tenure talk

New York's teacher tenure faces second challenge as Campbell Brown's group files suit

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Carla Williams (left) is one of seven plaintiffs suing the state over teacher tenure laws. The efforts are led by news-anchor-turned-education-activist Campbell Brown (right).

Soon after his twin daughters entered kindergarten, Keoni Wright started to see a difference in their academic growth. While Kaylah regularly had homework, Kyler did not—and as a result, Wright says, Kaylah is now entering second grade reading above grade level as Kyler struggles.

Wright blames an ineffective teacher, and he and six other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit today challenging New York state’s teacher job protection laws, which they say create obstacles to removing those educators. The case is the second legal challenge to teacher tenure in New York, and follows a similar case in California that found tenure laws in that state unconstitutional.

A mother and a plaintiff in the case, Carla Williams, spoke with Wright at a press conference on City Hall steps Monday morning.

“I am doing my part but some of Jada’s teachers have not,” Williams said about her daughter.

The complaint, whose filing was led by the news-anchor-turned-education-activist Campbell Brown, runs to 30 pages. It attacks the state’s job protections for teachers on a few fronts: it asserts that three years isn’t enough time to determine whether a teacher should receive tenure; takes issue with the lengthy disciplinary process required to dismiss teachers, opposes the “last in, first out” statute that privileges senior teachers during layoffs, and takes aim at the state’s teacher evaluation system.

The plaintiffs argue that those policies violate the state constitution’s guarantee of a “sound basic education” — a claim the city and state teachers unions have vigorously refuted.

“Parents know that attacking teachers is not the answer to the problems of New York’s public schools,” UFT president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement today. “We expect New York’s courts to reject the fact-challenged and legally questionable assertions in this case.”

Much of the filing consists of nearly 400 pages of studies that support the idea that teacher quality is the key to student learning, including research that has supported the use of value-added scores for teachers.

Some of the local data is less up to date. The complaint notes that 97 percent of tenure-eligible teachers in the city received the protections in 2007. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though, many more teachers had their probationary periods extended. Last year, 53 percent of eligible teachers received tenure, while 44 percent had their probationary periods extended for another year.

For Angeles Barragan, a mother who lives in the Norwood section of the Bronx and another plaintiff, motivation to sue began with her daughter’s notebook.

Each day, Barragan sent her daughter, Natalie, to kindergarten with a notebook that she checked at night, but she noticed that Natalie’s teacher didn’t assign homework. When Barragan brought this up to her, the teacher implied that homework wasn’t crucial in kindergarten.

Angeles Barragan's daughter forgot a lot of what she learned in prekindergarten because of a bad teacher, she says.
PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Angeles Barragan’s daughter forgot a lot of what she learned in prekindergarten because of a bad teacher, she says.

Supporters of the current job protections point to the state’s new teacher evaluation system as one way that ineffective teachers can be identified—and a key difference between New York and California. The first scores for city teachers under the new system aren’t yet in, though.

Of the suit’s claim that New York’s evaluation law isn’t an effective way to identify and terminate incompetent teachers, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that was never its intention.

“I always thought the evaluation system was very simply about helping drive professional development,” Tisch said. “This was never playing ‘gotcha’ with teachers. We never thought we could fire our way out of this problem.”

Still, some of the issues raised by the lawyers are credible, Tisch said. “There’s probably a number of legislative fixes for what’s involved in the process for people who should not be teaching,” she said, including changes to the three-year probationary period for teachers.

In a statement, the state teachers union said that poverty, underfunding, violent crime, overcrowding, and concentrations of English language learners are among numerous factors beyond teacher quality that impact student learning. (Research has shown that teachers are the most important school-based factor in student achievement, but that external factors play a bigger overall role.)

“[Brown] and her wealthy supporters seem to think that if teachers could be fired for any reason at any time, student achievement in high-poverty schools would miraculously soar,” NYSUT, the state teacher union, said.

“Tenure means teachers can speak freely and strongly on matters of public concern,” the union added. “Teachers can partner with parents against inappropriate standardized testing and question Common Core precisely because they don’t have to fear reprisals for doing so.”

In the past, Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended teacher tenure as a way to recruit and retain effective teachers. A spokesman from the state said they could not comment on pending litigation.

