Letter from California: Who just stripped tenure from teachers?

Stripping ineffective California teachers of their tenure got a step closer to reality recently when a trial court in Los Angeles, in the case of Vergara vs. California, struck down five provisions of the California Education Code as being unconstitutional.

In essence, the judge concluded that the California state teacher’s tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, which allow ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom or for an extended period of time while school districts attempt to remove them, are especially bad for the students who must endure them.

Currently, in California, a teacher can become tenured after two years.  In 32 states, it takes three years to reach tenure status. Los Angeles County Judge Rolf M. Treu in the Vergara case, indicated that firing a teacher could take two to 10 years and $50,000 to $450,000 or more. How those figures were arrived at is not certain.

Treu wrote: “Poor and minority students are especially hurt by the laws because grossly ineffective teachers more often work in their schools.” A direct hit on the California Education Code regarding tenure.

Not so fast. Typically, it is the new teachers, not the tenured teachers, who begin their careers in the low income and minority school districts. Positions outside of these districts are usually filled by tenured teachers and those close to reaching tenure status.

The blanket statement that tenured teachers are not providing these children with a quality education or that they are grossly ineffective, appears to contradict the judge’s statement that tenured teachers more often work in schools of low income and minority students.

Also, there is no explanation available as to what renders a teacher grossly ineffective. An expert for the defendants found that there are as many as 8,250 grossly ineffective teachers in the state or up to 3 percent statewide, according to the judge’s statement.  This seems to be a relatively small number of teachers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the judge’s ruling is an opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession and a mandate to fix a broken teaching system.

The court’s decision will offer California, 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, said the former leader of the Chicago public schools.

Duncan said it was his hope that the ruling would open up a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.

This statement should ring the bell for states outside of California to be assured that the battle will not be fought and won inside California alone.

Currently, the law has been stayed on appeal. It is too early to determine if the law will become permanent because as anyone might guess, the teachers’ unions are not too happy with the outcome.

Aside from the debate over tenure, there appears to be something else afoot here when you consider the “players” involved.

David F. Welch, is the predominant person to consider, when attempting to determine if another agenda is really the objective.

Welch is the president and co-founder of a Silicon Valley corporation called Infinera, whose mission, according to its website, is to provide an infinite pool of intelligent bandwidth to global network operators.  He also purportedly lives in the affluent neighborhood of Atherton, where the cheap homes start at $1.2 million.

Further research reveals that it was Welch’s nonprofit organization, Students Matter, begun in 2010 or 2011, that supplied the attorneys to represent the nine recruited plaintiffs, all students, in the Vergara vs. California court case.

Students Matter’s mission statement indicates that its goal is dedicated to sponsoring impact litigation to promote access to quality public education. The attorneys on the case were the same attorneys that argued against Proposition 8 in California, which was opposed to same-sex marriage.

According to Students Matter’s website, they partner with RALLY, a consulting company that builds campaigns to advance social causes.  As it turns out, Welch is also on the national board of the National Resources for Defense Council, who according to its website is the nation’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.

NRDC’s priorities include curbing global warming and creating the clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, protecting our health by preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water and fostering sustainable communities.

In an article written by  Welch in the Orange County Register, he touts himself as being an education reformer for the past 10 years and a product of public schools.

Welch wrote: He learned from my schoolteachers and from my years in Silicon Valley that change always involves risk, and risk is sometimes scary. “But there’s nothing more important to our collective future than the education of our children – and there’s no one more worth the risk.”

While I want to believe Welch’s goals are altruistic with the best interest of the children in mind, I believe that his stated personal beliefs, his association with a social cause company, and his board membership with a national environmental group, only serves to forward another, perhaps more progressive agenda.

It would be interesting to know, if a possible agenda for wanting to remove tenured teachers that are grossly ineffective has anything to do with Common Core, as one of its motivations.

While I do not know if Welch is in favor of Common Core, I believe that ridding an educational system of those experienced teachers who may oppose Common Core, in favor of new teachers who may be in favor of it. and or who are without an ability to voice opposition because they lack tenure, would be in line with an agenda that supports a collective future to which Welch refers.

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