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Another witness in Vergara says tenure in CA comes too soon

Mark Harris | February 5, 2014

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Mark Douglas, Asst. Supt., Fullerton School District

Mark Douglas, Asst. Supt., Fullerton School District

The Vergara v California trial and its testimony from educators and administrators from around the state continued its geographic journey today, when the focus turned to Fullerton.

Assistant Superintendent of the Fullerton School District, Mark Douglas, a 37-year veteran of state public education systems, took the witness stand in state superior court and added another layer to the plaintiffs’ case that the current teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure laws work together to violate students’ constitutional right to a quality education.

The defendants in case, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and the state, argue that the statutes don’t infringe on students’ rights and that well managed school districts can work within challenged rules.

Douglas touched on many of the plaintiff’s key points, including the cost and length of time associated with the dismissal laws. He testified, as others have, that 14-16 months is inadequate to determine whether a teacher should receive tenure, guaranteeing future employment.

“It can be a crap-shoot if that person can develop into the person you want,” he said, adding that in his entire career he’s only seen two teachers whom he would recommend after such a brief evaluation period. Douglas said he believed at least four years of observation was necessary before making such a critical decision.

In California, a teacher can gain tenure after 16 months. According to the National Council for Teacher Quality, 42 states require at least 3 years and as many as five before granting tenure. California, North Dakota, South Carolina and Vermont grant within two. Of the rest, Mississippi grants after one year, the District Of Columbia has no policy, and Florida, North Carolina and Rhode Island award annual contracts.

As part of their case, plaintiffs are attempting to show that the challenged statutes result in leaving ineffective teachers in a classroom. When asked by plaintiffs’ attorney Kyle Withers as to whether there are any “grossly ineffective teachers” currently in Fullerton schools, Douglas said he can identify 10, including eight who serve low income, minority students.

Glenn Rothner, an attorney for the teacher unions, used his cross examination to make the point that the dismissal and seniority laws aren’t to blame for problems in California classrooms, suggesting that state funding and poorly run school districts play a major role.

Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School Education and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy, came to the stand late in the day and began offering testimony on means to measure teacher effectiveness. He’s due back on the stand tomorrow to continue.


Image courtesy of Courtroom View Network

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