Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Vergara Lawsuit would take away teacher rights

"It would be very scary to me, if this lawsuit succeeds, to think that I might not have a job next year, not for anything I'd done in the classroom, but because my principal didn't like me, or my clothing, or something I'd said."
 —Laura Lacar, Gahr High School, ABC Unified School District
Last year a group calling itself “Students Matter,” funded by David Welch, a conservative Silicon Valley millionaire, filed a lawsuit, Vergara v. the State of California. The lawsuit challenges a number of constitutional rights for California’s teachers, including “tenure,” due process rights, and seniority rights during layoffs. The suit, hiding behind a group of students, alleges that these teacher workplace rights infringe the constitutional right of students to an equal education. [See what Gary Ravani has to say about the civil rights rhetoric used by Students Matter; and see CFT president Joshua Pechthalt's op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury News] CFT and CTA joined the defense last year, challenging Vergara as a “…meritless lawsuit by corporate special interests attacking teacher professional rights.”
The trial opened on Monday, January 27.
The lawsuit ignores the real problems of public education
Education Code rules to protect teacher rights from administrative mismanagement are not "unfair" to either students or new teachers. What harms students? Economic inequality, poverty, their parents' joblessness, and underfunding are unfair to students. But this lawsuit ignores these barriers to educational success. The premise of "Vergara" is that public schools are failing, and bad teachers are the reason why. Get rid of the “bad teachers,” and the schools will succeed. This simplistic idea is wrong in a number of ways. Most public schools are successes, by most reasonable measures; and while the role of the teacher is always an important in-school factor, external factors like poverty and underfunding have the greatest impact.

Stripping teachers of their workplace professional rights will harm, not improve, student learning
Anti-public education “reformers” are forever repeating that rules and regulations make it impossible to fire "bad teachers." Here are the facts. During the first two years of a teacher's career, a lengthy probation period, administrators can fire them for any reason, or for no reason at all. After that, the requirements are for the administrator to document the problem necessitating the teacher's dismissal, and convince two out of three people on a panel of experts to agree. That's it. A teacher's simple right to a hearing before dismissal is not unfair to students. To the contrary: students need a stable, experienced teaching workforce, not a revolving door of educators.

This attack on the teaching profession will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers
Attracting and retaining teachers has always been one of the biggest problems in the field of education. Teaching is a difficult, underpaid, and too often undervalued profession – and recent attacks like “Vergara” have only worsened these problems. Most teachers leave the field within the first five years. We need to be encouraging teachers to enter the profession and stay—not demonize them. The laws targeted in this case provide due process when a teacher is accused of misconduct or poor performance, and objectivity in times of layoff. These laws benefit the education system as a whole.

“Tenure” protects academic freedom
The right to a hearing before dismissal (what people call “tenure”) became law through the understanding that political pressures and arbitrary actions of administrators could and often did destroy academic freedom: the right to teach to academic standards and curriculum in a balanced fashion, with all points of view aired, rather than through one viewpoint. The need for academic freedom, and therefore for “tenure,” was demonstrated repeatedly, for instance, during the McCarthy era. Note also the case of Sal Castro, an historic figure who advocated for ethnically relevant courses for Latino students in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The district dismissed him essentially for being an advocate for students and he was only able to get his job back when the community organized for mass actions and took over the school board to get him reinstated. Educators play a special role in a democratic society in challenging assumptions and raising difficult questions. This is not true in many countries where the state dictates all.
post from California Federation of Teachers
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