Full-scale assault on dismissal laws

Nonprofit with big name attorneys files suit
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A nonprofit founded by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has filed a sweeping, high-stakes lawsuit challenging state teacher protection laws. A victory would overturn a tenure, dismissal, and layoff system that critics blame for the hiring and retention of ineffective teachers. A loss in court could produce bad case law, impeding more targeted efforts to achieve some of the same goals.

Students Matter is the creation of David Welch, co-founder of Infinera, a manufacturer of optical telecommunications systems in Sunnyvale. The new nonprofit filed its lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday on behalf of eight students who attend four school districts. A spokesperson for the organization told the Los Angeles Times that Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and a few other individuals are underwriting the lawsuit. They have hired two top-gun attorneys to lead the case: Ted Boutrous, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of  Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Ted Olsen, former solicitor general for President George W. Bush.

The lawsuit asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

The protection of ineffective teachers “creates arbitrary and unjustifiable inequality among students,” especially low-income children in low-performing schools, where less experienced teachers are hired and inept veteran teachers are shunted off, under a familiar “dance of the lemons” since they cant be fired. Because education is a “fundamental interest” under the state Constitution, the five statutes that “dictate this unequal, arbitrary result violate the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution” and should be overturned.  The lawsuit doesn’t prescribe a solution.

Incremental versus global approach

Students Matter’s wholesale assault on the laws contrasts with fact-specific, narrowly tailored lawsuits brought by attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California and Public Counsel Law Center. Two years ago, they won a landmark victory in Reed v. the State of California when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Highberger found that the heavy churn of teachers due to LIFO at three Los Angeles Unified middle schools violated students’ right to an equal educational opportunity. That decision led to a settlement between the district, the mayor’s office, and the attorneys that has protected the staffs of 45 low-performing schools from layoffs for the past three years. The strength of that case lay in its ability to tie specific harm to students to the layoff law, which explicitly permits exceptions to seniority layoffs to protect students’ fundamental constitutional rights. LAUSD had not exercised that exception. (United Teachers Los Angeles has appealed; arguments will be heard June 28.)

Earlier this year, the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice brought suit against Los Angeles Unified over the pro forma way it conducts teacher evaluations. But here, the suit isn’t seeking to overturn the Stull Act, which defines how evaluations are done; it says that the district (along with nearly every other one) has chosen to ignore the law’s requirement that student performance be included in teacher evaluations.

Screen Shot 2012-05-17 at 12.09.04 AMThere’s no shortage of critics of the tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws, which teachers unions have lobbied hard to preserve. California is one of few states that have not lengthened the probationary period for teachers. More than two dozen states have strengthened their evaluation systems in the past several years. California’s dismissal law, with its 10-step process laden with due process, can cost districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance, which is why districts often work around it by paying teachers to retire or pushing them from one school to another.

Persuading a judge that the practical problems and the effects of the laws rise to the level of a constitutional violation is another matter. (In an analogous case, California is among the nation’s bottom spenders on K-12 education; it has tough standards and a challenging student population. But attorneys last year failed to convince a Superior Court judge in Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California that adequate education funding is a constitutional right.)

Tough burden of proof

The tenure law may be particularly challenging. As the suit points out, something like 98 percent of probationary teachers have gotten tenure. The two-year probationary period (actually 18 months, since teachers must be notified by March of their second year) is not long enough. Too often evaluations have been slapdash. But the law itself doesn’t require a district even to cite a cause in denying tenure; the power of dismissal lies with the employer.

Students named in the lawsuit are from Los Angles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District, and Alum Rock Union Elementary District, although only Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock, which serves 11,000 students in San Jose, are specifically cited as defendants, along with  Gov. Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, the state, and the State Department of Education.

The only specific reference to Alum Rock was in the identification of plaintiff Daniella Martinez, 10, whom the lawsuit says chose to transfer to a public charter school because “of the substantial risk that she would be assigned to a grossly ineffective teacher who impedes her equal access to the opportunity to receive a meaningful education.” The initial filing doesn’t cite evidence of  specific teachers who negatively affected Daniella or the other seven defendants. It refers to studies by such groups as the National Council On Teacher Quality, which issued a blunt assessment of the tenure and dismissal practices of Los Angeles Unified, and on research by Hoover Institution author Eric Hanushek, who concludes that just by dismissing 6 to 10 percent of weakest teachers, students’ academic achievement and long-term earnings as adults would increase significantly.

Los Angeles, as the state’s largest district, may have been named as a defendant because its superintendent, John Deasy, has been outspoken about the need to change labor laws. United Teachers Los Angeles has also  sued over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that Deasy has put in place.

Deasy would appear to be a friendly witness for the plaintiffs. In a statement, he said he supports lengthening the probationary period, quickening the dismissal process, and reforming the state’s layoff law. “To my dismay, we have lost thousands of our best and hardest-working classroom instructors through the last hired, first fired rule. When forced to reduce our teaching staff through budget cuts, we are compelled through state law and union rules to base these difficult decisions primarily on seniority,” Deasy said.

But when questioned, Deasy will be pressed to acknowledge that it may not be the laws but the implementation that counts. Since joining the district, first as deputy superintendent, then superintendent, Deasy has pushed administrators to apply more scrutiny in granting tenure and more perseverance in dismissing bad teachers. Last year the district terminated 853 teachers. Furthermore, the number of probationary teachers denied tenure rose significantly last year: from 89 in 2009-10 (10 percent of those eligible) to 120 teachers in their first year and 30 in their second year. Other superintendents would agree that well-trained, persistent principals can document the case for teacher dismissals, notwithstanding cumbersome, excessively burdensome requirements.

