San Francisco Unified blazes civil rights path for California districts to follow

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As an education civil rights organization, we are far more accustomed to seeing school districts violate the rights of underserved students to a quality education than protect them from harm. But sometimes a school district’s leadership takes such a strong and courageous stance on behalf of their most vulnerable students that it takes your breath away. This was the type of courage shown by Superintendent Carlos Garcia and five members of the San Francisco Unified School Board when they voted to protect 14 of their highest-poverty schools from teacher layoffs in the coming year.

Last year The Education Trust-West published a report, Victims of the Churn, that revealed that high-poverty schools in California were far more likely to experience teacher layoffs. Because layoffs are typically based on seniority, the least senior teachers are “bumped” out of their positions by teachers with more experience. And because high-poverty schools tend to be staffed with younger teachers, they turn out to be the biggest losers in this process. The victims of this arbitrary and bureaucratic system are teachers and the vulnerable students and communities they serve.

For years it has been clear that this “churn” was disproportionally damaging high-poverty schools that were trying to improve, but few leaders were willing to risk the political damage of taking an alternative approach. Fortunately, advocates for low-income students began to see that this system was inequitable and had to change.

In Los Angeles Unified, an outcry from teachers and students in the district’s highest-poverty schools prompted the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Counsel to file a groundbreaking lawsuit to protect students from the disproportionate impact of layoffs. In these schools, students faced a constant revolving door of instructors. Teachers who designed plans for school improvement were laid off before their plans could be implemented. Students saw their dreams of college shattered as critical courses disappeared. The resulting settlement (known as “Reed”) protected dozens of schools from the impact of layoffs and has been supported by a broad range of civil rights groups.

Similarly, last year in Sacramento Unified, the superintendent and board protected five of their highest-poverty schools from the impact of layoffs. Each of these schools had a history of low performance and made extensive plans for school improvement. All of them would have been devastated by the normal layoff process with significant collateral damage to their students and communities.

These examples cracked open the door for districts around the state to take an alternative approach. With its move, San Francisco has pushed the door open. To Superintendent Garcia and the board’s credit, they did not make this decision arbitrarily. They looked at schools with a history of low performance and high turnover. They focused on schools where they had invested significant school improvement efforts, teacher training, and funding to increase student performance and close achievement gaps. These are schools that have shown improvement over the course of the past several years, where teachers and communities deserve the chance to build on their good work.

The critics of this approach argue that it will force layoffs onto other schools. These same critics often like to point out that the real problem with student and school performance is poverty. Well, if poverty is the problem, then what could be more important than creating stable learning environments for our highest-poverty students? And wouldn’t we want to make sure, in the name of equity, that we gave our low-income students every advantage they needed to beat the odds, close achievement gaps, and succeed?

For me, this is not an academic exercise disconnected from the day-to-day reality of schools. I taught in one of these protected schools. I know what it means to the students and community to shield them from further harm. As an administrator in San Diego Unified School District, I participated in the implementation of multiple layoff processes that devastated our district’s poorest schools. The process made me sick and I wished at that time that we could have done something different. Over the last several years, I have watched states such as Colorado pass laws to change their layoff processes to require districts to consider the “best interests” of students. Sadly, I know that there’s little hope of our leaders in Sacramento having the courage to make similar changes.

By taking this bold step to shield their highest-need schools from layoffs, San Francisco’s leadership prioritized the interests of their most vulnerable students. They have shown the leaders of every school district in California from Oakland to San Diego that there is another way. Let’s hope their courage is infectious.

Arun Ramanathan is executive director of The Education Trust-West, a statewide education advocacy organization. He has served as a district administrator, research director, teacher, paraprofessional, and VISTA volunteer in California, New England, and Appalachia. He has a doctorate in educational administration and policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His wife is a teacher and reading specialist and they have two children in a Spanish immersion elementary school in Oakland Unified.

21 Comments

  1. A ray of light for all districts to follow in this very dark time. The San Francisco Unified School Board is to be highly commended.

