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6-11-14 Education in the News
NY Times - Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California LOS ANGELES — A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states...

Star Ledger - Christie touts program to bring math, science teachers to NJ's neediest schools

NY Times - Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California


LOS ANGELES — A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.

Both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

The teachers’ unions said Tuesday that they planned to appeal. A spokesman for the state’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, said she was reviewing the ruling with Gov. Jerry Brown and state education officials before making a decision on any plans for an appeal.

“We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, one of two unions that represent roughly 400,000 educators in the state. “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.”

In his sharply worded 16-page ruling, Judge Treu compared the Vergara case to the historic desegregation battle of Brown v. Board of Education, saying that the earlier case addressed “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience,” and that this case involved applying that principle to the “quality of the educational experience.”

He agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, because the tenure system assures them a job essentially for life; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of the teacher’s skills.

Further, Judge Treu said, the least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools filled with low-income and minority students. The situation violates those students’ constitutional right to an equal education, he determined. It is believed to be the first legal opinion to assert that the quality of an education is as important as mere access to schools or sufficient funding.

“All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience,” Judge Treu wrote in his ruling. “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

The right to an education is written into every state constitution. But lawyers for the states and teachers’ unions said that overturning such laws would erode necessary protections that stop school administrators from making unfair personnel decisions. They also argued that a vast majority of teachers in the state’s schools are competent and providing students with all the necessary tools to learn. More important factors than teachers, they argued, are social and economic inequalities as well as the funding levels of public schools.

Critics of existing rules hailed the decision as a monumental victory and urged lawmakers to make immediate changes to laws. Mr. Duncan issued a statement saying the ruling could help millions of students who are hurt by existing teacher tenure laws.

“My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift,” Mr. Duncan said. “Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.”

In essence, Judge Treu ruled that a quality education is guaranteed for all students in the state — which relies on effective teachers — and that anything less undermines the quality and violates the equal protection clause in the state constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Treu added his voice to the political debate that has divided educators for years. School superintendents in large cities across the country — including Los Angeles, New York and Washington — have railed against laws that essentially grant teachers permanent employment status. They say such job protections are harmful to students and are merely an anachronism.

Three states and the District of Columbia have eliminated tenure, but similar efforts have repeatedly failed elsewhere, including California. Under state law here, administrators seeking to dismiss a teacher they deem incompetent must follow a complicated procedure that typically drags on for months, if not years. Teachers are eligible for tenure after 18 months, and layoffs must be determined by seniority, a process known as “last in, first out.”

Judge Treu, who was appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, wrote that “both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one) disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute.” He added that current dismissal statutes are “so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

He also had harsh words for the layoff system that protects veteran teachers without regard to any evaluation. “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable,” he wrote.

Judge Treu is expected to issue a final opinion on the case by the end of the month after taking comments from both sides, but for now he ordered that the existing laws remain in place while the case makes its way through the appeal process.

John Deasy, superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, who testified for the plaintiffs, said he hoped the decision would be a rallying cry for an immediate response from state lawmakers, who have been reluctant to make any changes to tenure laws.

“Every day that these laws remain in effect represents another opportunity denied,” he said. He echoed language used in desegregation rulings: “With all deliberate speed. I don’t think we need to watch for two generations more to fix this.”


Star Ledger - Christie touts program to bring math, science teachers to NJ's neediest schools

By Brent Johnson/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 10, 2014 at 5:35 PM, updated June 11, 2014 at 7:57 AM

Gov. Chris Christie today championed "a new pipeline" to bring qualified teachers into New Jersey's neediest schools.

Christie introduced the first 50 recipients of the Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellowship, a privately funded, $11.4 million program that trains both recent college graduates and veteran professionals to become science, technology, engineering, and math teachers.

The Republican governor has often faced criticism for cuts to school funding and his battles with the state teachers union. But at this afternoon's news conference, he stressed the importance of the profession.

"We fully recognize what research has shown us for years: Teachers matter," Christie said. "Outside of parents, they are the single most important factor in how our children learn. With today's announcement, we are reaffirming our commitment to advancing teacher talent."

Each recipient will receive $30,000 to complete a specially designed master's degree program at one of five schools in the state: The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, Rowan University, Rutgers University-Camden, and William Paterson University. They will also teach in classrooms at nearby public school districts while they study.

In return, the recipients have committed to teach for three years at one of12 at-need districts across the state: Bridgeton, Camden, Ewing, Millville, Newark, New Brunswick, Orange, Passaic City, Paterson, Pemberton Township, Trenton, and Vineland.

Christie said the program — which he announced in 2012 — will help educate more than 15,000 students in New Jersey, and officials said it will help address a shortage of math and science teachers in the state.

New Jersey is the fifth state to participate in the fellowship, after Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. But it was created by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship foundation, based in Princeton and named after the former president, New Jersey governor, and president of Princeton University.

"These fields are so critical to this state," said Arthur Levine, the foundation's president. "To its economic future, to the opportunities that kids have in New Jersey."

The program is financed by a consortium of companies and organizations from across the state — headed by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Other contributors include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the PSEG Foundation.

Most members of the inaugural class hail from New Jersey, but a few are from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas.

Jarred Phillips, an Eastampton native, is a recent graduate of Yale University who specialized in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. Now, he'll attend Rutgers-Camden under the program.

Phillips, who has worked a summer school physics teacher in Newark, said there are a string of factors "working against" students in urban and at-need schools — including a lack of money and resources and parents with college educations. But programs like this can help prepare those students better for the future.

"I think teacher quality is really important and can help change that," Phillips said.

The announcement drew one political joke from Christie. In attendance was the president of the Dodge Foundation: Chris Daggett, who ran against Christie and then-Gov. Jon Corzine as an independent candidate in the 2009 governor's race.

Christie winkingly invited Daggett — the former commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection — to his office after the event to discuss filling the $2.7 billion budget gap that the state is facing over the next two years.

"Chris, thank you for coming out. I appreciate seeing you," Christie said. "We've got a budget situation, if you want to come back into my office to talk about that."



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