56 Comments

  1. Finally.  California may be moving towards keeping great teachers not just the ones that are there the longest.  We have a teacher at our school that curses at children and she just gets shuffled around.  Parents hold their breath hoping their child does not have her. Meanwhile, my son’s 3rd grade teacher who taught him through music and gave him a love of math lost his job because of last in first out.  Happy to hear Dr. Deasy speaking about the LIFO policy.  Something has to be done.  We are losing great teachers during this difficult time of constant budget cuts.

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  2. Well, I am no fan of ELi Broad, but the unions and sups and boards have had years to solve professional and contractual issues and have failed to do so. I was a probationer in UK, then in San Diego. (Moving systems means starting over!) My experience in UK compared to SD could not have been more different, with SD being the experience I could have done without!
    I empathize with Julie. We are having to create an IS for our daughter for next year in math due to the refusal of the school to deal with a teacher and resources. I am embarrassed for the teaching profession to have arrived at the situation where it is, but the blocking of CALPADS/CALTIDES, refusal to raise the standards for entrants to credential programs, maintenance of the inadequate administrative credential, and unpreparedness of many school board trustees to fulfill their responsibilities has got us where we are. And I don’t have space to write about the waffling at the CDE when it comes to “what are the rights of children”  in the system. The staff are great at helping me when I need questions answered, but nobody ever knows how to deal with what is wrong in a practical sense. That is mainly because if you read the EdCode and so many of the related regulations and advisory papers that there are so many conflicts and weird loopholes that it is difficult to know what applies where.
    I wonder when a lawsuit will be filed to force the state to release the information in CALPADS as a constitutional educational right.
    Thank you John – and I look forwards to reading more on this.
     

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  3. There are three things that caught my attention immediately / bothered me after reading this article.
    1. Teachers are being blamed for the evaluation and professionalism of the people in the classroom not administrators whose job it actually is to do so. Not mentioned in the article is the meteoric gain in numbers of administrators hired over the last several years throughout the state of California.
    2. Teachers do not have tenure, they are granted due process, and the article states this is what should be  taken away from teachers.  Due Process is a right that granted by the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
    3. The attachment that goes over the process to document that a teacher is actually not doing the job is gender biased – it only says the word “she” not “he” which to me suggests a widespread mindset toward the role of the teacher.

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  4. Doug,
    I see you what you are saying.  The 3rd grade teacher (that is now working at a tutoring center) was a great male teacher.  In terms of whom I blame? Truthfully, the principal doesn’t seem to have done much with the information parents have brought to his attention over the years.  It takes a lot of guts for a parent to “complain” about a teacher.  It’s really difficult and really uncomfortable.  It’s even worse when you feel like after so many complaints, the system does nothing about it.  This is just from the eyes of a parent.  I can’t say I know the system so well, I’m sure there are many great things about it but when one bad seed ruins the whole bunch for the teacher’s union. It’s really the CTA that I think needs reforming…at least a better PR person.  I’m sick of CTA calling it “teacher bashing”.  It’s not teacher bashing.  I love teachers.  Are they all perfect? No, but no one is.  Is every principal perfect? Nope.  The point is we have some really crappy teachers out there that should no longer be teaching (whether they’ve been teaching for 1 year or 20) and shuffling from school to school, class to class is absolutely not the answer.  I love the dialogue.

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  5. “The lawsuit doesn’t prescribe a solution.”

    Everyone who is worried that their anecdotal experience of a bad teacher accurately represents the general situation in all schools in California should have paused long and hard at that sentence. The goal here is to change statewide policy. And the de-facto ‘alternative’ will be layoff by salary. It has to be. Most–even well-meaning–parents would rather have smaller class sizes than quality teachers given those as mutually exclusive options. And teacher compensation makes up almost 2/3 of our education budget.

    I wont be surprised if this (or another similar effort) eventually succeeds. Our state does not seem to have the willingness (or maybe ability) to make long-term decisions. I just hope it does not do too much damage before we realize it was a mistake. My only request would be that we add to this the requirement that all administrators in so-called ‘failing’ schools and districts be fired as soon as their firing of teachers they don’t like fails to improve anything.

    In fact, perhaps a counter-suit claiming educational neglect by any administration that claims it’s too expensive to fire bad teachers. That is an admission they are not willing to do their jobs.

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  6. There has to be a happy medium.  Firing a teacher because they cost the most is not the answer and neither is firing the teacher that has been there the least amount of time. I certainly do not think lil’ ol’me has the answer but the current system isn’t working.

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  7. Thank God private enterprise in California is not hampered by rules such as this…..If they were, all the businesses would go broke, then there would be no taxes to pay for Education…..
    What is so difficult about expecting a person to do the job they are being paid to do?
    Teaching might be a calling, but in fact it’s a JOB……Do the job………Otherwise, get yourself fired……
    Get the Unions hands off from around Education’s throat.  Our children deserve competent, motivated Teachers….
    Why is this such a difficult concept for Adults in this State to grasp?

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  8. As a retired CSU administrator, I have experience in tenured positions and non-tenured positions.  CSU mid to high level managers do not get tenure.  You serve at the discretion of the President and can be terminated for any reason or no reason on 60 days notice.   My opinion is pretty simple.  The rest of the world operates without tenure, why not public schools?  If teachers were “at will” employees, principals could terminate them without even giving them reason.  Would they actually fire just the bad teachers?   Some would, but some would screw it up and fire the teachers they did not like.  Then fire the principals who would also be “at will” employees who are poor managers and poor judges of teachers.  I can assure you that we would end up with much better principals and teachers when that whole tenure process was gone.   Attitudes and behavior change dramatically when tenure is eliminated. 

    My job security was never a factor to me when I served at the President’s will.  If I did my job well, I stayed.  If I did not, I deserved to go. 

