Wednesday, April 13, 2016

MN: Another Baloney Attack on Tenure

From today's New York Times:

Opening a new front in the assault on teacher tenure, a group of parents backed by wealthy philanthropists served notice to defendants on Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s job protections for teachers, as well as the state’s rules governing which teachers are laid off as a result of budget cuts.

Close, but not quite.

Opening a new front in the assault on teacher tenure, a group of wealthy philanthropists using parents as a front, served notice etc...

There. Fixed that for you.

The anti-tenure lawsuit is funded by the usual suspects-- the Partnership for Education Justice (funded by the Walton family and Eli Broad), and Students for Education Reform (an astroturf group used as a front by Education Reform Now, the lobbying brother of Democrats for Education Reform, an astroturf group of hedge funders which is also heavily funded by Broad and Walton).

It is a bullshit lawsuit. Here is how we know.

Exhibit A:

“These laws have the effect of poorly performing, ineffective teachers staying in the classroom for years on end,” said Jesse Stewart, a lawyer who will be arguing the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. “You have teachers who are demonstrably ineffective teaching students who need the best that’s out there,” Mr. Stewart added.

This is a lie. If a teacher were "demonstrably ineffective," they would be demonstrably fire-able. For the umpty-gazzillionth time-- tenure does not protect demonstrably incompetent teachers from getting fired. I have seen it done, even in my little small town corner of the world. say it with me. Tenure does not keep incompetent teachers from being fired. What does? Bad administrators. Lazy administrators. Sloppy administrators. Let me quote myself-- behind every teacher who shouldn't have a job is an administrator who isn't doing his. And all the tenure "reforms" (and this is tenure reform in the same sense that a building demolition is construction reform) in the world will not turn a crappy administrator into a good one. Give a lazy, sloppy, bad administrator the power to fire bad teachers, and it still won't happen.

An apartment building is reformed

But the plaintiffs don't actually mean "demonstrably ineffective." What they mean is "standing in the classroom with a bunch of poor kids."

In one example cited in the legal complaint, teachers at a school in Minneapolis where nearly all the students identify as minorities and are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches had the lowest average performance ratings in the district.

Well, yes. Of course they did. We already know that poverty levels are excellent predictors of test scores. Take a classroom with no roof. When it rains, all the students in the room get wet, and so the teacher gets wet too. If you fire that teacher and go get a dry one, the students will still get wet when it rains-- and so will every replacement teacher you ever put in there. Claiming that a really good teacher would keep everyone dry is baloney.

If you are going to fire every teacher who teaches poor kids who get bad Big Standardized Test scores, you will never make headway. Can a teacher help poor students do better. Abso-fricking-lutely. But you have to build a roof, because you cannot fire your way to better test scores (we will forgo, for the moment, whether test scores even mean jackity-poo to begin with).

Exhibit B:

Tiffini Flynn Forslund, one of the named plaintiffs and the mother of a 17-year-old high school junior in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, said her older daughter’s beloved fifth-grade teacher was laid off during budget cuts because he had less seniority than other teachers in the school.

Here's is how I know that nobody filing this suit actually gives a rat's ass about teacher quality-- if they did, they would also be aggressively addressing the issue of budget cuts.

Tiffini should not have had to lose her beloved fifth grade teacher (six years ago-- one wonders why the family waited till now to act). But neither should some other student in Tiffinni's school. The assumption here is that somewhere in Tiffini's school was some Terrible Teacher, so odious and incompetent that they clearly should have been marked for removal (but somehow was not, despite the administration's power to do so).

But what if that's not the case. What if every single teacher in the building was beloved by some deserving child? Why should Tiffini's teacher be spared while someone else's beloved teacher is axed.

Well, you know which beloved teacher should be furloughed due to budget slashing in a poor school? None! Nobody!! Instead, the plaintiffs should be (as some are in other states) taking the state/city/district to court to demand that school be funded properly. Plaintiffs should be arguing that Tiffini's school should not be forced to cut staff at all!

