Today in Los Angeles attorneys will offer closing arguments in Vergara v. California, a lawsuit funded by Silicon Valley millionaire David Welch and others with ties to the school privatization movement under the banner of a front organization called Students Matter. The suit wrongly attacks as unconstitutional California statutes covering teacher employment, including the current two-year probationary period, the due process protections built into teacher dismissal and layoff procedures that value experience over more arbitrary factors.
That the probationary period is even an issue is a little mind-boggling; if a principal can have a teacher on staff for two years and still have no idea if that teacher is effective, he or she probably has no business being a principal. At trial, award-winning superintendents and principals have testified that two years is more than enough time to decide whether to keep a teacher on staff and,
Are job protections for teachers to blame for educational underachievement among low-income students of color in California? That’s the provocative question ostensibly at the heart of Vergara vs. California, which seeks to invalidate the tenure, due process and seniority rights of hundreds of thousands of educators.
Astute observers of the nation’s escalating education wars, however, may be asking another question: When did it become permissible to use the welfare of children as a fig leaf for an all-out legal attack on teachers?
Or, as historian and teacher John Thompson wrote recently in Scholastic, “Are corporate reformers unabashedly using the courts as a battleground for battering employees’ rights, as opposed to helping children?”
Sadly, the answer to Thompson’s question appears to be an unequivocal yes. For while the outcome of Vergara will have far-reaching national implications, it is hardly unique in its attempt to scapegoat teachers for sub-par educational performance.
Last week’s testimony in the Vergara v. California trial raised many an eyebrow when Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John E. Deasy testified on behalf of plaintiffs in a lawsuit whose defendants had originally included LAUSD.
Despite its supporters’ protests to the contrary, Vergara is widely seen as a frontal attack against statutory guarantees of due process and seniority rights for state teachers. The suit is the brainchild of Students Matter, a Bay Area nonprofit created by wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and partly financed by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.
Under friendly direct examination by plaintiff attorney Marcellus McRae, the superintendent offered testimony that supported the suit’s contentions that the way in which teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure has an adverse impact on the overall quality of the teacher workforce and illegally discriminates against low-income and minority students.
Ted Mitchell, the former Occidental College president nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education, is the founder and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose goal, according to its tax records, is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”
Judging by a look at the group’s website, another part of its agenda may be to gut the seniority rights and other job protections currently enjoyed by California’s public school teachers.
This week the site began prominently featuring news about the Vergara v. California trial now unfolding in Los Angeles Superior Court. When called for comment, a NewSchools spokesman said Mitchell’s group was taking no position on the case.
“We believe it’s an important case with broad implications for education,” the spokesman said.
The national debate over the quality of public school education and its teachers shifts to a courtroom this morning as day one of Vergara v. California opens in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Filed on behalf of nine student plaintiffs (including Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara), the suit seeks to wipe out the core of state teacher employment rights by overturning five California statutes that it claims make it too difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the spring of 2012 by Students Matter, a Bay Area nonprofit created by the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and financed partly by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.
That’s when Students Matter revealed the names of an advisory committee that reads like a Who’s Who of privatized education interests. Heading the list is Students First,
The battle to keep City College of San Francisco open and accredited took a dramatic turn late Thursday afternoon. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow temporarily barred the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from revoking accreditation for the 79-year-old school that serves about 80,000 students at 11 San Francisco campuses. The ACCJC, the agency charged with evaluating California’s 112 community colleges, had sought to revoke CCSF’s accreditation by July 31; it was challenged by several lawsuits filed by San Francisco’s City Attorney and a pair of teachers unions.
Judge Karnow, while dismissing the unions’ suits, ruled in favor of the city attorney’s request for a temporary injunction against the accreditation revocation, declaring that CCSF’s shutdown would be too extreme a response to the ACCJC’s findings of administrative deficiencies at CCSF. “Those consequences would be catastrophic,” Karnow said of a shutdown.
Lawyers for the ACCJC unsuccessfully argued for a dismissal of all challenges to its institutional authority and expertise in determining accreditation standards.
Before Capital & Main emerged from our earlier blog, Frying Pan News, writers Vivivan Rothstein and Steven Mikulan took in a movie now and then. Here are excerpts from some of their 2013 reviews.
12 Years a Slave Towering profiles of moss-hung oaks, silhouetted against languid Southern sunsets, form some of the indelible images from Steve McQueen’s new film. So too do gruesome close-ups of the scarred backs of antebellum slaves, whose skin has hardened to bark by years of whippings. This is the central visual paradox in 12 Years a Slave, which contrasts quiet moments of primeval, pastoral beauty with the loud, primitive violence practiced by plantation owners. (Steven Mikulan)
Go Public I wanted to cry after watching Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District.
