Saturday, May 03, 2014

SDUSD trustee Richard Barrera does a turnaround: he no longer wants to hold teachers accountable

SDUSD trustee Richard Barrera

Updated--see bottom of post

San Diego's liberals seem to be far more obedient to the California Teachers Association than Los Angeles liberals, and students suffer for it. Here's a bit of the history of that subject. Shame on Richard Barrera for abandoning his principles, apparently in exchange for campaign contributions and a cushy job.


I don't object to tenure. I object to the intransigence of the teachers union in the face of calls for education reform.

Getting rid of tenure will do no good at all, and would likely do harm, if teacher evaluations continue to be as worthless as they are now.


If we get rid of tenure we'll just have to worry more about the already-existing problem of principals protecting their own careers by making alliances with mediocre but popular and politically-strong teachers. I get the feeling that David Welch, mogul of Student Matters, honestly doesn't know that many principals are former teachers who switched to the front office when they realized that they don't have what it takes to make it in the classroom.

I get the feeling that Voice of San Diego's education reporter Mario Koran doesn't know this, either.


Emily Alpert Reyes

Voice of San Diego muzzled and then fired its education reporter, Emily Alpert (now Reyes), who knew what was going on in schools. The reason for this seems to be related to the politics and big bucks of VOSD's big donor trio Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Rod Dammeyer who are deeply involved in charter schools and anti-union politics.

Voice of San Diego founder Buzz Woolley

Just before she was fired, Emily Alpert was one of the few people in San Diego doing serious research on teacher layoffs based on seniority. She dared to bring up the topic of teacher evaluations. If VOSD donor trio Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Rod Dammeyer were really interested in improving education for all children they would have fallen all over themselves to keep Emily in San Diego. (Emily now works for the Los Angeles Times, but she's not writing about education.)

Irwin Jacobs, Voice of San Diego's major donor

My belief is that Buzz Woolley, Irwin Jacobs and Rod Dammeyer want to improve education for just enough students so that they can run their businesses with American employees--and they want those students in charter schools. They think they can have a flourishing society while the middle and working classes sink lower and lower.

Rod Dammeyer, charter schools advocate and political donor

Note: Buzz, Irwin and Rod also tried to remake the San Diego Unified School Board with appointed members who would undermine the elected members. They seems to think we'd do better without democracy.


You might think that the teachers union could manage to do a better job of acting in the interest of all citizens than Buzz, Irwin and Rod have done.

Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

I believe that schools can be fixed without getting rid of tenure (I have described one such plan HERE), but schools can't be fixed as long as the California Teachers Association stands in the way.

Something clearly needs to be done, but Richard Barrera doesn't seem to want to address the problem of rampant mediocrity among teachers. It's actually a bigger problem than the incompetence of about 10% teachers. I wouldn't use evaluations to fire teachers; evaluations are needed to help teachers become highly competent.

Sadly, Barrera will likely continue to toe the line for the people who control the California Teachers Association, so reform is looking unlikely. CTA doesn't want teachers to be held accountable; it wants to continue the politically-convenient system of principal evaluations.

The current system is such a joke that principals rarely even bother to observe teachers.

See all posts re teacher evaluations.

Teachers need to have a union. But why can't it be better than this one? Couldn't it be one without people like Tim O'Neill? (See comment at the end of this post.)


Teachers Call Upon San Diego School Trustee to Help Save Seniority Rules
By: Mario Koran
Voice of San Diego
May 2, 2014

In 2010, when San Diego Unified was in the throes of a budget crisis and staring down a round of layoffs, school board trustee Richard Barrera told U-T San Diego, “Pink-slipping disproportionately affects poorer schools – absolutely.”

Now, that argument is the basis of Vergara v. California, a case that could blow up deeply rooted protections for California teachers. Barrera, who is now the leader of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, which includes the teachers union, changed his tune when he testified in the case.

Teachers see the policies that force the youngest teachers to bear the brunt of layoffs as the fairest possible, he argued. Replacing it with a system that requires administrators to make value judgments would erode trust as teachers vied for their spots, he said.

Along with attorneys from the state and the California Teachers Association, Barrera pointed to San Diego Unified as proof that a district can succeed because of the current policies – not in spite of it.

The case is the product of Students Matter, a group founded by Silicon Valley business mogul David F. Welch, a group of California students and a heavyweight cast of attorneys. They initiated the suit and claim the teacher protections violate students’ constitutional rights to equal access to quality education.

California law makes it nearly impossible to dismiss a bad teacher once he or she has received tenure, they argue, and last-hired-first-fired layoff policies disproportionately impact schools in high-poverty areas because they’re more likely to have less experienced teachers. Layoffs at these schools, then, create more turnover and worsen the experience for students.