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  9. The important point to be aware of is that the states with weak or no union protection for teachers are consistently the states with the lowest academic achievement, and the strongest union states are the states with the highest academic achievement.
     
    This conclusively shows that the supposed inability to “fire bad teachers” is not the cause of the challenges of our educational system, despite the real-life encounters we occasionally have or hear about. And the constant mightily funded drumbeat blaming “bad teachers” from the so-called “reformers” is indeed teacher-bashing — it absolutely is. They know it’s false, so what else can you call it? Add to that the promotion by the so-called “reformers” of rewarding or firing teachers based on their students’ scores on tests that we know are seriously flawed, and the entire campaign to blame teachers for problems caused by poverty. Anyone who doesn’t see teacher-bashing isn’t paying attention.
     
    The nations that have the highest achievement consistently have a culture of respect for teachers — they don’t blame, bash or complain about “dance of the lemons” crap — that would be unthinkable in Finland, Korea or Singapore. Disrespecting, disparaging and attacking teachers — as so-called “reformers” (and commentators and editorial boards too) do constantly in this country — fosters disrespect for education itself. That goes hand-in-hand with the constant notion, also promoted by so-called “reformers” and parroted by commentators and editorial boards, that experienced teachers are burned-out deadwood and bright-eyed temp newbies are the best teachers. (Of course, they never apply this theory to their own kids’ teachers, nor to their physicians or airline pilots — we haven’t seen Oncology Surgeons for America, have we?)
    Here are some things I’ve seen over my 16 years as an urban public school parent (which conclude next week when my daughter graduates):
     
    – A troubled teacher’s obviously problematic behavior not dealt with for many months by a principal who placed no reports in the teacher’s personnel file.  Eventually parent helds a meeting about this and a union rep came, fired up to defend the teacher. It was immediately clear that the union rep had zero information about the seriously problematic behavior (including repeatedly bursting into tears in front of a first-grade class and abandoning the class) that he was supposed to be defending. Who knows how the union rep would have handled it if they had had any of the facts at all — and whose fault was it that the union rep didn’t have the info, if the teacher didn’t provide it? (I don’t know the answer.)
    – Different school: A troubled teacher remaining in his job for years under a principal who “couldn’t fire him because of the union,” as the principal told parents — then when a new principal took over the school, the teacher was rapidly, quietly gone. What happened to “couldn’t fire him because of the union”?
    – A principal hiring a new teacher who was not working out well, including serious issues that would not be apparent to the random parent observer. The principal quietly dismissing the teacher at the end of the second year — and parents who were uninformed about the problems mounting a protest to keep the teacher.
    - A longtime teacher who officially retired, returning to work as a consultant on a special assignment, no longer covered by the union contract, and doing the job poorly — when the principal doesn’t move to get rid of this person, parents squawking about how “the unions make it impossible to fire anybody.” (Again, this person is not covered by the union contrat and be fired at will.)
    See how complicated real life can be?
    I totally agree that the teachers’ unions need a full overhaul of their PR. It just is not on their radar, and when I’ve brought it up with local union leaders, they say they just don’t have the time and resources to focus. That’s a mistake, and top union leadership seriously needs to rethink.

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  10. Firing a teacher because they cost the most would be inevitable, and of course the result of that would be lower and lower pay for experienced teachers. Is that a way to create a high-quality teaching force? Consider that all high-achieving nations respect and support teachers rather than blaming and attacking them. Doesn’t that in and of itself demonstrate that this is not a way to improve education?
     
    The so-called “reform” operations behind this lawsuit are not trying to improve education. Their goal is to redirect public money into private pockets.

    Teachers’ unions are a relatively powerful force standing in their way, so their goal is to demolish that obstacle.

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  11. Until we figure out a fair, non-biased system of evaluation of progress for both teachers and students, improvement will not be made.  There are so many intangible, immeasurable differences good teachers make, that it’s just not right to base everything on standardized test scores.  Good teachers need to be exalted in our society – not beat up and/or fired for lack of tenure or being creative in motivating their students; Not teaching strictly by state mandated curriculum… I don’t like to gripe about this, because I don’t have a good resolution to offer, but I think it’s clearly the root cause of many of the problems kids face in school today.
    Here’s the other thing that really bothers me:  Lack of parental involvement.  Most people commenting here (or even reading this article) probably aren’t guilty of it, but there are so many parents out there who view school as “day care” and teachers as babysitters.  They put zero time into nurturing their children’s education, then bitch at the school or teacher for their child’s lack of progress.  How about a parental report card?

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  12. Caroline:  Spot on.  When will people figure out that most public service operations (streets, police, fire, rail, etc…) are not SUPPOSED to make a PROFIT???   They are paid for by government because no private entity can or should do these functions.

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  13. For those who don’t believe that the result will be a simple ‘cheaper teachers first’, I would direct you to some of the strongest rhetoric out there coming from Michelle Rhee’s Students First. Much of that group’s policy directions are also based on and/or in line with many of the ‘conclusions’ of the Economist mentioned in this article (Hanushek). It is also the force that has already worked to change a number of states’ tenure laws, and that has recently begun to focus on California (I expect the timing of this suit is not a coincidence).

    A few ‘highlights’ from those ‘reformers’:
    - class size does not matter
    - spending more money on education does not improve anything (or kids in poverty are destined to fail because of their circumstance regardless of what kind of resources we provide them)
    - a teacher’s education is irrelevant to their success (and thus should also be to their pay)
    - we need to increase the numbers of TFA ‘teachers’ and expand their target scope to non-poverty schools

    All of these forces work to devalue the teacher (sometimes literally), and more importantly, to the exclusion of other, more relevant factors in a child’s education. We live in society driven by market forces; even in the public sector. The end result will thus be to minimize the cost of teachers, whatever that takes. Doing this in a time of reducing budgets will only magnify those forces.

