Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Other news stories about Vergara

Various other news stories about Vergara:
The Economist published a piece that clearly outlines how little chance a poorly performing teacher has of being dismissed in California: 1 in 125,000—making teachers' jobs 3,750 times more secure than those of private-sector workers. The piece also calls attention to how successful California's teachers' unions have been in thwarting efforts to reform tenure and dismissal even though studies repeatedly show the importance of teacher quality. The decision in Vergara v. California, however, changes all that. As the piece notes, "The broad sweep of Mr. Treu's verdict, and the stridency of his language, means it will resonate well beyond California."
Another powerful editorial was published yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News. The editorial highlights the absurdity of critics that would frame Vergara v. California as an attack on teachers saying, "its very premise is that there are excellent teachers in public schools." The Editorial Board also notes that the effects of Tuesday's decision in Vergara—in which the deciding judge, the Honorable Judge Rolf M. Treu, said that the evidence "shocks the conscience"—would be profound in California and perhaps nationally.
Stanford University Professor and expert witness for the Plaintiffs Eric Hanushek also wrote an op-edpublished in USA Today. In the op-ed, Hanushek clearly refutes the assertion that the Vergara case is a war on teachers, stating: "These laws protect just a very small minority of teachers who are harming children and who should not be in the classroom. Indeed, protecting these grossly ineffective teachers seriously harms better teachers who are unfairly tarnished by association with unquestionably bad teachers sheltered by the unconstitutional statutes."
A Judge who struck down California's laws on teacher tenure and layoffs said the decision was based solely on the legal aspects of the case but added that he was mindful of the intense political debate about these issues. 
"Maybe you're just not good at math. Some people are good at some things, and others aren't. Maybe math isn't your thing."
There's been lots of talk this week about winners and losers in Tuesday's judicial ruling that scrapped the state's public school tenure system.
A California judge ruled this week that several of the state's teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws are unconstitutional.

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Arne Duncan on Vergara

Kudos to Arne Duncan for standing behind the Vergara ruling – and calling on all sides to work together. His article is a powerful endorsement of the judge's ruling:

Last week, a judge agreed, saying these laws deprive students of their civil rights. The decision affirmed the fundamental duty to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, family income or skin color, receive a quality education – starting with an effective teacher.

The question is, what happens now?

One possibility is a series of appeals, probably stretching across years, and similar suits in other states and districts. Both sides have the millions such a fight would require. Improvements for teachers and students would be slow in coming.

I hope it doesn't turn out that way.

There's a second path – which is for all involved to recognize, as the court did, that the status quo is broken, and get to work on alternatives that serve students well – and respect and value teachers and the profession of teaching.

The second path may be harder to achieve. This country has plenty of experience at lawyering up. It has less at finding consensus on tough public issues.

But I am convinced it can be done. There is a common-sense path forward – built on a recognition that the interests of teachers and of disadvantaged students are not opposed, but aligned.

…It took enormous courage for 10th grader Beatriz Vergara and her eight co-plaintiffs to stand up and demand change to a broken status quo. It'll take courage from all of us to come to consensus on new solutions.

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Randi Weingarten letter to Arne Duncan

Rather than reaching out in partnership, as Arne Duncan offered, Randi instead attempted to slap him down by releasing a hostile, whiny, disingenuous letter, in which she claims, preposterously, that the Vergara ruling is "stripping [teachers] of their due process" and "pitting students against their teachers" – a testament to how utterly panicked the unions are about the Vergara ruling:

This week, we needed your leadership; to demonstrate that teacher and student interests are aligned; that we must press—60 years after Brown v. Board—for educational equity; that it takes more than a focus on teachers to improve public education; that, when it comes to teachers, we need to promote strategies that attract, retain and support them in classrooms; and that, of course, removing teachers who can't do their job in quick and effective ways is important, but so is due process, so teachers can take creative risks that enhance teaching and learning.

But instead, you added to the polarization. And teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed.

As you said in your statement, we must "increase public confidence in public education." However, in pitting students against their teachers, the Vergara lawsuit had the opposite effect. Polls show that a vast majority of Americans trust teachers most to improve public education. Why say something that erodes that trust?

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RiShawn Biddle with a BRILLIANT evisceration of Randi’s nonsense

RiShawn Biddle with a BRILLIANT evisceration of Randi's nonsense:

Simply put, Weingarten's arguments against Vergara and against Duncan's statement hardly has merit. If anything, the fact that Weingarten fails to mention "tenure" and "near-lifetime employment" and "seniority" serves to remind all of us that she, and her union, are being intellectually and even morally dishonest about the damage to children wrought by the policies and practices they defend.

