6 top education news stories in Los Angeles in the first 6 months of 2016

Burning birthday candle number 1

(Photos courtesy of iStock)

The first half of 2016 brought high stakes and high drama to Los Angeles’ education scene, from dire budget predictions to heated charter debates to attempts at overhauling teacher tenure laws.

There were anniversaries to celebrate along the way — 25 years for both charter schools nationwide and Teach For America — and comings and goings of superintendents, plus and the glimmerings of electoral races to come (for the school board’s members and president, LA City Council, mayor and even governor) that promise a starring role for education.

NEW SUPERINTENDENT

The new year started with the announcement that Michelle King had been chosen by a unanimous vote of the school board to be LA Unified’s next superintendent, the first black female ever to lead the district and the first woman since 1929. The three-month nationwide search had ended at home, with an LA Unified “lifer” who was educated in the district and has worked for it for nearly 30 years. King replaced Ramon Cortines, who stepped down at the end of 2015.

King had to immediately grapple with how the district would co-exist with the growing number of charter schools and the school board’s opposition to a plan to significantly increase their numbers. In fact, the day she was confirmed by the board was also the day of the unanimous board vote against an early draft plan to expand charters.

King called for healing, and in her first community town hall she stressed, “It’s not us versus them.” She met three times with the new head of the nonprofit formed to lead the expansion of the city’s high-quality schools, Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon, who, like King, was announced in January, is a minority woman and single mother, and stands to have significant impact on the shape and state of education in LA.

King also took on the plummeting graduation rate as well as predictions of a massive deficit within three years, holding a series of special board meetings in May and June to address the predictions and as well as recommendations outlined in a November report by an independent financial review panel.

She presented her first budget in June, which most board members praised, but noted there was much work yet to be done.

“Are we there? No, we’re not there, but we are on a path moving forward in the right direction,” King said as she presented the budget to the board.

“In general, I think that your staff and you have done a good job of trying to meet the needs in the district with the limited funds we have,” board member Monica Ratliff told her.

Burning birthday candle number 2

BUDGET GLOOM

The future is dire,” is what King heard at the outset of the special meetings on the fiscal health of the district.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera of UCLA, hired by the district to advise King and the board and facilitate the special meetings, warned that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

The challenges LA Unified is facing, Noguera said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

The details were daunting: the budget deficit was projected to reach nearly half a billion dollars in three years; a district audit showed LA Unified debt outstripped assets by $4.2 billion; per-pupil funding had doubled but the district still faced financial crisis; and plans for a turnaround included boosting enrollment but not cutting staff. Indeed, even though the district has lost 100,000 students in the last six years, its certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years.

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Commentary: A promising bill on teacher effectiveness is gutted in backroom deal

Beautiful young teacher writing on the blackboard

By Ben Austin

Last month, my organization, Students Matter, issued its support of California’s AB 934 – a state bill that, though imperfect, honestly attempted to address the grave defaults in the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws challenged by the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. (A 2014 ruling in that case sided with the students but was overturned by an appellate court earlier this year; the plaintiffs are now appealing to the California Supreme Court.)

Students Matter worked with California Assemblymember Susan Bonilla’s office for months to craft commonsense legislation that supported effective teachers and prioritized quality across California’s public education system. When introduced, the bill drew praise from parents, educators, community leaders and newspaper editorial boards across the state.

All that progress was eliminated last week with the strike of a pen.

Late last Tuesday night, Students Matter got notice of a new version of AB 934, revised in advance of an upcoming vote before the California Senate Education Committee. Watered down and gutted beyond recognition, the new AB 934 preserves the unconstitutional and unjustifiable disparities in students’ access to effective teachers caused by the current laws.

• Read more: Parents want legislature to act on teacher tenure

Rather than bring California in-line with the states making strides toward educational equity, AB 934 continues California’s decades-long tradition of robbing students of the quality education they deserve. In an about-face betrayal of California’s students and hardworking families who depend on our public schools, AB 934 now abandons California’s 6 million public school students and hard-working public school teachers by embracing a harmful, unpopular and unconstitutional “business as usual” mindset.

So what happened? A backroom deal that was manufactured by the state’s most powerful special interest groups, which swapped a promising bill out for a reinforcement of the status quo. And while the new AB 934 might work for those groups and their lobbyists, it’s a bad deal for California students, parents, teachers and voters, who trusted their elected representatives to serve and protect the people.

