Illinois’ SB7 may soon be ruled unconstitutional and the story of a little union local that always said no.

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IEA President Ken Swanson in 2011. The leadership support an unconstitutional tenure bill.

In Indiana a 19-year teacher was dismissed during a reduction in force because of his evaluations. The teacher, who also happened to be the union president, had received good evaluations for years but was released because he was given a “needs improvement” in three discrete skill areas in an evaluation ten years earlier. He and five other teachers were laid off.

He filed suit.

His lawyers argued that, in enacting its tenure statute, the Indiana legislature had created a contractual relationship with teachers who had attained tenure, and thus, that Indiana could not erode the rights of that contract through subsequent legislation–i.e., through a new RIF statute that values evaluations over tenure status–without violating the “Contract Clause” of the United States Constitution.

The Contract Clause prohibits states from passing any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

The Seventh Circuit agreed and ruled that Indiana’s new RIF law, which changed the rights of tenured teachers in the event of a RIF, unlawfully impaired the contractual rights of tenured teachers.

The Seventh Circuit ruled Indiana’s new tenure law unconstitutional.

Idiana’s tenure law mirrors Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) and Senate Bill 7 which was passed by the Illinois in 2011.

In a major betrayal of union tenure and seniority rights, the bill was supported by the Illnois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The Seventh Circuit has jurisdiction in Illinois and would likely rule that SB7 is also in violation of the U.S. Constitution on the same grounds as it did Indiana’s tenure law.

In 2011 only one IEA local in the state refused to support or lobby for SB7.

From my blog in 2012.

It sometimes seemed lonely.

Our little Park Ridge (PREA) local knew it was a bad bill.

But the IEA leadership kept telling us we were wrong about Senate Bill 7.

IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin and IEA President Ken Swanson were at the table. They wouldn’t have agreed to do something that hurt teachers.

But our folks in the Park Ridge Education Association looked at it. We scratched our heads and wondered out loud.

We’re going to lose our  tenure and seniority.

We’re going to be evaluated by test scores of students. Tests that were never designed to assess teacher performance.

Chicago teachers will find it harder to strike and collectively bargain.

How was this good for teachers?

We would hear from teachers from around the state who asked the same question. But the leadership kept talking about the table we had been at. We just didn’t understand that being at the table was the important thing.

Then we saw the Jonah Edelman presentation at Aspen. Edelman was head of the Oregon-based Stand for Children. He had come to Illinois. He had raised $3 million from corporate funders which helped elect a bunch of anti-union legislators. He boasted that he got Speaker Mike Madigan to set up a House education reform committee. He boasted how he had bamboozled the IEA and the IFT and got them to bully the Chicago Teachers Union. He boasted that Senate Bill 7 was a great victory over the teachers and their unions. He also said that at the end of the day, IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin couldn’t have been more pleased.

Although the Edelman video was terribly embarrassing for the IEA leaders, they never shifted their position.

When we lobbied our State Senator he was surprised.. “Your union lobbyists told me this was good. I thought I was doing the right thing.”

We shook our heads.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel praised Senate Bill 7 as a model for the nation.

We said no, Dennis, no. This is Scott Walker light.

And last year when we went to Springfield, our local filled a bus and all the way down we tried to figure out how we were going to lobby for pensions and against SB7 when our union wanted us to support SB7. At the Lobby Day rally they brought out Democratic Assistant  Senate Majority Leader Kim Lightford who praised SB7 as pro-teacher because she had insisted that teachers be at the table. How could it be bad if we were at the table? And Charlie McBarron ran that video on our IEA website over and over again.

Lightford was awarded the Friend of Teacher award at this year’s RA by IEA President Cinda Klickna.

PREA members scratched our heads. How could we be so wrong?

We weren’t wrong, of course.

And we weren’t alone.

At the final session of the (2012) IEA RA delegates approved the last New Business Item #16.