Randi's problem has nothing to do with Duncan's statement. It is that Vergara is another weakening of the AFT's influence (and that of the National Education Association) over education policy — and a weakening that will extend from California to the rest of the nation as reformers mount legal suits and legislative efforts to end seniority-based privileges.

Randi's issue has nothing to do with polarization. It is that after decades of defending morally repugnant policies that have kept even criminally abusive teachers in their jobs at the expense of children, the AFT's (and NEA's) can no longer make credible arguments that they have the best interests of children at heart.

Randi's dilemma isn't that public confidence in teachers is being eroded. It is that for the AFT's coffers, the ruling again reminds teachers that the grand (and costly) bargain they struck with the union is no longer of any benefit to them. Particularly for Baby Boomers and hardcore progressives within the rank-and-file, the ruling is a reminder of how weak the AFT has become, and Weingarten's unsuccessful triangulating has, in their minds, contributed to problem.

And Randi doesn't fear a setback in kids succeeding. What she fears is that younger teachers long dismayed by the AFT's defense of seniority-based privileges such as last in-first out that impede their career progress (as well as the rigging of AFT local elections that favor retirees over teachers still in classroom) will leave the union for professional associations that focus on elevating professionalism instead of on old school unionized that doesn't befit teaching.

Weingarten shouldn't get mad at Duncan for saying what needs to be said about the failed policies she defends. She should look herself in the mirror instead, and stop defending the indefensible.

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AFT President Randi Weingarten speaking in DC TODAY

If you're in DC tomorrow, you can hear Randi's views in person and anyone can tune in to hear them online at 2pm):

Unions in public education: Problem or solution? 
A conversation with AFT President Randi Weingarten

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | 2:00 – 3:15 p.m.


Since becoming president of the American Federation of Teachers – the nation's second-largest teachers union, with more than 1 million members – Randi Weingarten has been outspoken on a host of K–12 education issues. Over the past year, Weingarten, who in the past publicly supported the Common Core, has declared the rollout worse than Obamacare. She has also decried teacher evaluation efforts that use student value-added measures (VAM), announcing, "VAM is a sham."

So what is the proper role of unions in public education? Join us for a keynote by and conversation with Weingarten as she discusses issues ranging from the Common Core to teacher evaluation to school reform pushback.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | 2:00 – 3:15 p.m.

AEI, Twelfth Floor 
1150 Seventeenth Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20036 


Opening Remarks:
Frederick M. Hess, AEI

Keynote Address:
Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers


RSVP to attend this event.

To watch live online, click here on June 18 at 2:00 PM ET. Registration is not required.


For more information, please contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at, 202.862.5843.

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Adam Ozimek in Forbes with some trenchant comments

Adam Ozimek in Forbes with some trenchant comments:

Goldstein argues that the reason so few teachers are fired is in part because so few teachers want to work in the poorest schools to begin with. However, the study found that the prevalence of dismissals and low-student scores were correlated at the school level. In 2005, 65% of low-performing schools dismissed a teacher compared to 45% of high-performing schools. This means worse performing schools were more likely to dismiss teachers, which partly contradicts Goldstein's story.

In addition, I disagree with Goldstein's characterization of these as low dismissal numbers. First, while she is right 40% of schools in the data don't dismiss any teachers, that number refers to a single year. Over a longer period of time that number would surely be higher. Second, this still means 60% of schools dismissed teachers. The study also reports that each year around 10% of probationary teachers were dismissed. For comparison, economist Eric Hanushek argues that if 5-8% of the worst teachers were replaced with average teachers it would have an impact of around $100 trillion. Third, the policy change in the study only allowed newer hires still in a probationary period to be fired. A policy that applied to all teachers would have a greater impact.

Another complaint about getting rid of tenure is that administrators will fire teachers for bad reasons. Consider, for example, these comments from the anti-reform activist, Diane Ravitch:

 "In the absence of tenure, teachers may be fired for any reason. Teachers may be fired if the principal doesn't like them or if they are experienced and become too expensive. Teachers may be fired for being outspoken."

One piece of evidence against this comes from the study Goldstein cites, which found that the teachers who were dismissed were: 1) more likely to have frequent absences, 2) received worse evaulations in the past, 3) have lower value added scores, and 4) have less qualifications. While this policy only applied to newer teachers and thus can't deal with things like experience or expensive teachers, it is evidence that administrators do consider teacher effectiveness.