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5 things you need to know about Vergara as CA appeals court hears arguments Feb. 25

Vergara

The California Supreme Court could be the next step. (Credit: Paul Sakuma-Pool/Getty Images)

Nearly two years after the trial in Vergara v. California first began, the case is set to move forward as judges from a state appeals court hear arguments Feb. 25.

The plaintiffs – nine students in five California public school districts – argue that five laws governing teacher dismissal, tenure, and “last in-first out” layoff policies deprive them of their right to a quality education, in violation of the state’s constitution. Those policies disproportionately harm minority and low-income students, they say.

After a two-month trial in early 2014, Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, declaring those laws unconstitutional. Treu delayed the portion of the ruling banning the imposition of those laws pending appeals.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the appeals court arguments.

What are the plaintiffs’ arguments, and who is supporting them?

Attorneys representing the students argued that California’s constitution, as interpreted in past cases, requires the state to provide a quality education. The five laws in question deprive students of that equal education, and poor and minority students are more likely to be assigned low-performing teachers, the plaintiffs argued.

Specifically, they said California’s two-year time period for tenure was too short to adequately evaluate new teachers. The cumbersome dismissal procedure made it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers who harmed students, they said. “Last in-first out” layoff policies forced districts to ignore teacher quality and students’ best interests.

Parents, students, teachers, superintendents and other school officials testified on their experiences under the law. Researchers testified about the harmful effects of an ineffective teacher on students’ test scores and long-term earning potential as adults.

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State appeal court sets arguments in Vergara case for February

judgeThe California Court of Appeal, Second District has scheduled for Feb. 25 oral arguments in the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit. The appeal decision will be closely watched throughout the state and beyond, as the future of California’s teacher employment laws surrounding tenure, seniority and dismissal hang in the balance.

In 2014, Judge Rolf Treu struck down the current laws after ruling in favor of a group of California students who had sued the state and its two largest teacher unions, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). The students successfully argued that the laws deprived them of a quality education by keeping bad teachers in the classrooms.

Treu’s ruling was stayed, pending the appeal, and should it stand, would require state lawmakers to draft new teacher employment laws.

“At its core, this case is about ensuring that every child, regardless of income, color or zip code, has equal access to the quality education they deserve. The trial court correctly found that striking down these laws as unconstitutional was necessary to vindicate the right to a quality education promised to all of California’s school children,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., lead co-counsel for plaintiffs, in a statement. “We look forward to oral argument in February.”

Union leaders in the state have painted the case an attempt by powerful interests to crush teacher unions. The plaintiffs in the case have been financially supported by the organization Students Matter.

“We should be clear that the deep-pocketed financial backers of Vergara have an anti-union track record and that this lawsuit is part of that long-term agenda,” CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said previously in a statement. “To suggest that education reform should be driven by how teachers get fired misses the reality of what’s really happening across the country.”

Supporters of Vergara lawsuit file ‘friend of the court’ briefs

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

A group of of education chiefs from around the nation, as well as some teachers, parents, student groups and business organizations, lended their official support to the Vergara lawsuit today by filing several amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs.

The briefs, which the group Students Matter reported were to be filed today, are documents submitted by individuals or organizations that are not party to a lawsuit but have an interest in its outcome.

“[T]here is no denying a teacher’s impact and no justifiable reason to not make every effort to improve in-classroom instruction, even while challenges remain outside the classroom,” said a group of current and former education leaders in one of briefs, according to Students Matter, the organization that funded the Vergara lawsuit. “While teachers as a whole certainly deserve due process, states must, and certainly may, strike a balance between such job protections and their responsibility to provide students with quality teachers and a quality education.”

The briefs’ authors include Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, former Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and former State District Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Cami Anderson.

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Vergara appeal moves forward, but final decision may be 1 year away

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

An appellate court ruling in the landmark Vergara v. California case moved closer to an end date today with the attorneys for the nine student plaintiffs filing their appeal brief.

The brief is a response to the appeal arguments made by the defendants in the case, the State of California and its two largest teacher unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.

The defendants lost the case last June when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s laws regarding teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissals by saying they deny students access to a quality public education. Treu stayed his ruling and left it up to state lawmakers to fix the problems he cited, making the outcome of the appeal a potential tectonic shift in education should the ruling stand.

The defendants now have 20 days to file additional reply briefs, unless they are granted an extension. Once the briefs are all filed, the court will schedule a date for oral arguments, but there is no timeframe on when the court must schedule it, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, explained in a phone call today with reporters.

