Thursday, September 19, 2013


The first article I copied below I previously put up on the preceding thread. Due to the significance of this lawsuit  I decided I would put up it again in its own post. I also included a second article that follows the first. That one is reprinted from the Huffington Post. 

Vergara vs. California is the most significant lawsuit to date to address the issue of teacher protectionism and the Constitutional rights of children to receive a public education.  A group of us will be meeting with a representative of the plaintiff to give accounts of how ineffective teachers have harmed the education of our own children. If anyone is interested in attending this meeting please email me at The meeting takes place next Monday evening so don't delay. It is imperative that we support this lawsuit for the benefit of our children and to help teachers out from under the shackles of their own failed union leadership.

Make no mistake about it, this is a major piece of litigation that will either dilute the protections of the teachers' unions and protect and empower students. or will  enshrine teacher protections. It will either dislodge  the status quo  protections of teachers or, conversely, go another step further in making them ironclad.  However, should the plaintiffs ultimately lose it will likely end up on the California ballot. Currently, polling suggests that such a proposition would easily win.  So if the case loses in LA and eventually  on appeal in the appellate court and the California Supreme Court, a successful ballot initiative could propel it to the USSC. That would be something the unions would like to avoid at all costs.
 First Artcile

Los Angeles, CA – Yesterday afternoon, the nonprofit group Students Matter ( sponsored a groundbreaking lawsuit against the State of California and the California Department of Education to strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers. The lawsuit focuses on improving overall teacher effectiveness because of the critical role teachers play in their students’ lifetime achievement.

The lawsuit asks the court to strike down state statutes related to the guarantee of permanent employment after only minimal and cursory reviews; bureaucratic procedures that make it prohibitively expensive and timeconsuming to dismiss ineffective teachers; and LastIn FirstOut (LIFO) senioritybased layoffs that ignore teacher effectiveness. Unlike many previous education lawsuits brought against the state, the lawsuit sponsored by Students Matter would impact all school districts throughout California.

Students Matter consulted with a range of education experts and organizations in the development of the lawsuit to determine how to best bring about improvement in student achievement, and has formed an Advisory Committee which includes Alliance for a Better Community, Students for Education Reform, Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution, Students First, The Education TrustWest and New Schools Venture Fund (partial list).

Theodore J. Boutrous and Theodore B. Olson, two of the lead attorneys who are fighting to overturn Proposition 8 in federal court on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, head up the Students Matter legal team.

“These state laws create inequalities by depriving students taught by ineffective teachers of the fundamental right to education guaranteed by the state constitution, and they have a disproportionately negative effect on lowincome and minority students, ” said Mr. Boutrous. “The statutes prevent school administrators from prioritizing or even considering the interests of their students when making employment and dismissal decisions. The number of grossly ineffective teachers is small, but their impact on students is enormous.”

Studies show that teachers have the greatest impact on students’ lifetime achievement. Students taught by effective teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higherranked colleges, earn higher salaries, reside in higher quality neighborhoods, and save for retirement. According to one of the nation’s foremost economists, teachers near the top of the quality distribution can get an entire year’s worth of additional learning out of their students compared to those near the bottom.

Students taught by grossly ineffective teachers suffer lifelong problems and fail to recover from this disadvantage. One recent study found that a student who is taught by a single ineffective teacher remains “stuck below grade level” for years to come. Another recent study found that replacing a grossly ineffective teacher with even an average teacher would increase students’ cumulative lifetime income by a total of $1.4 million per classroom taught by that teacher. (See

“The mission of Students Matter is to help improve student achievement in California by enhancing the overall teaching environment,” said Students Matter founder Dave Welch. “We are challenging a system that was fashioned by special interests and has burdened our schools with an inflexible environment for hiring and retaining the best teachers. This system is not designed to benefit students, and that’s unacceptable.”

The lawsuit also names the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Alum Rock Union School District as defendants in the claim. Recent reports estimate that in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone, there are approximately 1,000 or more teachers who are grossly ineffective; these teachers are responsible for teaching on average 30,000 or more students annually. In a recent survey, 68 percent of teachers reported that there are grossly ineffective tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.

High poverty schools serving predominantly Latino and AfricanAmerican students often have a disproportionate share of the least effective teachers. A recent study of the LAUSD found that a lowincome student is more than twice as likely to have a low valueadded English Language Arts teacher as a higher income peer, and 66 percent more likely to have a lowvalue added math teacher.

“Achievement gaps will persist unless we can reform an educational system that results in our highest need students often being taught by the least effective teachers,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education TrustWest. “ETW strongly supports the efforts of the plaintiffs in this suit to challenge and fix the state laws that allow these inequities to persist.”