To appreciate the value of a community college education, consider the transformation of Shanell Williams.
By the time she was a teenager, Williams was constantly getting into trouble on the streets of San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Her abuse of drugs and alcohol, along with a difficult family life, would lead her into the juvenile justice system, drug treatment centers and foster homes.
“I was a juvenile delinquent,” she admits.
Today Williams, now 29, hardly resembles that troubled youth. She is a hard-working student at City College of San Francisco, taking urban studies courses and hoping to transfer to Stanford University or the University of California at Berkeley. She has served as president of the student council at CCSF’s Ocean campus and was elected to be the student representative on CCSF’s Board of Trustees.
“Community college has helped give me a pathway to higher education,” she says.
That pathway may soon be closing.
As our country’s economy has limped along from one crisis to another over the past several years, the impact of state and federal austerity measures on communities has exposed our troubling national priorities. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that despite the Great Recession technically ending in 2009, schools have yet to return to pre-recession spending levels, and in some states the cuts reach up to 20 percent per pupil. These drastic cuts have become the norm as communities in states that have resorted to austerity to put out short-term fires must now cope with the fallout from such measures.
And then the government shut down.
So on top of underfunded schools, we had Head Start agencies on the chopping block,long-term WIC funding up in the air, furloughed workers flooding unemployment offices and the nation on the brink of defaulting on our debt yet again.
Sandy Hellebrand was concerned. She needed to find a school that could educate her son Gabriel, who has autism and was about to enter high school.
Hellebrand thought she had found the perfect solution: She would enroll Gabriel and her two younger children in Sky Mountain Charter School, one of a rapidly-growing number of virtual schools in California and across the country.
After all, she reasoned, the school would provide excellent online instructional materials and instructors to guide Gabriel’s individual needs. Since Sky Mountain is a publicly funded school – although not a traditional brick-and-mortar one – the state of California would pay for her children’s education. And Hellebrand and her husband Rob, a public high school teacher, would receive about $1,800 a year for each of their children to help defray their costs of educating them at home.
“The idea is fantastic,” she says in an interview with Frying Pan News.
(See full infographic at OnlinePhdPrograms)
Driving a 15-year-old car 70 miles a day between three different college campuses took a toll on my ride – and on me. I was teaching as adjunct professor at three different L.A. community colleges. An adjunct is a part-time professor who is hired on a contractual basis rather than being given tenure and a permanent position. Many universities hire large numbers of adjunct faculty members because they are flexible and cheaper to maintain than traditional full-time faculty members.
I had no health insurance, no savings and no other financial resources, so every penny went to rent, car repairs and food. I was expected to hold office hours, but the colleges where I taught did not provide office space for adjuncts – I had nowhere to meet students or grade papers on campus.
“Sometimes it seems that eliminating public education itself is the goal of this reform era,” Diane Ravitch told a cheering crowd of public school teachers and education activists who had packed Occidental College’s Thorne Hall Tuesday night.
The audience had come to hear the 75-year-old scholar, author and former Assistant Secretary of Education drive home her message that, contrary to the dire narrative now being sold to Americans by proponents of school privatization, the nation’s public education system is not broken.
Ravitch, who might have been mistaken for the latest college-radio rock sensation rather than the country’s preeminent critic of the education-reform movement, was here as part of a Los Angeles leg of a whirlwind tour to promote the publication of her latest book — and New York Times Best Seller— Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Knopf).
Currently a Research Professor of Education at New York University, Diane Ravitch served as the Assistant Secretary of Education in the George H.W. Bush administration and later worked for Bill Clinton’s White House. A tireless critic of the public school testing standards she once endorsed, the 75-year-old Ravitch remains a clear voice against the stampede into publicly funded charter schools and other right-leaning education “reforms,” including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
Her newest book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Tonight and tomorrow night she will speak at two Southland colleges as part of her book tour.
Tuesday, October 1, 7 p.m.
Thorne Hall. Occidental College
1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles
Wednesday, October 2, 7 p.m.
Student Union,California State University
18111 Nordhoff St.,
As anyone thinking about enrolling in a college or university knows, tuition is not cheap. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) notes that since the early 1980s, tuition has risen by approximately seven percent a year, causing two-thirds of students to borrow to complete their degrees. Although grants and outright scholarships exist, part of the problem, NASFAA’s website explains, is that “in 1975 the states picked up 60 percent of the tab while families shouldered 33 percent” and the federal government picked up the balance. Thirty-eight years later, the states pay approximately 34 percent and the feds pay 16 percent, leaving students and their families to shell out – often through loans – the remaining half.
