Monday, April 04, 2016

For California Teacher Taking on Unions, Supreme Court Ruling Isn’t the End of Her Case

Two years after California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs first mounted her challenge to public-sector unions, she’s hearing the same thing today that she’s heard from fellow teachers all along: Keep fighting.

The Supreme Court ruled 4-4 Tuesday in the case that bears her name, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, leaving in place agency fees public employees pay to public-sector unions and delivering a victory to labor organizations.

But Friedrichs and her legal team contend that their challenge to unions is hardly over. Rather, the 28-year California teacher told reporters she was prepared for a split ruling from the Supreme Court, and now, she and her legal team are planning to file a petition for a rehearing with the high court.

“All of us plaintiffs have been in the classroom for a very long time, so we’re very patient people, and we are definitely in this for the long haul,” Friedrichs told reporters. “Today’s decision isn’t the end of the case, and in our view, it simply just delays the final outcome.”

Friedrichs’ case challenged the agency fees that public workers must pay to unions to fund collective bargaining negotiations. At the heart of the case is a question of whether those agency fees violate public employees’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

Public-sector workers can opt out of paying full union dues, but they must pay agency fees to fund collective bargaining negotiations. Friedrichs and her fellow educators argue that collective bargaining is inherently political, since many of the positions unions take during negotiations with school administrators reflect their political choices.

“This is not an anti-union case. This case is about protecting the individual rights that each of us are guaranteed in the Constitution, and that includes the right to not fund political positions with which we disagree,” Friedrichs said. “I am aware that some of my teacher colleagues agree with the union on issues that are political and collectively bargained, and I support their right to be part of the union.

“I just also believe that I deserve to have the freedom to choose, as do other public sector employees across the nation.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs case in January. Following the arguments, court observers speculated that the high court would rule 5-4 in favor of Friedrichs and her fellow teachers.

Comments previously made by Justice Antonin Scalia left many assuming he would cast the swing vote, but his questions during oral arguments suggested he would side with Friedrichs.

Scalia’s death last month cast doubt on the outcome of the case, as a 4-4 decision became more likely.

Following the justice’s passing, lawyers with the Center for Individual Rights, which along with lead counsel Michael Carvin of Jones Day is representing Friedrichs, urged the Supreme Court to hear the case again.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, told The Daily Signal in February they would file a petition for rehearing in the event that the court is split in its decision.

Pell reiterated today that plan to do so.

“We obviously have a lot invested in the Friedrichs case,” Pell told reporters. “We think it raises the issue in a clear and clean way and allows the court to decide this issue on the merits. So we think it would be a lost opportunity if the court did not decide Friedrichs in an authoritative way, and that’s why we’re investing further effort to make sure the court has the opportunity to at least decide the case with all nine justices.”

A split decision from the high court leaves in place a 2014 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lower court ruled against Friedrichs—which her lawyers asked them to do—in 2014, citing precedent set by the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector workers can opt out of paying full union dues but still have to pay agency fees to fund their “fair share” of collective bargaining arguments.

Because of the Abood case, Friedrichs’ legal team said the case can be decided only by the Supreme Court.

A decision in favor of Friedrichs from the Supreme Court would’ve delivered a blow to public-sector unions, as it would’ve effectively made union dues optional for all public employees.

Though the Supreme Court’s decision today allows public-sector unions in 23 states to continue collecting agency fees from public workers, Pell said that it is in the best interest of both unions and Friedrichs for the high court to rehear the case.

“There are laws at stake here,” he said. “Unions feel strongly about this, and it would be in the union’s best interest to get an authoritative decision, since if we don’t get an authoritative decision, there are cases that could be filed at any time, and the unions are essentially under a cloud in terms of the constitutionality of their method of collecting dues.”

Pell said it’s not uncommon for the Supreme Court to rehear cases, particularly in the event that a justice leaves in the middle of a term. Landmark cases including Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade were reheard by the court, he said.

After Friedrichs’ legal team file the petition for rehearing, they expect the court to hold the petition until a new justice is confirmed.

Once that occurs, the nine justices will decide whether to rehear the case.

“The idea here is that there are a handful of cases that raise really fundamental issues of individual rights and that deeply divide the country, and this is one of those cases,” he said. “We’re talking about the laws in 23 states that would be struck down, and we’re talking about the free speech rights of tens of thousands of public employees.”


Arlington School Board: Adult Illegal Aliens Can Attend Public High Schools

The chairman of the Arlington Public School Board in Virginia said on Wednesday that she is “proud” that the Arlington school district allows illegal aliens to attend high school as adults – no age limit – and that they can stay in school until they graduate.