…I want to close with some arguments on the other side of this issue. While those criticizing the California judges decisions to strike down tenure are generally pretty far off, there are a lot points of caution that need to be considered here. First is that removing teacher tenure is no panacea. Of course this is simply because there are no panaceas in education reform, a point which reform critics will use to falsely imply we shouldn't do anything so long as socioeconomic status is the primary determinant of student outcomes. A better and more nuanced position is, as Michael Petrilli argues, that "[t]enure is just one part of a dysfunctional approach to human resource management in U.S. schools that needs a complete overhaul."

And while I have criticized some of Dana Goldstein's piece, I think her point about the importance of other problems in poor schools is extremely important:

 It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers.

Figuring out how to redistribute teacher talent and other resources to poor schools from better schools is something that I think is important, necessary, and worth spending money on. I have at least one idea here, but it is in general an area that needs more consideration.

Another important policy related to the tenure issue is increasing the number of charter schools. When administrators are capricious and ineffective, as surely there are some times, it's important that teachers have alternative employment opportunities nearby. After all, the economic justification for teachers unions in the first place is to counter the monopsony power of the local school district. But in many places, especially dense urban areas, this can be done by increasing the number of teacher employers as well. If a public school fires a great teacher for a bad reason, having a smart charter school nearby to hire them will be good for teachers and students alike.

In short, getting rid of tenure is a good step. But there are a lot more steps to take.

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calling on the Newark-based Education Law Center to file a Vergara-type lawsuit in NJ

This Newark Star-Ledger editorial, calling on the Newark-based Education Law Center to file a Vergara-type lawsuit in NJ, nails it – and is what Randi is really afraid of:

New Jersey reformed its teacher tenure laws two years ago, but didn't touch the practice known as "last in, first out," which protects absolute seniority rights in times of layoffs. That's where the teachers' union drew a red line.

This means that schools facing layoffs in the next few years will be forced to purge younger teachers — even the most gifted and hardworking ones. The main victims of this policy are poor kids. Teacher quality is much more meaningful for them, because they don't come pre-loaded for success.

Why should a state statute protected by the union be allowed to trump children's constitutional right to a quality education?

This California case is exactly the kind of lawsuit that the Education Law Center should be bringing. The ELC was right to take action in the name of funding inequity nearly 30 years ago. But what is it going to do about seniority rules, now?

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Jesse Rothstein on Vergara

This NYT op ed by Jesse Rothstein ("an associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley"), who testified for the unions in the Vergara case, is full of nonsense – especially these doozies: "firing bad teachers actually makes it harder to recruit new good ones, since new teachers don't know which type they will be" and "early [tenure] decisions — not in the first year, but soon after — actually improve student achievement." HA!
The issue is balance. Few would suggest that too much integration or too much funding hurts disadvantaged students. By contrast, decisions about firing teachers are inherently about trade-offs: It is important to dismiss ineffective teachers, but also to attract and retain effective teachers.
…The challenge, then, is to increase the number of high-quality applicants. One of the few things that helps to recruit good people into teaching is job security. That is not to say teachers should never be dismissed — but when and how to do that requires careful balancing.
In a recent study, I examined the effects of changing job protections not just on the quality of teachers given tenure, but also on a district's ability to attract and retain good ones. My research yielded three salient, surprising facts.
…Attacking tenure as a protection racket for ineffective teachers makes for good headlines. But it does little to close the achievement gap, and risks compounding the problem.

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Dave Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who’s behind Vergara

A nice profile of Dave Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who's behind the case – and who has poured more than $2 million of his own money into this case (it's the most highly leveraged philanthropy I've ever seen):

Dave Welch isn't a teacher, politician or lawyer, but he was the driving force behind a landmark court ruling Tuesday that is poised to overhaul public education in California and across the nation.

How did the 53-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur do it? Some would say it's a passion for kids' education and a winning argument that California's policies guiding teacher tenure are broken. Others would say, simply, it's his money.

Dave Welch, right, Students Matter founder, speaks at news conference about the Vergara c. California Decision. (Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

…"I've been passionate about education for my whole life, and I've been involved in trying to improve education for my whole life," Welch said in an interview with this newspaper. "The first thing you have to do to deliver education to children in need is offer good, effective, and hopefully highly effective, teachers."

…But for Welch, Tuesday's court ruling overturned teacher policies he genuinely believes harm kids and affirmed the mission he undertook years ago to be an advocate for children when he felt the state, and schools, had failed them.

