Zazueta said.

LAUSD, StudentsFirst, EdVoice, and Democrats for Education Reform have expressed a mix of praise and concern.

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Morning Read: CTA Backs New Teacher Dismissal Bill

In Meeting of the Minds, CTA Also Backs Teacher Dismissal Bill
With unusual speed, the California Teachers Association endorsed a bill Assemblymember Joan Buchanan introduced last week that would quicken the process for dismissing teachers. The teachers association joins Sen. Alex Padilla, thus creating a consensus among opposite sides of one of the most contentious issues last year in the Legislature. EdSource

The Secret to Fixing School Discipline? Change the Behavior of Adults
A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. New American Media

Poll Finds the Less You Make, the More You Like Brown’s School Finance Reform
An even 50 percent of respondents told pollsters they favored – while 39 percent opposed – the idea of having “some money diverted from middle and upper class children to low income children and English language learners.” EdSource

Lockyer Widens Request for Legal Opinion on School Bond Campaigns
California Treasurer Bill Lockyer on Monday expanded his request for a legal opinion to determine if some local education officials and the financial underwriters they hire are violating state law by campaigning for school bond measures. LA Times

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Morning Read: Union Wants Reduced Class Sizes

CTA Targets Class-Size Waivers
The almost automatic approval that school districts have received for class-size waivers from the California State Board of Education during the past four years may be facing serious opposition from the state’s powerful teachers lobby. SI&A Cabinet Report

Rockers Help Students Roll on Toward Understanding
Members of Ozomatli visit Hawthorne High for a discussion of immigration reform, capitalism, equal rights and community development. A teacher had set the Bill of Rights to one of the group’s melodies. LA Times

Charters Adjusting to Common-Core Demands
Charter schools throughout the country are coping with myriad challenges in preparing for the Common Core State Standards, an effort that could force them to make adjustments from how they train their teachers to the types of curriculum they use to the technology they need to administer online tests. EdWeek

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Report: CA Teachers 6th Most Powerful

The California Teachers Association is the 6th most powerful state teachers union in the nation, according to a new report from a pair of East Coast nonprofits. California teachers are #1 in terms of scope of bargaining and perceived influence, according to the state profile (PDF here), and #18 and #20 in its level of political involvement and its resource management.

“California has the most union-friendly bargaining laws in the nation,” according to the report.  “The state requires collective bargaining in education, lets its unions automatically deduct agency fees from non-member teachers, and permits teacher strikes. Further, of the twenty-one items examined in this metric, California mandates that eleven are bargained (only Nevada requires more). The remaining ten provisions are implicitly within the scope of bargaining, as state law is silent on them.”

Written by a New York City advocacy group and a Washington DC think tank, the new report ranks state teachers union according to membership, revenues, scope of bargaining, and other measures of influence. While some union officials have mocked the report’s findings, union watchdog Mike Antonucci describes it as extremely useful.

Morning Read: Teachers Delaying, Deasy Says

Deasy: Teachers Delaying LAUSD Bid for $40M in Federal Grants
Officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District raced on Monday to meet a fast-approaching deadline to apply for up to $40 million in federal grants. But Superintendent John Deasy said United Teachers Los Angeles has yet to sign off on the bid because it “requires within two years to have a new, robust teacher evaluation program.” CBS

CTA’s Big Push, Winning Hearts and Minds, One Voter at a Time
Instead of meeting in Los Angeles, as they usually do this time of year, the 800 state council delegates of the California Teachers Association, along with hundreds of others, mobilized over the weekend in their local districts, making phone calls and house calls urging voters to say yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 32 by capitalizing on what they consider their best asset: themselves. Ed Source

‘Choices’ Opens New Doors for Students at Failing LAUSD Schools
Most of the parents who sign up for LAUSD’s Choices program hope to send their child to a specialty magnet – a performing arts program for an aspiring actor, perhaps, or a medical academy for a would-be doctor. Daily News

Jerry Brown Accuses Anti-Tax Group of Illegal Money Laundering
Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday accused opponents of his Nov. 6 ballot measure to raise taxes of illegal money laundering, saying the committee that accepted an $11 million donation from an out-of-state group is shielding the identities of its donors because it is ashamed of them. Sac Bee

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Mike Antonucci: Follow the Money

You’ve probably never heard of Mike Antonucci, but you might be glad — or angry — that there’s someone like him around. Described by Education Week as “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates,” Antonucci writes an insider blog called Education Intelligence Agency that tracks teachers union revenues, membership, campaign spending, and the occasional scandal.

On the strength of his research, he’s been published in the Wall Street JournalEducation Next, and quoted as an expert in a long list of mainstream publications.  (Even when he’s not quoted by name, you can be reasonably sure that a reporter writing about union spending spent heaps of time talking to Antonucci.)

