Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dropout Nation and Comes Out Against Teacher Tenure

It is a total bummer that Rishawn Biddle, the editor of Dropout Nation has come out against teacher tenure and in favor of the lawsuits that would that would kill teacher tenure here in New York State (here). In particular, Biddle takes to task Arthur Goldstein's amazing defense of tenure in the New York Daily News.

Dropout Nation is a national oriented blog and although I often disagree with what I read when I click its pages, it is one of my favorites because it is an issue-focussed blog.  Those are a rarity these days.  Biddle tends to write specifically about how Ed policy affects his perception of America's Dropout problem. I like that. In a world where everyone writes about everything 'ed' related (and no one develops a deep understanding of of anything as a result), it is refreshing to see one publication seek to focus on how something as complex as education policy affects just one thing. He can also do something that lots of other pro reform education writers across the national scene can't do: Biddle can really write! His pieces are such a pleasure to read that I almost feel like I'm reading a piece from one of the NYC edu bloggers.

Those platitudes aside, it was truly disappointing to read passages like "Traditionalists will do anything to defend tenure laws giving teachers near-lifetime employment" and that tenure was some sort of  "grand bargain" that was struck between the AFT and NEA and their members. Particularly disappointing was that Biddle accused Goldstein's brilliant defense of tenure as 'absurd' and asserted that "The evidence doesn't support his [Goldstein's] case."

Traditionalists (which is a label I only bear because the alternative is far worse) will not do anything to defend lifetime employment laws. Yes, we are interested in defending our job protections and yes we will lay those reasons out for people to read or see. But to imply dishonesty among teacher activists, particularly from Arthur Goldstein (whose honest voice and efforts helped save teaching as we know it during the previous education wars) goes, despite his compliment of Goldstein being one of the good teachers, a bit beyond the pale.

As he lays claim to 'evidence' that doesn't support Goldstein's case, Biddle says that

As a civil servant, he [Goldstein] is already covered under New York State’s civil service law, which provides rather reasonable protections against unfair dismissals by laggard leaders. In fact, if the New York City Parent’s Union’s Vergara suit (along with that being filed by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Equality) succeed in eviscerating tenure, Big Apple teachers would still be protected from unfair firings.
NEA and AFT leaders cannot argue legitimately why teachers should be granted protections that go far beyond those given to police officers and firefighters (who endanger their lives daily and are subjected to far harsher politicking), much less other civil servants and those of us in the private sector.

I've seen this assertion made before. The argument goes something like "There are already civil servant laws protecting all public servants from being unfairly fired". Rolf True, the judge in Vergara asserted that teacher tenure in California represented "uber due process". Regular Civil Servants, Treu said, have a process that calls for written charges and an administrative hearing. Why should teacher be any different? 

Thing is Treu got this part entirely wrong. In fact, it is probably one part of his decision that is sure to be reversed upon appeal. Why? Well, there really isn't any difference between the teacher tenure process of dismissal and the typical civil servant process of dismissal in California. Both call for charges to be filed. Both call for an opportunity for the employee to respond and both call for an administrative hearing (in California, they are called "a Skelly hearing" (check p. 12 of Treu's decision). The processes are one in the same.

Treu's only finding about this was that the teacher process took far longer and cost a lot of money when compared to a typical civil servant hearing (he heard no evidence about how much a typical Skelly Hearing took or how much one cost. He just sort of ass-u-med there was a difference in time and cost and made his decision accordingly).

Biddle buys into this same flawed reasoning in his post attacking tenure (and tearing down Goldstein's defense of it). When he says that "if the New York City Parent’s Union’s Vergara suit ...succeed in eviscerating tenure, Big Apple teachers would still be protected from unfair firings." what he thinks he's saying is that teachers here in New York have uber due process protections viz the teacher tenure laws. We don't.

We don't

We don't!!

We have the same protections. The only difference here is that our Ed Laws spell out the process of dismissal in their own statute.

Those processes, spelled out in our 3020-a statue are spelled out here and here.

The processes for dismissing any other New York State civil servant can be found here.

I urge Rishawn Biddle, or anyone else, to take the time and read these two processes and challenge anyone to find any significant difference in the way teachers can be fired and the way police officers and fire fighters can be fired. I think anyone who reads through these documents will see (rather plainly) than teachers do not enjoy any uber due process protections above and beyond what other public employees enjoy -save that our protections are spelled out in our own separate statute and (in the case of New York).