The text of the motion: The IEA RA directs the Executive Director to report to the 2013 RA the feedback of the implementation of SB7. This feedback will be gathered between now and 2013 RA with a mid-term report made available to members.

Rationale: Due to the actual negative effects that SB7 is currently having on many teachers, especially veteran teachers, we need to be proactive in its revision.

Make no mistake. The vote was not close. It is a rejection of the IEA leadership by the delegates and the members they represent on the issue of SB7.

The chickens have come home. Jonah was able to bamboozle the leaders, but not the members.

And we were never alone.

And now SB7 may be on life support.

And our lonely local was right all along.

Lee R. Talley. Yep…a roll of the dice. A commentary on Time Magazine.

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– Lee R. Talley is a retired teacher from Tinley Park.

Let’s start with the premise that nobody wants bad teachers in the classroom.  That’s just common sense.  Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast.  When I was in public elementary and high school in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I had teachers that were excellent to awful.  I had the same experience at the five colleges I attended while getting my undergraduate degree and three graduate degrees.

The Time magazine article, “Taking on Teacher Tenure,” by Haley Sweetland Edwards, doesn’t present a well balance argument on teacher tenure.  (A grade of “C” at best.)  Edwards writes that, “Teacher tenure is a policy that restricts the ability to fire teachers, requiring a “just cause” rationale for firing.”  Wrong!  The only thing that teacher tenure guarantees is “the right to due process.”

Tenure was created to provide teachers with protections.  A long time ago, teachers were subject to rules which impeded on basic rights, being told what time they should be home, which activities they should engage in, who they could associate with, etc.  They were often fired for breaking these ridiculous rules. Teachers came together to gain protections against such rules. They wanted their own rules which ensured they wouldn’t be fired for no reason and to protect college professors from losing academic freedom.  Wealthy industrialists started writing and undermining professors. Tenure was created to ensure professors would be able to write freely.  It angers many people that the reason why tenure was developed is not clear.

As long as I can remember, teachers don’t hire or fire teachers.  Administrators hire, evaluate, and then either retain or dismiss them.  So if you apply Edwards logic, how do you protect teachers from bad administrators?  How do you protect teachers from school board members with personal and/or political agendas?  Do bad administrators and board members exist?  Yes.  How do I know?  I’ve been a classroom teacher, building administrator, and school board member.  Trust me, they all exist…in numbers larger than I like.

Edwards’ piece also creates a bias towards suggesting that teacher tenure is a vast obstacle to student achievement.  Check out the “buzz phrases” used:  “pink-cheeked beneath a trim white beard” — (Santa Claus is making this decision, and Santa would never do anything bad); “what happened next was predictable” – “DEFCON I” — (It’s assumption mixed with opinion, not fact; and please, MAKE THOSE WORDS SCREAM!!!); “Silicon Valley muckety-mucks” — (Aw shucks, I’m just a country bumpkin, a regular guy, just like you); “Jumping off the cliff” — (How could Welch be anything but a hero because only heroes risk their life for others, right?)

Because you’re extremely wealthy you’re right.  Yes, rich people have all the answers…otherwise they wouldn’t be rich, right?  We live in Merry Ol’ England where the nobility of the rich upper-class society know what’s best for the other 98% percent.  If you examine their proposed solutions you’ll see they’re mostly “cookie-cutter” solutions, one size fits all, which those in education know doesn’t work.  Billionaires and business types live by the mantra of trying to apply a specific methodology that will maximize profits.

Edwards also trots out the same old tired names — Infinera’s David Welch (invested in NewSchools Venture Fund and founded StudentsMatter), Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix’s Reed Hastings,  and Walmart’s Waltons.  Ask yourself, how many jobs were lost and how much of the middle class has disappeared over the years because these so-called geniuses were using foreign workers, paying them very little.  They shipped American jobs shipped overseas so they could make billions rather than being good corporate citizens.  The bottom line is that all these reform efforts are all about how private sector businesses and Wall Street equity firms can get their hands on more government money.