"The state has a responsibility of delivering an education for the betterment of the child," Welch said. "The state needs to prioritize how to achieve that. If they need to pay more money to obtain and keep good teachers, then that's what they need to do. But the state needs to understand that their responsibility is to teach children, and teach all of them."

A Maryland native, Welch is the product of public education, and went on to attend the University of Delaware and Cornell University. His three children, now college- and high school-aged, went to public and private schools.

…Welch has spent countless hours researching education policies and pouring millions into education causes, including donations to public and private schools in Menlo Park from a grant-making foundation he and his wife, Heidi, set up. His reform efforts kicked into high gear in 2011, when he formed Students Matter to sue the state and kick off a national campaign to reform tenure rules and begin flushing out ineffective teachers.

"I've seen him in his spare time, and I don't know how he has any, because he works so much. He's out there trying to change the world," said Mark Showalter, senior director of marketing at Infinera, where he has worked with Welch for three years. "Someone who could otherwise just be sitting on the sidelines and sending his kids to private school is getting involved and fighting the fight."

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The fall of teachers union

Politico's Stephanie Simon with a spot-on article entitled "The fall of teachers unions":

As the two big national teachers unions prepare for their conventions this summer, they are struggling to navigate one of the most tumultuous moments in their history.

Long among the most powerful forces in American politics, the unions are contending with falling revenue and declining membership, damaging court cases, the defection of once-loyal Democratic allies — and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign portraying them as greedy and selfish.

They took a big hit Tuesday when a California judge struck down five laws they had championed to protect teachers' jobs. The Supreme Court could deliver more bad news as early as next week, in a case that could knock a huge hole in union budgets. On top of all that, several well-funded advocacy groups out to curb union influence are launching new efforts to mobilize parents to the cause.

Responding to all these challenges has proved difficult, analysts say, because both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are divided internally. There's a faction urging conciliation and compromise. Another faction pushes confrontation. There's even a militant splinter group, the Badass Teachers Association.

Leaders of both the NEA and AFT have sought to rally the public to their side by talking up their vision for improving public education: More arts classes and fewer standardized tests, more equitable funding and fewer school closures. Those are popular stances. But union leaders can't spend all their time promoting them: They must also represent their members. And that's meant publicly defending laws that strike even many liberals as wrong-headed, such as requiring districts to lay off their most junior teachers first, regardless of how effective they are in the classroom.

The result: an unprecedented erosion of both political and public support for unions. And no clear path for labor leaders to win it back.

"People increasingly view teachers unions as a problem, or the problem," David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona College who studies education politics. That's a striking shift, he said, because "for decades the unions were viewed as the most likely to contribute to the improvement of public education."

Among other things, the article has a nice mention of DFER:

In states such as California and New Jersey, teachers unions have often been the biggest campaign spenders. Democrats counted themselves lucky to have their support, not only because of the financial resources but because the unions commanded armies of foot soldiers available for door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and other campaign grunt work all summer long.

The unions, in turn, could count on Democrats to have their backs.

No more.

In 2007, a handful of wealthy donors teamed up under the umbrella Democrats for Education Reform. Their explicit goal: to finance the campaigns of Democrats willing to break with the teachers unions by supporting policies such as expanding charter schools, weakening tenure and holding teachers accountable for raising student test scores.

It worked. Big names like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have sided with DFER. So have scores of state legislators and local school board members.

The self-styled reformers quickly developed a narrative that let them claim the moral high ground in public debates. Teachers unions, they said, were out to protect their own members first and foremost. They didn't have kids' best interests at heart.

Unions have responded, with outrage, that teachers pour their hearts and souls into helping students and know better than any millionaire campaign donor what schools need. "There's not a tension between student interest and teacher interest," said Jim Finberg, an attorney for the California Teachers Association. "In fact, they are aligned."

But reform groups have put so much money into their efforts — and won the backing of so many high-profile Democrats, up to and including President Barack Obama — that their rhetoric has largely prevailed, said Menefee-Libey, the Pomona College professor. "They have the brand identity as the people most interested in improving public education," he said.

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NEA President Dennis Van Roekel responded with the usual panicked, silly hyperbole

In response to the pressure and criticism, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel responded with the usual panicked, silly hyperbole:

NEA president blasts reformers, vows to keep fighting

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NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo standing strong on reform

Kudos to NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo for standing strong on reform! Incidentally, I wasn't there (it conflicted with the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting), but contrary to what the story reports, I'm not sure there were any hedge fund managers there – it was mostly elected Democrats and activists.