But Barrera said that because San Diego Unified has had a good relationship with its teachers union, it’s been able to avoid mass layoffs in the first place.

In the grip of the budget crises, about 1,100 teachers were issued pink-slips in 2011, and all but 200 of those were rescinded, he said. And when 1,500 teachers were laid off in 2012, everyone was invited back.

Josh Lipshutz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told VOSD he found this part of Barrera’s testimony bizarre. “Look, nobody wants layoffs. But layoffs are reality,” Lipshutz said.v “We’re not arguing that teachers should be laid off. But in speaking with administrators we heard over and over that everybody knows who the worst teachers are. All we’re saying is that in a layoff environment, why would you not want to include those teachers?” he said.

And avoiding layoffs in dark budget times also comes at a very real cost.

At this week’s school board meeting, trustee and fiscal wonk Scott Barnett castigated the rest of the school board for promising teachers pay raises that it couldn’t afford and selling off real estate to make up the difference.

Even though the district got money from Prop. 30, a voter-approved statewide measure meant to stave off drastic cuts to schools, San Diego Unified is facing a $100 million budget shortfall.

“Guess what? The proposed hole is bigger next year than this year because of this board’s inability to have any semblance of control,” Barnett said.

Holding Up San Diego as a Model

Barrera said that the idea that layoffs disproportionately impact poor schools doesn’t capture reality.

He said Central Elementary in City Heights, the school that Superintendent Cindy Marten once ran, is a good example of how a school can create a culture where teachers want to stick around.

Barrera said a school like Central is possible because teachers share strategies for what works in the classroom. In other words, if a district were to try to measure which teachers were better, teachers might be afraid to share what works with a competitive colleague.

“If we replace the seniority system – one which most people tend to see as fair – with one that teachers see as unfair or arbitrary, we’re going to dramatically hurt trust between teachers and their principals,” he said.

Still, schools like Jackson Elementary in City Heights, now Fay Elementary, might say the problem is a little bit more serious. During the budget crises, high-poverty schools like Fay – which had less experienced teachers – were hit hardest by last-in-first-out layoff policies.

In 2008, 24 out of its 26 teachers received layoff notices. Most of those ended up being rescinded, but in 2011, when 25 out of 27 teachers got pink slips – it was deja vu all over again.

“The reality is,” Lipshutz said, “that once the pink slips go out, the damage is already done.”

Teachers will often look for positions in more stable districts, and “it’s very discouraging to be treated as a number, to be told that you don’t have value beside your hire-date,” he said.

Barrera doesn’t disagree. “That’s all the more reason that we need to do what we can to avoid pink slips and layoffs,” he said. “Pink slips are disruptive, yes, but what’s more disruptive is laying off teachers and having huge class sizes.”

So What’s a Good Teacher?

Barrera said the major hole with the Vergara plaintiffs’ case is that they never clarified what, exactly, makes a teacher ineffective. In fact, the defense led with that point in its closing brief.

Of course, rebooting the criteria to measure teacher performance depends on whether the plaintiffs can persuade the judge that measures like test scores can be considered.

Plaintiffs leaned on Harvard researcher Thomas J. Kane, who said black and Latino students in Los Angeles Unified were more likely than their white and Asian peers to be taught by the worst teachers.

Kane reached his conclusion by looking at teacher effectiveness through a value-added formula, which measures improvements in student test scores over time.

To be sure, value-added formulas aren’t universally accepted. Critics like education historian Diane Ravitch have railed against them for years. Another said they resulted in “mathematical intimidation” from school administrators.

One problem, Barrera said, is that the scores appear objective, but fail to account for poverty, or other factors that influence learning. He said he isn’t opposed to all changes to the evaluation system, but they should begin a conversation about the real goal: quality teaching.

“From a policy level, you think we’d start with questions about what’s working and how we could do more of that, instead of trying to force these blunt instruments in through the court system,” Barrera said.

Lipshutz said poverty was a theme woven throughout the trial.

“To us, that’s a red-herring. We don’t dispute that poverty is a factor in student learning,” he said. “The question to us is whether the laws that are in place are harming students and preventing them from getting the best education they possibly could. And we showed very clearly that the answer is yes.”


Here's a comment I found intriguing (for personal reasons):

Tim O'Neill, former executive director for CTA affiliates in Chula Vista

Tim ONeill (cvtimo)

The Vergara lawsuit claims that seniority based layoffs negatively discriminate against children of color. A valid critical commentary or report would show how this claim holds water in ANY school district in San Diego County over the past several years when schools have been hit by budget cuts of 25% or more.

The fact of the matter is that there have been none. All the union-haters should consider this in their world view and perhaps question the motives of the plaintiffs in this case.