“One of the things that I am most proud that as the supervisor of English as a Second Language, we started a program for older English language learners – students that were 18 and older,” Emma Violand-Sanchez said in remarks at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, D.C.

“And we are proud that in the Arlington Public Schools today, there’s 300 students that are older than 18,” she said, “and they can stay in high school until they graduate. There is no age limit.”

“That is a first for us to believe that all students, all residents, should be able to access a high school education,” Violand-Sanchez said.

The CAP event was entitled "Harnessing the Talent of DACA and Unauthorized Students at the K-12 Level." The event description said that "unauthorized youth who are navigating the U.S. education system face a patchwork of policies and practices in schools across the country," and that schools and teachers need to know how to addreess these "unauthorized students' unique challenges."

As CAP further explained, its panel discussion would be "about the current challenges and opportunities facing unauthorized and 'DACAmented' students in the K-12 levels and the innovative ways in which teachers and schools have helped these students succeed. Roberto G. Gonzales’ new book, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America, tells the story of the two million unauthorized youths living in the United States and will be available for purchase at the event."

Violand-Sanchez also founded The Dream Project, a non-profit organization that “empowers students whose immigration status creates barriers to education by working with them to access and succeed in college through scholarships, mentoring, family engagement, and advocacy.”

She said illegal aliens in Arlington “face so many economic challenges,” including a high cost of living. “But yet they arrive, day in and day out, from Central America and from different countries,” Violand-Sanchez said. So the challenges can't be too bad

She also said that local, state, and federal authorities need to put into place policies that “help Dreamers to gain access to higher education.”

At the CAP event, the young people in the country illegally and who are attending American public schools and private colleges were referred to as “DACAmented” scholars.

This label was taken from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive action issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 that protects certain illegal aliens who were brought to the United States by their parents as children to be temporarily protected from deportation at two-year intervals and be given a work permit.

One of those “DACAmented scholars,” Yehimi Cambron, was given a full-ride, four-year scholarship at a private college in Georgia and now teaches 5th grade in that state. Cambron, who also spoke at the CAP event, said DACA needs to be expanded, not only for young people, but for their parents.  “My parents still have to drive without a license,” said Cambron.


Crackdown on British universities ‘giving firsts like confetti’

Universities that issue too many top degrees are facing a crackdown by the Government’s funding agency after criticism they are devaluing the qualifications.

Education experts say record numbers of firsts and 2:1s are being handed out ‘like confetti’ by institutions competing for students who pay up to £9,000 a year in fees.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is telling universities they must ensure their assessments of degrees is much more rigorous and can be compared across institutions to check they are not marking their students too generously.

Insiders are particularly worried that markers are under pressure to push candidates who are on the borderline between two degree classifications up into the higher one.

In addition, the role of external markers, who independently check university assessments, is to be boosted with extra training provided to ‘improve comparability and consistency’.

In a new report on quality assessment, the HEFCE said the current system, in which individual universities are allowed to decide their own marking methods, ‘does not provide direct assurance about the standard of marks made to students… or employers.’

HEFCE insiders said it would expect to see more ‘robust judgments’ about standards after criticism that some former polytechnics, where students can gain places with E grades at A-level, are awarding as many firsts and 2:1s as Oxford or Cambridge.

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the handing out of firsts ‘like confetti’ at some institutions was devaluing them and action needed to be taken urgently.

A Mail on Sunday investigation into ‘rampant’ grade inflation three years ago revealed that, on dozens of British degree courses, from engineering to English, all the students were being awarded either firsts or 2:1s.

Research also shows that almost half of universities have changed how they calculate degree classifications in recent years to ensure that their students do not get lower grades than those at rival institutions, which could affect their positions in academic league tables.

A survey last year compared the proportion of first-class and 2:1 degrees awarded in 1998, when tuition fees were first introduced, with those awarded in 2014 and found 55 universities had increased the number of top degrees awarded by more than 30 per cent.

The highest increase was found at Liverpool John Moores University, where the proportion of firsts and 2:1s rose from 40.9 per cent in 1998 to 74.0 per cent in 2014 – a rise of 80.9 per cent.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: ‘The sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument, hence the trialling of the Higher Education Achievement Report.

‘The aim of this approach is to provide a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies rather than just a one-off degree classification.’


Children with reading and spelling disabilities

An instructive  memoir from Australian psychologist, Ian Hills

When my mother Joyce Hills eventually decided that she had done as much as she could as Principal of the Kindergarten Teacher’s College she decided to follow her major teaching and research interest – children with reading and spelling disability.

She had longstanding personal as well as professional reasons for her interest: her husband and two sons had quite severe learning disability. She had already devoted a considerable amount of her career to understanding the disability, and a considerable amount of her parenting to dealing with it. Now she wanted to find out more and to make a difference to the wider community.

