Soapbox

Legislative panel ignores parents and students

Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs in a case in which a judge ruled California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional, speaks outside Los Angeles Superior Court last year.
Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs in a case in which a judge ruled California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional, speaks outside Los Angeles Superior Court last year. The New York Times

You might not have heard about it – and that was hardly an accident – but the Assembly Education Committee held a hearing this week to discuss some of the most-watched topics in California education that resulted from the historic Vergara v. California decision.

It’s no surprise that the committee leadership chose the middle of December, when most legislators are out of town, to discuss hot-button issues such as teacher tenure and “last-in, first-out” layoff policies. It’s not shocking, either, that the usual suspects were invited to deliver recycled commentary and expected responses. Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell’s handpicked guest list, stacked in support of powerful special interests, indicates that attempts to find honest and lasting solutions to some of our state’s toughest education problems are not being taken seriously.

What was surprising to me is that the committee did not invite the people impacted most by these laws and the state’s outdated Education Code.

Legislators should be listening to students, parents, teachers, school leaders and community members – folks who have a lot to say. Over the past seven months, Students Matter – the organization I founded that sponsored the Vergara education equality lawsuit – traveled across California alongside Rep. George Miller to sit down with communities about their public-education experiences and discover how the system can best be improved to serve students.

We listened to everyone and anyone willing to speak to us. We had unfiltered conversations that provided a window into people’s vision for public education.

We heard from teachers-of-the-year that the decision to grant tenure should be based on demonstrated effectiveness, not just time spent in a classroom. When budget shortfalls occur, parents and students are tired of seeing effective teachers pushed out simply because they lack seniority. Educators and community members alike agreed that layoff decisions and dismissals should be made based on job performance.

At Tuesday’s hearing, however, parents and students were not invited to the table, and when they did ask for a seat, they were ignored. Evelyn Macias, the parent of a Vergara plaintiff, submitted a letter requesting an opportunity to share her story, but she never heard back. When she tried to speak during the public comment period of Tuesday’s hearing, her microphone was turned off in mid-sentence. The Education Committee leadership is telling her and other parents, students and community members that their voices are neither valued nor welcomed.

Californians are craving common-sense policies that put the best interests of our children first. An effective teacher in every classroom, in every ZIP code, is an achievable goal. Any policy going forward should respect, reward and retain excellent teachers, while giving every child in California access to an effective education.

For too long, the education debate in Sacramento has taken place behind closed doors, dominated by special interests and with no opportunity for the voices of parents, students and teachers to be heard. Students Matter is committed to bringing these community voices to the Capitol.

David F. Welch of Atherton is founder of Students Matter and can be contacted at dwelch@studentsmatter.org.

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