TIME Education

Teacher Tenure Under Assault

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Damian Dovarganes—AP

Advocacy group behind lawsuit promises more

Teacher tenure went down in California—and that could just be the start.

The group that emerged victorious Tuesday in its legal challenge to public school teacher tenure rules in California quickly said it was eyeing similar lawsuits in other states.

“I think there will be a reverberation across the country,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of the lawyers who filed the Vergara vs. California lawsuit in cooperation with the education reform group Students Matter. “There are a number of jurisdictions that are prime candidates because they have the same sort of seniority-based layoff system or quick tenure and tough dismissal. New York is one, but there are other states, too.”

A California judge ruled Tuesday that the state’s teacher tenure policies, which include seniority rules that make it very difficult to fire ineffective teachers, amounted to a violation of the students’ constitutional right to an equal education. Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote that the evidence presented by Students Matter “shocks the conscience,” and that “the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”

Boutrous said his group will focus first on defending a ruling that will almost certainly be appealed to the state Supreme Court. But he also said Students Matter is hoping to “engage with policymakers in New York and nationally to get this system fixed as soon as possible,” and the group is eyeing lawsuits in other states with similar teacher tenure laws, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon.

If it holds up on appeal, the California ruling could be a watershed moment in education reform that could weaken tenure statues across the country. “This is gay marriage,” said Terry Mazany, who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2010-2011. “Without a doubt, this could happen in other states.”

The National Education Association condemned the ruling, calling the lawsuit “yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession.” In a statement Tuesday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that the ruling “would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.”

Immediately after the ruling, teachers’ unions signaled they would appeal. “This will not be the last word,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state…No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

California is rare in that it is one the five states with the shortest probation periods before teachers get tenure, and one of only 10 states that require school districts to consider seniority when laying off teachers (other states merely suggest it.) According to the National Council for Teacher Quality, a Washington-based organization that advocates for the reform of teacher evaluations, only California, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina and Vermont have probationary periods of two years or less before a teacher gets tenure. Most states make teachers wait three years, but there are 10 states with four-to-five year waiting periods. And only California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin have rules that require districts to consider seniority when laying off teachers.

California teachers, in other words, get tenure more quickly and are harder to fire than teachers in other states.

Tenure itself is at the heart of the education reform debate roiling the country. Tenure originated in higher education, to protect professors from professional blowback for unpopular research, but tenure for K-12 teachers only took root in the 1960s as a way to protect educators from unjustified firings during an administration turnover. “It used to be you could be fired for arbitrary reasons, like if you got pregnant,” said Dr. William Koski, a professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in educational policy. “There was a belief that teachers needed to band together and protect themselves from these arbitrary and capricious firings, and so one of the primary early efforts of teacher’s unions was to protect teacher employment.” Teacher tenure soon became a key element of the union agenda, and most states have some form of public school tenure. Only Florida and North Carolina have no tenure at all, and Rhode Island has a modified form that allows teachers to be dismissed for bad performance.

Mazany said getting rid of teacher tenure could have unintended consequences, both positive and negative. It could cause collateral damage, he said, because “we really don’t have a set of tools and metrics to finely discern quality, and because abuse, favoritism and cronyism do exist.” And without tenure, teachers who disagree with principals and administrators are especially vulnerable, and higher-paid veteran teachers may have a “target on their backs.”

But Mazany also said eliminating teacher tenure could get rid of a “convenient scapegoat” for the problems in education. “The least effective teachers are disproportionately assigned to low income and minority students,” he said. “The teachers don’t make that assignment, the union doesn’t make that assignment, the district administration makes that assignment. You take away the bogey of tenure, so you no longer have that to blame.”

Some experts say the best analogy for understanding the current fight is the battle over school finance reform, which has been litigated in different states since the 1960s. “Those cases were basically saying you need to have equal resources in order to have equal educational opportunity,” said Jim Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “This case is saying you have to have equally good teachers to have equally good opportunity. And like the finance litigation in other states, some lawsuits will be successful and some won’t.”

Regardless of their consequences, most agree that there’s nothing inherently malicious about teacher tenure it itself, despite what may be its negative consequences. “These types of provisions have a logic, and were well-meaning,” Mazany said. “Nobody said ‘lets set up teacher tenure to screw children.'”

TIME 2014 Election

Embattled State Senator Gets Nearly 300,000 Votes Despite Dropping Out

Leland Yee
California state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, right, leaves the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, March 26, 2014. Ben Margot—AP

Suspended California State Senator Leland Yee won nearly 10% of the vote on Tuesday, even though he dropped out of the race in late March

Nearly 300,000 Californians voted for Leland Yee in a Democratic primary Tuesday, leading the embattled state senator to garner 9.8% of the vote in a race to be named his party’s candidate for Secretary of State. But there’s just one problem: Yee dropped out of the race in March, but not before a deadline to remove his name from the ballot had passed.