Maura Larkins comment:

Are you calling Richard Barrera a "union-hater" for saying, "“Pink-slipping disproportionately affects poorer schools – absolutely”?

I don't think the charge would fit, since he is the CEO of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council.

Also, the ACLU sued the Los Angeles Unified School District based on the devastating impact of teacher layoffs on poorer schools. Are you calling the Los Angeles ACLU "union-haters"?

Maybe you should stop with the name-calling and try to come up with a solution to the problem.

[Maura Larkins note: I suspect this "Tim O'Neill" may be the same Tim O'Neill who worked for the California Teachers Association until 2010, and who violated the Chula Vista Educators bylaws by refusing to allow me to make an ethics complaint to the CVE Representative Council.

See a copy HERE of his letter to me in which he states that Gina Boyd herself denied my request to appear before the Rep Council to make an ethics complaint about Gina Boyd!

The Tim O'Neill who was the executive director of Chula Vista Educators worked hard to make sure that politics ruled in the district. That Tim O'Neill aided and abetted multiple violations of labor law and the teachers contract to ensure the re-election of CVE President Gina Boyd. But he himself lost his job and was apparently sent to work anonymously (until now, it appears) in the CTA offices in Mission Valley.]


Either seniority protects the best teachers, and also keeps them out of the worst cesspool schools, which are minority schools, or seniority doesn't matter, it can't go both ways.
It's time for teachers to step up and put kids first, stop using them as pawns to feed public union greed.

Tim O'Neill, former executive director for CTA affiliates in Chula Vista


"Using them to feed public union greed", huh? Please be a bit more specific in your retoric (sic).

Teaching assignments (school, grade level, subject assignments) are regulated in each school district collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the local teacher union in that district, not regulated by state law, which this lawsuit addresses.

The vast majority of these negotiated agreements places seniority as a subordinate criterion to many other factors such as subject matter credential, and most notably the opinion of the school principal. In other words, seniority, in most cases is NOT the determining factor with regard to a teacher's assignment.

It is true that some teaching assignments are more difficult than others. It may also be that vacancies occur more regularly at schools with such assignments, but for a variety of reasons. Some of the "best" teachers work at these schools; sometimes they don't. Are you suggesting that the "best" teachers be limited in their options as to where they would choose to work?

Maura Larkins response:

No, Tim, Mr. Jones is not suggesting that tenured teachers be limited as to where they work. He is simply suggesting that tenured teachers tend to use their seniority to get out of--and stay out of--schools in low income areas. In fact, I must say that I did notice during my years in Chula Vista Elementary School District that teachers with high seniority tended to snap up the job openings at schools in high-income areas.

I think that the success of children should not be subordinated to any goal at all that the teachers union might have.

It doesn't matter what the reason is that CTA has refused to allow any real progress in evaluating teachers--whatever it is, it's not a good enough reason. The fact is that the current system of principal evaluations is a joke, and it's part of the reason so many kids are failing to get decent educations.

Principal Charlie Padilla retired
in the middle of the school year

I had a principal who came in fresh to the school, not knowing that I had been given all the lowest-achieving students in my grade level because I was also given the English-learners and it seemed to make sense. I was perfectly happy with the situation.

The new principal must have looked at the students' tests before sending them in to be scored, because he wrote on my evaluation that I had low student test scores--before the results came back! My students were progressing at top speed, particularly in their critical thinking, but they were starting the year from far behind the kids in the other classes at my grade level.

In fact, when the scores came back, they showed that my students had made one, two, three or even four years progress when they were with me.

That principal was highly regarded because he was highly political. But, strangely, he eventually retired from the district in the middle of the school year. He got another job, so obviously he wasn't interesting in actually retiring. It sometimes takes a while to figure out how bad some principals are. This would be less of a problem if principals weren't in charge of evaluations.

I once heard former CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett pointing out to CTA affiliate presidents that if they didn't improve education, they would become irrelevant. CTA would be wise to come up with an evaluation plan pronto. What's your plan for teacher evaluations, Tim?

COMMENT FROM francesca

@Maura Larkins If you taught in the Chula Vista School District, then you are probably more realistic about the idea of using test scores to evaluate teachers. When children have not mastered English, their test scores don't really reflect what they have learned or know.

Maura, Do you have an objective way to measure whether teachers are doing an effective job?

Maura Larkins COMMENT:

Thanks for asking, Francesca! I think observations are the single most important source of effective evaluations, and they should be done frequently by people from outside the school district (to avoid school politics).