And it’s getting worse. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since the start of the recession in 2008, “cuts to higher education have been severe and almost universal.”
Frying Pan News reviewer Vivian Rothstein called Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District “an antidote to the doom and gloom pronouncements of Waiting for Superman and other recent corporate-sponsored films.”
This documentary, created by Jim and Dawn O’Keeffe, memorably follows 50 individuals (students, faculty and others) during a single school day. Its filmmakers focus on Pasadena’s public school district as it struggles to head off catastrophic budget cuts to 28 schools. It’s a primer on the importance of public education and how successful it can be with the support of parents and administrators.
The film can be seen in three widely separate local venues this weekend. On Saturday it’s part of the Catalina Film Festival and screens 1-3 p.m. at the Lancer Auditorium in Avalon. Sunday, it shows at Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Church (1-3 p.m.) and at USC’s Ray Stark Family Theater (6-8 p.m.).
President Obama [has] released a plan to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. The president’s plan outlines three proposals: tying federal student aid to college performance based on yet-to-be developed college rankings; promoting innovation and completion by instituting a college scorecard that would give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance to help them make the decisions that work best for them; and ensuring that student debt remains affordable by expanding eligibility for the Pay As You Earn repayment program. While this federal push is new, many of the ideas have already been tried and tested on the state level, and California’s community college system in particular provides some important data on what we should expect as these proposals are developed.
As a student who has attended community college and is attending a public university, I applaud President Obama for taking this step toward ensuring an affordable higher education for all.
As the New York Times reported on August 27 (“At Charter Schools, Short Careers By Choice”) most charter school teachers only remain in the profession for two to five years. In contrast, traditional public school teachers average nearly fourteen years of experience. But in the fantasy world of charter school proponents, far from being a shortcoming this lack of teaching experience is a positive. One charter school official told the Times, “There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.” Wendy Kopp, whose Teach for America program is criticized for high turnover, said “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”
I’ve never met a teacher who believes they were “great” in their first two years.
President Obama recently signed a bipartisan bill that ties student loan interest rates to the financial markets, which allows this year’s undergraduates to borrow at 3.9 percent interest — nearly half of what they would have paid if Congress had failed to act. As a recent college graduate, I, like many of my peers, was very excited to learn of this decision. However, while the federal government has done great work to help those students who are already enrolled in college, it is effectively failing those students who come from families at or below the poverty line.
A recent Brookings Institute and Princeton University study notes that the federal government is spending around $1 billion per year on programs to help low-income students. Despite this funding, the four major college prep programs, Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, Student Support Services and Talent Search (known collectively as TRIO), have had “no major effects on college enrollment or completion.” The study shows that students from low-income backgrounds who earn college degrees are 80 percent less likely to be poor.
The topic of last Thursday’s roundtable discussion hosted by the West Los Angeles Democratic Club was “The Privatization of Public Schools.” About 80 Democratic activists and Los Angeles Unified School District teachers at Mar Vista’s St. Bede’s Episcopal Church heard teacher and former congressional candidate Marcy Winograd moderate a discussion of such hot-button issues as charter schools, co-locations, Parent Trigger and federal learning-standards-based programs such as No Child Left Behind.
Panelists included LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer, United Teachers L.A./National Education Association Vice President M.J. Roberts, Crossroads School for the Arts & Sciences founder and charter school advocate Paul Cummins, middle school teacher Loren Scott, former middle school principal Marcia Haskin and LAUSD parent and education blogger Sara Roos.
The evening’s harshest words were reserved for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and Parent Trigger, the controversial law that allows 50 percent-plus-one of parents from an under-performing school to fire the staff and start over.
Low-income parents and child care providers who oppose a controversial finger-scanning policy in Mississippi won a reprieve August 15 when a judge issued an order that stops its implementation – at least for now.
Judge Denise Owens of the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District in Hinds County issued a temporary injunction, which effectively means that low-income parents whose kids are in a federally-funded voucher program that supports child care do not have to have their fingers scanned for facility pick-ups or drop offs.
The requirement applies to other adults designated to escort kids to and from participating child care facilities. The Mississippi Department of Human Services had planned on using the scans to track attendance to pay child care centers that participate in the subsidy program.
Certain requirements would have started on August 15. The scanning policy was scheduled to start throughout Mississippi,