The collection votes would hardly qualify Yee for a spot on the general election ballot. Still, the state senator — who plead not guilty to federal gun trafficking charges in April — finished second in the state’s Democratic primary. A total of 287,590 people voted for him.

The 65-year-old San Franciscan Democrat was indicted on federal gun trafficking and corruption charges in March. The charges followed a Federal Bureau of Investigations operation after which Yee was accused of accepting money from undercover agents to cover campaign debt. Yee also allegedly agreed to help the agents obtain illegal firearms.

Yee was suspended from the state senate without pay in March following the indictment.

Democrat Alex Padilla and Republican Pete Peterson will face one another in a general election this November.

TIME States

8 States Revving Up Efforts to Get More Electric Cars on the Road

Volkswagen e-up! electric automobiles.
Volkswagen e-up! electric automobiles. Adam Berry—Getty Images

The goal is to have 3.3 million "zero-emission vehicles" on the road by 2025.

Eights states announced Thursday a plan to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. From California to Maryland to Vermont, with some states in between, the goal is to incrementally increase the number of green cars driving on American highways.

The Zero Emission Vehicles Action plan outlines 11 “actions” that the eight states, including California, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island, New York, Oregon, and Massachusetts, will adopt in order to get the vehicles on the road. The steps include promoting the availability of zero-emission vehicles, promoting workplace charging and providing consumer incentives for buying green cars.

“This collaborative effort is an important step forward to ensure the success of our zero-emission vehicle programs. Transitioning our light duty transportation fleet to zero emission vehicles is essential if we are to achieve our long term air quality and climate goals,” said Gov. O’Malley in a statement.

About a quarter of the nation’s new cars are sold in the eight states adopting the plan, according to a press release on Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s website. Still, it’s a lofty goal, given the lack of demand in the U.S. for zero-emission vehicles, which include battery powered, hybrid, and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles. There are about 172,000 such vehicles already on the road, about half of which are in the eight states involved in the new plan.

TIME justice

California Prison Farm-to-Table Program May Help Keep Inmates Fed and Free

Inside The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility As California Readies $793 Million Prison Expansion Bond
An inmate walks through the yard at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego on March 26, 2014. Sam Hodgson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Aside from feeding the prison population, the program aims to give participants a lower prison re-entry rate

Inmates at California prisons may soon be able to grow and serve their own food, in one of the most practical applications of the farm-to-table sustenance craze that has swept the foodie world.

A Farm and Rehabilitation Meals program is being launched at San Diego’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, reports the Huffington Post.

Provided prison health authorities grant approval, prisoners will be hired as farmers and instructed in sustainable agricultural practices. Their produce will be served in the prison cafeteria. If the program is successful, more institutions may soon follow suit.

“Within those spaces we’re going to teach community gardening, composting and water-wise gardening,” said Wehtahnah Tucker, the program’s coordinator and a California Correctional Health Care Services executive. “We’re purchasing a cistern, using gray water and capturing rainwater for use.”

The initial rollout, accommodating 20 inmate-farmers, will cost just $4,000, which will be funded by private donations. The hope is that participants will have a radically lower prison re-entry rate, which in California currently averages 61%.

“We wanted to create more opportunities for inmates to have a more meaningful experience while they’re here,” she said, “so when they leave, they cannot come back.”

[Huffington Post]

TIME society

‘Weed Fairy’ Hands Out Free Marijuana Around Seattle

Was she working alone, or was this a joint venture?

A magical creature known as the “Weed Fairy” made her way to Seattle this past weekend to flit around and give away free marijuana to “keep spirits high.”

This illustrious weed fairy — who we’d also dare call a goddess of ganj — is really a 23-year-old woman named Yeni Sleidi. She visits various cities to post flyers with nuggets of pot taped to them:

Originally from California, the Weed Fairy is only in Seattle for a few weeks, she told local Fox affiliate KCPQ. She has done the same thing in New York a few months back, and positive feedback encouraged her to keep it going. Naturally, though, some people are skeptical.

“I think people are a little worried, because this is something new, and suspicious,” Sleidi said. “But it’s real weed and it’s not dangerous. It will get you high.”

Since weed is legal in Washington and not New York, this time around Sleidi didn’t have to worry as much about keeping anonymous. Over the weekend, she managed to give away around 40 nuggets.

Now, if only if a Popchips Fairy would start doing the same thing. Make it happen, somebody.

TIME California

New Bill Would Require California Porn Stars to Wear Condoms

Some fear California's lucrative adult-entertainment industry would flee to other states, but the lawmaker behind the bill says it's a matter of workplace safety

“No glove, no love” is the basic translation of the California Assembly bill that passed on Tuesday, requiring porn stars to wear condoms during film shoots.

The bill, which now shoots over to the state Senate, would additionally require porn studios to provide regular testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

Some industry workers say such regulations would cause the $6 billion adult-entertainment industry to flee California, but the assemblyman behind the bill called the issue a matter of workplace safety.