Governor Andrew Cuomo apologized to hedge funders who gathered in Lake Placid that he wasn't able to attend their pro-charter school conference, despite having been made "honorary chair."

"I wish I could be with you in person, but I am stuck downstate today," Cuomo said in a four-minute video he sent on May 5 in place of his attendance. "But thank you for coming. Enjoy the conference, and I hope to be with you soon."

Cuomo was expected to attend the national conference, hosted by Democrats for Education Reform. His video appearance followed an announcement by teachers' unions and public school advocates that they would rally outside the Whiteface Lodge on the opening day.

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NYS Ed Commissioner John King - "the Michael Jordan of education reform"

NYS Ed Commissioner John King did a phenomenal job at an event last week, in which Norman Atkins, the co-founder of Uncommon Schools and the current CEO of the Relay Graduate School of Education, introduced King and called him "the Michael Jordan of education reform":
Education has been in the news over the past year like never before, with discussions over charter schools, the Common Core, and teacher evaluations often becoming quite heated. To shed light on these topics and others, the Manhattan Institute is delighted to host a forum for New York State education commissioner John King.

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Resistance to Common Core

Speaking of Cuomo and King standing strong, it will be necessary given the resistance to the Common Core, which is well captured by this cover story in the NYT recently that profiles a 9-year-old boy.

"I am a 9-year-old," he began, "who struggles with math."

Chrispin had reason to worry. New York's state exams were two days away, and he was having difficulty dividing large numbers and deciphering patterns. He had once been a model student — the fastest counter in the first grade, his teachers said. But last year, in the confusion of a new and more difficult set of academic standards known as the Common Core, he had failed the state tests in English and math, placing him near the bottom of his class.

The Common Core, the most significant change to American public education in a generation, was hailed by the Obama administration as a way of lifting achievement at low-performing schools. After decades of rote learning, children would become nimble thinkers equipped for the modern age, capable of unraveling improper fractions and drawing connections between Lincoln and Pericles.

The standards have recently become a political flash point. Lawmakers in some states have suggested the Common Core undermines local control of education. Parents and teachers have raised questions about whether students are ready for a new wave of standardized tests, after precipitous drops in test scores in New York and Kentucky, the first two states to adopt Common Core exams. Others have argued the new benchmarks are onerous and elitist.

But whether the Common Core achieves its promise will ultimately depend on schools like P.S. 397 and children like Chrispin, and whether they rise to the rigor of the new demands.

I found the story biased in many ways, but there's no doubt that raising the bar and ending the lying to students, their parents, and their teachers is a real shock to everyone and can be especially hard on children. But the fault lies not with the new standards or the higher bar, but rather with the old system that failed to give kids a proper education (a level at which they would be on track to go to a four-year college without remediation) and then dumbest down the testing and assessments to hide this uncomfortable fact.

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KIPP's Annual Report Card

KIPP is out with its annual report card:
We are proud to present KIPP's annual Report Card!
The data shared in this report helps us understand our true impact - what is working, and what needs to be improved. It tells us whether we are meeting our mission, and fulfilling the promises we make to our students and their families.
This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of KIPP's founding in Houston. While we recognize that there is more work to be done, our first 20 years have shown us what is possible.
As we look beyond our first 20 years, we have never been more optimistic. Tens of thousands of KIPPsters in our schools today are poised to achieve their dreams—and show the world what they are capable of. And as they do, they inspire us to work even harder to ensure that every child receives the world-class education they deserve.
We invite you to read the report, dive into the results, and share the link with your friends and colleagues who would be interested in learning about the inspiring work taking place in KIPP schools across the country. 

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KIPP is hiring COOs in New Orleans and St. Louis

Speaking of KIPP, it's hiring COOs in New Orleans and St. Louis:
Spotlight on Talent – Chief Operating Officers
Two KIPP regions are hiring for a Chief Operating Officer. These are incredible opportunities to work hand-in-hand with EDs on scaling in some of our most rapidly growing communities. 
·        KIPP New Orleans: New Orleans is upheld as a national example of community-wide impact in urban districts across the country.  Ideal candidates have the demonstrated ability to build consensus, and facilitate collaboration in one of our largest and most dynamic regions serving students in 10 schools:New Orleans COO
·        KIPP St. Louis: This is an incredible opportunity for an experienced leader to deliver high performing operational services and shape the direction of growth.  KIPP St. Louis will double in size in the next two years, growing from 2 to 4 schools in 2015: St. Louis COO