    Even now, we are already seeing the ‘solutions’ to budget cuts as simply eliminating a portion of instructional time. This is of course the ‘most effective’ way to reduce teacher costs given the existence of seniority rules. Someone please explain why, when seniority is gone, boards will continue to reduce costs by looking to furloughs when they have complete freedom not to, especially given the arguments of the ‘rheeformers’. Once they look elsewhere to cut costs, think about which kinds of cuts would impact budgets and staffing levels the least.

    Unfortunately, this is apparently a very difficult concept for adults in this state to grasp..

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  14. Always be suspicious of “Reform” organizations that never mention the education funding crisis in their list of priorities to improve public education.
     
    Why are rich businessmen who’ve never seen the inside of a public school classroom considered the experts on public education?  On the other hand, teachers are some of the smartest people I know.  Just ask my son who came home last week from an AP Calculus BC exam and declared that he thought he aced it because, “Mr. Madsen is a genius and could probably make a lot more money doing something other than teaching the next generation.”  Teachers across California have been engaging in conversations about how to improve their profession.  One result is AB8 (Fuentes) – A proposal for a comprehensive teacher evaluation system modeled after that used in my district, Poway Unified, and one other in Northern CA. 
     
    Approximately, 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years, so there is a weeding out that happens early on.  What other profession has that attrition rate?  My son’s teachers were instrumental in his academic success, starting with remedial help in elementary school to a successful high school career.  He wrote about it in his first guest editorial:

    http://www.pomeradonews.com/2012/05/11/viewpoint-a-celebration-of-our-teachers/

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  15. The people complaining about the indiscriminate, wholesale firing of teachers are missing one point.  Changing the tenure law does not remove the discrimination protections ALL workers have (private and public sector).  Indiscrimate firing does not go in in the private sector because of the ever present threat of suit.  Same would happen for teachers.

    And, if the private sector ratios hold true among teachers, we’re probably talking about 2 to 4% of teachers that could potentially be affected.   And, that would only happen after they’ve been given a chance to improve.

    Realistically, in any job there are always people who just don’t fit.  Teachers are not the exception.  There are always going to be some who probably need to be doing something else.  It’s a small percentage, but those are the ones that hurt students (and other teachers) the most.

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  16. @tom, one’s salary is not protected under anti-discrimination law. And your point about anti-discrimination laws is important. It is not uncommon for examples of hard to fire teachers to actually be about anti-discrimination and not about ‘tenure’.
     
    You’re also right that some people just don’t fit. That may be one reason the attrition rate is so high for the teaching profession. Ironically, ‘reformers’ would rather not put teachers into teaching positions at all. Instead the goal is to simply fill the ranks with smart non-teachers and weed out the incompetent ones via a process of evaluation. For those who want to stay in teaching past two years anyway..
     
    I’m also confused about the suggestion that teachers would  be fired only after being given a chance to improve. Isn’t that how it already is?
     
    If the cost of removing bad teachers is a barrier, how about setting aside some portion of the budget to be dedicated to those costs?  The question should then of course be whether that is the most effective means for getting the most effective teaching force possible. I might posit that it would be much more effective to provide incentives for good teachers to stay, including providing them adequate resources and support to do their jobs instead of implementing policies that devalue the entire workforce based on an anecdotal perception about what you claim may be as little as 2% of them. and obviously there would be some dispute of even that number.

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  17. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.
    So those same teachers who are granted tenure after two years–way too early to judge competence–are suddenly, magically, tremendously competent when they are being compared to senior, more expensive, teachers?

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  18. I think the idea that “The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status” and that thus the probationary period should be longer is exactly backwards.

    You people who are arguing for a longer probationary period are arguing for marginal new-hire teachers to stay in classrooms *longer.*

    What I like about the relatively short probationary period is that it’s very easy to keep track of the new teachers. If people are getting tenured by accident or negligence, that is a result of poor administration… something that has clearly happened within some districts more than others.

    At the end of the first year, it should be pretty clear if this teacher is enthusiastic and trainable and works well with the staff… or is not. And if not, that person should be dropped. (Often the statistics only include teachers who received a non-renew notice. The reality is that many if not most probationary teachers are given the opportunity to resign first. And this doesn’t always mean that the teacher is terrible – it may just mean the teacher isn’t a fit for the particular school.) Sometimes at the end of the first year, there’s a sense that this person still needs improvement but is worth working with rather than returning to the pool for a fresh hire. Still, a good principal will be thinking about that teacher constantly until March. That’s what you want: concentrated attention and a thoughtful decision about each staff member.

    I suspect in certain districts one of the problems has been that some schools are very difficult to staff and experience high turnover. Then, instead of mentoring a handful of first year teachers, a principal is mentoring a majority of first and second year teachers. The principal does not have time to monitor or mentor them all properly, nor does it seem rational to start all over again if the group isn’t everything you wanted it to be. Then they get seniority in the district, move around and the problem persists. If I am right about this, the problem here isn’t the 18 months, it’s the concentration that sends new hires to particular schools over and over.

    If a teacher doesn’t look like a keeper after 18 months, I want that person out – not kept around another year or two or three.

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    • Randy writes, “There are many eiaactdonul problems (and other problems that affect teens) that they are not going to be willing to share on a public fan page site.” TRUE. But…teachers should not be communicating with students in an exclusive, one to one setting about these “problems that affect teens”. It is absolutely correct to assert that MOST teachers would use such communication to help the student. A FEW teachers would take advantage…..and yes there are other laws that pertain ONLY to teachers. Teachers can’t date an 18 yr. old student…..if a mechanic or an attorney wants to date an 18 yr old, still in high school they can. It’s not advisable, but they could do it. There are plenty of other examples of how teachers ARE treated differently under the law….some laws to protect teachers, some laws to protect students. Some folks on here are totally unreasonable in their attacks on Randy. Randy is also being unreasonable trying to hold onto his ability to secretly communicate with students through Facebook. Both are wrong.