Dennis Schamp and Scripps Dad and I had a somewhat detailed discussion recently on what should be observed; you can see our discussion at the bottom of this April 28 VOSD story:

The Case That Could Blow Up Teacher Tenure

The two main things we discussed as needing to be observed are:
1) What is the teacher doing?
2) What are the students doing?

Non-professionals could be used to make superficial observations. It would be up to professionals to evaluate the data and follow up with their own observations.

Scripps Dad says he's been involved in a good teacher evaluation program.

Also, student test scores would only be helpful after a number of years of gathering data about a teacher's performance, and even then, research shows that these scores are reliable indicators only for the top 10% and bottom 10% of teachers. The other 80% of teachers tend to get extremely variable results.

I do not think evaluations should be used to determine employment.

Instead, I think they should be used to identify the most highly effective teachers and to help average and below-average teachers.

I believe that the most highly effective teachers should then be given responsibility as master teachers to direct the less effective teachers and to give supplemental lessons to students, and to give training to their fellow teachers. This would be cheaper and more effective than bringing in ridiculously expensive outside vendors to do training.

I would expect master teachers to be paid like doctors and lawyers.

Donald Kimball

One source of teacher evaluations could be 4th grade teachers evaluating the 3rd grade teachers. The teachers in the next grade up get to experience the students from the lower grade, and can identify the better and worse teachers. Graduating seniors in high school could also evaluate their 10th, 11th, and 12th grade teachers. By that time, the graduating seniors have a good sense of the good teachers and poor teachers. Parent classroom volunteers can also provide teacher evaluations. In fact, Facebook groups organized around their specific schools have detailed recollections of the very best and very worst teachers.

Paul M Bowers

Indeed, the next-level teacher can be very helpful when determining if the previous teacher properly prepared his/her students.

I'm not a big fan of using social media for evaluating anyone. People get into a very nasty mob mentality and people are far more likely to post negative things than positive. And do so in a public place- things get adversarial quickly and the employee has no defense.

Maura Larkins

The goal is to get an objective evaluation. How could you keep personal feelings, good or bad, out of this? People would be inclined to give good evaluations to those who support their agendas, and punish those who disagree with them. They'd be likely to give good evaluations to ineffective teachers who are their friends, and bad evaluations to good teachers who don't fit in to their social hierarchy. Humans are very social creatures. Politics needs to be left out of something this important.

Paul M Bowers

...I'd like to see employees retained, promoted or dismissed on the quality of their work...

Maura Larkins

Paul Bowers, I like your idea of promoting teachers based on the quality of their work, but I bet you wouldn't like my idea about what position they should be promoted to.

I'd like to see the most effective teachers stay in the classroom--but have responsibility for several classrooms.

Each of those classrooms would also have a regular teacher who might be a young person on the way up, or an older person with many positive skills who doesn't quite fit the master teacher category.

There would be separate salary scales for master and regular teachers. The former would be paid like doctors and lawyers, while the latter would have their salaries capped at a somewhat lower level than the current system provides. The money saved on three or four regular teacher salaries would pay for the master teacher.

Also, the master teachers would provide professional development, saving schools the obscene amounts of money currently paid to vendors peddling the latest fad.

I think a lot of political and personal misery could be avoided by simply reducing the responsibilities of ineffective teachers and giving them a master teacher rather than dismissing them. Some ineffective teachers are very sweet and kind to kids. And others are very connected to the teachers union. Either way, trying to get rid of them would likely be disastrous

UPDATE MAY 5, 2014:


You might be wondering why Tim O'Neill would lead Chula Vista Educators into aiding and abetting a string of illegal actions. Was it merely to protect CVE president Gina Boyd from the ire of the "Castle Park Family" as she was facing a union election? Perhaps not.

I just discovered a startling connection while perusing Facebook. The principal I mentioned above was Charlie Padilla. Here's a post about his middle-of-the-year retirement from CVESD. He turns out to be a personal friend of Tim O'Neill!

Charlie Padilla on the left, Tim O'Neill on the right.
Does this photo from Charlie Padilla's public Facebook
page of three couples out together for dinner on April 27,
2014 help explain why Tim O'Neill might be motivated to aid
and abet a string of illegal actions and violations of contract?

Tim O'Neill wouldn't allow the CVE board of directors to hear my complaint about him and Gina Boyd. CTA is a very top-down organization, run by administrators like Tim O'Neill--and CTA lawyers--rather than elected union officials.

Wayne Johnson

I have spoken out for years on the behind-the-scenes collusion between the teachers union and school administrators. They often spar in public, but Wayne Johnson (President of CTA from 1999-2003) instituted a policy in which CTA affiliates would play nicer with school districts in order to reach more deals behind closed doors. (Of course, Wayne was acting on the direction of the real policy-makers at CTA, the lawyers. The elected officials are just figureheads.)

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