At the press conference this morning, after three of the plaintiffs spoke, Campbell Brown stepped up to the podium and called for the parents to join her. As she briefly spoke, her voice trembled.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Brown said.

She said that her organization, Partnership for Educational Justice, plans to file similar lawsuits across the country.

pink slips

One Detroit principal keeps his job as others get the ax. Next year’s challenge? Test scores.

PHOTO: Brenda Scott Academy
Students at Brenda Scott Academy will have the same principal, Eric Redwine, next year.

Educators and staff from a Detroit middle school took the microphone on Tuesday evening to save their principal’s job. Addressing the school board, they listed off Eric Redwine’s virtues, arguing that recent problems at the school can be attributed to its transition from state to district management.

And the board listened. Redwine, principal of Brenda Scott Academy, kept his job in a narrow 4-to-3 vote. He was the only one to survive among more than a dozen other administrators — and three other principals — who either lost their jobs or were reassigned to new ones.

The vote came amid a quiet year for “non-renewals,” shorthand for losing one’s job. In previous years, every administrator in the district was forced to re-apply for their job every year, a tactic designed to give state-appointed emergency managers flexibility in the face of an unstable financial situation. This year, by contrast, only 16 administrators — including four principals — were notified by the superintendent’s office that their contracts would not be renewed, as Superintendent Nikolai Vitti seeks to bring stability to a district still recovering from repeated changes in management.

The principals were singled out for their school management, Vitti has said — not because of how students performed on tests. Test scores will be a major factor in principal contract renewals next spring for the first time under Vitti, part of the superintendent’s effort to meet his promise of boosting test scores.

Seven of the 16 administrators who received “non-renewals” asked the board to reconsider the superintendent’s decision. But in a vote on Tuesday evening, only Redwine survived. He’ll remain as principal of Brenda Scott Academy, according to board member LaMar Lemmons.

The other officials were not named, but Chalkbeat confirmed independently that the district did not renew its contracts with principals Sean Fisher, of Fisher Magnet Upper Academy, and Allan Cosma, of Ludington Magnet Middle School. Vitti previously attempted to remove Cosma, then agreed to offer him a job as assistant principal at Ludington.

At an earlier meeting, Cosma’s employees gathered to vouch for his work. On Tuesday, it was Redwine who received vocal support.

Redwine himself argued publicly that the problems identified at his school by administrators — teacher vacancies and school culture — could be attributed to the school’s transition from a state-run recovery district back to the main district. The recovery district, called the Education Achievement Authority, was created in 2012 to try to turn around 15 of the most struggling schools in the district but the effort was politically unpopular and had limited success. Most of the schools were returned to the main district last summer when the recovery district was dissolved. The only exceptions were schools that had been closed or converted to charter schools.

“I’ve never been told your job is in jeopardy, never been presented a corrective action plan,” Redwine said. “I ask that you reconsider your decision.”

Of the 12 schools that returned to the district last summer, most still have the principals who were in place during the transition last summer. A few got new principals this year after their predecessors left and at least one other former recovery district principal was moved earlier in the year.

Many school leaders reported that the transition was very difficult. It occurred at a time when Vitti was new and still putting his team into place in the central office, making it challenging for principals of the schools to get information they needed about the new district.

When Marcia Horge worked for Redwine, she appreciated his openness to classroom experimentation and his schoolwide Sunday night email, which laid out a game plan for the week ahead.

Then the recovery district folded, Brenda Scott Academy rejoined the main district, and Horge found herself facing a steep pay cut. Rather than accept credit for only two of her 17 years of teaching experience, she left for the River Rouge district. But now, with the Detroit district planning to fully honor teacher experience starting this fall, Horge is contemplating a return to work for Redwine.

“He’s open to our ideas,” she said. “You can go to him. And when there’s a need, he steps in and makes sure we’re communicating.”

 

meet the fellows

Meet the 38 teachers chosen by SCORE to champion education around Tennessee

PHOTO: SCORE
The year-long fellowships offered by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education were awarded to 38 Tennessee educators.

Six teachers from Memphis have been awarded fellowships that will allow them to spend the next year supporting better education in Tennessee.

The year-long fellowships, offered by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, train and encourage teachers and other educators to speak at events, write publicly about their experiences, and invite policymakers to their classrooms. The program is in its fifth year through the nonpartisan advocacy and research organization, also known as SCORE, which was founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from Tennessee.

