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Teacher Rights vs. Student Rights Debated in California

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
LA Times: "A judge’s 2014 ruling in the case, Vergara vs. California, holds that several key job protections for teachers are so harmful to students that they deprive children of their constitutional right to an education."

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-vergara-tenure-battle-20160225-story.html

"These statutes... make it almost impossible to fire a veteran, unionized teacher. The result, he wrote, is that bad teachers remain in the classroom, hurting students, especially black and Latino students and those from low-income families."

What do you think - has protection against arbitrary dismissal gone too far?
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Replies to: Teacher Rights vs. Student Rights Debated in California

  • awesomepolyglotawesomepolyglot Registered User Posts: 3,502 Senior Member
    IMO, HSL is frequented by high school students, and posts such as these will generate more discussion on the Parent Forum.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    @fretfulmother, we try to highlight news items of significance to CC student and parent members - this one looks like it could have broad implications at least in California, and, depending on the outcome, elsewhere. I hope we don't get teacher-bashing, as most try to do a good job. Perhaps teachers would be criticized less as a group if bad ones could be weeded out more easily? Good teachers doing their job don't get a lot of publicity. @awesomepolyglot, I think students may have opinions on this topic, too.
  • fretfulmotherfretfulmother Registered User Posts: 1,826 Senior Member
    edited March 2016
    @Roger_Dooley I appreciate your reply.

    Unfortunately, I believe your statement, "Perhaps teachers would be criticized less as a group if bad ones could be weeded out more easily" misses the whole point about why teachers need job protections.

    There are two major factors in why teachers need job protection (often provided by a union):

    1. "Good" teachers, i.e. those with a really solid background, have many other opportunities to make more actual money with less stress in various other industries (particularly those of us in STEM). The primary economic appeal of a public sector job (not just teaching, but including teaching) is the suite of benefits that equalizes for the poor pay and greater demands. The best teachers will choose the jobs with the best benefits. This is true in all industries, and it is only fair that an employee will try to maximize his/her opportunities. (ETA - this can be seen as analogous to why a "golden parachute" must be included for CEO benefits to be competitive in the market - otherwise, a different company takes your desired candidate.)

    2. Teaching, by definition, will not make everyone happy. Low grades or discipline can lead to a child feeling "wronged by a bad teacher" when in fact the job was executed skillfully. Students of all ages are notoriously unable to assess whether they have been "taught well" (this is even acknowledged by those on the right who would push for more standardized tests as measurements instead). Parents resent things like grades or Honors placement and should not have hire/fire influence based on those factors. A person who must by his/her job present intellectual points of view or discourse or ideas can put him/herself into a controversial situation. All of these reasons mean that without union protections, teachers can be victims of virtual lynch mobs if they say something unpopular (even if correct) - and this does happen in private schools as you know. This set of ideas is why tenure began at the college level.

    And a side point - normalized salaries by experience and education credentials only - is an important ingredient as well, if you want teachers to share curriculum openly and work as a team for all students to succeed. If I am paid more than my colleague for a higher test score, and I invent a terrific new lab to teach kids better, where is my incentive to share that with more students?

    Now let's look at the forces behind this lawsuit and behind trying to demolish teachers' union powers. It is certainly not any kind of pro-middle-class or even pro-student kind of source.

    Charter school funders, private sector interest groups, and for-profit "education" companies all stand to gain if they can get their hands into the pot of public money currently dedicated to education. This is what has happened in other industries with terrible implications for wages and benefits for those who formerly held "good blue collar jobs".

    It's not as simple as some statement of "weed the bad ones out" - what bad ones? Who decides? On what basis? What are the standards of fairness? Is intellectual freedom a value for American education? How do you make sure this isn't some kind of witch hunt, or more likely, a profit-motivated attempt to get rid of more expensive (experienced) teachers?

    For those who say, "well in my private sector job, sure the older expensive people get fired and that's just life" - OK - but you have had years of higher earnings (relative to same educational level) and also access to social security (teachers who have state pensions do not get, or pay into, social security - and at least in MA, they fully fund their own pension plan with no tax revenue included).

    Anyone who values the strength of the American middle class should be in favor of more jobs becoming unionized, not fewer. Jealousy and resentment are not good reasons to play into the hands of the Walmart-equivalents of the education world.

    Now, as to why this was made a "hot" topic on CC - I would say that there are many appropriate topics that are arguably more relevant to college admissions, college life, etc. I would like to register that I am disappointed in the editorial decision to highlight this inflammatory lawsuit.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    Most companies that employ knowledge workers make hire/fire decisions using tools like performance reviews and 360 evaluations, @fretfulmother. Every decision may not be perfect, but a manager who makes too many poor choices will get weeded out herself. That's how every high-performing private company does it, and it's not clear that they would be better off with an inflexible workforce.

    I'd guess there's a middle ground that ensures poor performers and burnouts can be dismissed but protects the majority against arbitrary actions.
  • YnotgoYnotgo Registered User Posts: 3,195 Senior Member
    edited March 2016
    If you read portions of the transcript of the original Vergara trial and the decision written by the judge, it is clear that it was poorly decided and that the judge had an opinion not supported by the facts in evidence. The decision has been called "not even a B- paper" by legal scholars.

    For example, some of the teachers named in the suit did not have due process (tenure). And, some of the student plaintiffs admitted to skipping school quite a bit and not doing homework, but blamed their failure to do well in school on their teachers.

