“Public schools are here to educate our children, first and foremost,” said Wendy Soto, plaintiff and mother of two Newark Public School students. “Everyone knows that many New Jersey school districts are in a serious funding crisis. Politicians have not protected our children’s right to a quality public education, and parents like me have nowhere to turn. The quality-blind LIFO law makes a difficult situation even worse for students in struggling schools. Enough is enough. It’s time to end this ridiculous law.”
“New Jersey’s LIFO law forces school districts like Newark to retain ineffective teachers and, in fact, put them back in the classroom while cutting spending to other critical areas of public education. Students are constitutionally entitled to more than this,” said Kathleen Reilly, attorney with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, one of the firms representing the Newark parents pro bono. “These decisions – made to evade application of the LIFO law – harm children. The negative impact of LIFO is pervasive today in Newark public schools and these families deserve to have their case heard in court.”
Since at least 2012, NPS has avoided laying off effective teachers by paying millions of dollars per year to cover the salaries of ineffective – but more senior – teachers even when no school would agree to their placement in the school. This expensive work-around, which is costing the district $10 million dollars in 2016-17, diverts valuable resources from educational programming and other critical components of an adequate public education. Because NPS employs more than half of the state’s ineffective teachers, it also puts Newark students at significant risk of being assigned to an ineffective teacher.
After it was announced that New Jersey State education funding would remain essentially flat for the 2017-18 school year, NPS acknowledged a looming $30 million deficit because of rising costs. Facing similar budget gaps over the past three years, NPS administrators restricted hiring practices, forcing teachers previously without placement into schools without mutual consent from the teacher and the principal. Research shows that teacher quality is the most influential in-school factor when it comes to student learning. It also shows that student achievement improves when principals are allowed to hire school staff according to quality and fit, rather than restricted by seniority.
About Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ)
Founded in 2014, Partnership for Educational Justice is a nonprofit organization pursuing impact litigation that empowers families and communities to advocate for great public schools through the courts. In addition to supporting teacher layoff litigation in New Jersey, PEJ is currently working with parents and students in New York and Minnesota in support of legal challenges to unjust teacher employment statutes in those states.
By The Star Ledger Editorial Board
“The Newark parents who sued, arguing that forcing school districts to prioritize seniority over teacher talent hurts their kids, just lost their case in court. That’s a real blow to students, who don’t have a special interest union.”
By Matthew Frankel | NJ Observer
“It is no secret that both in policy and politics, the Goliath in New Jersey is the leadership of the New Jersey Education Association.
Through powerful lobbying efforts in Trenton, massive investments in political action committees, statewide marketing campaigns and an army of lawyers stationed throughout the state, the NJEA spends tens of millions of dollars each year to control the discourse and debate within our state. Even in this day and age, facts matter, and these are facts: The money the NJEA leadership spends is simply unmatched, and it is a significant reason that New Jersey’s education status quo has not changed in decades.”
By Beena Raghavendran | StarTribune
Protesters crowded a Minneapolis Public Schools board meeting to complain about several educators of color who lost their jobs during budget cuts.
About 100 protesters demanded that the school board and Superintendent Ed Graff rehire educators of color who were fired.
The protest made Tuesday’s meeting the most chaotic since Graff began his job in July, and ended in passage of a school board resolution to rehire or give a formal recommendation to rehire seven educators.
By Laura Waters | New York School Talk
Two days before Christmas, seven-year-old Ka’veon Wilson came to class at P.S. 194 in Harlem with a tray of cupcakes for his classmates. His teacher, Osman Couey, shoved him out the door and locked it. Ka’veon, a special education student, started banging on the door to get back in. School psychologist Steven Castiglia heard the commotion and knocked on the classroom door. Couey unlocked it and Ka’veon tried to squeeze in. According to the NY Post,
Castiglia testified that Couey “threw” the boy into his legs. “It was just like he was bowling,” the psychologist said. “He (Ka’veon) flew into my ankles and it stung.”
A video surveillance camera captured Ka’veon being tossed across the hallway.
By Yesy Robles
Since October 2016, my organization, Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ), has been hosting education advocacy workshops for parents with our colleagues at Students for Education Reform-Minnesota (SFER Minn).
We set out to give parents a place to come together and learn how to advocate for their children’s educational success. We provided tangible tips from experts who have worked for decades in schools and with parents. The workshops are also beginning to build a community that can support parents’ engagement with their children’s schools and the Minnesota public education system.