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Turning to the preliminary decision in the Vergara case, first of all, HUGE kudos to Dave Welch, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who funded this landmark lawsuit. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of months ago and it's clear that this isn't about him or his ego – it's just about common sense, fairness, and outrage at the status quo.
As I predicted, the initial response to Judge Treu's ruling has been overwhelmingly favorable. You know when the NYT and WSJ (see below) are in lockstep agreement on something that it must be right and powerful. The importance of this decision and the likely long-term implication cannot be overstated – it's a total game-changer. And not just for the policies at issue in this case. For example, I'd argue that it's impossible to run any large organization effectively if there's no system to evaluate the performance of the employees within the system – and the vast majority of teachers never receive any evaluation whatsoever. What does the Vergara case have to do with this? A lot, because if layoffs can't be done 100% by seniority, then the only alternative is a system based on merit, which in turn means that a fair and robust evaluation system must be put in place.
More broadly, the most important impact of Vergara will be things you won't see, like an iceberg, where you can't see the 90% that's underwater. Sure, there will be similar cases filed and won in other states, which will receive a lot of attention, but the biggest impact will be in the negotiations that occur every day between state and city superintendents and elected officials and the unions. The Vergara ruling will be an incredibly valuable tool for reform-minded educators and politicians to use in these negotiations. For example, in Newark, as more and more parents choose to send their children to high-quality charters, which now account for roughly 25% of all students (and going much higher in the next few years), fewer students are in regular schools and thus fewer teachers are needed. Cami Anderson wants to use merit in layoff decisions (because, unlike the unions, she cares first and foremost about kids) and has thus appealed to the state ed commissioner, David Hespe, for relief from a state law that (as in many states) mandates that seniority be the only criteria. Hespe I'm sure wants to do the right thing for kids, but his hands appear to be tied – but now, with the Vergara decision, he has more of an argument that the state law violates the NJ state constitution.
By the way, every day I'm thankful that our opponents are so foolish. If the unions had an ounce of sense, they'd not appeal the Vergara ruling and make this problem go away (for a while anyway) by quietly getting their lackeys in Sacramento to pass some token reforms (three years to get tenure, not two; 50 steps to remove a terrible teacher, not 70; seniority counting for 80% of layoff decisions, not 100%). Instead, higher and higher courts will uphold Judge Treu's decision, giving it more and more power as a precedent, while the union leaders are left to sputter inanities like this:
"We have to stop wasting time on these issues that don't help teachers do their job of educating students," said Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. "It doesn't change the fundamental problem, which is who in the world is hiring these people who are not qualified? You have to change the system that allows them there in the first place. If you don't, then the elimination of those laws won't make sense."
And the AFT's statement:
"…this case now stoops to pitting students against their teachers. The other side wanted a headline that reads: "Students win, teachers lose." This is a sad day for public education."
That said, we mustn't screw it up. Most importantly, it can't been seen or used as an attack on teachers – because it's not. In fact, the Vergara ruling is incredibly positive for the vast majority of teachers – just not for the worst teachers and the union bosses who, bizarrely, think it's their job to protect them. After all, what true educator thinks it's a good idea to give a teacher lifetime tenure after only 16 months of evaluation? What true educator thinks it makes any sense to lay off teachers based solely on seniority? What true educator thinks it should be virtually impossible to remove even the very worst teacher?
I've had the privilege of meeting some of the greatest teachers in the world and, to a person, they say one of the worst parts of their jobs is coping with the fallout from colleagues who don't show up for work a high percentage of the time and, when they do, fail to educate the children in their care. These few bad apples, in addition to harming the students, poison the professional environment and create an enormous and unfair burden on the many dedicated teachers, which leads to burnout, disillusionment and quitting the profession altogether.
In addition, the insane policies that the judge just ruled are unconstitutional act as a barrier to talented people even considering the profession. If there's one thing that high-performing countries (and school districts, charter school networks, and individual schools) do, it's build a corps of top-caliber teachers, drawing from the best and brightest. But talented people, in general, don't want to go into a profession that looks like the longshoreman's union, in which everything is driven by seniority, in which you might be laid off even if you're the best teacher in a school, in which your pay is in no way connected with your performance.

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Vergara - Whitney's slides

I highly recommend that you review the 54-page slide deck the plaintiffs filed, which I've posted at: Here's the slide that shows the absurd protections teachers have vs. every other state employee in CA:
Let's be clear: the Vergara lawsuit is not about removing tenure, much less due process, altogether, as teachers will still have tremendous job protections that 99% of employees in the U.S. can only dream about.