Edwards also invokes the names of “education experts” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Fomer Washington D.C. Chancellor of schools Michelle Rhee, and former CNN anchor turned education activist Campbell Brown.  Duncan failed in Chicago and Rhee failed in D.C., both getting out of town before the walls came tumbling down.  (Rhee now runs StudentsFirst, a nonprofit — meaning the budget only has to show a zero balance at the end of the year.)  Brown didn’t get her contract renewed at CNN and is married to Republican operative Dan Senor (who was one of the geniuses who took us into Iraq looking for WMDs), both big players in the conservative charter school privitization movement.

Edwards also states “countless stories of schools and districts being unable to fire bad teachers.”  Okay, give me statistics.  How many bad teachers have been fired?  How many teachers have been denied tenure?  We all want excellent teachers in the classroom, especially those in the profession.  Nothing is worse than being a educator and seeing a co-worker who isn’t doing the job.  Unfortunately it’s a roll of the dice in knowing if someone is going to be a good -average – or bad teacher until they actually teach.  But as politicians and private industry titans keep hammering educators, I’d like to know what they’re going to do when the upcoming teacher shortage hits?  You think they’re going to find enough of the best and the brighest to fill all these vacate positions?  You want to guess why that’s not going to happen?

In the Vergara v. California case  Judge Rolf M. Treu’s state that tenure law “violates the state constitution” and the students rights to “basic eqaulitiy of education opportunity.”  So if this is true, then it should  be the same when it comes to school financing (books, supplies, equipment, etc.), including charter and private schools?

Welch’s argument is even weaker — “If children are being harmed by these laws, then something, somewhere, is being done that’s illegal.”  One could use this same argument as the basis for suppression and inequality in all laws.  Unless he’d like to live in a Socialist society?  Of course, we could apply his logic to members of Congress.  He has a good one, I have a bad one.  That’s not right.  Of course, it’s a rigged system geared towards incumbents and money.  “Oh, okay…nevermind!”

Edwards also cites the three-year study by Harvard “education expert” Thomas Kane, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports the Charter School theory of doing away with tenure improves student achievement.  Unfortunately, a recent study by the University of Minnesota Law School directly refutes that, concluding that charter schools are no better than public schools.

During my last year in education I asked a coordinator from a school reform model, “Can your company guarantee results?”  He replied, “No, we can’t.”  I countered, “Does that mean that your company will refund our money based of the percentage of students who don’t meet grade level standards?”  With a shocked look on his face, “Oh no, we would never do that!”  Yep, it’s a roll of the dice.

So, after all these geniuses get done “fixing education,” who is going to be left holding the bag, left to clean up the mess?  Geez, I wonder.  Here’s the one solution I know to be true:  Until you fix what’s wrong outside of schools you’ll never fix what’s wrong inside of schools.

Thoughts about tenure. Why Scalia and not teachers?

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I posted a tweet earlier today.

Why should Antonin Scalia get tenure and not teachers?

I meant it as being ironic.

But somebody tweeted me back scornfully. Probably a teacher.

Tenure isn’t a job for life!

Yep. I kind of know that having taught for 30 years and knowing my contract pretty well (better than any principal I had to deal with).

And fighting Illinois’ Senate Bill 7, which went far in destroying tenure and seniority rights.

Of course, aside from an attempt at being funny, there are comparisons that can be drawn between why Supreme Court justices like Scalia have life-time appointments and why teachers have tenure.

Even though they’re not exactly parallel. 

In both cases, the original intent was to protect both Supreme Court justices and teachers from politics and arbitrary dismissal.

I also have my problems with what has now become the standard defense of public school teacher tenure.

That it is just a matter of due process.

That’s true too. But saying that alone doesn’t reveal what the real issue is for me.

Who does a fair and agreed upon process for dismissal impact the most?

Veteran teachers. Highly paid teachers. Teachers who want parental leave. Teachers of color.

There was a time when teaching was one of the only professional positions a Black woman could get in Chicago.