The plaintiffs in the case have been financially supported by the organization Students Matter.

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Analysis: CA’s season of change (maybe) for public education

california public education reform and future LAUSDHere’s one vision of the future for California public schools: Every teacher is effective. Schools are free of child molesters. Schools provide quality instruction time to every kid in every classroom.

These are all possibilities, judging from this season of potential change for the state’s public schools.

In recent weeks, a trio of separate but related actions has taken aim at the state in efforts that proponents say would improve the safety and academic performance of California’s 6.2 million public school students. But whether they would, in fact, lead to constructive change or serve merely as change for change sake remains to be seen.

If all three efforts succeed, one outcome is clear: the state and school districts would have new responsibilities aimed at providing students a better learning environment through changes that could hold important benefits for low-income and minority children.

In chronological order:

  • The ACLU of Southern California and two other law firms in late May filed a class action in an Alameda County state court — Cruz v. California — on behalf of 18 students from seven schools, charging that students are being denied adequate instruction time. Two of the schools are in LA Unified — Fremont High School and Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School. Another two are in Compton Unified —Compton High and Franklin S. Whaley Middle School.
  • Early this month, a state superior court in Los Angeles delivered a stunning victory to nine student-plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, striking down a series of state laws that govern teacher protections as a way to remove ineffective teachers from their classrooms.
  • Last week, with unanimous support in both chambers, the state Assembly and Senate sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would make it easier to get rid of teachers accused of immoral and illegal behavior.

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Citing Vergara, union watchdog group urges parents to sue

Center for Union Facts VergaraJust in case parents around the country missed the decision in Vergara v. California, a union-watch group in Washington is spreading the word.

The Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit, ran an ad in today’s USA Today that urges parents and school reform advocates to to follow Vergara’s lead and sue when teacher unions block reform efforts.

Judge Rolf Treu decided in favor of the nine student plaintiffs, declaring unconstitutional laws that set rules for teacher tenure, seniority rights and dismissal. As chief defendant, California was joined by the state’s two biggest teacher unions.

“While the final resolution of this case may still be years away after inevitable appeals, it demonstrates there are means beyond traditional legislative venues to achieve education reform,” said Richard Berman, executive director of the Center. “Just because teachers unions block reform efforts in state legislatures and local school boards, reform advocates don’t have to sit idly by while children and our education infrastructure suffer.”

A spokesman for the Center said the ad was part of an on-going campaign to focus on teacher unions that urges parents to have a voice in education policy.

Commentary: An extraordinary effort for extraordinary need

Ben Austin

Ben Austin

LAUSD School Board Member Steve Zimmer’s recent commentary “Standing with Beatriz” hit the nail on the head on one key issue: for our children, the stakes are high.

Let me acknowledge first that Mr. Zimmer is a good person who is doing what he feels is best for the children of LAUSD. On this issue, however, we have a principled disagreement about what that is.

Mr. Zimmer portrays himself as a grassroots underdog taking on a phalanx of nefarious billionaires who aim to “privatize” public education. What he fails to mention, is that he was also supported by over one million dollars in campaign contributions from the biggest and most powerful special interest group in the state. That fact doesn’t make him right or wrong, but it does make him part of the system. It isn’t a coincidence that the same adult special interests that bankrolled his campaign are now bankrolling the opposition to Vergara.

Mr. Zimmer wrote about the “Vergara fiction,” that the status quo is broken. But this harsh reality is unfortunately not fiction for the children who lose their talented, dedicated and loving teachers to layoffs each year just because they were hired last. And it’s not fiction for the children who have been molested and for those who were literally forced to eat semen by a teacher who was paid $40,000 to retire, with full benefits!

Vergara shifts the focus from the interests of adults to where it should have been all along: children.

Putting children first must be the “north star” by which all decisions are made in our public education system. Ninety one percent of likely California voters support a children-first agenda, but far too often the interests of powerful adults trump the interests of children.

This is not a coincidence.

It’s because kids don’t have a political action committee, and kids don’t have lobbyists.

Beatriz Vergara and the millions of children attending California public schools can’t vote.

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Vergara-like ballot initiative pulled until 2016, report says

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A state ballot initiative aimed at regulations governing teachers that was headed for the November ballot has been pushed to 2016, according to a report by ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento.

The measure was seeking to change the way California school districts lay off teachers by using a teacher’s classroom performance rating, rather than seniority. Matt David, a Republican strategist and the measure’s sponsor, decided to wait until 2016 to bring the measure to the voters because of the high start-up costs associated with new annual teacher evaluations, the KXTV report said.

