Campbell Brown said Friday that any legislative changes that would make it easier to remove ineffective teachers would be welcome in Albany this year, but would not interfere with her well-publicized lawsuit challenging New York’s teacher tenure laws.
“We would be thrilled to see these changes take place at the legislative level,” said Brown, the former CNN anchor turned education activist, following a City Hall press conference celebrating a Staten Island judge’s rejection of a motion to dismiss the anti-tenure suit. “Nothing would make me happier than to see Albany finally move forward and make changes that we’ve needed for years.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed reforming the 3020-a legal process for teachers accused of misconduct or ineffectiveness in order to more quickly remove unfit teachers; the teacher tenure suit challenges the constitutionality of the 3020-a process, which can often be lengthy and expensive. Teachers’ unions have said the issue of teacher protection reform is a legislative issue, not a legal matter.
The suit was first brought by parent advocate Mona Davids and followed shorty after by a higher-profile case brought by Brown’s education reform group, the Partnership for Educational Justice. The two cases have since been, somewhat dramatically, consolidated.
State Supreme Court judge Philip Minardo rejected a motion to dismiss the case brought by teachers’ unions and the city and state on Thursday, significantly increasing the likelihood that the case will go to trial.
Both New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers said on Thursday that they would appeal Minardo’s ruling. Danielle Sassoon, a lawyer for Kirkland & Ellis, the prestigious law firm working on the tenure case pro bono, said the firm would defend Minardo’s ruling in an appellate court if the unions do appeal the decision.
Although Brown did not speak during Friday’s press conference, she told reporters after that she believes legislative reforms to the teacher protections she is challenging, if passed, would only help her case.
“That’s the whole reason we’re doing this, because they wouldn’t do anything,” Brown said. “I hope this is a hammer that finally forces them to take some action and at the very least wakes people up to the problem.”
Asked about her expectations from the budget process now that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has resigned, Brown said, “I think certainly it makes us all more optimistic that someone who fought school reform for so long is now gone.”
The parent plaintiffs on the tenure suit were jubilant at Friday’s press conference. Keoni Wright, one of the plaintiffs who claimed that his twin daughters received unbalanced educations based on varying teacher effectiveness.
The press conference was attended by dozens of parents, many of whom are familiar faces at rallies held by StudentsFirstNY, a reform group that has recently been leading the push in favor of Cuomo’s education reform agenda, another example of the routine collaboration between reform groups.
Tenicka Boyd, StudentsFirstNY’s director of organizing, took a selfie with parents before the rally and joked that it was for “my teachers’ union friends on Twitter.”
But Wright and other parents did not seem fully in agreement with Cuomo’s agenda.
When a reporter asked whether teacher evaluations should be 50 percent based on students’ test scores, a centerpiece of Cuomo’s proposals, Wright and another parent answered, “No.”
Still, Wright used language from some of Brown’s allies in the education reform and charter advocacy sectors in describing the broader situation.
“Schools are failing, and we need something done,” he said, echoing StudentsFirstNY and Families for Excellent Schools.
One parent wore a “Don’t Steal Possible” shirt to the rally; the shirts were distributed by F.E.S. during a large pro-charter rally in Albany last week.
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