Throughout the workshops a few key themes emerged, illustrating how important it is to give parents the information, tools, and community they need (and desire) to advocate for their kids. Below are some of my key take-aways from this truly inspiring workshop series.
Parents want a safe space to share their experiences.
At our workshops, parents from different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds came together to talk about successes and challenges at their children’s schools. It was remarkable to watch chairs shift closer as the conversations got deeper. Parents facing similar hurdles freely gave advice and shared phone numbers of organizations and people that were better able to offer solutions. Invisible barriers and walls came down for two hours as parents realized they were there for a common purpose.
There is useful information about public schools online, but it is difficult to navigate.
Parents said one of the most valuable parts of our workshops was the presentation showing how to navigate the state’s website, find information about their children’s schools, and most importantly, how to interpret the data.
Once parents could see suspension rates and academic proficiency rates, there was context for parents who previously believed their children were the only ones seen as “the problem” in the classroom. Realizing that they were not alone, parents shared personal stories about their own children – typically students of color – being suspended for minor offenses. Parents wanted to know what school administrators were doing to reduce suspension rates and ensure students were on track in math and reading, and many identified this as an area of advocacy they were interested in pursuing.
Parents want to partner with teachers to enrich their children’s learning – but they don’t always feel supported.
Many parents at our workshops talked about an invisible tension with teachers. Some felt that they were notified too late when their children were falling behind, or that they were only contacted about behavioral problems, others felt that teachers viewed them as a nuisance. They all wanted to establish a partnership with teachers and school administrators, but didn’t know how.
Bringing in educators to show parents how to more effectively communicate with teachers and principals was a huge success. Parents heard tips and practiced what to do and say when teachers call them about behavior problems. The speakers discussed the appropriate school contacts when problems needed to be escalated, and created a “what to do when…” information guide for parents.
Parents were also guided in conversations about establishing a meaningful parent-teacher partnership to support their children’s education. They brainstormed about how to be part of the “team” so many parents hoped to create with their school. One mother mentioned that she received a short weekly text message from her child’s teacher to let her know that everything was on track, or a phone call if her child was beginning to struggle. Other parents were inspired to set up regular communication before problems arise.
When parents learned how to engage better with their children’s school as a partner, there was an immediate sense of empowerment in the room. Parents were eager to make use of the tips they learned that day, thanks to the educators who volunteered their time for our workshops.
There is a budding parent support network in Minnesota.
Many parents entered these workshops beyond frustrated with their child’s school. It was so gratifying to see these same parents filled with hope for a more collaborative path forward.
The conversations also created a unifying atmosphere. More outspoken parents offered to attend school meetings as an advocate with the shyer ones. Parents mingled and exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Some asked me after the workshops if they could organize a group that meets once a month. Parents want to be active in their children’s education, and they will work together to achieve this.
I’m proud that our workshops are starting conversations, bringing parents together, and empowering them to take a key role in their children’s schools. With their children’s best interests in mind, there is no limit to what these parents can do!
Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform – Minnesota organized the parent advocacy workshop series running from October 2016 through April 2017. The two groups are holding the final workshop in Minneapolis on April 20, where they will discuss the State’s teacher employment statutes that have been challenged in a lawsuit filed by four Minnesota parents, and offer opportunities for other parents to support the lawsuit. This spring, the parents will be back in court to appeal the trial court’s dismissal of their case. Click here to register for the information session. Space is limited; childcare and snacks will be provided.
By Josh Verges | Twin Cities Pioneer Press
Minnesota’s 2014 teacher of the year is losing his job amid a legislative debate over school funding and job protections for veteran teachers.
Tom Rademacher on his personal blog Sunday criticized the so-called “Last In, First Out” (LIFO) policies that Republican lawmakers for years have tried to eliminate.
“We are doing no one, certainly not students and teachers, any favors by making new teachers start over and over and over again,” he said.
But Rademacher said the larger problem is a lack of funding for schools.
NJ Left Behind
“Earlier this month, a short animated video was released to the public explaining New Jersey’s quality-blind “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher layoff statute. As one of ten remaining states in the country that mandates LIFO, the law requires school districts to lay off teachers based only on the date when they started teaching in the district, with the newest teachers losing their jobs first.
By forbidding administrators from considering classroom effectiveness, this law runs counter to the overwhelming research consistently showing that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning.
In November, six Newark parents filed a lawsuit in Mercer County Superior Court called H.G. v. Harrington that asserts that New Jersey’s LIFO law violates students’ constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education.
After viewing the video, I reached out to one of the parents, Wendy S., one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Here are my questions and her answers.”