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The Soap Opera of Teacher “Tenure” in Louisiana and New York

August 31, 2014

I am a tenured, career public school teacher.

As such, I realize I am Public Enemy Number One to the fiscally-well-backed, non-teaching finger-pointers who call themselves “education reformers.”

If only I could be fired without recourse, American education would no longer be “failing”; the security of my country would be certain, and we would once again (??) be a world power.

I sure am one powerful loser…

…or so those attempting to slap well-paid, simplistic solutions onto either complex or nonexistent problems would have the American public believe.

Classroom teacher “tenure” has been in the news for years now, and the week of September 1st, 2014, it is in the courts in both Louisiana and New York.

Let’s start with Louisiana.

Some Louisiana Soap

In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) fired thousands of teachers. Oh, wait– “laid off without opportunity to be rehired” for months, then permanently terminated in March 2006. In January 2014, the lower court found in favor of more than 7,000 Orleans Parish teachers for their wrongful termination. The case was appealed and will be heard on September 4, 2014 by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

OPSB claims that it did not have enough positions since the state took over most OPSB schools. Indeed, in November 2005, as a result of a special legislative session, the state swept in, changed the cut scores for “failing school” to a much higher score, and assumed control of almost all of the OPSB schools.

A common privatizing tactic: “Don’t blame me; someone else was responsible for that part.”

Piecemeal responsibility– a beauty for declaring oneself rightfully unaccountable.

The lower court said, “nothing doing”; OPSB has a responsibility to these teachers–as does the State of Louisiana.

I realize that such a mass firing would have made the likes of former DC chancellor-gone-manure pusher Michelle Rhee happy, but even she was not allowed to terminate teachers without offering a reason directly connected with job performance.

So, we’ll see what the Louisiana Supreme Court has to say on the matter. I’m thinking the millions the state wholehearted spends on shabbily-trained, temp-teacher Teach for America (TFA) contracts— including funds to train TFAers better so that they can teach more like, uh, career teachers— isn’t going to play into the state’s favor.

The second teacher tenure lawsuit on the Louisiana Supreme Court docket the week of September 1, 2014, concerns Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s push to tie teacher jobs to student test scores (called Act 1). It seems that Jindal and his legislative toadies were so eager to knock the wind out of teaching as a profession that they combined too many items in a single piece of legislation. Now, this case has been in the lower court, then to the Supreme Court, bounced back to the lower court and is once again back at the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The issue of Act1’s violating the “single object” requirement was the subject of my very first education-focused blog entry, written on January 25, 2013.

In March 2013, District Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that Act 1 did in fact violate “single object.” Jindal et al. appealed the ruling; it went to the Louisiana Supreme Court, from whence it was sent back to Caldwell to reconsider his ruling. Caldwell did so in January 2014, and noted that he stands by his original ruling. So back we go, to the Louisiana Supreme Court on September 5, 2014.

Only this time around, Jindal, State Board of Education President Chas Roemer, and State Superintendent John White are no longer chums. Don’t get me wrong– I realize that all three still view career classroom teachers as losers. Still, it will be interesting watching these three try to point fingers at each other as all agree that Louisiana education would surely be better if only those teachers had to repeatedly prove their worth based upon tests over which they have absolutely no control, as evidenced by the sad-sack comedy of the “Jindal vs. White and Roemer” litigation in which these “leaders” are currently embroiled.

Ahh, the soap opera that is fiscally costly, punitive high-stakes-test-driven “reform”!

New York Suds

Let us now turn our attention to New York, which apparently has its own tenure-kill-litigation soap starring the silver-spoon-squandering, former-news-anchor career of Louisiana born-and-bred (though never enrolled in its public schools) Campbell Brown, who has set up her own synthetic “parent crusade” against those New York public school teachers who must predominately be losers like me for their inability to please Brown with their graduation rates. Brown has a shiny new nonprofit that collects unnamed donor cash in order to wipe out teacher due process rights. She filed a lawsuit in New York to get the job done, but not before New York Parents Union did so.

A privatizing reform/ non-privatizing reform chameleon, New York Parents Union leader Mona Davids wanted to be the first (and only?) star in the NY teacher tenure killing show. However, Brown appeared and (it seems) managed to run off Davids’ legal team and also the support she was receiving from Vergara-pushing Students Matter. Davids is now angry that her anti-teacher thunder has been snatched by “bullying” Campbell Brown. New York professor and blogger Daniel Katz outlays this so-called “reform” battle beautifully in this August 31, 2014, blog post, which I reproduce here, in part:

Mona Davids and the New York City Parents Union are disappointed in Campbell Brown. Ms. Davids, whose causes as a parent activist in New Yorkhave been various and have led her to join or oppose other education advocates and “reformers” depending on the issue at hand, followed the Vergara decision in California with plans to file her own lawsuit in New York aimed at laws she claims protect incompetent educators.  While not as far reaching as the Vergara plaintiffs’ case, Ms. Davids aims to have injunctions issued against “last in, first out” and other dismissal rules.

