Saturday, February 01, 2014

Firing Our Way to Finland: WEEK ONE OF VERGARA v. CALIFORNIA

from the LA Schools Report, written by Mark Harris |

2cents smf: Following is the first week of coverage of Vergara v. California from the LA School Report, which, it is safe to say, is editorially sympathetic to – if not subsidized by – the plaintiffs.    The Plaintiffs  present themselves David v. Goliath - representing students Beatriz Vergara, et al – but are in reality Students Matter - a nonprofit foundation funded by David Welch - a Silicon Valley billionaire and investment partner with NewSchools Venture Fund, which capitalizes charter schools.  If he were suing California for inadequately funding public education 4LAKids would strew flowers in his path – but he is suing California for inadequately firing teachers because he apparently believes it is actually possible to Fire Our Way to Finland.

The first week features a parade of expert witnesses – with a surprise appearance by an out of work mayor – who apparently share that Donald Trumpian dream

Deasy tells court: teacher dismissal can cost district ‘millions’

Posted on January 27, 2014 by Mark Harris


<<LA Unified Supt. John Deasy, Broad Academy, Class of

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy told a packed courtroom today that it can cost the district “millions of dollars” and can take “slightly less than 10 years” to get rid of an ineffective teacher.

Deasy was the first witness to testify in the long-awaited start of Vergara v California, a battle over state laws that govern what to do with ineffective teachers. Beatriz Vergara and eight other students from around the state want to get rid of the laws that make it difficult to dismiss the teachers. As defendants, the state and its largest teachers unions want to preserve them, arguing that school districts not state laws are responsible for the dismissal of ineffective teachers — and some districts manage quite well in carrying out the challenge.

The day began with lawyers for both sides giving their opening salvos before Judge Rolf Treu in a state superior court in downtown Los Angeles.

The thrust of the students’ case is that five state statutes make it difficult and expensive to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. In the opening statement for the students, Ted Boutrous argued that every child has a constitutional right to a quality education — a right that has been violated due to the current teacher employment statues that he claimed handcuffs administrators in weeding ineffective teachers out of the classroom. Those statutes involve tenure, seniority and the dismissal process.

Boutrous said the statutes also impose a disproportionate harm on poor and minority students, saying these students are more vulnerable to harm from ineffective teachers whom districts cannot dismiss.

Anticipating defendants’ arguments, he said the case was not attempt to undermine teachers’ due process rights or an attempt to make teachers a scapegoat for problems like racism and poverty.

Defense attorneys — Nimrod Ellis for the state and James Finberg for the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association — argued that the statutes aren’t the problem. Rather, they said, the key issue is poor management by school administrators. Ellis suggested that well managed schools are fully capable of getting rid of ineffective teachers.

Additionally, the defendants contended that the students would be unable to show that the teachers they were assigned were grossly ineffective. Feinberg told the court that there are socio-economic factors outside a teacher’s control, which are responsible for the widening achievement gap. He insisted that declaring laws unconstitutional will not close that gap.

The defense lawyers wrapped up their opening remarks by stating that they welcomed the challenge, but the real policy change must come from the legislature in Sacramento -– and that plaintiffs will not be able to prove that these statutes violate their constitutional rights.

Deasy, under friendly questioning from a students’ lawyer, Marcellus McRae, walked the court through current state laws governing the hiring and firing of teachers, student performance markers, rules regarding tenure and the impact they have on the school district.

A major focus was the so-called “tenure statute,” which in California enables teachers to gain permanent employment — or tenure — after just 18 months on the job. In his answers, Deasy explained that the process for evaluating a teacher for purposes of tenure actually begins after just 13 months of actual teaching, a period of time he dismissed as too short for such a critical decision.

“No way this is sufficient amount of time, in my opinion, to make that critical judgement,” he said. “Not even to make it after two years of work.”

Deasy said the average cost of dismissing an ineffective teacher, which involves as many as 17 administrative steps, is $250,000 to $450,000, with many cases costing the district a lot more.

He also testified that the current tenure statute doesn’t allow school administers to adequately assess a teacher’s performance or growth potential. He went on to say that he believes the tenure rules allow for “grossly ineffective teachers” to remain in the classroom.