So, who are currently the senior teachers in many urban districts, often at the top of the salary schedule?

Who would the district, strapped for cash, like to get rid of?

When I discussed this with somebody the other day they asked why couldn’t a veteran minority teacher bring a complaint of discrimination and go to court if they thought they were victims of discrimination.

Ask somebody who has tried. These days it is near impossible to win a suit like that. It is near impossible to prove to the court’s satisfaction that there is a pattern of age, race or gender discrimination.

And it takes forever.

Tenure and seniority rights, contractual and legal, are intended to cut that problem off at the pass. It makes it much harder to target teachers when seniority and performance based evaluations are used rather than test scores and an administrator who wants to get rid of you.

In Illinois Senate Bill 7 did two things. It severely limited what could be bargained and it severely restricted seniority and tenure rights.

Those who came up with SB7, including our state union leadership, defended it by saying we still had collective bargaining and due process for dismissal.

When they limit what can be bargained  they undermine collective bargaining. That’s what SB7 does.

If they reduce tenure and seniority to simply due process, or take tenure away completely, then you ignore the realities of older teachers, women teachers and teachers of color.

They are the victims.

The attack on tenure isn’t getting rid of bad teachers. It’s getting rid of experienced, veteran and minority teachers.

Theme for English B
BY LANGSTON HUGHES

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

In Illinois, Senate Bill 7 removed most seniority protection when districts RIF (Reduction in Force) teachers.

In California, the Vergara decision ruled that tenure and seniority protections are illegal.

A similar suit is on its way in New York, fronted by the former CNN talking-head, Campbell Brown.

The attack on tenure isn’t about getting rid of bad teachers. It’s about getting rid of experienced veteran teachers. In urban districts, it means getting rid of minority teachers.

Some estimates are that Chicago has lost 40% of its African-American teachers over the past decade.

When they target us because we are older, we know age and racial discrimination when we see it.

Stuart Goldurs has been a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 28 years.

It is a brand new school year. Check out your class composition. Is it a difficult class? Does it have many behavior problem students? Does it contain the lowest scoring students for your grade?

LAUSD wants to get rid of you before you reach retirement age and achieve lifetime benefits.

The administration of your school can make your life miserable, no matter what the grade, not matter what the subject matter. Secondary teachers can even be assigned to teach a subject that have never taught and have never been trained to teach.

They can stack your class. Various members of the administration can drop in frequently, then find issues, and call you in for a one sided conference.

They can assign you the lowest scoring students and then get on your case when their test scores remain stagnant.

They will not provide assistance with even the most serious behavior problems. If a parent complains about you, the administration will support the parents’ side and make sure other parents know about it.

They can ignore you and put you down at faculty meetings, attempting to ostracize you from your colleagues.

They will get the word out about you among the parents, the staff, the students, and the community.

They will look for the slightest issue in an attempt to get you off the campus and into a teachers’ jail where you will sit for months or even years without knowing why you are there. They hope that you will then give up and quit.

Watch out! During the school year when a new student arrives and the student is low, has behavior issues or attendance issues, speaks little or no English or has special needs, that student will assuredly be assigned to you.

They don’t care about your experience, your fine reputation, your high test scores, your mentoring of new teachers, the unpaid time that you put in with your students or in extra curricular activities.

If downtown wants you out, the principal and his or her assistants will work to get you out, otherwise they may be out.

Arthur Goldstein. Tenure for good apples too.

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– Arthur Goldstein is a New York teacher and UFT Chapter Leader at Francis Lewis High School. This column appeared in the New York Daily News.

Every day, it seems, I read about a new lawsuit to do away with teacher tenure. The crusade reminds me of my friend Harris Lirtzman. It’s because of tenure that I teach and he doesn’t.

Harry used to be a deputy New York State controller until, in 2009, he decided to become a math teacher of special-education students in the Bronx.

He offered experience and a depth of understanding few could match — but his discerning eye proved to be his downfall.