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Vergara - MYT editiorial

When states are sued for providing inferior education to poor and minority children, the issue is usually money — disproportionately more money for white students, less for others. A California judge has now brought another deep-rooted inequity to light: poor teaching.

In an important decision issued on Tuesday, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that state laws governing the hiring, firing and job security of teachers violate the California Constitution and disproportionately saddle poor and minority children with ineffective teachers.

The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle. It also underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.

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Vergara - WSJ editorial

President Obama has called education the civil-rights issue of our time. On Tuesday a California court appeared to concur in a ground-breaking ruling that strikes down the state's teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority laws on grounds that they violate the equal protection clause of the state Constitution.

The state and California Teachers Association are sure to appeal, not least because Vergara could become a template for lawsuits nationwide that could topple the scandal that is the public-school status quo. Notably, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the decision as "a mandate to fix" educational inequities and opportunity to "build a new framework for the teaching profession."

If state governments don't act, disadvantaged students now have a claim to petition the judiciary to protect their rights as much as in the days of Jim Crow.

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Vergara - Arne Duncan

"For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve. My hope is that today's decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation. At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline."

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Vergara - quotes from friends

Some quotes from friends:
Supporting more of these lawsuits is now the best ed reform investment in America.
And from David Brand of Black Alliance for Educational Options, 100 Black Men and DFER:
Great win!!! This is the Brown decision of our time. No longer can racist incompetent teachers tell Black parents "I get paid whether your child learns or not." These days are over!!!

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WSJ showing states’ policies on layoffs

Here's a chart from the WSJ showing states' policies on layoffs (here's the full article:

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Vergara - NYT's editorial

When states are sued for providing inferior education to poor and minority children, the issue is usually money — disproportionately more money for white students, less for others. A California judge has now brought another deep-rooted inequity to light: poor teaching.

In an important decision issued on Tuesday, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that state laws governing the hiring, firing and job security of teachers violate the California Constitution and disproportionately saddle poor and minority children with ineffective teachers.

The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle. It also underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.

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Verara - RiShawn Biddle

Here's RiShawn Biddle with a short article:

For the NEA and AFT, the Vergara decision is the worst defeat they have experienced so far in their battle with school reformers over the direction of American public education.

Even as the unions have lost battles over efforts to reform teacher compensation, expansion of school choice, and scaling back defined-benefit pensions, they had largely succeeded in beating back reformers the near-lifetime employment rules that have helped make teaching the most-comfortable profession in the public sector.

But thanks to Vergara, California legislators will have to rewrite tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws so that they don't so blatantly favor their NEA and AFT allies.

Reformers and parents in other states would be encouraged to file similar torts. They can use Vergara as a roadmap for their own suits because all state constitutions have some form of equal protection clause, and many have been affected by school funding lawsuits that have determined that state responsibility for a child's education goes beyond providing access to a classroom.

Vergara's impact on the NEA and AFT also extend to the grand bargain they have long struck with teachers in their respective rank-and-file. Now that the unions can no longer guarantee them near-lifetime employment, teachers may now look to alternatives to the traditional unions to help them improve working conditions and elevate their profession. 

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Vergara impact - Calling on reformers to embrues Vergara

Calling on reformers to embrace lawsuits like Vergara, using "the examples set by civil rights activists of the last century, who successfully challenged Jim Crow segregation laws that harmed an earlier generation of black and brown children":

The impact of Vergara extends beyond California's borders. As with the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling on the legality of school vouchers two years ago in Meredith v. Pence, the ruling offers reformers a road map to spur the much-needed transformation of American public education.

Like California, every state constitution have some form of Equal Protection Clause that effectively determine that the state government's responsibility for education goes beyond providing all children with classrooms. This includes providing kids with high-quality teachers and curricula that prepares them for success as adults. Based solely on this clause, reformers can file suits demanding courts to strike down tenure laws and reverse-seniority layoff rules as unconstitutional because they effectively put states in the position of protecting laggard teachers in violation of their duty to kids.

There are also the rulings from funding equity torts similar to those cited by Treu in Vergara, which also hold that states are required to provide adequate, and ultimately, high-quality education to students attending traditional district schools. Given the similarities between school funding tort rulings in California and those in other states, reformers can easily craft a strong legal argument that tenure and teacher dismissal laws currently on the books lead to kids receiving inadequate and unequal education.

