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Vergara Suit: When Is A Teacher 'Incapable of Remediation?'

Los Angeles

As the Vergara v. California civil trial wrapped up its first week here, plaintiffs and their witnesses were beginning to confront this very charged question.

The suit, as I reported on this blog earlier this week and in a story now posted on edweek.org, takes aim at three parts of the state's education code relating to teacher dismissal, tenure, and seniority.

Nearly everyone in the K-12 world believes teachers should receive support before they're dismissed. But what happens when that just doesn't work? According to Troy Christmas, the director of labor strategy for the Oakland Public Schools, the advice from the Powers That Be amounts to this: Try harder.

"Increasingly, we believe in conversation with other districts that there is a standard of 'incapable of remediation,'" Christmas said. "The language from the [Commission on Professional Competence] panel decisions will include acknowledgement of the ineffectiveness of the teacher and [our] efforts to remediate, but also a statement that those efforts are not sufficient."

For background, it's worth reviewing just how California's dismissal practices work. In Oakland, a teacher is evaluated for a year, and given feedback. Upon receiving a poor rating, a teacher is put into a peer-assistance-and-review program and receives coaching from a master teacher for a year to help the struggling educator improve enough to reach standards. If a PAR panel concludes that the process isn't successful, the district can recommend the teacher for dismissal, which must be approved by the school board before going before an independent state body, the Commission on Professional Competence, for an administrative hearing complete with testimony and witnessess. If the CPC issues a ruling in favor of dismissal, a teacher can appeal through the civil-court system.

The cost of all these efforts can be so high and take so long that often the district prefers to settle to remove the teacher or allow him or her back to the classroom, Christmas said.

When the defendants finally get their chance to present their case, expect the issue of remediation to raise its head again. Lawyers are likely to challenge the notion that teachers identified as being ineffective have received enough support and retraining. And one of the expert witnesses the defense plans to call, Susan Moore Johnson, has written extensively about PAR programs.

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