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In Vergara, Darling-Hammond defends all the CA teacher laws

Vanessa Romo | March 20, 2014

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Vergara Linda Darling-Hammond, with Judge Rolf Treu and lawyer Marcellus McRae

Linda Darling-Hammond, with Judge Rolf Treu and lawyer Marcellus McRae

The defense in Vergara v California called its final witness to the stand today, a nationally-recognized expert on education policy, who provided testimony that heavily supported all the state laws under challenge in the case.

Throughout the day, Linda Darling-Hammond, who teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said unequivocally that the California laws governing teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority — as they are — adequately serve public education throughout California.

The plaintiffs in the case, nine students, have mounted their challenge to the laws under the legal theory that they combine to deny access to a quality education by protecting ineffective teachers.

Tomorrow, the defense concludes its case by recalling Vivian Ekchian, LA Unified’s Chief Labor Negotiator. Her testimony was halted yesterday to accommodate Darling-Hammond’s schedule. Next week, the plaintiffs open their rebuttal case, followed by closing arguments a week from today.

Darling-Hammond’s testimony under direct examination gave the defendants — the state and its two biggest teacher unions — the most comprehensive support of any of the previous 27 defense witnesses.

Later, however, under cross-examination, her answers suggested that despite her expertise and many years of research, her opinions did not always allow for plausible alternative possibilities.

The testimony touched on many aspects of the laws under challenge.

She testified that well-managed school districts can easily identify grossly ineffective teachers within the state’s two-year tenure framework.

Expanding that window, as the plaintiffs want, would be more damaging to students and districts, she said, keeping ineffective teachers in place for a longer period of time.

Encouraging districts to make the decision “within a reasonable timeframe,” she said, would insure that “students are not exposed to struggling teachers for longer than they need to be.”

She described research showing that teacher evaluations, including Peer Assistance Review, a statewide program that helps teachers improve, are most efficient in remediating teachers or identifying those who should be dismissed for their inability to meet district standards.

“Districts with best evaluation processes are able to dismiss grossly ineffective teachers within one year,” she said.

While the plaintiffs contend the dismissal laws are too complex and expensive to work efficiently, Hammond insisted that remediation programs help cut down expenses for school districts and reduce teacher turnover, which destabilizes the classroom learning environment.

In testimony on the law known as “Last in, First Out,” which requires that the most junior teachers be laid off first in times of budgetary constraints, Darling-Hammond dismissed any notion that teacher effectiveness should be considered for the order of dismissal, over reverse seniority.

“Most districts cannot provide the evidence needed to rank teachers against each other,” she said, adding, “There is no accurate measure to rank teachers across a whole district.”

She called seniority “a rational basis for reductions” and insisted that any measures of effectiveness using test scores alone “are inaccurate and unstable.”

In his cross-examination, Marcellus McRae chipped away at Darling-Hammond’s assertions, showing they do not always comport with the current state of public education in California.

She admitted she had never read the laws in question before agreeing to testify in the case; she conceded that a three-year tenure statute “would serve the same interests” as the current two-year law; and she said she really didn’t know the costs of dismissing a teacher through the state’s existing appeals process.

At one point, McRae used Darling-Hammond’s own words against her, repeatedly quoting from her 2010 declaration in a case intended to stop seniority-based layoffs in LA Unified. In the document, she wrote:

  • “California has failed, and is failing, to provide equal educational opportunities to all of its public schools students, primarily failing poor and minority students.”
  • “Many California schools, primarily those serving a majority of low-income and minority students, continue to struggle for equivalent resources and for enough qualified teachers and, absent a change in state policy, will continue to do so for some time.”
  • “While efforts have been made in the Courts and otherwise over the past decade to try to level the educational playing field for all of California’s public school students, the continuing and substantial inequalities between the haves and have nots in California’s schools is well-documented and indisputable.”

Back under questioning from the unions’ lawyer, Jim Finberg, Darling-Hammond put those statements in context saying, when they were made California’s public school funding policies were severely inadequate.

“Since then, she said, “a more equitable funding formula has been put in place.”

Previous Posts: More than just teachers affect learning, Vergara expert saysA witness in Vergara v California urges seniority over ‘effectivness’Teachers refute ‘ineffective’ charges by Vergara witnesses.

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