To this end mum enrolled in a psychology degree to learn more about assessing cognitive deficits and that was how she came to be enrolled in psychology at the time I started teaching it in 1966. At the same time she opened “The Children’s Centre” – the first school of it’s kind in Brisbane and possibly Australia. The model she developed – which I will call the Hills method - was to accept full-time enrolments of children with reading and spelling disabilities to focus for a few months on remediation and then return them to the schooling system. It turned out to be a remarkably successful model.

The field was ill defined in the sixties and over time it had acquired a fascinating cascade of names including specific learning disability, dyslexia, minimal neurological dysfunction, hyperactivity, organic behaviour disorder, hyperactivity and minimal brain damage among others. These terms reflect the confusion about the causes of the problem and the theoretical orientation of the various researchers in this broad field.

In the sixties the disorder was considered by many in the field to be a syndrome with a number of learning, behaviour, coordination and communication symptoms of which some or all may be present, with the underlying cause suspected to be neurological in origin.

These days the field has been divided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM) into a number of sections such “specific learning disorder”, “communication disorder”, “developmental coordination disorder”, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder” and “conduct disorder” with a vague nod in the direction of an underlying syndrome with phrases like “many children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder also have a specific learning disorder”.

To my mind this subdividing has not served the field, the clinicians or the patients well. It tends to focus attention on only one problem a child has and other difficulties can be overlooked as a result.

The Hills approach was more holistic. If a child presented with learning difficulties one also investigated other factors such as behaviour problems, coordination difficulties and so on. Although the Hills method focussed on learning disability, mum was careful to include other problems in her treatment.

After many years working in this area mum had made three major breakthroughs in her approach, which underpin the Hills method.

The first was to focus most attention on the main problem. If the problem was reading then the focus was on reading with less attention given to underlying and associated problems such as coordination or behaviour. This was a little ahead of its time. In the sixties teachers and therapists were attracted to the notion that it was other problems such as coordination that were the underlying cause of learning disability and focussed their attention on these. In the sixties – the days that predated the “evidence based” approach to treatment – it took quite a while for the penny to drop that these “underlying problem” methods didn’t improve reading and spelling.

Unfortunately the idea that an underlying problem should be treated instead of the learning disability has persisted despite evidence to the contrary. Even today some “underlying problem” approaches to reading disability still persist despite overwhelming evidence that they are not effective in treating the main problem – reading and/or spelling. Among these is a focus on coordination and eye exercises, speech therapy and muscle balancing which may address associated problems but have little or no effect on improving reading and spelling.

Mum’s second breakthrough was to focus heavily on the phonic approach to reading and spelling
in which the learner is taught to associate letters and letter combinations with their speech sounds and in this way is able to “construct” any word they are presented with. This was also well ahead of its time. The sixties and seventies saw an explosion in new reading methods in particular the  “look-say” method in which the learner is taught to recognise the “look” of each whole word and “say” the word. This method is even used to this day despite considerable evidence that the phonic method is far superior in teaching reading and spelling.

Mum’s third breakthrough was to test for specific disability in skills that are necessary for reading and spelling and to tailor the reading and spelling program to each child’s strengths and weaknesses. This approach was also far ahead of its time in the mid sixties.

It was to acquire these testing skills that mum enrolled in a psychology degree.

The Children’s Centre was an immediate hit with the parents of children with reading and spelling disability. On the other hand it took some time for the Queensland Education Department to come on board and for some time it discouraged parents from sending their children to the Centre.  As a result the early students came part-time to the centre in addition to their normal school attendance. Once the Education Department gave its approval parents were allowed to send their children full-time. And they did, in great numbers.

Mum received enthusiastic support from SPELD (which stands for SPEcific Learning Difficulties) when it was established it in 1969 and SPELD continues to use the techniques that mum pioneered.

From the start in 1966, even though I was only just graduated, mum involved me in the activities of the Children’s Centre. From her I learned the intricacies of diagnosis and treatment of Learning Disability and after a while mum entrusted me with the running of a sub-branch at Nambour one day a week and later with most of the adult clients who wanted to learn to read. A few years later the Children’s Centre was the basis for my itinerant practice in Queensland that ranged from Brisbane to Cairns and west to Mt Isa.

I learnt an immense amount from working with mum, not only about children and learning disability, but also a basic pattern on which to build my practice of psychology. From her I learnt to put a client’s stated goals ahead of any theoretical considerations about treatment. I learnt to focus on the main problem and leave the underlying ones till later. I learned to value therapies according to whether they worked. Most importantly I learned the fundamental importance of measuring progress rather than relying on “clinical impressions”.


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