Vergara lawsuit: Deasy testifies on ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers

Posted on January 28, 2014 by Mark Harris


<<Supt. John Deasy in his second day of testimony

Under cross-examination today, LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy faced pointed questions from attorneys representing California’s biggest teacher unions and the state in a controversial lawsuit that could turn the practice of teacher tenure on its head.

At issue in the landmark case,  Vergara vs. California, are five statutes that the nine students bringing the case contend protect ineffective teachers, thereby violating their constitutionally protected right to a quality education.

Under less friendly questioning than earlier in the day, Deasy responded in detail to questions posed by Jim Finberg, attorney for the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), who attempted to chip away at the argument that the current tenure and dismissal statutes hurt students, and that removing ineffective teachers is quite possible now.

Using statistics that showed the number of dismissals in LA Unified rose to 99 in 2011-2012 from 10 in 2009-2010, Deasy’s first full year as superintendent, Finberg suggested that the number of teachers offered tenure during that period decreased, reducing the number of grossly ineffective teachers who receive permanent status.

Without disputing it, Deasy said the numbers only represented his recommendations to the school board for initiating a dismissal process.

When Finberg asked Deasy if he agreed that other factors, such as family wealth and poverty, influence the success or failure of a student, Deasy said, “I believe the statistics correlate, but I don’t believe in causality (of poverty).”

Susan Carson, a supervising deputy state attorney general, arguing on behalf of the state, took up the questioning later about the timetable to determine whether a teacher is ineffective. Despite her suggestions that one year is sufficient to identify an ineffective teacher, Deasy countered that too many factors are involved to draw a conclusion after such a short time. In California, teachers are typically awarded tenure after 18 months.

Earlier in the day, under more friendly questioning from Marcellus McRae, representing the students, Deasy told the court that the cost of dismissing a “grossly ineffective teacher” can sometimes reach into the millions of dollars, impacting decisions as to whether to appeal a dismissal or leave a teacher in the classroom.

He also said the time it takes to build a case against an ineffective teacher, however lengthy, results in leaving students with ineffective teachers.

McRae asked Deasy if the high cost of removal has resulted in reaching settlement agreements with ineffective teachers. He answered by saying it’s part of the current cost analysis and sometimes is the most “cost effective way to exit a teacher.”

When questioned whether leaving incompetent teachers in the system harms the morale of the profession, Deasy said: “Morale is absolutely affected,” adding that teachers don’t want to be on teams with incompetent teachers.

Deasy also testified that the seniority statute, know as LIFO for “Last in, first out,” which favors seniority when layoffs are required, is harmful to both students and teachers.

He said seniority does not always reflect teacher effectiveness and seniority-based layoffs work against the best interest of students.

“I do not believe it’s in the best interest of students whatsoever,” Deasy said. “I have been very clear at indicating that the decision about who should be in front of students should be the most effective teacher and that this statute prohibits that from being a consideration at all. So by virtue of that, it can’t be good for students.”

When asked whether the seniority statute was necessary to recruit excellent teachers, Deasy said it has, in fact, the opposite effect. Teachers find it “unattractive,” he said, to come into a system where job competence is not considered when layoffs are required.

Deasy returns to the stand tomorrow, presumably to finish his cross-examination. He’ll be followed to the stand by Harvard economist Nadarajan (Raj) Chetty.

Vergara trial expert witness: ineffective teachers hurt students

Posted on January 29, 2014 by Mark Harris


<< Raj Chetty, Harvard Economist

And so begins the battle of the expert titans.

In the landmark lawsuit, Vergara vs. California, the winner may ultimately be the side that had the more persuasive expert witnesses.

The first came to the stand today as lawyers for the nine students bringing the suit called Harvard professor Raj Chetty, a renowned expert in public policy economics whose judgements, he said, are relied upon by President Obama and Congress.

The case hinges on whether five statutes written into the state constitution protect ineffective teachers, thereby violating students’ constitutionally protected right to a quality education. The defendants — the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state — say they do not.

Armed with mounds of empirical data, documents and exhibits, the 34-year-old professor offered testimony supporting the plaintiffs’ key points: that teacher quality has a direct impact on students’ achievements and that the current dismissal and seniority statutes have disparate impact on minority and low-income students.