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  19. The way to solve the issue of Last-In-First-Out layoffs is to stop laying off teachers except in cases of actual declining need, such as declining enrollment.

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  20. good logical thinking, but no cigar.  brown nose or bringing honey to the queen. teachers are leaders in the classroom.

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  21. “it says that the district (along with nearly every other one) has chosen to ignore the law’s requirement that student performance be included in teacher evaluations.”

    Is “student performance” in this case a legal euphemism for “test scores” or is it lay language that means what it says, that part of a teacher’s evaluation is reflected by students? I certainly would expect any teacher evaluation of any seriousness to include student performance in a qualitative fashion at least – are the students on task; are the tasks given to the students worthwhile; are the students better for having a year in this teacher’s classroom. Secondarily, are the students more or less better off from a year with this teacher than from some other teacher? That’s an evaluation based on student performance and it has nothing to do with STAR testing.

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  22. @el. The stull act says state standardized assessments, so yes, the implication is STAR. However, the act also says only when the measure is reasonably valid.  Its arguable that STAR is no, especially at a single teacher level.  My impression is that the lawsuit will come down to an interpretation question as to the validity of that measure. There was another blog post a week or two ago where this was discussed in comments in a bit more detail..

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  23. Finally someone has taken the bull by the horns and has had enough of INCOMPETENT Teachers protected by their union and administration not taking responsibility in this issue.
    The “job” of a teacher is to teach…if you don’t accomplish what you are getting paid for, you should be fired.  Is sad to see how they use our kids to keep the money coming to the district budgets but no improvement in students test scores.
    If a teacher can not teach, she gets help or just promote students so they can become someone else’s problem.
    Teachers union and administrators should be ashamed of what they have done to our future generations.
    I support the lawsuit 100%, get rid of bad teachers no matter how long they been employed.

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  24. On dismissals, I would like to see the process streamlined. In my opinion, if a principal, superintendent, and school board all agree on the decision to terminate a staff member, and have documented their reasons and their notice to the staff member, that should probably be it with the only appeal being gross misconduct/violation of law.
     
    If the school board, superintendent, and principal are all making a poor choice to remove a teacher (certainly this can happen) then (a) the community needs to move against the school board and (b) if they succeed, the teacher will probably be better off somewhere else anyway.
     
    But, there is no reason either to remove the idea of due process for a long term employee nor is it helpful to tangle dismissal for cause in the issue of layoffs.

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  25. Before you can offer solutions you need to define the problem.

    The problem is that our low SES students do poorly on the big test. Our affluent students are number 1 in the world.

    Tenure is not the problem. Poverty is the problem.

    Nothing you do school-side will do much of anything to ameliorate the stifling effects of poverty on young children–the ones all this reform is supposed to be about.

    This is another lawsuit designed to marginalize real teachers and turn teaching into a temporary job for college graduates and privatize the whole endeavor–ask Eli Broad.

    Careful, you might reap what what you sow.

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  26. A couple of days back navigio described what he believes are the “highlights” of education “reformers” plan. His description was simplistic and misleading, yet I saw no rebuttal. Here is one.
    - class size does not matter
    Not true. What reformers say:
    (a) class size reduction (CSR) is probably the most cost-ineffective approach, with additional negative systemic effects when applied broadly.
    (b) research on CSR shows significant impact only at the very early grades (k-2) and at drastically reduced class-sizes (below 20, preferably around 15)
    (c) Interventions and curricular improvement have much bigger cost-effectiveness potential.
    - spending more money on education does not improve anything (or kids in poverty are destined to fail because of their circumstance regardless of what kind of resources we provide them)
    Not true. What reformers say:
    (a) Overwhelmingly districts spend wastefully, and large influx of funds tends to acerbate the waste rather than contribute to achievement
    (b) Empirical evidence supports the above claim. The correlation between spending and achievement is weak to non-existent.
    - a teacher’s education is irrelevant to their success (and thus should also be to their pay)
    Not true. What reformers say:
    (a) Teacher certification (not education!) shows no correlation to their effectiveness, as measured on student achievement.
    (b) Empirical evidence strongly supports the claim above. Consequently, reformers suggest to focus on drawing and retaining effective teachers rather than certificated teachers
    (c) Pursuit of irrelevant graduate degrees seems to be driven by negotiated salary schedules and tends not to contribute to teacher effectiveness.
    - we need to increase the numbers of TFA ‘teachers’ and expand their target scope to non-poverty schools
    Not true, What reformers say:
    (a) Teachers as a group are drawn from the lower third of  SAT scorers.
    (b) Due mostly to the nature of union contracts, the better teachers end up over time in the more advantaged schools. Consequently, disadvantaged schools are disproportionately staffed with inexperienced and less effective teachers.
    (c) TFA is an effort to work around the contractual inability to assign experienced and effective teachers to disadvantaged schools. It draws from the top 10% of academic achievers and places them solely in disadvantaged schools.
    (d) Empirical research on TFA teachers shows their higher effectiveness than that of typical inexperienced certificated teachers. Some data shows them even more effective than regular non-novice certificated teachers.
    (e) I am unaware of efforts trying to expand TFA to non-poverty schools. What is discussed is how to draw future teachers from among higher-achieving pool of candidates.
     

