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Vergara Part 1: March 15, 2008

This week, on February 17, 2015, Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles published a policy paper on teacher tenure titled, Reimagining Tenure Protecting Our Students and Our Future.  I was one of nine members on the team that researched, surveyed, and discussed the issue of tenure at length to craft this paper. This entry is part 1 of 3 on my opinion of why tenure in the state of California needs to be reimagined. 

Do you remember what was in your mailbox on March 15, 2008?  If you were a teacher in the state of California, chances are you do. If you were a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, your chances are even better that you remember what was in your mailbox on that fateful day. March 15th, according to the California Education code, is the day when teachers must be notified that they may not have a job the coming school year. This is the date when districts must send out Reduction In Force (RIF) notices. On March 15, 2008, the Los Angeles Unified School District sent out thousands of notices (somewhere around 7,000 of them). Most of these lay-off notices went to teachers working in the hardest to staff, definitely to schools in the poorest areas of Los Angeles. Some of these schools had half of their teachers receive lay-off notices, and one school had a sickening two-thirds of their staff receive a RIF.  Schools in better areas, (less poverty, less crime) had none. What is even more nauseating than all those teachers loosing their job is that by December of 2009, many of the schools where they were working could not find anyone to replace them. So the children at these schools were the ultimate losers, because on a good day maybe they had a day-to-day sub but most likely they were corralled into a common area and shown a video. At this point the ACLU stepped in and said enough. They filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students at three LAUSD middle schools, Reed v. State of California.   

I feel complicit in the loss of education those students endured because I am protected by a tenure designation based solely on the number of years I taught. How is it that time alone made it okay for me to stay while others had to leave? When you read the background of the Reed case, it becomes easy to understand why the public does not always trust the union's agenda. For me this lawsuit, which was won but then turned-over on appeal, lingers large in the backdrop of Vergara; it's the white elephant in the room every time I talk about teacher evaluations or effective teachers. The Reed Case began a dialogue between the union, the district, and the ACLU, which led to the creation of 37 Reed protected schools where they are working on ways to raise student achievement while attracting and retaining the best teachers. The issues behind the Reed case are some of the same issues behind Vergara: 1. Last In First Out (LIFO), and 2. Getting, "Highly Effective Teachers" in Hard to Staff Schools. Vergara allows us the opportunity to sit down and talk about these two issues because tenure is the presenting problem. The underlying cause for this case is our shared challenge of how we get highly effective teachers in front of the students who need them the most.

We need teachers, our unions, our districts, parents, universities, business leaders, everyone with a stake in education to start a dialogue focused on coming up with a solution to our shared challenge. Reimagining tenure can help us solve these problems but only if you're willing to talk about it.  More to come on this topic in Vergara Part 2: Tenure Is a Misnomer.

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