The fiscal analysis of the initiative, conducted by the independent Legislative Analysts office, showed that the cost of the new annual teacher evaluations could hit $1 billion.

Though the decision may seem like a victory for teacher groups statewide, David isn’t backing down.

“We feel it’s necessary to commission a study that examines the true cost based on other states rather than speculate on hypotheticals like the LAO fiscal analysis,” he told the station.

David’s initiative seeks many of the same objectives as Vergara v. California, the state’s most significant teacher rights case in two decades, which recently concluded the testimony phase in California State Superior Court. The case was brought by nine student plaintiffs who say the current state laws protect ineffective teachers and deny their constitutional right to receive a quality education.

The defendants in the suit —the state and its two biggest teacher unions argued that the regulations are fine as they are and blamed problems with ineffective teachers on poorly-run schools and districts.

Messages seeking comment from David were not immediately returned.

 

Deasy at USC: Vergara is the next big civil rights case

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

More than two months ago LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy took the stand as the first witness for the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a lawsuit challenging teacher protections. He testified for three days, laying the foundation of their overall case.

Now that the trial has ended, the head of the largest school district in the state continues to make his case to the public, positioning Vergara as a civil rights issue.

Speaking yesterday on a panel called “Rights, Writs and Rulings: Where does a student go for redress?” sponsored by the USC Rossier School of Education, Deasy characterized the Vergara trial as the next point on the civil rights continuum seeking to strike down segregation in public schools: A major focus of the plaintiffs’ case is that low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than children from more affluent families.

He spoke at length about Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education, both historic cases that challenged the Fourteenth Amendment. And Deasy drew parallels between more the recent public education battles of Williams v California, Serrano v Priest, and Butt v California, as well as the peaceful protests lead by African-American students in the 1960s.

Deasy said a group of well-dressed black students sitting at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greenboro, North Carolina decades ago, politely asking to be served is not unlike a group of nine California students asking for a better education today.

“I would like a cup of coffee. I want to go to a good school,” he said. “We are still struggling some 60 years later to enact the promise of Brown v Board of Education. I am troubled how today we can witness such unequal, non-protected classes of youth at a single institution called public education. Our work is not done.”

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Commentary: Standing with Beatriz against Vergara

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

Just over a year ago, I won re-election to the Los Angeles Unified School District board. It was an unlikely victory in what may have been the most expensive school board race in U. S. history. The wealthiest of self-styled reformers – Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee’s followers – put in over $4-million to try and take over the L.A. Board of Education.

The stakes were high. Los Angeles Unified is by far the largest school district in the nation to be governed by an elected board. Our district has over 900,000 students, over 60,000 employees and an operating budget of over $7 billion. The reformers were clear about their goals. They sought to eviscerate the power of our teacher union by eliminating job protections, seniority rights, and tenure. They sought to link teacher evaluation directly to standardized test scores. And more.

Against this gale force, we were able to build an improbable coalition of families, teachers and classified employees, and community activists. We matched the billionaires’ money with authentic boots on the ground. We talked to people, and people listened. In the many struggles in today’s economy, battles often pit people’s interests against the interests of corporate America. This time the people won.

Or so we thought.

As it turns out, the election isn’t really over. It just shifted venues.

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Vergara trial ends, with CA teacher laws hanging in the balance

3-27-2014_VergaraTrialLastDay_Ted Boutrous

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Ted Boutrous

Lawyers from both sides in Vergara v California — the state’s most significant teacher rights case in two decades — unleashed their final arguments today, in a last attempt to amplify their own case and destroy their opponent’s.

The case is now in the hands of state Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who gave the sides until April 10 to submit any final briefs, after which he has 90 days to issue his ruling. He has the option of striking down all the laws, some of them or none of them.

“I’m not saying it’ll take all 90 days,” he told them inside a downtown courtroom larger than the one used for the trial, so as to accommodate a big audience on the final day of proceedings. “The court has much to consider, and it will consider it deliberately and thoroughly.”

Ted Boutrous and Marcellus McRae, lawyers for the nine student-plaintiffs went first, offering dramatic and emotional rationales for striking down five laws that govern teacher seniority, dismissal and tenure.

3-27-2014_VergaraTrialLastDay_Jim Finberg

Jim Finberg

They were followed by Supervising State Attorney Susan Carson and Jim Finberg, who was representing the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Together, they argued that the plaintiffs came nowhere close to proving their case.

