Nan Austin

June 18, 2014

On Campus: Talking head, for once, was mine! Hear Austin on Bloomberg EDU show

Reporter Nan Austin takes part in a national radio show with state and national experts, giving an on-the-ground view of a court decision against some California teacher job protections.

On Campus

The latest on local schools and education

This week, I got to take part in a national radio show on education as part of a three-way conversation about the Vergara vs. California case. It airs Friday at 8 p.m. on Bloomberg Radio. Catch the podcast at or

Bloomberg EDU host Jane Williams had California education expert and EdSource editor John Fensterwald lay out the June 10 decision against five state statutes on teacher job protections.

National education analyst Andy Rotherham, who wrote about the decision in an blog, talks about implications for judicial reforms nationwide.

Here’s Rotherham writing on the decision: “It was a win for the plaintiffs – the judge actually cited defense/intervenors witnesses in support of plaintiffs arguments, which is never a sign your case is all that strong – on all issues.”

And then there’s me, forgetting to breathe I was so caught up in the moment (rookie mistake). But while I won’t win any awards for oration, I did get my homegrown list of talking points in.

On tenure: Teachers tell me it takes more than two school years to get your sea legs on the job. The standard was three years to get so-called permanent status until the mid-1980s, when it became two. The issue raised in the lawsuit was if two school years was enough time to tell who would be a strong teacher, and those in the trenches generally say no.

On dismissals: In the trial, the plaintiffs trotted out the worst examples of lousy teaching and the longest cases of trying to weed out the downright dangerous. It convinced the judge California’s dismissal process is far too cumbersome.

But it also dragged the profession through the mud, teachers told me – and that, too, is a legacy of this case.

They have real concerns about charters taking over public schools, and distrust the agenda of wealthy philanthropists such as David Welch, who bankrolled the case. Unions have focused much of their dispute of the findings on the instigators, rather than the lawsuit’s content.

On Seniority: The last-in, first-out rule for laying off teachers has disrupted schools around here more than all the rest combined in recent years.

With the cuts, schools lost some of the most tech-savvy teachers just as technology became ubiquitous, and some of the most energetic innovators just as doing without became the norm.

Even worse was the bumping, in which teachers with sometimes only a day or two longer to recommend them could bounce other teachers, even out of a special program. It disrupted whole schools, shifting teachers between campuses or grades in a chain reaction, because one senior colleague’s rights trumped all the rest.

Experience matters in the first five years or so, but I have not found any research that backs up the claim that 17-year teachers are better than 16-year teachers.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu overturned all five statutes, then stayed that action until the appeal can be heard, sure to wind up in the state’s top court. A final legal ruling will take years.

Far more likely is a legislative solution, though Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, said she isn’t hearing much chatter in the halls on the issue.

“I think they’re waiting on the appeal, to see this decision fully vetted out,” she said. Still, she said, “The Vergara case will serve as a catalyst.”

Olsen co-sponsored legislation signed Monday to expedite dismissal for egregious misconduct.

As an example of the dismissal statutes considered cumbersome, teachers had to be given 30 days’ notice of an intent to dismiss, open to appeal. But the notice could not be given between May 15 and Sept. 15 of any year. AB 215 amends the law, for egregious misconduct, to allow notice at any time of year.

Teachers retain due process rights, but with a reasonable change in the worst cases. Still, Olsen said, passing the bill “was a really heavy lift.”

Now, if Sacramento could just tackle the seniority issue.

This just in: Moody’s Investors Service is giving a fiscal thumbs up to the Vergara ruling, as quoted in a posting by School Services of California, Inc. Calling the decision “credit positive,” the Moody’s report says, “If the ruling stands, school districts will have greater budgetary flexibility, allowing them to better control labor costs, their leading expense.”

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