"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Reformers" Seek to Overturn California Education Laws Based Solely on Evidence-Free Beliefs, Part Two

As I explained last week, the "astroturf" school "reform" organization, Students Matter, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group want to strike down five education laws that supposedly "are destroying California's public education system, demoralizing the teaching profession, and robbing California children of their future." In Vergara v California, they claim "California's Schools Hire And Retain Grossly Ineffective Teachers At Alarming Rates." So, they want the court to strike down five laws protecting the rights of teachers.  Vergara also demands that schools use teacher "effectiveness" i.e. test scores for firing teachers.

Don't get me wrong.  I would strongly support a civil rights lawsuit, grounded in the law and based on solid evidence, if it was likely to help - not hurt - poor children of color.  Vergara, however, is based merely on the beliefs of some powerful non-educators.

Vergara takes some legitimate research out of context, ignoring their disclaimers that their findings should be used with caution.  For instance, it cites "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood" (Working Paper 17699, Dec. 2011) by Chetty, Freidman, and Rockoff. But, the evidence of Chetty et. al says little or nothing about the policy issues involved in firing teachers.

Most of Student Matter's evidence comes from policy groups funded by the "Billionaires Boys Club," and seem to illustrate the essence of Vegara.  For example, its web links to one such organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and its statement that,  "Economists recommend that districts should routinely dismiss at least the bottom-performing 25 percent of teachers eligible for tenure in order to build a high-quality teaching corps that is capable of making significant gains in student achievement."

The NCTQ claims that principals don't fire enough teachers because the law requires them  to document a teacher as "below standards" in an evaluation, detail recommendations for improvement, describe a teacher's unsatisfactory performance, and meet with the employee to the employee making those improvements. It acknowledges that "none of the state's requirements appears overly onerous."

The NCTQ seeks to outlaw seniority provisions in teachers contracts because "principals do not feel they have the authority" to reject transfers that they don't want to hire. It seeks to overturn tenure laws because a survey of principals "suggested that two years is not enough time to make informed decisions on teacher tenure, with the majority of principals saying they need at least three years."

I could go on, the pattern is clear.  When administrators say that they lose four of seven teacher dismissal cases, Student Matters accepts without question the administrators' beliefs that the union was to blame.  When administrators hire teachers without asking them to teach a sample lesson, teachers must be to blame. And because the LAUSD recruits most of its teachers from education schools with lower academic standards, they somehow believe that teachers are to blame. 

In other words, Students Matter is suing because they believe that their theories are better for poor children.  Their beliefs are based on beliefs, feelings, suggestions, and recommendations of people who blame teachers. And, presumably, they expect the courts to strike down laws because they accept those beliefs.

Another pattern is implicit in the Students Matter legal campaign.  Market-driven "reformers" seek to micromanage the complexities of California labor law, but there is no reason to believe that they would be content with that. These accountability hawks - despite their lack of knowledge about real life schools - have shown a propensity to micromanage all types of school functions. If Vergara wins, citizens in other states can expect well-funded lawsuits challenging the democratic governance of their schools. 

And, there is no reason to believe that they will be less arrogant when scripting administrative functions in the rest of the nation.

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