Then there is the fact that California's own constitution requires the state to "promote intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement". This is a clause that found in 14 other state constitutions, according to a Dropout Nation analysis. Not only do California and other state governments have leeway in shaping public education, they are also responsible for ensuring that all kids are provided high-quality teaching and curricula. Even in states with constitutions that don't have such broad language, state governments are both charged with structuring education as they see fit and obliged to provide all kids with high-quality teachers. Thanks to Vergara as well as the earlier Meredith ruling, reformers can argue that states cannot keep teacher quality laws on the books that run counter to their constitutional obligation.

Thanks to Vergara, reformers now have an important guide to using courts to spur systemic reform. And they should embrace it.

Over the past three years, Dropout Nation (along with activists such as Bruno Behrend) has explained how teacher quality reform activists and others can use the approach of filing torts similar to those undertaken with some success by adequacy and equity advocates. Parent Power activists such as the Connecticut Parents Union have been quick to utilize this approach in their efforts to end Zip Code Education policies that lead to parents facing prison time for daring to provide their kids with high-quality education, while Alice Callaghan and the parents of nine Southern California children (who, along with school reform group EdVoice), filed theVergara suit have also taken to the courts for redress. The American Civil Liberties Union has also been active on this front, especially its Southern California unit, whose latest lawsuit, Cruz v. Californiais similar to Vergara. But most reformers have yet to undertake such an approach. Thanks to Vergara and Parent Power activists within the school reform movement, reformers has no excuse for not using the courts to push for the transformation of public education.

By using the courts to take on policies and practices that have violated the constitutional rights of children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — to high-quality education, reformers are embracing the examples set by civil rights activists of the last century, who successfully challenged Jim Crow segregation laws that harmed an earlier generation of black and brown children. At the same time, by working through the courts, which are charged by federal and state constitutions with interpreting laws (and thus, rejecting legislation that violates the principles contained within them), reformers are also holding legislators accountable.

While some of my fellow conservative and libertarian reformers, like our movement conservative peers, will bristle at what they fear to be judicial activism, the reality is that judges are supposed to serve as a backstop against legislatures more-concerned with favoring their interests than with following the law and protecting the rights of children and families. [Of course, the fact that conservatives have been more than willing to pursue legal avenues when it suits them -- including the sensible lawsuit in the Zelman case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling protecting school choice -- is one they conveniently ignore.]

We have a long way to go for the Vergara ruling to fully sustained as law by the courts. But the ruling will help spur reforms in California that will benefit our children along with good-and-great teachers. And reformers in other states, as well as at the national level, should be filing their own Vergara suits right now.


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

ROI - Colleges

Interesting article. Check out the table at the bottom (the full report is at: on 20-year ROI (return on investment): Harvard is #3, beating Stanford (#8) (of course), Yale (#25) (of course), Brown (#63) (of course), and Carleton (#578) (egads!).

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KIPP TEAM annual Be the Change gala, Newark

1) I went to the KIPP TEAM annual Be the Change gala last night in Newark and was, once again, inspired by the amazing things these dedicated educators, children, and parents are doing. Here are three pictures: on the left is the founder of TEAM, the incomparable Ryan Hill, giving a presentation; in the upper right are KIPPsters – one each from kindergarten through the oldest, who just graduated from George Washington University this month (who gave a moving keynote speech), all of whom introduced themselves and their impressive accomplishments; and in the lower right are parent volunteers who were honored, with students who presented them awards:
In addition to Ryan, the other exceptional educators I enjoyed running into last night were Chris Cerf, Cami Anderson, Kathleen Nugent, Mashea and Michele Ashton (dear lord, help me figure out a way to tell these twins apart so I don't make another horrible faux pas!), Fatimah Burnam-Watkins, Ben Cope, Drew Martin, Sha Reagans, Lauren Cooke, Ali Nagle, Mark "MoJo" Johnson, Charlie Metzger, and many others (forgive my faulty memory) (Joanna Belcher and Hannah Richman, I saw you but didn't have a chance to say hi!). You guys are my heroes!
A special shout-out to Alan and Jennifer Fournier, who made an incredible $750,000 gift that was quickly matched, resulting in over $2 million being raised last night!
I should also note that TEAM is expanding from Newark to Camden, opening its first school this summer, in a city that desperately needs better schools: the district of 15,000 students last year graduated (I hope you're sitting down) only 3 (THREE!) college-ready students. This is a stain on our nation.
Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard (I wrote about his appointment here: is leading the charge at the district level, while the KIPP schools are being led by ed warrior Drew Martin, who's moving from his former position as school leader of Rise Academy in Newark. And because I never miss the opportunity to give grief to people I really love, here's a mash-up of Drew:

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