    Tenure is not the reason that there are poor teachers in poor schools. The reasons include that teachers prefer to live and teach in better neighborhoods, so the turnover rate is very high in poor areas. Most teachers in poor schools haven't been there long enough to have tenure. Administrators, who have a big effect on the quality of life for teachers, are also generally worse in poor schools, so good teachers move to good schools to escape bad principals.

    Also, there aren't enough people getting teaching credentials in California (down something like 58% over the past few years), so the teacher shortage is getting really bad in underprivileged areas. Even in "good" school districts, it is getting difficult to find reasonable substitutes, because the good substitutes have been hired as teachers. Hopefully with the new ESSA, the test-and-punish era is winding down, but flawed VAM-style fire-the-teachers-with-the-lowest-scoring-students policies are still discouraging college students from looking at teaching as a career.
  • fretfulmotherfretfulmother Registered User Posts: 1,826 Senior Member
    "Most companies that employ knowledge workers make hire/fire decisions using tools like performance reviews and 360 evaluations, @fretfulmother. Every decision may not be perfect, but a manager who makes too many poor choices will get weeded out herself. That's how every high-performing private company does it, and it's not clear that they would be better off with an inflexible workforce."

    @Roger_Dooley - there is a world of difference between a so-called "360 evaluation" with adult colleagues/employees, vs. asking children for their opinions when they are getting grades and have to meet outside standards of learning. Studies keep showing that even for college students, "course evaluations" are more about prejudice than about what was learned or how it was learned. (Like that one where they had an online course and changed only the name of the instructor but got wildly different evaluations based on perceived race and gender.)

    Also, there is a world of difference between profit-driven companies which are able to choose their input supply line, and a public school which has to educate all comers to a certain standard.

    "Tenure is not the reason that there are poor teachers in poor schools. The reasons include that teachers prefer to live and teach in better neighborhoods, so the turnover rate is very high in poor areas. Most teachers in poor schools haven't been there long enough to have tenure. Administrators, who have a big effect on the quality of life for teachers, are also generally worse in poor schools, so good teachers move to good schools to escape bad principals."

    @Ynotgo - Exactly. But people tend to view this situation with a dose of human error as follows: Some story breaks about a teacher doing something bozo-ish in a tough/poor environment (often, as you note, not tenured). People pick up on the buzz words "bad teacher" and think to themselves, "Oh wait, I had a teacher I didn't like once. Yeah. Bad Teacher." And suddenly everyone's an expert and the pitchforks go up. Add in a bit of stirred-up economic jealousy (the 1% likes to get the lower-middle-class riled up against the middle-middle-class to deflect attention), and it's all about how rotten unions are.
  • hebegebehebegebe Registered User Posts: 1,593 Senior Member
    the 1% likes to get the lower-middle-class riled up against the middle-middle-class to deflect attention
    How exactly does that work? Do the 1% have meetings to discuss this, and assign each member a task with scheduled due dates? Do they berate people for who are not cutting it with conversations like "Dammit Bob, the 99% is getting along too well with each other. I want more violence between racial groups. Get it done!"

    I am in that category that you describe, and yet I have never been invited to those meetings. Should I be happy or sad?
  • fretfulmotherfretfulmother Registered User Posts: 1,826 Senior Member
    edited March 2016
    I'm pretty sure you are being sarcastic @hebegebe, but in case you are genuinely curious, I refer of course to spokespeople of the 1% i.e. political leaders, heads of for-profit education companies, and similar.

    As long as these folks can drum up resentment by the Walmart cashier for the firefighter over who "gets" health insurance, attention is diverted from the grossly unequal (and acceleratedly unequal) income opportunities in this country. Bonus points for convincing those who are doing well, that it was due solely to their own efforts. Extra bonus points if there is an outside group, perhaps immigrants, who can shoulder some blame for economic woes as well.

    Note that I don't mention income inequality, which I think could be argued is a necessary/healthy ingredient of capitalism - but the lack of equal *opportunity*. The "stickiness" of one's SES level has never been stronger in American history. And don't fool yourself: The people who benefit from our system have a lot of legal and political and public-opinion methods in place to keep it that way.
  • hebegebehebegebe Registered User Posts: 1,593 Senior Member
    @fretfulmother,

    Of course I was being sarcastic. You generalized a few million people, and I just pointed that out.

    There are multiple competing narratives at the national level, so it's simplistic to say that those with political and media sway have control over one viewpoint. At higher education levels, the NY Times battles it out with the WSJ, and at lower levels it is Fox and MSNBC. For people with open minds, multiple viewpoints are useful for learning more than a single viewpoint alone would provide.

    There are competing narratives because there are real philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals when it comes to the role of the state. For example, does increasing the safety net decrease motivation? Would making college free be a net benefit to society? For you to ascribe these real philosophical differences to "keeping others down" is just as short sighted as you claim the other side to be.
  • anthonytheboyanthonytheboy Registered User Posts: 234 Junior Member
    I love great teachers and most teachers I met are great people. Only few have been very mean to me and others or have not taught content properly.

    Have a good day!
  • philbegasphilbegas Registered User Posts: 2,478 Senior Member
    edited December 2016
    Given how complicated dismissing a tenured teacher is - I imagine there's quite a lot of lawyer costs (and bureaucratic costs) that happen when a school attempts to fire a teacher. Maybe teachers could get paid more if it was easier and cheaper to fire bad ones?

    Edit; apologies if this was posted too late - it is still sitting in the "promoted thread" space so it seemed like it was newer.
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