Future of Teaching

Advocates preparing lawsuit to target New York state teacher tenure laws

A national movement to prove that job protections for teachers prevent students from learning is getting ready to target New York state.

Six students and families, with the pro-bono help of a powerful New York City law firm and new advocacy group headed by former CNN journalist Campbell Brown, announced on Tuesday that they would file a lawsuit challenging state laws that critics say make it next to impossible to fire ineffective teachers. The process, they say, violate a student’s constitutional right to a sound and basic education.

The group said their lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, will be filed in the coming weeks.

The plans come two weeks after a judge in California said data showing that poor and non-white students in California are more often taught by low-performing teachers convinced him that the laws violate the state’s constitution.

The Vergara suit hinged on the idea that poor students were more frequently taught by “low-performing” teachers, designated by value-added formulas that took student performance into account. But litigation in New York would have to contend with a different set of laws.

Here’s how the advocates describe their cause in their release:

Families are suing the State of New York, claiming that the institutionalized retention of ineffective teachers deprives each child of their right to a sound basic education as guaranteed under the New York State Constitution. There are three basic claims:

1.    Similar to the recent ground-breaking Vergara ruling in California, the lawsuit will specifically challenge the “Last In, First Out” mandate in New York, stating that the policy of forcing school districts to base layoffs on seniority – not a teacher’s performance in the classroom – violates the state constitution by denying students access to effective teachers.

2.    Also similar to Vergara, the lawsuit will claim that New York’s Tenure Statute forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent lifetime employment after three years – an arbitrary time period that does not provide administrators enough time to determine a teachers’ effectiveness. Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers – creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers.

3.    Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers – creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers.

That reasoning has come under fire from teachers unions and others, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also note that tenure protects teachers from capricious administrators and say tenure helps make teaching an attractive profession.

In New York City, the percentage of eligible teachers who received tenure has declined in recent years, as the Bloomberg administration delayed many teachers’ tenure decisions in an effort to make the protection less automatic.

“The tenure system, done right, is a valuable piece of the way we educate because what it’s going to allow us to do is get quality teachers, get them to stay in our school system,” de Blasio said earlier this month.

There is also no guarantee that the Vergara ruling will stand, as the state of California and its teachers unions are gearing up to appeal.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.