Last Dance of the Lemons

The *kids* weren’t the only big winners in California’s Vergara ruling…

dancing lemonsReader: barely had the verdict been announced in the landmark legal case Vergara vs. Lemons when the verdict was reached. The Vergara verdict represents a huge win for the kids. My own favorite verdict came swiftly from value investor Whitney Tilson who *stopped the presses* an unprecedented quintuple times in order to announce that the Vergara decision was a *grand slam for students* and a *grim day for the Blob.* (Note: if you are regular reader of this blog, you are a de facto Blob member.) Which got me to wondering. Might there be some other beneficiaries of the Vergara victory, besides the kids that is? I’m recommending an extra lemon twist to today’s featured quaff—you’ll need it. 

rally-catalysts-for-good (1)Public Relations
Perhaps the biggest Vergara victor (other than the kids) was the public relations firm behind the case. Did I say public relations? I meant *issue advocacy that works at the intersection of strategic communications and public policy by collaborating with inspiring partners to create powerful movements that galvanize the public and leave a positive legacy of change.* In fact, Students Matter proclaimed early and often that one of the chief goals of Vergara was to position PR firm Griffin Schein, since reborn as We Are Rally, as a leader in the Students Mattering space. So pretty much just like Brown vs. Board of Education if Brown was actually a PR campaign bankrolled by a single wealthy individual.

Logical fallacies
Another big victor: fallacies of the logical variety. Otherwise known as flaws in reasoning or *logic lemons,* these were in full bloom from the minute Judge Treu announced that court was in session. How else to explain the paradox by which teacher tenure laws apply to the state’s wealthiest school districts and its poorest, but only violate the civil rights of students in the latter? Or how about the related and even paradoxier claim beloved by Students Matter fans, including Arne Duncan, that while teacher experience doesn’t Matter, the inequitable distribution of experience (which doesn’t Matter) is the civil rights issue of our time? See related: lemons, dance of the.


Silicon Valley tech magnate David Welch.

Billionaires who love low-income kids (more than the people who work with them every day)
It’s been a tough time lately for billionaires who love low-income kids (more than the people who work with them every day). First, billionaire Eli Broad was unmasked as having worked to undermine an education funding equity measure that proponents referred to as the civil rights issue of our time. Then billionaire Mark Zuckerberg didn’t get many likes for his effort to reform the schools in Newark, NJ. Which is why the Vergara ruling is great news for billionaires who love low-income kids (more than the people who work with them every day). While David Welch, the Silicon Valley tech magnate who started Students Matter and seeded the Vergara case, isn’t technically a billionaire, he may be soon—if his investment in student futures pays off…

students firstGreat teachers
No sooner had Judge Treu handed down his verdict than Michelle Rhee was rolling out a brand new website dedicated to the civil rights cause of our time: ending LIFO liferism. That’s right: Rhee, who was last spotted *sitting down to talk* in the guise of a semi-remorseful robot, is back and more determined than ever to put Students First. Just who are the great teachers that Save Great Teachers seeks to save? Hint: while *fresh,* *young* and free from the burden (and price tag) of *experience,* these great teachers are not the same as the inexperienced teachers who overwhelmingly teach poor minority students in this country. In other words, they add value—or they would if only LIFO liferism and lemons didn’t stand in the way. Or if their fiercest proponents didn’t live in BangladeshSee related: fallacies, logical; lemons, the dance of.

You know who has it even worse than teachers these days? Lawyers. Their lawyer prep programs are under attack, they owe a fortune in student loans, they lost millions of jobs in the recession and they are the punch line of a national joke. In other words, just like teachers only slightly more detestable. But things are officially looking up for our legal eagle friends thanks to what we might call Vergara 2.0. You see, the California case was only the first step in what is shaping up to be a nationwide crusade to show that Students Matter by at last putting Students First. Which is great news for the assorted teams of professionals—see lawyers; advocates, issue—who are the first to get paid for putting said Students First. 

Dance of the lemons 
Another Vergara victor: the *dance of the lemons.* Now I don’t mean the actual dance of the lemons, reader, which will soon be a thing of the past, enabling our failed and failing schools to at last send our students hurtling into the 21st century encased in rinds of college and career readiness. I’m talking about the expression *dance of the lemons,* a metaphor so lazy that it practically lolls off the tongue. Thanks to Vergara, *dance of the lemons* has new life and is already en route to a state near you. See related: fallacies, logical; logic lemons.