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  27. Rebutting @Ze’ev Wurman’s rebuttal to @Navigio.
    @Navigio says that so-called “reformers” claim class size doesn’t matter. @Ze’ev sort-of tries to rebut that with some hairsplitting, which resoundingly confirms that so-called “reformers” do indeed say that class size doesn’t matter. (Yet, of course, the so-called “reformers” always send their own kids to schools with small class sizes, led by Bill Gates, whose kids attend his own alma mater, which touts its small classes as a primary attribute.) @Navigio is correct.
    Same thing with so-called “reformers’” frequent claims that public schools don’t need adequate funding. @Ze’ev frames his response as rebutting that, but confirms that so-called “reformers” indeed claim that public schools don’t need adequate funding (even as they raise and provide vast sums for charter schools). (And, again, of course their own kids always attend amply resourced private schools, or occasionally high-wealth publics.) @Navigio is correct.
    @Ze’ev’s discussion of the debate over whether teachers should be rewarded for being more highly educated is in similar vein.
    A little more detailed response to the TFA issue.
    @Ze’ev says: “What reformers say:
    (a) Teachers as a group are drawn from the lower third of  SAT scorers.”
     
    True, so-called “reformers” do SAY that, but it’s not true. Larry Ferlazzo did the legwork to try to back that claim up, and it’s simply not supported. This should be the job of the education press, by the way.
    http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2009/11/15/do-teachers-really-come-from-the-bottom-third-of-colleges-or-is-that-statistic-a-bunch-of-baloney/
    @Ze’ev claims: “Due mostly to the nature of union contracts, the better teachers end up over time in the more advantaged schools. Consequently, disadvantaged schools are disproportionately staffed with inexperienced and less effective teachers.”
    The essence of this is true, but I would dispute blaming it on union contracts. In any workplace setting, the more effective employees are likely to be rewarded – which is certainly what the so-called “reformers” endorse as well even as they call for eliminating teachers’ collective bargaining rights. One reward is getting one’s pick of the more-desirable jobs. Teaching high-need, disadvantaged students is challenging and exhausting, so the more-desirable jobs tend to be teaching privileged students.  The alternative would be forcing the teachers who are deemed most effective to stay in the most challenging, exhausting jobs.  @Ze’ev’s claim that this is due to the nature of union contracts really doesn’t hold water. (One likely solution is really substantially higher pay for teaching in high-poverty schools. I don’t know what voices are for or against this, but it seems like a common-sense plan to me.)
    @Ze’ev claims: “TFA is an effort to work around the contractual inability to assign experienced and effective teachers to disadvantaged schools. It draws from the top 10% of academic achievers and places them solely in disadvantaged schools.” Again, this is not just “contractual” inability. It’s the nature of any workplace that rewards its employees for a job well done, unionized or not.
    @Ze’ev cites the supposed research on TFA teachers’ superiority. (Often, TFA claims that research shows its bright-eyed temp beginners are superior to experienced veteran teachers as well; TFA has no scruples when it comes to making false claims about its own superiority.) Evidence is actually “murky” according to this analysis, one of many debunking the TFA superiority myth.
    http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2010/06/teach-america-false-promise
     
    In the big picture, once again, the U.S. states with the strongest union laws and the strongest job protection for teachers are consistently the states with the highest academic achievement. And the nations with the highest academic achievement consistently have cultures of holding teachers and the profession of teaching in the highest esteem. It is at the very least unclear on the concept for the so-called “reformers” and those who are misled by their propaganda to blame teachers’ unions for low achievement, and to believe that attacking and demeaning teachers and teaching is a solution.

     

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  28. One of the problems with the ‘fire-them-all’ mentality is that it presupposes a supply of better-performing replacements. In fact, low-performing teachers would be replaced by novices, who might or might not be better. With salaries stagnant, workload (class size, work hours, and student heterogeneity) increasing, and now, a casual, at-will employment system looming, the supply of candidates will eventually dry up. (It will take many years to exhaust the current teacher oversupply in California, but the result is inevitable, if nothing is done to make the profession desirable again. At-will employment certainly won’t help matters.)
     
    If I had children, I wouldn’t want them to be taught by a series of quickly-hired, quickly-fired people, while voters, politicians and administrators pursued their search for public education nirvana: teachers who work miracles without much training, experience or pay.
     
    On the question of layoff order, I am not a fan of seniority, but it is obvious that if all controls were removed and system funding were not stabilized, salary would become the deciding factor. With today’s seniority-based pay scales, older teachers are the most expensive ones; if reform notions like merit pay take hold, top-performing teachers will be the most expensive ones, and districts will have to lay them off to accommodate ongoing budget cuts.

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  29. Good comments, @Paul. But I think “voters, politicians and administrators” doesn’t fully describe the forces that are searching for teachers who work miracles without much training, experience or pay. I’m not sure how to characterize the other group, which I lump together as “so-called ‘reformers.’ ” Philanthropists and foundation executives (though one things of philanthropists as doing good deeds, with these people are not doing); non-educators whose hobby is trying to orchestrate national education policy (titans, moguls, hedge-funders); think-tank fellows; commentators and pontificators — I don’t know; what do we call them? (Some choice words DO come to mind, but I’ll restrain myself.)

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  30. How is a “privileged” student defined? Is it a student who is hard working, polite, attentive, and determined to succeed? Or is “privileged” now a rhetorical sneer – as was used about my son’s former school by a friend? Do we now sneer at children because they possess the qualities that society used to value in children, and parents of all backgrounds sought to develop?
     
    I honestly don’t understand this attack on charter schools. I understand why charter schools were formed – although I see many that are no different from “traditional” schools. My concern is that many are too mainstream, and not embodying the goals of the movement.
    As a former teacher – unions controlled every aspect of the district in which I taught. Even new schools when they opened were stifled from the beginning from byzantine union constraints. It was a ‘closed shop’ scenario. I loathed the union process, the rhetoric, and the refusal to condone any merit pay structure, or stipends to transfer to needy schools (yes, we were surveyed, and “no” was the response). I love teaching, but just didn’t enjoy or feel comfortable with so much of the system. The ‘reformers’ are making an attempt to change, even if I don’t agree with some ideas, and this change is needed. Education is so politicized that it is difficult to make any suggestions for progress.