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  2. I believe a majority of teachers in California value justice for individuals and equal educational opportunity, but our local city councils and school boards often act in ways that favor the more privileged and resourced communities. Shame is the elephant in the room here – something so big and disturbing that we don’t see or acknowledge it, despite the fact that we keep bumping into it. “We” all should look in the mirror and be humiliated by the practices of institutional discrimination.
     
    Placing “affordable” housing in every neighborhood would help address this problem caused by “seniority.” But developers, and the politicians they support for election, use their power to maintain segregated communities.
     
    Too many of our communities have an over-concentration of poverty and tend to isolate new development into “gated” and “privileged” communities. Consequently, a child who happens to be born into a low-income family will likely attend a poor performing school because the family cannot afford to live in a nice neighborhood. This is not a problem that can be solved by school administrators or school boards.
     
    How can the rights of “seniority” be balanced by the need for schools “in need of improvement” to have experienced staff? Every school board should negotiate a labor agreement that provides a blend of experienced mentor teachers, developing teachers and beginning teachers in each school. Make that a statewide policy and the achievement gap will certainly diminish.

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  3. Good for them. A simple change that made layoff seniority by school instead of by district, and then apportioning layoffs by school might solve a lot of this. I’m glad they were able to do it.

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  4. I should add, I’m sad that they had to lay off anyone at all. Really, fights about how we lay off teachers are missing the point, because in the grand scheme of things, it should be a really rare event. Teacher removal for performance issues is an entirely separate conversation.

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  5. Thank you for pointing that out that there are no winners right now – even in San Francisco Unified. From a purely policy position, this is a move in the right direction but all kids are losing.  There are still many many schools in San Francisco that are making very difficult budgeting issues, including laying off staff, shortening the school year and cutting programs and these will impact ALL children.  My daughters attend a school with over half the children eligible for free and reduced lunch and 40% english language learners and  it is not a win to have any child at this school or any school lose the programs they desperately need and want to support an excellent learning environment.

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  6. Why is this called a “civil rights” issue?  We are now cherry picking what is a civil right and what is not?  This is a common sense decision because of the money spent on training teachers in the mandated correctional process.  (Low performing turnaround schools identified in the sh*t list of the Feds)  Leave it at that.  The legitimate concern of the schools that become subject to layoffs without this protection, will be compelling.  Their only hope is to get on the sh*t list and they are protected.  Incentives are cloaked in mystery.  Stealth in academia.

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  7. This is a complete farce. This protection means nothing. These “churning” is mostly caused by poorly run schools than by layoffs. The stats will show that most of these teachers do not return because they quit. The amount they are pushed by a non-understanding admin burns these teachers out so quickly. They are often expected to spend several hours outside of school every week on their own dime to attend meetings and recreate systems that would be in place if these schools could create an environment that actually made teachers want to stay there.
    When you take into account that many of these schools are not actually more poverty ridden than many other schools in the same district, it really just plays favorites for political gain and the whole time the only thing that seems to arise from this is to weaken the union. Many excellent teachers that worked really hard at other sites will now lose their jobs because the superintendent arbitrarily chose to protect these schools. I do not see any real data to back up any of Carlos Garcias’ arguments. Closer look at real data actually seems to make you question why some of the other schools in this district are not also protected since they also have the same qualities.
    If these schools were unique I would applaud it also. The comments above prove what a clever move it was by the superintendent. He can claim it as a civil right issue, weaken the union (allowing him to gain leverage in controlling the contract and teachers’ working conditions) and because it sounds like such a nice thing people do not question any of the data.

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  8. Great points david. If nothing is done to stem the voluntary exodus of those teachers, saving them from layoffs is a no-op. I also question which part of this the author considers ‘civil rights’, the assault on seniority or doing something to protect the kids. Teacher experience matters for the very reasons  mentioned here. I guess seniority is in the name of civil rights as well?
     
     

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  9. That doesn’t solve the problem of highly talented, motivated and effective young teachers being laid off instead of less competent teachers with seniority.

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  10. I was replying to el, but apparently comments don’t get linked to the comment where “Reply” was selected.