Students Matter is committed to ensuring that all of California’s children receive a quality education. Numerous studies show that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. Teacher effectiveness has more impact on student achievement than class size, education spending, teacher pay, or student demographics/background. Students Matter is filing a lawsuit to dismantle the outdated and unsuccessful laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of the most effective teachers, so that all our children can have access to a quality education. For more information, please go to


 Firing Teachers: Students Matter, Silicon Valley Nonprofit, Files Lawsuit Challenging California Teacher Protection Laws


Earlier this year, the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice brought suit against Los Angeles Unified over the pro forma way it conducts teacher evaluations. But here, the suit isn't seeking to overturn the Stull Act, which defines how evaluations are done; it says that the district (along with nearly every other one) has chosen to ignore the law's requirement that student performance be included in teacher evaluations.

firing teachers
There's no shortage of critics of the tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws, which teachers unions have lobbied hard to preserve. California is one of few states that have not lengthened the probationary period for teachers. More than two dozen states have strengthened their evaluation systems in the past several years. California's dismissal law, with its 10-step process laden with due process, can cost districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance, which is why districts often work around it by paying teachers to retire or pushing them from one school to another.

Persuading a judge that the practical problems and the effects of the laws rise to the level of a constitutional violation is another matter. (In an analogous case, California is among the nation's bottom spenders on K-12 education; it has tough standards and a challenging student population. But attorneys last year failed to convince a Superior Court judge in Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California that adequate education funding is a constitutional right.)


The tenure law may be particularly challenging. As the suit points out, something like 98 percent of probationary teachers have gotten tenure. The two-year probationary period (actually 18 months, since teachers must be notified by March of their second year) is not long enough. Too often evaluations have been slapdash. But the law itself doesn't require a district even to cite a cause in denying tenure; the power of dismissal lies with the employer.

Students named in the lawsuit are from Los Angles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District, and Alum Rock Union Elementary District, although only Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock, which serves 11,000 students in San Jose, are specifically cited as defendants, along with Gov. Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, the state, and the State Department of Education.
The only specific reference to Alum Rock was in the identification of plaintiff Daniella Martinez, 10, whom the lawsuit says chose to transfer to a public charter school because "of the substantial risk that she would be assigned to a grossly ineffective teacher who impedes her equal access to the opportunity to receive a meaningful education." The initial filing doesn't cite evidence of specific teachers who negatively affected Daniella or the other seven defendants. It refers to studies by such groups as the National Council On Teacher Quality, which issued a blunt assessment of the tenure and dismissal practices of Los Angeles Unified, and on research by Hoover Institution author Eric Hanushek, who concludes that just by dismissing 6 to 10 percent of weakest teachers, students' academic achievement and long-term earnings as adults would increase significantly.

Los Angeles, as the state's largest district, may have been named as a defendant because its superintendent, John Deasy, has been outspoken about the need to change labor laws. United Teachers Los Angeles has also sued over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that Deasy has put in place.

Deasy would appear to be a friendly witness for the plaintiffs. In a statement, he said he supports lengthening the probationary period, quickening the dismissal process, and reforming the state's layoff law. "To my dismay, we have lost thousands of our best and hardest-working classroom instructors through the last hired, first fired rule. When forced to reduce our teaching staff through budget cuts, we are compelled through state law and union rules to base these difficult decisions primarily on seniority," Deasy said.
But when questioned, Deasy will be pressed to acknow
ledge that it may not be the laws but the implementation that counts. Since joining the district, first as deputy superintendent, then superintendent, Deasy has pushed administrators to apply more scrutiny in granting tenure and more perseverance in dismissing bad teachers. Last year the district terminated 853 teachers. Furthermore, the number of probationary teachers denied tenure rose significantly last year: from 89 in 2009-10 (10 percent of those eligible) to 120 teachers in their first year and 30 in their second year. Other superintendents would agree that well-trained, persistent principals can document the case for teacher dismissals, notwithstanding cumbersome, excessively burdensome requirements.

John Fensterwald is the editor and co-writer of Follow him on Twitter (@jfenster). Read more of his work and more at

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I changed the title of this post, but not the post itself which was published on 9/11/13 after a couple of people asked about the weird title.

As a parent of two SFUSD students and as a self-styled observer and activist, I've been watching SFUSD for a decade now. A former teacher who turned stay-at-home dad for family reasons, I was involved in education before my first son entered kindergarten in 2004. That did not prepare me for the entity that is SFUSD, though it did give me some insight into the political and financial structure of  the public schools and their unions.   During these ten years I learned that, despite the hype to the contrary, SFUSD only changes when it is forced to do so, that is, when ordered by a court or State and Federal governments. In this district reform is all about talking and little action.  What reform has taken place is confined to a small group of schools in the so-called Superintendent Zones while the other 90% languish, that is  reform for a few at the expense of the rest - and very, very expensive reform to boot without much achievement gains to show for it.

In this district, unlike in San Diego or LA, the forces of reform are kept safely at bay from the Superintendent and by his subservient Board of Education, both of whom  answer to their political compatriots, United Educators of San Francisco. The BOE and the administration constitute a union-driven machine designed to protect the status quo - themselves.  So what else is new?  This Board will never be a democratic forum where the larger issues of education are discussed, debated and dissected for the public's benefit. It is a place where agreement and unanimity are prized above all. It is a place where the alternative voices for student achievement and fiscal responsibility are squashed and where the phrase "all for one and one for all" gives new and ominous meaning to Dumas' jovial entreaty.  This Board is not a  place where the community's elected representatives test and review in the public's interest the appointed czar's programs,  but where that czar and his minions on the Board reject such inquiry and scrutiny. Their idea of debate is disagreement over what salad  dressing to serve at the annual retreat to Marin. When they do take issue with the union it is usually out of hubris - a need to assert their authority and seeming independence. What a sad little game!