Drawing a few laughs from the courtroom, Chetty testified that he believes elementary teachers are, in fact, even more consequential than college professors. But under questioning from Ted Boutrous, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, he quickly got down to business, explaining results from his research, notably that teacher effectiveness can be measured, and long term gains for students are the direct result of effective teachers.

A key part of the plaintiffs’ case is that California tenure laws do not provide adequate time to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. Chetty agreed that 16 months is insufficient and is ultimately detrimental to students. He went on to testify that teacher layoffs based on seniority also pose harmful effects on students, and are even more pronounced with minority and low income students.

Using a series of graphs from his own research, he showed the court how he determined that students test scores improve with an effective teacher and suffer with an ineffective teacher.

He explained that his research also takes into account external forces that might influence academic success, but nothing, he said, predicts “future success” more than effective teachers.

They’re even more important than smaller class size, he said, shooting a hole in a favorite theory of teacher unions. Given a choice between a smaller class size or one quality teacher, “I’d rather choose the higher quality teacher,” he said.

Earlier in the day, John Deasy, Superintendent of LA Unified, wrapped up his testimony after three days on the witness stand. Looking tired and sometimes exasperated, he appeared as if he were being held after class for detention.

After some confusion over exhibits, Supervising Deputy Attorney General Susan Carson continued with her cross examination and questioned the witness about the dismissal and seniority laws the plaintiffs are challenging.

Attacking a key component of the plaintiff’s case, the defense tried tirelessly to show that the laws don’t prevent LA Unified from assigning more experienced teachers to high poverty areas when vacancies are available.

But Deasy testified that the reduction-in-force statute does affect the assignment of teachers. When asked if a grossly ineffective teacher was ever intentionally assigned to a high poverty school, the educator stated “Regrettably, yes.”

The morning session was cut short. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu called for a recess after the court reporter had to stop. And, it wasn’t a question of tired fingers. She lost her internet connection.

Villaraigosa makes his case for Vergara, outside the courtroom

Posted on January 30, 2014 by Mark Harris


<<Antonio Villaraigosa, in support of Vergara plaintiffs

Legal battles aren’t only waged in the courtroom; they’re also hard fought in the court of public opinion.

As testimony in the landmark case, Vegara vs. California, resumed today inside a state superior court, another star witness took the stand — more accurately, the mic — outside the courtroom. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a press conference, expressing his support for the nine student plaintiffs challenging state statutes they contend violate their constitutionally protected right to a quality education.

The defendants — California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state — are arguing that they do not.

The former mayor said he felt compelled to address the important issues in the lawsuit. He stated emphatically that every student has a fundamental right to a quality education. Adding a personal note, he said his success in life came in large part from effective teachers, who motivated him.

Villaraigosa suggested that the current seniority and tenure rules are undermining the state’s public educational system.

“There is virtually no profession where almost every employment decision is based on seniority or how long you’ve been on the job and not how effective you are,” he said, adding, “The American dream is held up for everyone and the path to that dream has always been a great public school education and many of our kids just don’t have that.”

Back inside, it was more charts, exhibits and documents as the plaintiffs’ key expert, Harvard economics professor, Raj Chetty, continued to drive home the point that effective teachers have a measurable impact on student learning, long-term success and ultimate earning capacity.

When questioned by plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Boutrous about the current tenure and seniority laws, Chetty testified that they impose a harmful impact on students, saying, “We should be doing everything we can to keep superstar teachers in the classroom.”

On cross examination, the defense relentlessly tried to undercut the plaintiff’s case by pointing out weaknesses in Chetty’s findings. But going up against the formidable witness, and making sense of the avalanche of empirical evidence, was no easy task. At times, defense attorney James Finberg left both the court and witness confused.

The defense tried to recover by showing that Chetty’s own research suggested that large school districts across California ranked in top quarter across the nation, which showed that students’ fundamental right to a quality education — the heart of the case — has not been violated.

From the theoretical to the practical, plaintiffs’ lawyers next examined Larrisa Adam, a 20-year veteran of the Oakland school system as a teacher and administrator and now principal of Ascend Elementary School, an Oakland charter school. She testified that an ineffective teacher is harmful, and even more so in low income communities where students don’t have access to resources out of school.

She echoed previous testimony from LA Superintendent John Deasy and Chetty, that the seniority does not necessarily reflect effectiveness, and that the tenure laws don’t provide enough time to fairly judge a teacher’s potential.