He studied the kids’ Individualized Education Programs, the documents that state what services special-education students require, and discovered that many were being underserved, possibly to save on school expenses.

Harry began asking questions — and learned exactly how unwelcome they were when, in December 2011, he was denied tenure.

Harry now tutors at-risk students in Yonkers. If he’d had tenure, he’d still be helping city public school kids.

Without tenure, I’d probably be in Harry’s place. I teach English as a second language, usually to beginners, at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

Read the entire article here.

Bill Menendez explains the value of teacher tenure to a principal.

Dear Sir,

For twenty four years I was an elementary principal at one school. One of the reasons that we were an effective school was exactly what the nation seems so happy to dispose of, that being tenure rights.

Over the years there were many instances when wonderful, intelligent people on the staff saved me from making huge mistakes simply by being willing to talk to me. Without tenure rights that likely does not happen. These people with the freedom and willingness to speak up were in the final analysis helping all parties, if that is believable. The most wonderful byproduct of this is that we all grew closer as a group. I realize that the word, “family,” is overused, yet that is what we became. We always laughed together and many times we cried together as one of us or a student faced the really tough times life throws at one.

The manner in which those teaching today are treated makes me ill.

They are good, intelligent professional people and they are being used like Lego blocks.

– Bill Menendez

The myth of tenure for life.

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I received two comments from reader Joe Jeffrey this weekend regarding the suddenly hot topic of tenure.

First, Joe writes:

I suppose this will just convince everyone I’m a right-wing Republican, but I’ll ask it anyway: granted that teachers must be protected from unfair hiring & firing practices, such as being fired at the whim or personal feelings of a single principal, what is tenure is the only way to accomplish this admittedly necessary goal? To put it more simply, why does the need for protection from jerk principals REQUIRE tenure for life regardless of job performance?

Well, relax Joe. It’s not just right-wing Republicans that are going after tenure and seniority rights of public employees.

It’s Democrats too.

But your fundamental mistake is in the phrase, “tenure for life regardless of job performance.”

No such right exists for teachers. The tenure rights of teachers have never guaranteed a life-time appointment regardless of performance.

Your are probably confusing teachers with state legislators.

What were called tenure rights at one time meant that after four years of probationary employment – during which time a teacher could be fired without cause – teachers could be fired only by following due process rules. That no longer exists in Illinois.

Now, as a result of Senate Bill 7 – which was supported by both state teacher unions – even those minimal rights have been significantly curtailed.

Now in Illinois, a tenured 30-year teacher can be released before a second-year non-tenured teacher. This is a huge incentive for a principal looking to cut costs.

Teachers are now evaluated on the performance of individual student test scores – even the scores of students they don’t teach – and on the performance reviews of often – as you so poetically called them – jerk principals.

Then Joe writes:

Karen Lewis is a statewide embarrassment, a poster child of the right wing anti-union movement. She epitomizes the attitude that what matters is protection of union members no matter how inept they are. At a time when we need more and more powerful unions to protect employees from huge companies, Lewis undercuts unions every time she opens her mouth.

CTU Presdient Karen Lewis can’t be a “statewide embarrassment” to union members, since she was re-elected a year ago with 80% of the vote of her membership.

 

And polling suggests she is more popular than most politicians and corporate tycoons.

She may be an embarrassment to you Joe, but you hardly speak for the entire state. You make claims, but provide no evidence for what you say.

Lewis represents the CTU as a rare union leader who speaks honestly and without compromise over basic principals of activist unionism.

It is true that one of the things that matters to her as CTU President is that her union’s members are provided due process no matter what the charges are against them.

I think that one of the many things you don’t understand, Joe, is that she is required to ensure due process for her members – as are all union leaders. State and federal law requires due representation.

For ten years as local union president, I provided representation for many good teachers who were falsely accused, and a few poor teachers – as I was required to do by the law.

Shame on you for wanting unions to take dues or fair share dollars without providing employees with what they deserve and what the law demands.