Blended learningEdTech
Reader: when I encounter a solution that will at last address the civil rights issue(s) of our time and set aright our listing public schools, I always ask myself a single, simple question. Is it possible that, in addition to addressing the civil rights issue(s) of our time and setting aright our listing public schools, said solution might also—completely coincidentally, mind you—just happen to cheapen the cost of teaching? Completely coincidentally, the answer these days is almost always yes. But where to spend all of the extra money that will be freed up by replacing lemons with limes???? If only we could think of something really disruptive, or at least something that allows us to say *disruption* over and over… And because I heart the concept of synergy, what if said solution also had the added benefit(s) of further benefiting billionaires who love low-income kids (more than the people who work with them every day)????  

iphoneThe sharing economy
All of this winning for kids presents us with a bit of a conundrum. Let’s call it Broad’s dilemma, if you will, because it entails talking a lot about inequity and inequality whilst working feverishly behind the scenes to ensure that the actual causes of the things you are talking so much about are never addressed or, paradoxically, are actually deepened. In other words, how does one *disrupt* California’s deeply unequal public education system without causing discomfort of the confiscatory variety to those whom the system serves just fine? Which is why I would like to present to you my absolutely brilliant idea.  No doubt you have heard by now of our new friend, the uber disruptive sharing economy. Might I suggest that students attending high-poverty school use an app on their phones to summon highly-effective teachers via a single, elegant transaction that bypasses the Blob entirely? Like that our problem is solved—or *solved.*

The_Blob_posterThe Blob
Speaking of the Blob, last time we heard from our favorite hedge fund manager, Whitney Tilson, the Blob was having a grim day indeed. The Blob, by the way, stands for the education industrial complex, or *Big Learning Organization Bureaucracies,* or put another way, you. So how can the Blob be a Vergara victor when the Blob is also a Vergara vanquishee? Simple, reader. Like any foe worth its mettle, the Blob only becomes more formidable the longer the battle of Reform, Inc vs. Blob battles on. Which is how it is that at the very moment that teacher tenure and workplace protections large and small are in dramatic decline across the country, we have finally identified the foe that stalks our public schools and their long-suffering student occupants: tenure, aka the Blob. See also: giant lemons, dance of the.

The kids
Did I mention that the kids are the big winners?

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  1. “How else to explain the paradox by which teacher tenure laws apply to the state’s wealthiest school districts and its poorest, but only violate the civil rights of students in the latter?”

    This isn’t a paradox if you take into account the fact (which progressives and liberals otherwise shout from the rooftops) that the poorest schools end up having worse teachers. Indeed, it’s not clear why people should even care that much about “equity” or “fairness” to poor schools UNLESS that’s the case.

  2. Many states have few to no teacher protections and have for a while. Are these the highest performing states? Um…no. They are the worst performing states. Wake up America.

  3. Re: Broad
    In 1999, the LA Times published an article entitled “Eli Broad Gives $100 Million for School Reform”. The subcaption was “Tycoon’s foundation will focus on the managing of schools in an attempt to spur innovation.”
    So far, so good. But the article tips Broad’s hand regarding his true motive — more profits — with the following comments:
    “Two consultants, one with a background in education and the other in finance, have been retained to define the foundation’s mission and identify projects it will fund. [para.] One of the consultants, Dan Katzer, a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, said he views his work as
    searching out venture capital opportunities in educational innovation.”
    Unlike a failing bricks and mortar business loaded with debt, a school district cannot fire all of its employees, threaten bankruptcy to force concessions from it lenders, hire pricey consultants to bleed whatever funds remain, then sell the assets and walk away with the profits — or can it?
    Think about it: Broad hires a vulture capitalist to help publicly funded schools? Where are the assets that will ultimately be sold? Since the assets belong the public and even charter schools need physical facilities to park the little behinds who provide the Average Daily Attendance money, stand back and look at the financial picture: Even the best managed charter school must buy books; it has consultants/managers who get paid much more than the teachers (especially the five-week wonders from Teach For America who have learned more in two months than any teacher could possibly know after ten or fifteen or twenty … years of unblemished service); and the budgets that need only be labeled with “feel good” categories to direct huge sums to private businesses. (Does the Billion Dollar LAUSD IPad debacle sound like it fits this scenario?)
    Re: Lawyers
    The article is right on regarding the lawyers — I have maintained for more than forty years that defense lawyers who get paid by the hour, whether they win, lose, or draw, have an innate conflict of interest. So, the next step is to follow the money — who paid for Vergara; who will get paid if Vergara is sustained on appeal (in my humble opinion it is doomed but the public relations value has already been put in the privatizing bank); and who owns the consulting firms, publishers, software companies and device manufacturers who plan to delude parents into believing that a teacher (not an overseer) can be replaced by a shiny electronic device.
    (Full disclosure: I am a lawyer who represents LAUSD teachers in dismissal proceedings. I have spent more than seven years investigating LAUSD’s financial situation. Initially, my research was related to a class action I filed alleging that LAUSD was violating COBRA. However, while searching for a class representative to replace me, I stumbled onto the LAUSD teacher firing rampage. As a result I have spent the past 34 months collecting evidence to support a civil rights action against LAUSD based on LAUSD’s systemic violations of teacher due process rights (Section 1983, Monell). If there are any LA lawyers interested in this area of the law, I would love to share my findings and explain how you can profit from LAUSD’s arrogance.)

    1. Mother Crusader, a New Jersey blogger who specializes in following the money, has a new post up about who paid for Vergara. It turns out that a surprising number of those who are now so eager to *elevate* the teaching profession have actual elevators in their homes…

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