Day of the Teacher, a year for Lawsuits
Teaching profession at a crossroads in California
(From OC Register, May 6th, 2013)
By Gloria Romero
California on May 8 observes the Day of the Teacher. Created 31 years ago at the behest of then-Sen. Joseph Montoya (a Democrat who, a few years later, was convicted of seven felony counts of racketeering, extortion and money laundering) the largely ceremonial event was intended to honor the teaching profession.
This year's festivities afford Californians an opportunity to reimagine the teaching profession's future. Bipartisan political reform has swept the nation in recent years, giving rise to an unprecedented focus on student achievement, teacher quality and parental choice in public education.
These efforts have galvanized a new civil-rights movement in education, with more elected officials - particularly Democrats - willing to break with their traditional allies, the teachers unions that have long dominated the education debate. Simultaneously, public opinion has sharply shifted, reflecting continued support for teachers while decrying the obstructionist role of teacher union regressive tactics and policies.
Wednesday's commemoration carries particular significance, given the recent filing of key lawsuits seeking reforms through the courts that have been blocked in both the electoral and legislative routes. Vergara vs. California seeks to have declared unconstitutional five state statutes, which for decades have impeded access to quality teachers for too many of California's 6.3 million students. Both the California Teachers Association and the smaller California Federation of Teachers were granted permission to join the case as defendants. In other words, they are taking this lawsuit extremely seriously. Vergara would shake the very foundation of the education bureaucracy, including overturning seniority rules and demanding a rigorous teacher evaluation process.
The second lawsuit was just filed in federal court in Santa Ana by 10 California teachers who resigned their union membership to challenge compulsory dues payments. "Forcing educators to financially support causes that run contrary to their political and policy beliefs violates their First Amendment rights to free expression and association," stated their lawyer.
The lawsuit follows November's defeat of Proposition 32, which would have curbed the political influence of campaign money from both corporations and unions, and the Supreme Court resolution of the Knox v. SEIU case, resulting in victory for individual union members against their unions' taking additional "special" dues from their paychecks without permission.
We are at a crossroads over the essence, quality and future of the teaching profession. Undoubtedly, the resolutions of these lawsuits will shape how California envisions and transforms the profession and how courageously it seeks changes desperately needed to close student achievement gaps and prepare an educated workforce for tomorrow's economy.
This cannot happen too soon! The most recent reports of the highly respected National Council on Teacher Quality provide a sobering assessment of how broken the profession is in California. It assigns a failing grade - D - to how well California prepares and delivers teachers. Grades of F were given to how well California even identifies effective teachers and removes ineffective ones. These grades are nothing less than shameful.
It is appropriate that we honor and celebrate teachers and their profession. But let's commit ourselves to going beyond mere ceremony. Let's commit ourselves to become proactively involved in determining the future of the teaching profession itself, as these cases wind through the courts. After all, we can't have a great state without great schools. And we certainly can't have great schools without great teachers.