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  31. Privileged is not a rhetorical sneer. It refers to socioeconomic status, not personal character. In context of our urban school environment, my middle-class kids are “privileged.”
     
    Those of us who believe that charter schools are destructive to public education cite a number of reasons:
     

    the draining of resources from public schools;
    the diversion of public money into private pockets;
    the public relations assault waged by the charter sector on public education (as a strategy to woo more private philanthropy as charter schools are falsely held up as superior to public schools);
    the divisiveness charter schools ignite in communities, as seen in Los Altos Hills, Santa Cruz and many communities where there are battles over co-location;
    the fact that charter schools open up a whole new landscape of opportunity for looters and abusers;
    and much, much more!

    I challenge the viewpoint expressed by some supporters of so-called “reform” that it’s necessary to do something — anything at all — no matter what and no matter how destructive. Imagine applying that viewpoint in medicine — “Let’s just remove this liver and see what happens.”

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  32. Caroline’s last point is crucial, imho. It is actually possible to make things worse. Simply doing something different for that sake alone makes no sense, and is a horrible basis for public policy.
     
    Oddly enough, my biggest gripe with charter schools is not with the individual schools themselves (its against my nature to root against schools or kids), but with the whole movement as a function of policy. Obviously, the goal is to serve individual kids when and where they need it, and this is why people will say there are particular environments where they must exist. But as a policy, charters (currently) introduce a particular notion of the cost of education that is different than that of public education. This ‘cost’ appears to be less than that of public schools, with the apparent added benefit that it can be more effective even with those reduced costs. The reality is that they are not only not more effective, but they are mostly even more expensive; which makes them doubly less efficient. (I say more expensive because of the ability to raise private funds, and because the ones that ‘achieve’ solely as a function of demographics are skewing the real ‘cost’ of educating those students). Claiming that the differences are actually based on data and research is unfair and dishonest, imho.
     
    In the end, any time there is a reduced cost alternative introduced, market forces will drive everything else to ‘meet’ that alternative’s lowest common denominator. Plain and simple. Quality is rarely a factor, even when its possible to measure it (and in this case our society doesnt even bother to accurately measure it).
     
    It is easy for a given family or even group of families to look at the concept and see how it will make things ‘better’ for them (often (though not always) that means filtering out minorities or disadvantaged or low PEL families) and they might even be right (in a pure CST-based world). But the reality is that kind of policy is explicitly worse for everyone else (and in the long term, even for them). Unfortunately, people dont care much about other people’s kids, and in some cases–if they happen to speak spanish, for example–they might not even believe they should be allowed to go to school here.
     
    There are two other problems with the charter policy that i’d also like to touch on: first is that it is used as an ‘end-around’ on public employment laws. Its fine to argue about whether those laws are fair or good or should continue to exist, but to punish kids because one does not agree with them is bad. Providing a legal alternative to them as a means to do that is horrible.
     
    Second is that the market force dynamic mentioned above, if left unchecked–and this is the current plan–will destroy public education. There are many for whom this is the actual goal. They understand this and ‘sign on’ to the charter movement for that reason alone. It is mostly impossible to tell those people/forces from the ones that want it for some other reason (even pure ones, if there are any). The same problem exists with the reform movement, specifically with Students First. They tend to point out that they are a ‘single issue organization’ and thus might end up aligning with people who they might otherwise disagree with. But just look at who they are aligning with to make the laws that get made. It is my belief that the one thing Michelle Rhee may eventually accomplish is the destruction of public education, even if that is not her intent.
     
    Arguably, the last big (successfully implemented) reform movement was probably NCLB. If there ever were good evidence to show that its a bad idea to simply do anything without really thinking about why or how, that has got to be it.

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  33. “…within the range of policy that we’re talking about-15 to 40 students in a class-there’s no specific relationship between the size of the class and what students learn. This suggests that if we were to allow the St.Louis school system to increase its average size to the accredited standard set out in the Missouri Improved School Plan,we should not expect it would affect the quality of education.”
    - eric hanushek, 3/11/96

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  34. Spending Restrictions. Additionally, some things that “feel good” have not systemically produced the results that matter for students. For example, small class sizes and required higher pay for higher degrees may have marginal benefits, but the evidence of their effect on student achievement is weak.
    Many states have legislatively mandated spending on class-size reduction at the cost of billions of dollars. The evidence, while allowing that smaller class sizes contribute to positive learning environments in grades PK–2, does not bear out in higher grades. State law that caps a student-teacher ratio may seem impactful, but the lack of evidence supporting its impact on student achievement should prevail when crafting policy.”
     
    - students first policy agenda, pg 21.
     
    ze’ev, even though you may think they believe class sizes are not irrelevant, not that their agenda is to implement POLICY that says it does not.

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  35. ‘When you use seniority as the determining factor in layoffs, you let some of your best teachers go. And, because their salaries are lowest, you have to lay off a greater number of new teachers (as opposed to more senior teachers).’
    - Eric hanushek, students first blog

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  36. ‘We need more good teachers but not necessarily more teachers generally’
    -ibid

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  37. I think perhaps that there are so many different types of charter schools that lumping them together is itself a problem. There is far too much rhetoric to even begin to carefully differentiate the myriad different problems and solutions that charters can solve/create. I do think that “privileged” needs to be employed with more care, because its use tends obscure the teasing out of multi-variate factors that do affect educational achievement.
     