As to why teachers should have their own, I supposed a good question may be why shouldn't we? I see the point Biddle (and everyone else he agrees with) makes, and if anyone can link the separate statute to poor test scores, or an over crowding up ineffective teachers in under privileged schools, then I'll hear that talk.  But not even Treu linked ineffective teachers to underprivileged schools (not in a factual way anyway. He is given credit with quoting research, but the only research Treu could link to was a guide for hiring staff that the CADOE put out for its local school districts to you. He intentionally mistook the title of that hiring guide "Evaluating Progress Towards Equitable Distribution of Educators" as thought it itself was evidence. But a read of that 2007 document shows it says nothing about how or whether effective teachers are assigned to impoverished schools (it does examine qualified teachers, but for the record, 'qualified' does not mean effective). You may read that document here. The name of the file, 'toolkit2.doc' says all that needs to be said about that document). I don't see how or why Biddle and the rest of the reformers have jumped to that conclusions as well.

Given all that, it seems pretty clear to me that there isn't a reason why we shouldn't be granted a separate statute that does in essence the same thing. Clearly it does not 'go beyond' what other civil servants have at all. If anything, it keeps teachers' process separate from the process for the rest. I thought anti-union people liked that sort of thing. Or not. I'm actually not quiet sure where they're coming from.

And this is the whole entire problem with having this discussion!! No one cares to get straight or to accept that one thing that is supposed to hold us all together: Facts. No one cares about the facts of teacher tenure!! They all (all) only want to attack.

In a recent post, famously influential NYC edu blogger NYCEducator wrote a title "Someone Finally Defends Teacher Tenure" (check that out here). The blogpost itself was left blank. I like the idea of someone, particularly someone like Goldstein, finally defending teacher tenure. I think the first place to begin that process is to explain what, in somewhat minute detail, teacher tenure here in New York State really is. I think it's time to start clearing up the fog of accusations about teacher tenure and begin talking about it in factual terms. That way, when a writer as intelligent and passionate as Rishawn Biddle asserts things like "the evidence does not support his claims" we can all presume that there is an actual understanding -of all involved- of what exactly that evidence, and of what teacher tenure, really is.


  1. Biddle writes that tenure is some kind of "grand bargain" the unions and education management created between themselves.He should try learning some history before making such statements, since, in NY at least, tenure preceded recognition of the union and it's first contract by DECADES.

    Second, his reference to Arthur Goldstein as a "union boss" immediately reveals that this writer is a passive, uncritical vehicle for expressing management assumptions. While union leaders, apparently even elected representatives on the school level, such as Goldstein, are referred to as "union bosses," management is reliably referred to in neutral or positive terms, tipping the rhetorical field in favor of managerial assumptions.

    Urban Ed, you give far too much credit to this idiot.

  2. All one needs to know about self-colonized, right-wing reactionary Biddle is in this article: Giving his extremist ideas any exposure, even if to disagree with them, is akin to feeding internet trolls.

  3. Rishawn Biddle NEEDS to read "The Teacher Wars, A History of America's Most Embattled Profession" by Dana Goldstein, after it comes out in September.


    Because anyone who thinks teachers should lose due process rights is an ignorant fool and is being jerked around by the fake education reformer movement and a slick PR campaign that's supported by hundreds of millions of dollars from people like Bill Gates and the Walton family.

    Bias often comes form ignorance. Unfortunate some of the brainwashed fools refuse to read books that will offer the other side of this issue with tons of evidence. Once they form a biased opinion, they hold on to it as if it is the blood coursing through their bodies.

    Other books this fools should read are:

    Reign of Error
    By Diane Ravitch

    Diane Silvers Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under President G. W. Bush. She was appointed to public office by Presidents H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

    50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools:
    The Real Crisis in Education
    By David C. Berliner, Gene V Glass, Associates

    David C. Berliner is an educational psychologist and bestselling author. He was professor and Dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education. Gene V Glass is a senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a research professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    A Chronicle of Echoes:
    Who's Who in the Implosion of American Public Education
    By Mercedes K. Schneider

    Schneider says, “Corporate reform” is not reform at all. Instead, it is the systematic destruction of the foundational American institution of public education. The primary motivation behind this destruction is greed. Public education in America is worth almost a trillion dollars a year. Whereas American public education is a democratic institution, its destruction is being choreographed by a few wealthy, well-positioned individuals and organizations. This book investigates and exposes the handful of people and institutions that are often working together to become the driving force behind destroying the community public school.