The fellowships, known as the Tennessee Educator Fellowships, have been awarded to 150 educators since the program’s launch in 2014. This year’s class of 38 educators from around the state have a combined 479 years of experience.

“The fellows’ diverse perspectives and experiences are invaluable as they work both inside and outside the classroom and participate in state conversations on preparing all students for postsecondary and workforce success,” SCORE President and CEO Jamie Woodson said in a news release.

Besides the Shelby County teachers, the group also includes educators who work for the state-run Achievement School District, public Montessori schools, and a school dedicated to serving children with multiple disabilities.

The 2018-19 fellows are:

  • Nathan Bailey, career technical education at Sullivan North High School, Sullivan County Schools
  • Kalisha Bingham-Marshall, seventh-grade math at Bolivar Middle School, Hardeman County Schools
  • Sam Brobeck, eighth-grade math at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter Middle School. Shelby County Schools
  • Monica Brown, fourth-grade English language arts and social studies at Oakshire Elementary School, Shelby County Schools
  • Nick Brown, school counselor at Westmoreland Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Sherwanda Chism, grades 3-5 English language arts and gifted education at Winridge Elementary School, Shelby County Schools
  • Richard J. Church, grades 7-8 at Liberty Bell Middle School, Johnson City Schools
  • Ada Collins, third grade at J.E. Moss Elementary School, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Lynn Cooper,  school counselor at South Pittsburg High School, Marion County Schools
  • Colletta M. Daniels, grades 2-4 special education at Shrine School, Shelby County Schools
  • Brandy Eason, school counselor at Scotts Hill Elementary School, Henderson County Schools
  • Heather Eskridge, school counselor at Walter Hill Elementary School, Rutherford County Schools
  • Klavish Faraj, third-grade math and science at Paragon Mills Elementary School, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Mavis Clark Foster, fifth-grade English language arts and science at Green Magnet Academy, Knox County Schools
  • Ranita Glenn, grades 2-5 reading at Hardy Elementary School, Hamilton County Department of Education
  • Telena Haneline, first grade at Eaton Elementary School, Loudon County Schools
  • Tenesha Hardin, first grade at West Creek Elementary School, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
  • Thaddeus Higgins, grades 9-12 social studies at Unicoi County High School, Unicoi County Schools
  • Neven Holland, fourth-grade math at Treadwell Elementary School, Shelby County Schools
  • Alicia Hunker, sixth-grade math at Valor Flagship Academy, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Alex Juneau, third grade at John Pittard Elementary School, Murfreesboro City Schools
  • Lyndi King, fifth-grade English language arts at Decatur County Middle School, Decatur County Schools
  • Rebecca Ledebuhr, eighth-grade math at STEM Preparatory Academy, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Aleisha McCallie, fourth-grade math and science at East Brainerd Elementary School, Hamilton County Department of Education.
  • Brian McLaughlin, grades 10-12 math at Morristown-Hamblen High School West, Hamblen County Schools
  • Caitlin Nowell, seventh-grade English language arts at South Doyle Middle School, Knox County Schools
  • Paula Pendergrass, advanced academics resources at Granbery Elementary School,  Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Julie Pepperman, eighth-grade science at Heritage Middle School, Blount County Schools
  • Kelly Piatt, school counselor at Crockett County High School, Crockett County Schools
  • Ontoni Reedy, grades 1-3 at Community Montessori, Jackson-Madison County Schools
  • Tiffany Roberts, algebra and geometry at Lincoln County Ninth Grade Academy, Lincoln County Schools
  • Craig Robinson, grades 3-5 science at Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary, Achievement School District
  • Jen Semanco, 10th- and 11th-grade English language arts at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Hamilton County Department of Education
  • Amanda Smithfield, librarian at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Cyndi Snapp, fourth-grade math at Carter’s Valley Elementary School, Hawkins County Schools
  • David Sneed, 12th-grade English at Soddy Daisy High School, Hamilton County Department of Education
  • Yolanda Parker Williams, fifth-grade math at Karns Elementary School, Knox County Schools
  • Maury Wood II, grades 4-6 technology at Westhills Elementary School, Marshall County Schools