Can Matt Damon Explain CA’s Teacher Credentialing Scandal?

Linda Darling-Hammond has been nominated to CA’s disgraced Commission on Teacher Credentialing, but the Save Our Schools cast won’t acknowledge the problem.

matt_damon_michelle_fieldsBy now Matt Damon’s testy exchange with’s Michelle Fields has been seen hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. The horse was declared dead a week ago, but there’s one part of the hide that no one has kicked.

GothamSchools captured video of the rest of the exchange between Damon, his mother and Fields, which focused on dismissing teachers. Damon, miffed at Fields’ suggestion that teachers with tenure are tough to fire, teamed up with his mother and confronted Fields:

Fields: “It’s impossible to fire someone who has tenure.”
Damon’s Mother: “I just told you that’s not true, did you listen?”
Fields: “Come on, it’s *very* difficult…”
Damon’s Mother: “How do you know that? Where are you getting that? I’ve been a lifelong educator, so where are you getting that information?”

Mr. Damon continued by dismissing Fields’ personal experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District, in which she claimed to have seen herself teachers who should have been dismissed but weren’t.

Both Damon and his mother conjured smug, righteous smiles as they challenged Fields — who was, of course, wrong that it’s “impossible” to fire a tenured teacher. It isn’t a stretch, though, that Fields considered the prohibitive cost of prolonged investigation,  litigation and appeals — which can take up to 5 years in a district like Chicago, or cost an average of $400,000 in a city like Newark — and reduced those barriers to one word: impossible.

But rather than accosting Fields for having offended the dignity of the American teacher and demanding citations for her assertions, the Damons could’ve just asked Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford Professor of Education who shared the Save Our Schools stage with the Damons and others, to referee the impromptu debate.

California Governor Jerry Brown and CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson last week nominated Darling-Hammond to serve on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which has been called by State Auditor Elaine Howie “one of the worst state run agencies” in California.

Howie’s dark description came after an audit revealed that as of 2009, over 12,600 cases of alleged teacher misconduct had not been processed. In an opinion column for the San Jose Mercury News, the California Teacher Empowerment Network’s Larry Sand surveyed the scandal:

“The report describes a backlog of 12,600 unprocessed reports of arrest and prosecution of educators as of 2009 — almost three times a typical annual workload. In 40 percent of the cases reviewed, after a report of misconduct was received, it took almost three months to even open a case. After receiving court documents that a teacher was convicted of a crime requiring mandatory revocation of the credential, it sometimes took months to actually revoke it.”

The Sacramento Bee highlighted specific cases from the report back in April:

• An educator was charged with exposing middle school students to pornography in a case the Commission on Teacher Credentialing became aware of in October 2008. The commission did not request documents from police for 17 months.

• A teacher was arrested on charges for offenses ranging from prostitution to petty theft in 2007 – eventually pleading guilty to misdemeanor prostitution – but was permitted to renew his credential in 2008. It was revoked two years later.

• A substitute teacher urinated in a classroom while students were present and was banned by a judge from teaching for one year or being in the presence of children without adult supervision. The commission did not revoke his credential until six months after the court case ended.

The Commission is working on improving.

Perhaps all of this was news to Prof. Darling-Hammond, who has spent much of 2011 making rounds nationally and internationally speaking about the challenges teachers face.

Perhaps she didn’t know about the Commission on Credentialing’s tragic failures despite it occurring in her home state, and despite her status as one of the world’s experts on education.

Perhaps she learned of the scandal just last week when Governor Brown and Superintendent Torlakson tapped her to serve on the Commission.

It’s possible.

But what is more likely is that folks like Darling-Hammond, who are respected for their grasp of education issues and their leadership in the sector, tend not to correct the Damons of the education debate when they make statements that are refuted by reality. It isn’t convenient and it doesn’t fit their narrative.

The truth is that in California — where’s Michelle Fields went to school – it’s tough to discipline or dismiss teachers fairly and effectively when the Commission charged with investigating complaints is dysfunctional. If Darling-Hammond and the Damons didn’t know it as they co-starred at the Save Our Schools rally days before Darling-Hammond’s nomination to the Commission on Credentialing, they know it now.

What we don’t know is whether they’ll admit it.

Matthew K. Tabor is the Editor of


  1. Can Matt Damon Explain CA’s Teacher Credentialing Scandal? |

    [...] Linda Darling-Hammond has been nominated to CA’s disgraced Commission on Teacher Credentialing, but the Save Our Schools cast won’t acknowledge the problem. Read More [...]

  2. Jack Donachy

    This reporting is the usual lame stuff–be it pro-eduation or anti-education–we are served as a steady diet from the media. Matt, you spent the entire article stating the same thing over and over. To what end? The real story here lies in WHY the California system is so bad. Finding the answer to that question would require you to do more than bash. You’d have to actually do some legwork and research… and in the end, my guess is that you’d confront some uncomfortable realities that you yourself don’t wish to face. Or, you tell me, why didn’t you dig below the surface in this article?

    Grow up and do some real reporting. Articles like this simply are not useful–your screed is as empty-headed as is the Damon’s. THINK, man. Think. WHY is the system as it is. And try to stop yourself from the facile “Because everyone is in league to protect teachers.” That ain’t the reason.

    Jack Donach

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