Not surprisingly, what Antonucci has to say isn’t always uplifting:  “At the rate we are going, California will soon consist solely of public employee unions, politicians, industries that service ballot initiative campaigns, and Disneyland,” he wrote in a recent blog post (see California Unions Hate All Hedge Fund Managers… Almost).

Read below for some of Antonucci’s thoughts about how to track union (and others’) spending on campaigns and candidates, and whether LA’s relatively stringent disclosure rules really capture the full extent of what’s being spent to help union candidates win elections.  Spoiler alert — he doesn’t.

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Morning Read: Deasy Pushes Tablets

LAUSD’s Plan to Fund New Technology LAUSD:  Noting that within three years the State is scheduled to administer its tests electronically – no more paper and pencil – Deasy said the time is now for the District to greatly expand its digital access and capabilities.

Calif. Poised to Spotlight ELLs Stalled in Schools EdWeek: California is poised to become the first state to unmask the extent to which English-language learners languish in public schools for years without ever reaching fluency.

Teacher Evaluations At Center Of Chicago Strike NPR: In California, after the state legislature mandated the use of student progress benchmarks to rate teachers, an education reform group sued the Los Angeles Unified School District to force the issue.

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Zimmer Alienating Both Sides

Board Member Steve Zimmer

Just about everyone who watches LAUSD is scratching their heads wondering just what board member Steve Zimmer is doing — lately more than ever.

He’s introduced two incredibly polarizing motions recently– one to reject the use of Academic Growth Over Time in teacher evaluations, and one to provide greater oversight for charter schools and, more importantly, place a moratorium on new charters. (See: Big Moves From Zimmer)

“I’ve know Steve for 20 years,” says David Tokofsky, a former LAUSD board member and current strategist for Associated Administrators Los Angeles. “He’s always trying to bring people together to discuss issues, and somehow, he’s gotten both the unions and the charters to issue fatwas against him.”

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Morning Read: Stronger Teachers Report

State education report calls for sweeping reforms in teacher evaluation Daily News: The California Department of Education on Monday released a comprehensive new report calling for sweeping reforms in the way teachers are recruited, trained, mentored and evaluated.

Far-reaching plan to strengthen teaching in California EdSource: Some of the ideas are bold and will be controversial…Others will sound familiar.

Labor, management collaboration key to teacher reform SI&A Cabinet Report:  Ushering in what is being called a new era of education reform in California, top administrators, teachers, political and labor leaders said Monday they are willing to work together to implement suggestions for bettering the state’s schools.

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State Teachers Beef Up Prop 32 Opposition

Yesterday, the CTA dropped another $6.9 million into the fight against Proposition 32, which would, among other things, prohibit unions from taking money automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks and spending it on political activity. (See LA Times:  Teachers union gives another $6.9 million to Prop. 32 fight.)

“This is a huge priority for us, for unions,” David Goldberg, a teacher in Los Angeles and an elected CTA board member, told me yesterday. This morning, the CTA also released a new web ad entitled “Meet a SuperPAC Billionaire who supports Prop 32.”

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Morning Read: Infighting In Sacto & Charlotte

Failure of teacher evaluation bill clouds CA’s NCLB waiver SI&A Cabinet Report: Withdrawal of the teacher evaluation bill in the final days of the legislative session last week likely removes an easy path for California schools to relief from federal sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act, state officials said last week. [Also: The California Teachers Association has its version of events up here: Teachers Disappointed at Legislature’s Failure to Approve Evaluation Revamp, and UT San Diego has coverage here: Bill dies, but teacher evaluation debate to continue.

Teachers unions’ alliance with Democratic Party frays LA Times: Teachers unions have been the Democratic Party’s foot soldiers for more than half a century, but this relationship is fraying, and the deterioration was evident Monday as Democrats gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for their national convention. [Also:  HuffPo has a similar piece that focuses on the new film, “Won’t Back Down,” based on the new Parent Trigger law.]

LA schools moving away from zero tolerance policies Los Angeles Times: The move away from punitive law enforcement actions and toward support services reflects a growing awareness, grounded in research, that treating minor offenses with police actions did not necessarily make campuses safer or students more accountable.

Furious Debate Over “Pupil Progress”

Rumors are flying fast and furious about Assembly Bill 5, a proposed amendment to the Stull Act offered by San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes.

The latest word from EdSource is that AB 5 is being revised slightly to try and mollify opponents and also to help make the state eligible for a No Child Left Behind waiver (see: Fuentes agrees to compromises on AB 5: Are they enough?). If approved, the amended bill could go back to the State Senate education committee early next week. But it’s not clear that’s going to happen without further changes. Romero, EdVoice and other education reformers are still strongly opposed to the law — as is LAUSD’s John Deasy.

What is AB 5? Why do ed reform groups, not to mention Deasy, hate it so much? And what is Fuentes offering to change?

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