    As for class size. 40 students in a high achieving Language Arts class with a strong teacher is still a good ratio. On the other hand, 16 students who are primarily SpedLep/SED/ESL is a good ratio for a strong teacher. 16 high-achieving students with a poor teacher may not achieve the same level of learning as the 40 with the strong teacher.

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  38. If 40 high-achieving kids in a class with a good teacher is fine, then why is it that every elite private school in the land (led by the alma mater of Bill Gates, also attended by his kids) makes a top priority of promoting its small class sizes as a leading benefit? When so-called “reformers” are seeking out schools that have class sizes of 40 for their own kids, then and only then will we be assured that they’re sincere, honest and well-intentioned, and don’t believe in one standard for low-income children of color and another for their own.
     
    I don’t agree with the view that the only way we can address the vast damage done by charter schools is to stop talking about it. I think problems need to be discussed and addressed.

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  39. Sue, I agree that lumping together is problematic. Perhaps this is exactly the reason why top-down, one-size-fits-all, state-level policy can be so misguided.
     
    I also agree with Caroline that we cant simply avoid talking about this because its too complex. While we are silent, the feds will continue to issue more rewards for lifting charter caps; more and more districts / COEs will open more and more charters; LAUSD had 3% of enrollment in charters in 03-04, now its somewhere around 15% – 18%. In my own district, 3 of the 5 top PEL schools are charters (the other two are selective traditional elementaries). One of those charters has a PEL of 4 and a quarter (district-wide its 2.6). That same charter has similar schools ranking of 1, has lost 55 points on its API since 2008, and has just recently had its charter renewed for another 5 years. And there are more coming. Not sure we can afford to remain silent too much longer..
     
    I would be surprised to hear an adolescent using the term privilege as a character assassination, as opposed to a reference to some kind of resource disparity, but thats just me.
     
    Sue, while its possible to believe that 40 kids to a classroom is ok, try telling that to parents who see neighbors at private schools with 15 kids in a class. We had 39 kids in a few of our 4th grade classrooms at a local (high poverty, mostly minority) school at the start of this year. Next year a few of those parents are going private/charter.
     
    I am with Caroline on the put-their-money-where-their-mouth-is regarding class size. It is my opinion that the reason they do not do that is not because they actually believe larger class sizes are fine, rather that they believe that its impossible to provide adequate and equitable educational opportunity to everyone. I have had a highly educating, even well-meaning parent say to my face that they know we dont have equal access in our education system, but that that is simply the price we pay for those virtues of capitalism that have brought our society so much wealth. And that thats OK.
     
    I’ve often toyed with the idea of using private school resource levels as a measure for public schools. If people are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for something–and most of why they do that is related directly to resources–I expect they find educational value in that. (Perhaps Hanushek should do some studies on why private schools are a waste of money? Um, right..) It is often enlightening to propose such a thing to a reform-minded person. The response is invariably another one of the themes that runs in many of the reform-based studies (and that was made during the Williams’ testimony), which is that circumstance is the overriding determinant in educational success, and thus spending money on poverty and/or minority kids is a waste. I am not going to argue against anyone’s right to believe that, but I think its wrong to frame the reform as an effort to improve things for everyone if/when the goal is to simply reduce the amount of money we’re ‘wasting’ on those kids..

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  40. I don’t think we should stop talking about it, just need to be much more careful about how we use terminology, and not so damning of parents who make different choices. Having had a child severely bullied (physically and verbally) I am now much more conscious as to why some parents will select a smaller, private school where there might be more accountability. I understand why my friends with a special education child who was very shy placed him in a private school (they paid, and they were far from wealthy), because he would have had a very negative experience in his neighborhood high school (where I taught). In the same situation I would have done the same. It was a deeply inadequate program with two very difficult teachers.
    Most of the problems lie within a “top-down” process, but as long as there isn’t a willingness to address fundamental issues within the profession there is too much fuel for those who are upset with public education.  And honestly, as a parent and a former teacher I think there is a lot that is wrong, and a lot that is right. But the rhetoric, coupled with political decisions such as AB 114 make it difficult to believe that the system is going to improve.
     

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  41. I don’t damn the parents at all (and there is nothing like that in any of this discussion).
     
    Quite often, charter schools are a benefit to the individual families who enroll their kids there. It’s a delicate line to walk, but we should all condemn the intense damage charter schools do to other schools and the children in them — and to all of public education — while not blaming the individual families.

    There are occasional cases of pure entitled selfishness — the non-Santa Cruz residents who wanted to start a Montessori charter within the Santa Cruz district so their kids didn’t have to attend the heavily Latino schools in the districts where those families resided are a shameful example. But in general, the parents who enroll their kids in charters certainly don’t deserve any share of the criticism.

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  42. It is interesting to see two separate forces in “reform” movements – both a move to standardize all schools to use the same curriculum AND a move to create more choice among schools. It is hard to understand the model in the mind of a person who advocates both simultaneously.
     
    Sometimes it may be about personality conflicts with personnel: IE, my family cannot deal with this principal or staff member, therefore I wish to move to another school. I think those situations will always occur no matter how wonderful our staff members are, and I think school choice is a reasonable method to accommodate that. I don’t think charters are required to meet this goal.
     
    I personally enjoy the idea of charters to experiment with alternative curricula. I don’t think charters should be run by for-profit entities … and I am troubled by charters sending out letters as in the Santa Cruz case where parents were told they were expected to pony up thousands of dollars as “their share” as a donation. My rule for decision-making on a charter would be (a) does it have the potential to benefit the kids in the new school and (b) does it harm kids left behind?
     
    But I don’t think charters are needed to create a school choice situation. I continually wonder if what people allegedly want out of charters is just a more local control over a school situation, and if that goal is not better served by making districts smaller or otherwise by creating more school-level or neighborhood-level autonomy.

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