“I honestly have doubt about all second-year teachers,” Adam said, adding, “I would much rather have more time to decide if someone will be an effective teacher.

More ‘ineffective teacher’ testimony, even without Vergara

Posted on January 31, 2014 by Mark Harris


<<Troy Christmas, The Broad Residency Class of 2004-2006, testifying in the Vergara trial.

After the first week of the groundbreaking trial Vergara vs. California in a California superior court, lawyers and witnesses talked a lot about ineffective teachers, arcane rules for dismissing them and how much money it costs. One thing they didn’t talk about was Beatriz Vergara.

The lawsuit in her name — she’s an LA Unified 10th grader — centers on five statutes written into the California constitution, which she and eight other students claim protect ineffective teachers, thereby violating their constitutional right to a quality education. The defendants are the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), and the state, and they claim otherwise.

So far, testimony in the downtown LA courtroom hasn’t linked any of the laws directly to Vergara and her co-plaintiffs, but that was intentional, Marcellus McRae, a Vergara attorney who said in an interview that the plaintiffs are creating a mosaic, using early testimony to show similar problems and issues statewide with the statutes under challenge.

“It’s not a rifle, one-shot approach,” he said, rather it involves building on cumulative evidence.

So on Christmas day — today — plaintiffs used the abbreviated session to offer even more testimony about the contested rules. The court adjourned for the day at noon.

The fourth witness called was Troy Christmas, a lawyer and Director of Labor Management and Employee Relations for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). As its lead negotiator, he oversees all labor contracts, grievances, and arbitrations for the school district.

McRae questioned Christmas on matters addressed by earlier witnesses, about the length of time and costs associated with removing ineffective teachers from a classroom. Christmas told the court that the process can take on average two-to-five years and involves a number of steps with a cost reaching as much as $100,000, sometimes even more.

Christmas agreed that the high costs impact a decision to pursue a dismissal, and he went on to testify that the risk of potentially expensive lawsuits often results in settlement agreements, sometimes leaving ineffective teachers in front of the chalkboard.

During his nine-and-half years with OUSD, Christmas indicated there have been only a handful of teachers dismissed.

Christmas is expected to continue on Monday, with cross-examination.

Other coverage:

California Kids Go to Court to Demand a Good Education

Wall Street Journal - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

I am among the lawyers representing nine brave schoolchildren, ages 7 to 17, in Vergara v. California. Our arguments are premised on what the California Supreme Court said more than 40 years ago: that education is "the lifeline of both the individual and ...


Vergara v. California: Do state laws protect teacher jobs over students? (+video)

Christian Science Monitor - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

Kareen Wynter reports from downtown Los Angeles for the KTLA 5 News at 1 on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Tuesday is the second day of testimony in Vergara v. California, originally filed in May 2012 on behalf of nine public school students from across the state.


Vergara trial set to begin: major test for CA teachers

LA School Report - ‎Jan 24, 2014‎

Teachers' Jobs vs Students' Rights - Vergara Trial A lawsuit that could dramatically change how California public schools deal with ineffective teachers gets underway Monday in a California Superior Court for Los Angeles County, where LA Unified ...

Education Is the Great Equalizer

Huffington Post - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

That is why I am closely following a lawsuit currently making its way through the courts in California. Vergara v. California has been filed on behalf of nine public school students, and it is not a case that tinkers around the edges of education reform.

Silicon Valley-Backed Students Aim to Expel Bad Teachers

Businessweek - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

The measure, which helped public schools avoid $6 billion in funding cuts, has done more than anything else to stabilize public education in California, Pechthalt said. The case is Vergara v. State of California, BC484642, Los Angeles County Superior Court ...

California students file suit aimed at tenure law

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

Dr. John E. Deasy, the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District testifies Monday Jan. 27, 2014, in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on the opening day of Vergara v. The State of California. (AP Photo/Monica Almeida, Pool).

California students file suit aimed at teacher tenure law - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

Dr. John E. Deasy, the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District testifies Monday Jan. 27, 2014, in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County on the opening day of Vergara v. The State of California. The lawsuit was filed in May 2012 on behalf ...

Battle over teacher tenure heads to LA court

KFMB News 8 - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A landmark education case makes its way to a Los Angeles courtroom arguing how to weed out bad teachers by bringing the battle over tenure to a judge. Monday was the first day of trial for Vergara v. California that calls attention to ...