The fact that these "advocates" and their twitter cheer squad are troubled by the cutting of Tiffini's teacher, but not at all troubled by the slashing of Tiffini's budget or the reduction Tiffini's teaching staff or the loss of Tiffini's resources tells me that they are far more interested in attacking teacher tenure and job protections than they are concerned about Tiffini.

Look-- there are plenty of legitimate conversations to be had about teacher job protections, hiring and firing practices, etc. But this lawsuit, like Vergara in California and Campbell Brown's lawsuit in NY, is not an attempt to have that conversation. It's simply an attempt to break the teachers' union and destroy teacher job protections so that teaching staff costs can be kept low and teachers themselves can be cowed and bullied into silence and compliance.

Put another way, this is not remotely pro-student, and is strictly anti-teacher. It's thick-sliced unvarnished baloney, and the fact that it is an attack on teachers is bad enough, but in attacking teachers, it also leaves unquestioned the attacks on student facilities, schools and resources, while trying to make conditions inside schools that much worse. It's cynical, it's destructive, and it's just plain mean. Let's hope this doesn't drag over another few years to another lousy conclusion.


  1. God, they never stop. Thanks, Peter. Right precisely on point, and such clarifying analogies.

  2. I agree with most of what you put out there, but this is one area that I think you need to garner more information. It is VERY hard to get a teacher dismissed in some districts, even with good documentation by Administration. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teachers, but there are always at least 1 or 2 in every school that shouldn't be in the profession. There are also the "yellow note" teachers (the ones that teach the same material with the same dittoes and the same true/false tests year after bloody year!) that, although they have done nothing morally wrong, they are not keeping students interested in learning. I have a love/hate with the rules that the Teacher's Union has that allow these situations to happen. I don't believe for one minute that 1 or 2 complaints about a teacher warrants a dismissal from the profession, but when there is a pattern that has emerged over several years, matters should be dealt with. Unfortunately in some districts, once the school year ends, the sanctions or complaints for sanctions begins again.

    1. Your comment about the "yellow note" teachers is a great way to illustrate why tenure is critical. I am the polar opposite of a "yellow note" teacher. I never, ever do the same thing twice. I am constantly changing, pushing the envelope, reforming my instructional strategies in response to research and what I've learned from my own classroom and from my most successful colleagues.

      Guess what? LOTS of parents complain about me year after year, because their precious snowflakes are being asked to do new, hard things they're not used to. According to your logic, I should be fired. But so should the "yellow note" teacher. Who's left? The ones that suck up to the boss, that's who.

      Unless there's tenure, in which case the boss will have to prove that there is something educationally wrong with either my innovation or the "yellow note" teacher's consistent tried-and-true practice.

  3. The end of mandatory retirement made tenure a much more difficult thing in post secondary institutions. Given the difficulties of removing a tenured professor (edblisa is certainly correct about the difficulties of dismissing a K-12 teacher, and tenured professors are even more difficult to dismiss), it is not surprising that colleges are universities are loathe to higher tenure stream faculty to begin with.

    My experience is that "the boss" is reluctant to fire tenured or even nontenured faculty given the expense and uncertainty associated with any new hire. That is how I have managed to teach for well over a quarter century despite having to have "the boss" decide each and every year if I should be rehired.

    1. colleges (and?) universities are loath to 'higher' or loathe to 'hire' tenure-stream faculty to begin with? If I read your coment correctly, the boss is reluctant to fire experienced faculty (tenured or not), because the alternative is to hire someone unproven [at a higher starting salary?-- is that the expense of a new hire, or do you refer to the time it takes the newbie to become a good teacher, or what?]

  4. Hi Peter-

    I am a teacher in the middle of the tenure trial in CA- Vergara vs. State of California. Please see my blog...You can find excerpts of my narrative Puddle Deep- sharing my experiences around my inclusion in the trial...Thank you! - Anthony Mize

  5. Sounds eerily similar to the Vergara case in CA (ahem). Recent appeal there in favor of teachers/unions. 100% agree w/ blogger's assertion, "behind every teacher who shouldn't have a job is an administrator who isn't doing his. "