The billionaire education reformer trial marches on this week, after the trial judge ruled that the case will not be tossed for lack of merit, but allowed to continue. Evidently Judge Treu believes there may be enough evidence presented by the prosecution to merit a decision as to whether or not teacher tenure laws violate the civil rights of underprivileged children.
But there's an interesting twist here, because of the nine plaintiffs named in the case, several never took the stand at all. If the case turns on a question of whether children's civil rights are violated, wouldn't it make sense for all of the children who are named plaintiffs in the case to take the stand and testify as to how their rights were violated? Evidently not.
A closer look at who those plaintiffs are, and who didn't testify, might explain it.
The four who did not testify were Clara Grace Campbell, Kate Elliott, Herschel Liss, and
Daniella Martinez. Who are they and why didn't they testify?
Who are they?
- Daniella Martinez is the daughter of Karen Martinez, an employee of Rocketship Education, a charter school operator with plans to expand rapidly in Wisconsin, Washington, DC, and Detroit.
- Kate Elliott's father is Todd Elliott, President of a coffee and tea company.
- Clara Grace Campbell's father is Bowen Campbell, III, Vice President of a high-profile investment management firm.
- Herschel Liss' parents, Stephen and Lisa Liss, are wealthy real estate developers and landlords in the Southern California area.
Why didn't they testify?
This case is about whether teacher tenure laws violate the civil rights of underprivileged children. None of the children who were not called to the stand could be considered underprivileged, yet they were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. One might assume that they could have offered testimony as to the superiority of the schools they attend when compared to schools in economically challenged areas, but they didn't. I don't know what the strategy was behind the decision to forego their testimony, but the common characteristic among them is that they don't fit the 'underprivileged student' picture plaintiffs were attempting to paint for the court.
Here is the heart of the legal conflict, explained by LA School Report:
It boils down to this: Both sides agree that there are ineffective teachers in California public schools whose incompetence undermines student academic achievement. But one side (plaintiffs) thinks that it’s a systemic problem and, therefore, a constitutional issue while the other side (defendants) says the problems of a handful of students may be sad and unfortunate but don’t rise to the level of blowing up state law.
Plaintiffs take that one step further and argue that one student harmed is cause to overturn the statutes on the theory that all students are harmed.
The "systemic problem" theory screams for the entire universe of plaintiffs to offer their testimony. After all, it shouldn't simply be the children of cherry-picked underprivileged parents with complaints, but any student in any public school who claims to have had an ineffective teacher.
What is an ineffective teacher?
One of the more startling aspects of this case has been the way Students Matter (plaintiffs) has danced around the question of teacher effectiveness. Here is an example of the testimony offered to bolster their claims about "ineffective teachers:"
“I know first-hand what kind of impact having an ineffective teacher can have,” said Raylene Monterroza, a 16-year-old high school junior who blames bad teachers in her Pasadena fifth-grade and ninth-grade classrooms for why she is now two years behind grade level in math. “I’ve had teachers that didn’t even show up to school, and when they’re at school, they don’t really care. They don’t teach anything at all.”
Tuesday's testimony offered by the defense included Raylene's ninth-grade English teacher, called to rebut Monterroza's claims:
Christine McLoughlin, an award-winning teacher at Blair Middle School in Pasadena, took the stand next. Earlier in the trial, one of the four student-plaintiffs who testified in the case, Raylene Monterroza, described difficulties she had with McLoughlin, her eighth-grade English teacher.
Under questioning from Rothner, McLaughlin refuted almost everything Monterroza had said, testifying that she had given her students texts, that she had her students read novels, that the class had discussed short stories they read — all the opposite of what Monterroza had testified.
When Rothner asked whether Raylene completed all of her homework, McLoughlin said, “No.” Rothner followed up by asking whether she believed that Raylene put forth her best efforts in her class. McLoughlin responded, “It was less than her best.”
Does anyone see a problem with accepting the testimony of a 16-year old student with regard to a teacher she had where there were clear conflicts between teacher expectations and student performance? How does Monterroza's testimony in any way establish that McLaughlin was at all "ineffective?"
Anecdotal evidence from a student really shouldn't rise to a level that causes laws to be tossed out and teachers' jobs to be put at risk.
Teacher evaluation is controversial for a number of reasons, most having to do with unionbusters' goals to point at tenured teachers as ineffective in order to clear the decks for the next wave of billionaire-backed TFA candidates. There is no agreement about how such evaluations should be done, and plenty of argument about how they shouldn't be.
It concerns me that the judge has allowed this lawsuit to continue after the plaintiffs presented their case, because it suggests that the underlying theory of 'harm one, harm all' may be one that Judge Treu agrees with. If he does, a decision affirming that theory could upend years of employment and education law not only in California, but across the nation.
That outcome would please the self-anointed education-reforming billionaires, who view teachers' unions as the last remaining barrier to a full corporate takeover of public education. If they're able to break teachers, they figure they own the whole "market."
Stay tuned for further developments.