Commentary: An effective teacher in every California classroom

LA School Report - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

Vergara v. California has the potential to shake up the broken status quo, modernize the state's unfair and outdated education code, and bring California closer to fulfilling the constitutional guarantee of educational equality. The question is simple: does every ...

Lawsuit Challenges Job Protections for Teachers

NBC Southern California - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

Their attorneys will argue that California's code regarding tenure, seniority and dismissal of teachers does not ensure access to adequate education and violates the U.S. Constitution. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge will hear arguments from attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of nine students -- including Los Angeles Unified School District 10th-grader Beatriz Vergara -- and their families. Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy will be among the witnesses called by the plaintiffs, ...

California Students Get Their Day in Court: Groundbreaking Education Equality ...

Sacramento Bee - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27, 2014 -- /PRNewswire/ -- Trial begins today in the highly anticipated education equality lawsuit, Vergara v. California. The groundbreaking lawsuit, filed in May 2012 on behalf of nine public school students from across California, ...

California's Teacher Tenure System On Trial

Neon Tommy - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

At its core the suit, Vergara v. California, poses the question: should it be easier for a public school to fire teachers? The lawsuit challenges five statutes of California's tenure law including whether teachers should even be eligible for tenure after just 18 months ...

Contours of Calif. Teacher-Protection Suit Take Shape

Education Week News (blog) - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

Here's a rundown of some of the other issues that caught the attention of my little gray cells. Legal standing: Vergara v. California is not a class-action suit. In interviews, attorneys for the plaintiffs said that the nine K-12 students have the right to bring the suit ...

Our students deserve their day in court: Guest commentary

Los Angeles Daily News - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

Today the groundbreaking education reform lawsuit — Vergara v. California — finally proceeds to trial. Filed on behalf of nine California public school students, this lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the state's teacher dismissal and seniority system.

High-Profile California Lawsuit on Teacher Protections Begins

Education Week News (blog) - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, stands to have implications far beyond the Golden State. It's a touchstone for some of the most heated debates in K-12 education, particularly how to promote effective teaching—and whether policies relating to teacher ...

Trial begins over California state teacher protections

89.3 KPCC (blog) - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

Lawyer Marcellus McRae stands with plaintiffs in the Vergara v. State of California trial. The public school students are ... The lawsuit that led to the trial, Vergara versus State of California, was filed on behalf of nine public school students who say their constitutional right to an adequate education was violated because teacher job protections such as permanent status after 18 months, seniority based layoffs, and a complicated dismissal process protect bad teachers. Plaintiff lawyer Marcellus McRae said Deasy did a ...

OTHER VIEWS: Court will give teacher issues some scrutiny

Bakersfield Californian - ‎Jan 26, 2014‎

Starting today in Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge will hear Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs are nine children, including Daniella Martinez, a 12-year-old in San Jose's Alum Rock School District who says she couldn't read by the third grade because her ...

Lawsuit takes on California tenure

GOPUSA - ‎Jan 28, 2014‎

Vergara versus California, filed on behalf of nine students and their families, seeks to revamp a dismissal process that the plaintiffs say is too costly and time consuming, lengthen the time it takes for instructors to gain tenure and dismantle the "last hired, first fired" ... Olson argued Bush v. Gore, over the contested 2000 presidential election, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Along with Boutrous, Olson also represented activists who sought to overturn California's ban on gay marriage. The plaintiffs and their attorneys ...

Lawsuit challenges teacher tenure

Register Pajaronian - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, was filed in May 2012 on behalf of nine public school students from across California, who say the current system violates the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a good education. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Lawsuit wrongly targets teachers: Guest commentary

Los Angeles Daily News - ‎Jan 24, 2014‎

Wrongly arguing that such rights “deprive students of their fundamental right to education,” Vergara v. California attacks as unconstitutional current teacher dismissal statutes — statutes which grant teachers due process rights after a rigorous probationary ...

David Welch: Trial could shake up schools for the better

OCRegister (subscription) - ‎Jan 27, 2014‎

The trial, estimated to last 30 days, for our first case, Vergara v. California, is scheduled to begin Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The ultimate outcome of the case could change the course of public education in California and, possibly, in the nation.

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