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  11. It seems to me this is a staffing issue, not a layoff issue. If these folks are so concerned about civil rights, maybe they should have been more proactive and insisted that their schools not be staffed with the highest numbers of the newest and least experienced teachers.
    It bothers me that this has not been looked at in this light. Districts need to look at their hiring and transfer practices to remedy this. Doing so would be much less disruptive and require much less rancor. But like so many other discussions regarding public education, there seems to be no desire to find solutions. Everyone is too busy proposing quick fixes that serve their personal biases. And too many who do so have zero experience educating students under increasingly challenging conditions.

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  12.  

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    I appreciate this article and the comments made in response to it. It is certainly a major leadership challenge for all districts facing these insurmountable financial walls; however the Superintendent is responsible to act on issues affecting the educational needs of all students. He has taken a bold step to deal with tough decisions in a manner of fairness to all students and communities. We may agree or disagree with his decisive direction, but he is aware of the challenges and is leading the SFUSD and not frozen from political fear or ineptitude.He has demonstrated the courage to ensure equity and access to the most vulnerable students in the SFUSD.

    Felix Galaviz

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  13. From Roque Burio Jr., the lemon who can dance and can sing, here is my song: The LAUSD illegal and unconstitutional Weapon of Mass Dismissal of Innocent Teachers also known as SB 1530 is voted down to its final grave. The enlightened politicians  of the axis party and evil friends of the children abuser paper monster are gradually distancing themselves from this tyrant that perpetuate the Reign of Terror among innocent teachers so as to gag them from making any comment or criticism against  its extravagant, incredible, and wasteful expenses.
       It also seems to appear to me that no more politicians are so willing to sponsor the wish of the tyrant Paper Monster to increase the taxes of the taxpayers in November election to support its huge, incredible, and wasteful multibillions proposed budget. It seems now confirmed that the LAUSD board has definitely withdrawn from Papa Brown its request to increase the taxes for its extravagant expenses in November election.
       There is also a remote but a possibility that the LAUSD will try to regain its senses for being oppressive and unjust to innocent teachers—that it might reinstate teachers who are really innocent but were pressured to separate from this dismayingly failing school district. This possibility arose from rumors that the state (republicans?) might investigate the tyrant paper monster on the illegal and unconstitutional procedures that it used against innocent teachers. Who knows if President Obama might also join the fun? He, he, he, he. Long live the US flag. Long live liberty, and justice for all. Long live the innocent teachers who suffer most from the tyrant illegal and unconstitutional treatment from the children abuser Paper Monster. Hah, hah, hah. And most of all, long live American way of life of honesty, hard work and the free enterprise. Hah, hah, ha, and more hah, hah. Vote no, no, and no and no to increasing taxes in November election. He, he, he, and he, he.

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  14. From Roque Burio Jr., the lemon who can dance and can sing. Here is a song on truth for you Deasy: No, no, no, and no, you got it wrong.  Your puppet partner UTLA had nothing to do with the demise of the Teacher Misconduct Bill. You and your puppet partner UTLA are supporting the same evil friends for money and gr in the coming November Election which has the pay off for the hostage teachers and students. Your puppet partner has never never campaigned against that evil desire to perpetuate the Reign of Terror against me and other innocent teachers. He, he, he, and more he, he, he. You can see in the internet those who were campaigning against your Teacher Misconduct Bill and against your request for extension of taxes. He, he, he.
       Do you see the power of Freedom of Press in our democratic society and free enterprise? Hah, hah, hah. Long live the US flag, long live freedom, liberty and justice for all, and the Rule of Law. Long live all the US peoples, citizens, parents, students and teachers. Long live free enterprise. He, he, he, and more he, he.
       Down with the evils of corrupt government officials. Down with the Reign of Terror.
        Please pack up your things Mr. Deasy and Holmquist, and go home. He, he, he. It seems to me that children abusers of LAUSD has longer the trust and mandate of the people. Please humbly accept that LAUSD the paper monster has irreversibly failed to deliver education and protection to our children. Goodbye Paper Monster and the Reign of Terror. Good bye. He, he, he, he, and more he, he, he.