“Whether you work in agriculture, manufacturing, health care, food service or any other industry, all workers deserve a safe workplace to make a living,” said Isadore Hall (D-Compton), who has unsuccessfully tried to pass similar legislation twice before.

Los Angeles County voters approved a similar law in 2010.


TIME The Brief

BEES! 20 Million Bees Swarm Highway

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Thursday, May 22:

  • Thailand’s military seizes control of the government, announcing a coup they had previously been denying.
  • A California woman captive for 10 years is free after she used Facebook to contact her sister.
  • Facebook will soon know what you watch on TV. A new optional feature uses mobile device microphones to tag the shows you watch and the songs you listen to.
  • Bees! A truck carrying 20 million bees overturns in Delaware, creating a huge highway swarm.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME Crime

Kidnapped California Woman Escapes After 10 Years in Captivity

Her 41-year-old alleged captor has been arrested and faces kidnapping and rape charges

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

A 25-year-old missing California woman escaped from nearly a decade of captivity after contacting the police Tuesday, leading to the arrest of the man who allegedly kidnapped her.

Police in Santa Ana, California, arrested Isidro Garcia, 41, Tuesday. He faces charges of kidnapping for rape, committing a lewd act with a minor and false imprisonment.

According to an account given by the unidentified woman to the police, Garcia was living with the 15-year-old girl’s mother when he started sexually assaulting her in June 2004. Garcia allegedly kidnapped and drugged the girl after assaulting the mother in August 2004.

The victim says she was first imprisoned in a house in Compton then moved to different locations in the years that followed. Garcia allegedly obtained fake identity documents for the girl and secured employment for both of them in a night cleaning service “so he could keep a close eye on the victim,” police say. The girl said Garcia told her that her family had given up looking for her and threatened that if she called police they would be deported. In 2007, the victim said, Garcia forced her to marry him. They had a child in 2012.

Police say the victim gained the courage to contact police after communicating with her sister on Facebook.

The case comes a year to the month after three women were freed after years of captivity in a house in Cleveland. The man who imprisoned them, Ariel Castro, died while in custody of a possible suicide.

TIME Environment

California Approves Expansion of Toxic Dump

Residents of nearby Kettleman Hills say the hazardous waste has led to birth defects

Updated 7:47 p.m. ET

California officials said Wednesday the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste dump will be allowed to grow by 50%, much to the irritation of a nearby community where residents say the dump has caused birth defects.

Officials approved expansion of the site by 5 million cubic yards, or about 50%. The dump is situated off Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Los Angeles near the small community of Kettleman City. Critics of the site say at least 11 birth defects in children from the community are the result of toxic waste from the dump but officials from the state and the company that operates the facility say there’s no evidence to support that link.

Kettleman Hills is one of just two dumps in California to accept hazardous waste and the largest in the West.

In a statement to TIME, Russ Edmonson, spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, disputed the claim that the dump expansion would lead to health problems.

“Our permit conditions are the most stringent possible,” he said. “They include enhanced air monitoring to verify compliance with the law, improved on-site controls to manage any spill that might occur, rigorous reporting requirements that focus the facility on preventing any releases of hazardous waste, public outreach requirements that mandate the facility meet yearly with the community to discuss compliance and other issues of community concern, and compliance with the California’s stringent 2017 truck emission standards which will require that any truck bringing in hazardous waste meet that standard three years before it becomes effective for the rest of the state.”

Edmonson added that unannounced inspections of the site will be increased from once per year to quarterly.

TIME bicycles

Mountain Biking’s Beginnings: Fat Tires, Broken Hubs and the Grateful Dead

Mountain biking took root in the fertile counterculture of the 1970s

Long before there were gutter bunnies, baby heads or WOMBATS, there were cyclists eager to push the limits of what their equipment and bodies could take.

It began with a group of sporty iconoclasts, wheeling down the hills of northern California, creating a rough-and-tumble style of biking to match their unconventional personalities. They made it up as they went along, modifying their bikes to manage the terrain and enjoying themselves in all the ways that adventurous youth did in that era.

Watch UC Fig. 1‘s video about the early days of mountain biking. Narrated by UC San Diego’s Sarah McCullough, who wrote her PhD thesis on the topic, it tells the history of the sport, the “renegades (including the women) who started it, remade the bikes and helped create a new leisure industry. And it wasn’t just about bikes and terrain in those days, ideas and music played an important part, including a benefit performance by the band that personified the counter-culture.

“[P]eople were creating the kind of world they wanted to live in,” McCullough says. “A world with trails that created a flow through the mountains, paths they could follow fast, without braking.”

If you want to learn more, check out work from off-road pioneers like William Savage (Klunkerz), and Charlie Kelly (Fat Tire Flyer, due out later this year).

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