For two hours, Boutrous and McRae laid out their vision, arguing that the statutes handcuff school districts, thus leaving ineffective teachers in the classroom and denying students their constitutional right to a quality education.

Boutrous underscored the impact ineffective teachers have on students. Recalling testimony from Harvard economist Raj Chetty, he told the court that if as few as 3 percent of California teachers were ineffective, the academic impact on their students would be the equivalent of $11.6 billion in lost lifetime earnings.

“If that’s not real and appreciable harm caused by theses statutes,” Boutrous said, “I don’t know what is.”

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Vergara case inside court, dueling press conferences outside

Elizabeth Vergara, at the press conference

Elizabeth Vergara, at the press conference

As lawyers in the Vergara v. California case made their closing arguments inside the court room for the benefit of an audience of one – Judge Rolf Treu – their dueling press conferences held outside were directed at a statewide audience, to be broadcast by a number of television cameras.

The state defense team got their side of the story out first at an early morning event with the message that state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers help California public schools “keep the American dream alive.”

Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, did not mince words.

“Outstanding teachers, award winning school administrators and the best education policy experts in the country have made it absolutely clear that the plaintiffs in this case are absolutely wrong,” he said.

Kindergarten teacher Erica Jones agreed, despite having been a victim of one of the statute’s that the plaintiffs are hoping Treu strikes down. The Last In, First Out law, or LIFO, ensures teachers with seniority are spared from the lay-off guillotine in times of district-wide reductions.

Jones said she was laid off in March 2009 as a new teacher. “I did not get this pink slip because of ineffective teachers or effective teachers,” she said. “I got this pink slip because my school and the district was incredibly under-funded.”

With no hard feelings, Jones added, “Seniority was merely an organized way to distribute the pink slips.”

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Laws must be struck down, plaintiffs say in their closing

VergaraVia The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — An attorney representing nine California public school students told a judge Thursday that laws making it too hard to fire bad teachers and retain good ones are preventing students from obtaining a decent education and must be struck down.

Theodore Boutrous Jr. made his assertions in a closing argument in the trial of a lawsuit that seeks to make it easier for administrators to dismiss incompetent teachers with tenure and easier to retain effective ones.

Attorneys for those who support leaving teacher tenure laws intact were to make their closing arguments later in the day.

Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who is hearing the case without a jury, did not indicate whether he would issue a ruling immediately afterward or a written one later.

Boutrous said that saddling a student with a bad teacher for just one year can cost a youngster tens of thousands of dollars in future lifetime earnings.

“When a student has a grossly ineffective teacher, it harms them. It harms them for the rest of their lives,” Boutrous said.

Administrators clearly know who their ineffective teachers are, but tenure laws tie their hands, he said.

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Analysis: Vergara approaching time for Treu judgement

Judge Rolf Treu

Judge Rolf Treu

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow in Vergara v California. Lawyers for the nine public school children who are the plaintiffs will speak from 10 to noon, followed by their defense counterparts, from 1:30 to 3:30.

The plaintiffs have the option to get in a last word after that, but, really, is there much new to say by now?

The positions are clear. For two months, the opposing sides have put on AM/FM cases as they try to persuade Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu of their superior wisdom.

Plaintiffs have taken a systemic approach, using the experiences of nine students as a motif for showing why California needs to legislate a more efficient way to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom. The fact that one child’s education could be compromised means all children are at risk.

No, say the defendants — the state, with the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association, as “intervenors.” Their case has been more granular. These kids might have had problems with their teachers, but is that enough to blow up state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers, whose effectiveness in the classroom is dependent on so many factors outside of it?

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Vergara trial ends with a flurry of objections; closings Thursday

Eric Hanushek Vergara Trial Day 32 3.24.2012

Eric Hanushek

“Evidence is closed,” Judge Rolf Treu pronounced from his seat in Superior Court today, thus drawing the curtain on two months of testimony in Vergara v. California.

Since Jan. 27, lawyers representing nine students-as-plaintiffs and their adversaries — the state and its two powerful teachers unions — the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association — have been arguing it out over teacher protection laws. The plaintiffs say the laws deny California school children access to a quality education by making it difficult to get rid of ineffective teachers. The defendants say a well-run school district can manage.

Over the next two days, lawyers will formulate their closing arguments and present them on Thursday, after which the case falls to Judge Treu to render his decision. At stake are five statutes governing the way dismissals are carried out, the length of tenure and the requirement of last-in, first-out when budgets force school districts to reduce the number of teachers they employ.