Ms. Davids initially expected and received assistance from Campbell Brown’s “Partnership for Educational Justice” that initiated its own, separate suit with a more Vergara-like profile than Ms. Davids’.  According to interviews given to Eclectablog, Ms. Brown contacted Ms. David’s and NYCPU Vice-President Sam Pirozzolo wanting to discuss and coordinate efforts, but that meeting was cancelled.  Concerned that PEJ would file a lawsuit first, NYCPU rushed to file inStaten Island on July 3, 2014.  Davids and Pirozzolo claim they were subsequently contacted by Brown again who praised them and offered help which initially manifested with input from Brown’s attorney on how to amend the NYCPU suit to improve it.  Meanwhile, Brown filed her own lawsuit in Albany in an emotionally orchestrated press conference.  The NYCPU lawsuit soon got support from “Students Matter,” the California group funded by technology entrepreneur David Welch which launched the Vergara suit, and legal representation was offered by law firm Gibson Dunn.  It certainly seemed as if the anti-tenure forces in New York were coordinating their efforts.

Given the similarities between Davids’ and Brown’s suits, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a motion to have the suits combined in Staten Island, and a hearing with all parties was agreed to for September 3rd.

Davids and Pirozzolo allege that what happened next is the fault of Brown and her allies threatening parties supporting the NYCPU suit.  Officially, both Gibson Dunn and Students Matter have withdrawn their support and representation in the NYCPU lawsuit, and the New York Post reports “sources” saying Gibson Dunn had existing education clients not pleased with them representing Davids.  That doesn’t explain why Students Matter withdrew, and according to their interview with Electablog, both Davids and Pirozzolo claim they were told by their Gibson Dunn attorney that Brown had directly stirred up the trouble with the firm’s existing clients.  Brown, in keeping with her established practice of not disclosing very much about how Partnership for Educational Justice operates, had no comment for the NY Post story.  What this means is that the New York City Parents Union is slated to go into the September 3rd hearing with no effective legal representation, and Brown, who has told the press that she expects both suits to be merged, will likely find her organization in effective control of the whole deal. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it: Mona Davids– due in court on September 3rd, 2014– and without a legal team to help her quash NY teacher seniority.

I’m certain that if only NY teacher seniority were wiped away, then all consequences of ill-set NY testing cut scores would be resolved.

Idiocy.

Katz’s entire post is a real beaut and well worth the read.

When I see those who would bash me and my classroom teaching colleagues nationwide involved in their own self-centered, “But I wanted to smash teacher esteem and slaughter their profession first” public battles, it makes me feel satisfied to see them getting smacked upside the head as a result of their own ill motives.

And the Dramatic Organ Music Plays On…

So, Louisiana and New York teachers, pop some popcorn and enjoy the show. You have three viewing times to choose from: September 3, 4, or 5. And know that in the end, this nonsense says nothing about your dedication to navigating punitive reform in order to attempt to teach.

_________________________________________________________________

Like my writing? Read my newly-released ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE.

 

11 Comments
  1. OK, I’m confused. Is “tenure” synonymous with “due process”? In the way that “literally” now means “figuratively”?

    • Michael, what classroom teachers have that is given the label, “tenure,” is the right to due process. It is not accorded the permanence of “tenure” at the university level.

      • Nor do most university professors have “tenure” these days. Assistantship, associate, and adjunct positions are the new norm. Not to be a stickler for semantics, but I believe that the right to due process should be considered a civil right (constitutional), where “tenure” would appear to be a contractual obligation (by mutual agreement).
        We experienced this issue (due process) firsthand when my wife taught for the Bentonville (Walton) schools in the 90’s, and her ONLY protection was the teacher’s union. Otherwise, they would have had “hire and fire at will” by executive fiat.
        Which term would Frank Luntz choose?

      • I agree that due process should be a civil issue. The public schools reserve the right to not offer such for years to a teacher.

        Privatizers want disruption. Employee civil rights interfere with their desired churn.

      • “Their desired churn” meaning privatizer desired churn.

  2. Great depiction of the idiocy of the current legal actions against teacher tenure. Wish others could make sense of this mess, but it’s just not going to happen. We have become the target in this proverbial game of kick the can. It is so much easier to lay responsibility on others than to look in the mirror.

  3. Please make note of the rape of benefits perpetrated by the Jindal administration against the OGB. $16 million lost due to privatization ????
    Add that nugget to the steaming pile we are expected to chow down on as educators.

  4. Here in Florida, we are the only Professionals in State employment without having civil service protection. So far, they haven’t taken away tenure from those teachers who have it, but they have made it impossible for anyone after 2012 to obtain it. If you move from a county where you have tenure, you automatically lose it and can never again obtain it. I have never in 20 years had tenure, for a variety of reasons, but have never thought it important as I did have civil service protection while teaching adult ed. for 9 years in our prison system.
    Having a right to defend yourself against vindictive or outright corrupt employers in government is why we have civil service protection in the first place. With the war on teachers, you would think someone would realize we need it now more than ever.

  5. It’s all part of the plan to return to serfs and nobility. The unions are pretty much gone and teachers are loosing their grip on the American Dream. Now physicians are being attacked. When the middle class disappears there will be only the halves and halve-nots remaining.

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