Consortium Set to Defend New York Teacher Tenure in Court

Approximately 50 parents, education advocates, the city of New York, and the state of New York are set to defend teacher tenure in court on the basis that it ensure quality classrooms.

New York Daily News reporter Ben Chapman writes that labor attorney Arthur Schwartz claims that his clients should be named co-defendants in this case, which is seeking class-action status, because of being sued two weeks ago by the New York City Parents Union. The union claims that his clients failed to provide quality education to all kids and cites 11 students of the city’s schools “whose constitutional rights were violated by bad teachers who could not be fired”.

“They believe that the only way to attract qualified graduates to the profession is if they are afforded job security,” Schwartz said of his clients.

“This lawsuit in fact diverts attention from lack of (education) funding and excessive class size,” he said. “There’s no evidence that systems of job security harm students.”

Mona Davids, president of the Parents Union, says she was inspired by the Vergara decision in California, in which a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled there were disproportionate numbers of ineffective teachers in the city’s poor neighborhoods.  The Vergara case was an inspiration for Campbell Brown, journalist turned advocate, through her group, Educational Justice, to file a similar suit in Albany, NY.

In another article by Chapman, Davids and another member of the union, Sam Pirozzolo, claim in a Sunday tweet that they were harrassed by teacher Francesco Portelos via Twitter.

“U need your protection removed so if you see a disservice to little Franklin P or Eric D u look away,” tweeted Portelos, referring to to Davids’ son Eric, 6, and Pirozzolo’s son Franklin, 11. “Teachers need to be protected so they can speak up for any disservice to students,” said Portelos.

Al Baker, writing for The New York Times, adds that:

- Legal experts, union leaders and others have said that it will be difficult to “gain traction” concerning the issue of tenure in New York’s court system.

- New York’s courts will probably acquiesce to the legislature, which has been battling this issue and is more familiar with it.

- Judge Rolf M.Treu ruled that there were seniority rules in place that allowed the newest teachers to be laid off first and that these rules were harmful.

- The suit says that only 12 teachers between the years of 1997 and 2007 were fired because of poor performance because of the difficulty and expense involved in the hearing process.

- Education reform groups, some supported by Wall Street, expect a wave of Vergara-like suits.  Davids says her suit is not being financially supported by any outside group.

- Education lawyer Michael A. Rebell, also a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, says he, along with others, do not think that eliminating or changing tenure specifications would lead to better teachers or improve educational quality in poor areas.

- Teachers in California earn tenure after 18 months, but in New York there is at least a three year probationary period.  For New York teachers, the most important effect of having tenure is as a protection from “indiscriminate, unjustified, or politically triggered hiring and firing”.

“Tenure doesn’t protect bad teachers,” said Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the statewide union, adding that its lawyers are “already gearing up” to defend tenure in court. “It allows good ones to fight for what students need.”

- There is an evaluation system in place in New York, which should make it easier to fire ineffective teachers, but very few teachers  received poor marks the first year the system was in place.

Black and Hispanic parents spoke out in a Latin Post article written by Rebecca Myles, which included a quote from Davids.

“Across New York State, about 70% of students do not read, write and do math at grade level. This is a crisis of epic proportions. New York City schools in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods are staffed with the highest concentration of Unsatisfactory-Rated teachers. Yet, every attempt to hold teachers accountable for educating our children is blocked. Bad laws need to go. It is time to reform the law and put our children’s interests. Every child must receive equal access to a high-quality education.”

In the same article, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), told members of the Delegate Assembly that corporate reformers were using the attack on tenure to privatize public education.  Mulgrew said that the UFT knows that the challenges facing public schools are poverty rates and teacher turnover.