“This lawsuit is baseless and meritless, and hurts student learning.” So says CTA President Dean E. Vogel in announcing that CTA and the California Federation of Teachers are filing to intervene in a lawsuit that would strip teachers of professional due process rights and job security. “The lawsuit is addressing the wrong problem, using the wrong process and proposing wrong solutions.”
The lawsuit, Vergara v. State of California, aims to overturn due process protections for teachers. It alleges that California Education Code provisions governing teacher dismissals, due process rights and layoffs are unconstitutional and should be eliminated. If upheld, it will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in California’s schools.
In the latest attempt by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools, Vergara was filed by “Students Matter,” a group founded by Silicon Valley corporate boss David Welch, whose stated mission is to impact public policy by filing lawsuits. Hiding their agenda behind kids, “Students Matter” named eight kids in the lawsuit, including 13-year-old Beatriz Vergara.
“It’s not about kids for them, it’s about filing lawsuits and making money at the expense of our students and educators,” says Vogel. “It’s an ‘ambulance chaser’ approach to education reform.” Others involved are anti-teacher organizations such as Parent Revolution and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
Specifically, the lawsuit claims teachers’ rights should be eliminated because students are failing due to the retention of “grossly ineffective teachers.”
Actually, student achievement is improving, despite the significant school funding cuts in recent years.
Laws governing teacher dismissals, job security and layoff procedures have absolutely nothing to do with the real issues facing California’s schools today, Vogel adds. The real issues facing California’s students today are inadequate resources, overcrowded classrooms, lack of parental involvement, and the need for quality teacher training.
“How will dive-bomb litigation solve anything?” asks Vogel. “By going through the courts, these ambulance chasers are deliberately cutting parents out of the process.”
Education policy decisions should be made in the Legislature and not in the courts, he adds. At the local school district level, educators and parents can work together to best meet the needs of students in that community and best represent their interest to lawmakers.
CTA is working with policymakers, local school districts and other stakeholders to find the right solution. Last year, CTA unveiled its Teacher Evaluation Framework , which provides guidance to local educators and their unions, as well as local school districts and the state Legislature, in how to approach teacher evaluation. For CTA, it’s about best practice and student achievement, not making money off frivolous lawsuits.
To combat the cursory “drive-by” nature of many teacher evaluations, the framework calls for making the process truly a joint endeavor where “the teacher is an active participant, fully engaged and focused on learning and improving practice, while the evaluator is a knowledgeable partner providing comprehensive, consistent and timely feedback, information and guidance.”
The framework formally introduces the practice of “formative” and “summative” evaluation procedures. The formative process focuses on increasing knowledge and improving professional practice; test scores may be included, but are not used for employment decisions. The summative process summarizes a teacher’s practice based on teaching and learning standards, and can be used in employment decisions.
“This lawsuit is a corporate end run around the Legislature to set public policy,” says Vogel. “It’s an effort to keep parents and educators out of education policy decisions. Clearly, it’s about making money, not about making a difference for students.”
The California Legislature is currently in session and considering proposals that address teacher dismissal, streamlining the process to keep our students safe, safeguarding the integrity of the profession, and protecting teachers’ due process rights. CTA is advocating for a quicker process and tough penalties for districts that do not follow the law. In fact, CTA is supporting two bills, AB 375 and AB 1338, that would streamline the dismissal process.
With the due process policies in place, after working two years, teachers get the right to a hearing, the right to tell their side of the story. The district must show that administrators have done their job evaluating, supporting and notifying educators of deficiencies.
“That takes work and time,” Vogel says. “We spend a lot of time making students successful. The least we can do is do the same for teachers. We want excellent teachers in our classrooms. Taking away job security and due process rights is unprofessional and inhibits good teaching. For districts, it should be as simple as following the law.”
Dismissal and due process procedures are working well where districts are utilizing the process currently mandated in state law. However, there are many not following the process.
If there are issues with education laws, rather than filing costly law suits, they should be addressed through the legislative process where parents, educators and all community members can be heard.
CTA and CFT seek to ensure all stakeholders have input in education policy decisions and to protect the rights of educators. After all, the students are the ones most affected by any of these decisions and their voices must be heard.