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Teacher dismissal fix shows Capitol can collaborate, but public wants more

07/02/2014 12:00 AM

06/27/2014 8:56 PM

Faster action in egregious cases of misconduct by teachers has been signed into law. Teachers, too, are applauding AB 215. It streamlines the process, “saving the state time and money while protecting students and ensuring an educator’s rights to due process,” the California Teachers Association said.

The bill’s author is Assemblywoman Joan Buchnan, D-Alamo, co-authored by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank. Olsen described getting the bill through committees and passed as “a heavy lift.”

Egregious conduct, in case you were wondering, applies to school employees charged with the absolutely awful, including child abuse; sex crimes involving rape, prostitution, child pornography and statutory rape; commitment as a mentally disordered sex offender; registered sex offenders; alcoholism or drug abuse; felonies; and crimes of moral turpitude.

It also includes a range of things already in education code that seem only potentially awful, like dishonesty and unsatisfactory performance. Along the way, it excised the old ed code prohibition on being a member of the Communist Party.

Egregious misconduct cases for schools will be heard only by an administrative law judge, and that decision will be binding. AB 215 also streamlines the hearing process for all other dismissal appeals. Those will be heard by an administrative law judge and two educators of the Commission on Professional Competence, and decisions will be binding.

The bipartisan legislation, crafted with union input, is how education reform should be done, said Dean E. Vogel, president of the 325,000-member CTA. Vogel lambasted attempts to “legislate from the bench,” referring to the Vergara v. State of California lawsuit.

The Vergara case sought to repeal several state dismissal statutes that made it difficult to get teachers off the payroll, even in egregious cases. It also took on 18-month teacher tenure, called job permanence in K-12 districts, and the last-in, first-out seniority system for layoffs.

The lawsuit prevailed on all counts at trial. But Judge Rolf M. Treu stayed striking the statutes pending appeal, and said he hoped legislators would reform the laws in the meantime. All sides agree AB 215 is a good first step.

Olsen, vice chair of the Assembly Committee on Education, said she is not seeing much legislative movement toward addressing the other two issues, though a new poll shows the public would be solidly behind both.

The poll by PACE and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education shows the last-in, first-out system is even more unpopular than tenure. More than 2 in 3 Californians said the seniority layoff system should be scrapped.

The PACE-Rossier poll found about 60 percent of Californians think of tenure as a bad thing because it makes it so hard to fire low-performing teachers. Even more think giving permanent status to teachers after two years, the current law, is too soon.

A new study by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and the University of Virginia concluded that reforms in New York City tenure laws led to less-effective teachers choosing to leave.

“Performance Screens for School Improvement” studied the effect in NYC schools of adding a rubric for evaluating teacher effectiveness before granting tenure, and holding principals responsible for their tenure decisions.

The standard NYC probationary period was three years, with the option to extend probation to a fourth year. Under the new rules, many more teachers who did not meet performance standards had their probation extended, and about 40 percent of those chose to leave the district.

About This Blog

Bee staff writer Nan Austin provides insights into the latest on local schools and education. @NanAustin

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