This article was first published at the McAlvany Intelligence Advisors on Friday, June 27, 2014:
It didn’t take long for the decision in California that threw out union rules protecting teachers to galvanize similar efforts in New York. The Partnership for Educational Justice announced its plans to file a similar lawsuit against the same kind of rules extant in New York that so outraged Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu earlier this month when he ruled them unconstitutional.
The Partnership will sue next month to get rid of the same three rules that upset Treu: rules allowing tenure to be granted long before a new teacher has proved herself competent to teach, rules virtually prohibiting firing an incompetent teacher once she has been granted tenure, and LIFO (last in, first out), the rule that requires school administrators to fire the last hired during layoffs, even if they can teach.
Although the rules in New York are slightly different from California’s, the strategy that resulted in Treu’s harshly worded decision will be the same: trotting out kids who wanted to learn in New York’s public schools but couldn’t because their teachers not only weren’t competent to teach, some couldn’t even keep order in their classrooms!
The Partnership boasts the pro-bono services of Jay Lefkowitz, a skilled and highly regarded litigator with several victories over union interests tucked away in his back pocket, along with very persuasive arguments that such changes in New York are long overdue:
Only about 3 in 10 students across [New York] scored “proficient” or better on annual reading and math tests.
In two of the state’s largest school districts, fewer than 1 in 10 students passed these tests.
Based on current trends, 1 out of every 4 students statewide – and as many as half of all students in the state’s largest districts – won’t be able to graduate from high school on time [or] prepared for college.
The Partnership takes special umbrage at the rules that stand in the way of getting rid of poor teachers, claiming that if an administrator wants to fire a teacher it could take up to 18 months, many long meetings with union representatives and perhaps lawyers representing the teacher, and costs running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s simply not worth the hassle, says the Partnership. In New York City, for example, only 12 teachers out of the 75,000 teaching there have been terminated for cause over an entire decade, from 1997 to 2007! Says the Partnership:
Teachers in New York City are more likely to die on the job than be replaced because of poor performance.
It will go after the LIFO rules as well, calling them a “quality-blind approach” to layoffs that ignores competency over recency, forcing those last hired to be the first fired during downsizing, regardless of ability.
What was surprising was the response of establishment liberals to the California ruling. Arne Duncan, the head of Obama’s Department of Education, wrote on the department’s website that he favored the decision, that it supports the drive to “retain the most effective teachers [while] remov[ing] teachers who are ineffective.”
What also surprised was the announcement by a “communications” consulting firm called The Incite Agency that it would be rolling out a national education campaign supporting teacher tenure reform. That agency was founded by Robert Gibbs right after he left his position as Obama’s press secretary, along with two other liberal-left worthies also from the Obama tribe: Ben Labolt and Jon Jones.
Labolt served as Obama’s press secretary for his reelection campaign in 2012, and had served as press secretary for Sherrod Brown when he was running for the Senate from Ohio. He also served as communications director for Rahm Emanuel when he was running for Mayor of Chicago. And he also served as the White House spokesman during its efforts to confirm far left liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.
Jones has an equally hard left background, working successfully to drive Bob Casey’s campaign to remove Pennsylvania’s moderate Republican Senator Rick Santorum and replace him with ultra-liberal Casey.
In fact, a closer look at the Partnership for Educational Justice also reveals the influence of another hardline liberal, Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who was fired when her show’s ratings disappeared off the charts. When asked why she didn’t look for work elsewhere, such as Fox News, she recoiled in horror at the very idea:
The 8:00 p.m. hour in the cable news world is currently driven by the indomitable Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Grace, and Keith Olbermann. Shedding my own [liberal] journalistic skin to try to inhabit the kind of persona that might co-exist in that lineup is simply impossible for me.
It is not who I am, or who I want to be.
With liberals jumping into the middle of the fray, one has to ask why. Why would they support measures to emasculate rules favored by teachers’ unions for lo these many years – the same unions who have determinedly following Obama’s leading? Why would they do that?
Part of the answer comes from Arne Duncan himself, when he commented favorably on the California ruling:
Tenure itself is not the issue here. I absolutely support job security for effective teachers.
Further clarification comes from another source close to the center of the action: Devora Allen, an assistant litigator helping Lefkowitz on the lawsuit:
This case is not an assault on the public school system. Or teachers. It’s actually a case that’s designed to promote effective teachers.
The agenda of these left-wing liberals is now clear: protecting the institution of public education, rather than exposing it to the possible threat of annihilation by an outraged public once it learns of the dreadful conditions that pass for education in public schools in New York.
When another left-leaning journo asked in Huffington Post back in May whether 2014 is “the year of teacher tenure reform,” Mashea Ashton exposed the fallacy of trying to give the kids a good education in a state-sponsored, state-supported, union-centric environment with this:
No successful company, organization, or industry makes decisions on what talent to keep solely based on time in position.
Of course not. But she is equating the public school “industry” with private market groups that rely on satisfied customers for their very existence, or they go out of business. No such risk is involved in the statist educational camps.
That’s where the ultimate answer lies: not in reforming teacher tenure, but rather in turning the responsibility of educating the kids back to local school boards (free of federal mandates, à la Common Core, etc.), charter schools, and the parents themselves through home schools. Short of that, there is no way to teach the kids what they need to know to survive in this increasingly volatile and turbulent world.
The New American: Teacher Tenure Laws Struck Down in California
Arne Duncan: Drawing the Right Lessons from Vergara
Huffington Post: Is 2014 the Year of Teacher Tenure Reform?