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  15. This is very late, but we need to be honest about what SFUSD did – and why they lost before an administrative law judge.  SFUSD did not attempt to make an equal opportunity argument in court; they claimed, rather, than certain high-needs schools had teachers who had “special skills and competencies” and therefore should be skipped in layoffs.
    These specially trained teachers included teachers without a full California credential.  Not to mention that these “special skills and competencies” were largely SFUSD training available to all teachers.
    Moreover, those terrible opponents were quite right.  I teach at a school that is also high-needs – indeed, it has far more students living in poverty than some skipped schools.  Our teachers are also highly trained.  But since we are not in an “improvement zone”, no teachers were skipped and we took extra layoff notices to protect intern teachers.
    That’s not a brave stand for civil rights.  It’s a dodge.  If SFUSD really wanted to challenge the system, they’d make an equal opportunity argument that didn’t prioritize zones, but actually protected the highest-needs schools.  They didn’t.

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  16.    From Roque Burio Jr., the lemon who can dance but can also sing. Here is my song entitled the tom tom war song for Tom Wildman the new spokes person of financially and academically failing LAUSD: Shut up and pack up and stop your tom tom war drum. Cease and desist from brandishing your tongue lashing weapon against us teachers, like that you have gathered more than 8,300 teachers misconducts. People want to see blood if those teachers are really guilty and they be exonerated if innocent. Revoke their license if they are guilty and reinstate them if they are innocent. Do it before the November election.
       The US Peoples and taxpayers want worthy actions and not your weird mouthy publications.
       Shut up and pack up and leave that noble privilege to educate our students to our city schools, smaller unified school districts, and private schools.
       US peoples and taxpayers cannot be fooled anymore with your tyrant trial by publicity to damage, destroy, dismiss, forced to resign, and to scapegoat us innocent teachers for your financial and academic failures.
       It seems to me that he tax payers will deprive you of your planned huge 6 billion dollar operational budget for your fat pocket for your extravagant, wasteful, and unexplained expenses and doubtful programs.
       Like your old borrowed quotation deprive the fish of water and they just die. The tax payers will deprive an office of too much money and the corruptions in that office will just die down. He, he, he and more he, he, he.
        Long live the US peoples, taxpayers, teachers, parents and students. Down with office corruptions. Down with LAUSD Reign of Terror against innocent teachers. Down with the tyrant mouthy paper monster LAUSD

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  17.    Here is my song for Mr. Deasy, David Holmquist, and Warren Fletcher: entitled dizziness in protecting students: He, he, he and more he, he, students are not and cannot be protected from the crimes that have already happened.
       The only people to be blamed for failure to protect students are those bad managers and bad administrators who were either sleeping or sitting in their offices and seldom visited the campus and classrooms of all teachers every day.
       They usually visit vigilantly their targeted teachers and forget others, especially their favorite ones. Therefore, Mr. Deasy please require your administrators to keep  daily and hourly log books of their  activities in the schools and the classrooms that they visit and then you could surely protect the students from crimes being committed or about to be committed. He, he, he. Is it not that the right preventive approach is to make your administrators: principals, and vice principals vigilantly circulate in the schools? He, he, he, and hah, hah, hah. Very simple, Hah? Why try the hard way of being judicial and legislative in preventing crimes in the schools, heh? There are enough laws on crimes, why would you want to add more? He, he, he, he.

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  18. From Roque Burio Jr., the lemon who can dance and can also sing. Here is my song for those who despise teachers alleged to have committed misconducts: The Law protects everyone including both the innocent and the accused. It is mandatory that the Law must protect the would be victim before the crime, and the same law must also protect the rights of the alleged accused after the crime. Hence the LAUSD Weapon of Mass Dismissal of Innocent Teachers AKA SB 1530 had to be defeated by its authors for it turns out to be illegal and unconstitutional. He, he, he, and hah, hah, had why not ask the Democratic Party members? Down with the Paper Monster LAUSD. Long live teachers, students and parents. Long live taxpayers.

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  19. Great nice understanding to express all around. Genuinely fantastic record having plenty of informative ways to come to be recognized for us.

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