A victory by the plaintiffs would force the state legislature to act in the vacuum of laws struck down as unconstitutional. If the defendants win, the laws remain for now, with another challenge coming as soon as November through a ballot initiative aimed at the same issues, if proponents can collect enough signatures to get the measure before voters.

As a final day of testimony, it was the plaintiffs’ chance to put on a rebuttal case, and it played out with an inordinate level of contention and almost as many objections to questions as answers. One witness under cross-examination had no questions to answer because Judge Treu sustained objections to every one posed.

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Defense rests in Vergara after a battle over dismissal stats

Vivian Ekchian Vergara Trial Day 31 3.21.2014

Vivian Ekchian

The defense rested its case today in Vergara v. California after an examination of an LA Unified administrator that was designed to show that the state laws under challenge did not impede the district’s effort to get rid of ineffective teachers.

On Monday, court resumes with the plaintiffs’ opening a short rebuttal phase of the trial, leading to closing arguments next Thursday. Marcellus McRae, a plaintiffs lawyer, told the court that his side intends to call as many as four people to dispute “a number of witnesses” who testified for the defense.

Vivian Ekchian, who served as LA Unified’s chief human resources officer until a recent appointment to chief labor negotiator, was today’s only witness, the last of 28 for the defense. She was called as an adversary witness, in a sense, in an effort to show that the district was not overly burdened by state laws governing teacher dismissals.

The plaintiffs have argued that the dismissal laws lead to long and expensive ordeals for districts as they try to eliminate their worst teachers, thus discouraging them from more aggressive efforts to fire them. Those laws, along with statutes on tenure and seniority, are at the heart of the case, with plaintiffs saying the laws deny equal access to quality education.

The state, as the principle defendant and California’s two biggest teacher unions joining as intervenors, say the laws work well and do not interfere with properly-managed school districts.

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In Vergara, Darling-Hammond defends all the CA teacher laws

Vergara Linda Darling-Hammond, with Judge Rolf Treu and lawyer Marcellus McRae

Linda Darling-Hammond, with Judge Rolf Treu and lawyer Marcellus McRae

The defense in Vergara v California called its final witness to the stand today, a nationally-recognized expert on education policy, who provided testimony that heavily supported all the state laws under challenge in the case.

Throughout the day, Linda Darling-Hammond, who teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said unequivocally that the California laws governing teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority — as they are — adequately serve public education throughout California.

The plaintiffs in the case, nine students, have mounted their challenge to the laws under the legal theory that they combine to deny access to a quality education by protecting ineffective teachers.

Tomorrow, the defense concludes its case by recalling Vivian Ekchian, LA Unified’s Chief Labor Negotiator. Her testimony was halted yesterday to accommodate Darling-Hammond’s schedule. Next week, the plaintiffs open their rebuttal case, followed by closing arguments a week from today.

Darling-Hammond’s testimony under direct examination gave the defendants — the state and its two biggest teacher unions — the most comprehensive support of any of the previous 27 defense witnesses.

Later, however, under cross-examination, her answers suggested that despite her expertise and many years of research, her opinions did not always allow for plausible alternative possibilities.

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More than just teachers affect learning, Vergara expert says

Ken Futernick Vergara Trial Day 29 3.19.2014

Ken Futernick

An expert on the the role that teachers play in academic performance today became the latest defense witness in Vergara v California to testify that students in high-poverty area schools face higher challenges to learning.

Ken Futernick, Director of the WestEd School Turnaround Center, a research organization, and a former professor of education at California State University, Sacramento, told the court that such factors as ill-prepared teachers, poor working conditions in the school and high turnover among teachers and administrators make it difficult to attract and retain effective teachers, thus adversely affecting academic achievement.

The testimony supports a major contention of the defendants, that it’s not exclusively the caliber of teachers that affects learning; it is also external conditions that bear on a student’s ability to learn.

Defendants in the case, the state and teacher unions, are trying to prove that these other factors make it difficult for the nine-student plaintiffs to show that state laws governing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure should be struck down as impediments to a quality education.

Futernick provided several statistics to support his opinions. He testified that 22 percent of new teachers in California leave the profession after four years and that the percentage of teachers who transfer out of high-poverty schools is twice that from low-poverty schools, He said 20 percent of new principals in urban school districts leave after just two years and pointed to the Oakland Unified School District as an extreme: There, he said, 44 percent of new principals leave the field after just two-years.

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