Having dragged myself to several board meetings over the years, it didn't take long to realize that this BOE treats public comment like dog excrement - something to be picked up with a disposable plastic glove and nimbly discarded in the closest public trash can (for fear of stepping in it). But there's an old saying of admin insiders - "board members are like mushrooms, covered in manure and kept in the dark".  This dyslexic board has forgotten that the Supe works for them, not the other way around. So , for example, when they  jump up and down about what a great success are the Superintendent Zones, despite the  incredibly tepid results to the tune of sixty-plus million dollars  while, simultaneously, achievement stalls in an otherwise  cash-strapped district, these abecedarian leaders resemble cheerleaders more than real leaders.  Our students may be getting short shrift outside the Superintendent Zones, but hey, let's put on a happy face and jump for joyful learning! Now that's entertainment! On with the show!

This is what happens when sell-outs inhabit public office  - profligate spending without due consideration for each dollar's maximum benefit. It's all in a day's work, everyone else's work, that is. These commissioners view  student assignment and the  education of our children as an experiment in social engineering and race relations, rather than a  solemn fiduciary duty to each child in empowering them towards academic achievement.  This is what happens when you have leaders whose main purpose is to keep the union calling the shots, create an appearance of success such that UESF will fund their next campaign for public office. When the new millions from the Governor's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) starts to flow, do you think we'll see any strategic use for it or do you think it will go immediately to an across the board pay raise for teachers and central staff? That's a rhetorical question.

These commissioners  are patsies whose sole purpose is to keep the current machine running without pesky interruption by the public. As one put it to me, "This is my district, not yours!" All the while they speak of how wonderfully well the district is doing and why they should get reelected. So unless you have been invited to speak on their behalf, the Board's main goal is to turn off your mike as soon as it is legally feasible and sometimes before.  As a result I've often found myself speaking into the thin and rarified air of the boardroom, at odds with a district that does not take kindly to dissent. Finally I decided that I don't want to breathe that fetid air. So what's this Board good for? It excels at driving wedges in world that has made wedge-driving a political art form.

Has anyone noticed how little dissent there is in this district? It's almost as if we don't live in a democracy given the stranglehold of the union and bureaucratic establishment on public education in San Francisco. What we have are yes men  or women in charge while parents run amok all over town with SFUSD's family-unfriendly style of public education and student assignment. Keeping up on events is more Car and Driver than Education Week.

In SFUSD there are no organized voices of opposition. Thus one is relegated to play a lonely game of revolt. During this time I've been involved in several major initiatives which included  getting rid of ineffective principals,  challenging SFUSD at the state level to make SFUSD site plans more transparent and putting a neighborhood school ballot measure to the voters, to name a few.  I've had my successes and my failures, but there's nothing new under the sun. All the phony talk about education reform coming from this district only highlights the grim reality that SFUSD continues on little changed from before and in some ways worse.

And this is my point. In the last ten years I can't think of a single change from the district that has had an appreciable impact on the classroom if  it hasn't been to increase class sizes and decrease funding, if you exclude the $45M  Federally funded school improvement grant that helped drive the Superintendent Zone project in 9 schools.  After all the hype from SFUSD about being the highest performing school district (it isn't), there's been virtually no major changes of consequence to the students sitting in the majority of classes at this moment. We still have some of the  highest and lowest performing schools, the largest achievement gap,  an entrenched union that offers up nothing except demands for more pay, an employment paradigm that encourages laziness, a system that virtually ignores the community and its parent voices, as well as the same kind of diversity-first assignment system that is singularly responsible for driving out tens of  thousands of middle class families from the public schools over the years, much  to San Francisco's detriment and disgrace as a good place to live.

Instead what we have is the same old-fashioned, industrial and insular education model driven by union protectionism rather than educational achievement, a system unchanged in perpetuity amidst a nation otherwise engaged in massive educational revolt and reform. Like horses with blinders or student's with desk caddies, we fail to look outwards. But we also fail to look inwards and discover that the politically correct course of equity and access first does nothing to drive student performance and indeed hinders it by depriving students funding that could be used for classrooms not bureaucracy.

Thus, we are never going to have honest leadership until people rise up against this Board and elect a majority of new members who are serious-minded, results-oriented reformers - new members who will not treat every board meeting as though it were their annual Marin County retreat for some mutual back-patting and  glad-handing - fishbowls followed by lightly tossed $15 a pound endive and radicchio salads over even lighter banal banter.  What I crave is a hearty mixed salad,  with sliced rare  beef and mozzarella balls,  skip the dressing. Well, maybe just a little vinegar.