Myth vs. Reality

MYTH: The high-priced legal team in Campbell Brown’s lawsuit is doing the case pro-bono.

“Jay Lefkowitz is leading the charge—he’s doing this for free, they’re doing this pro bono” – Campbell Brown on Fox 5, 7/29/2014

REALITY:  When you hear something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Campbell Brown herself has admitted that litigation will drag on for years, and litigating a complicated case like this will likely require thousands of hours of work for Brown’s legal team. And the complaint filed in Brown’s lawsuit clearly states that her legal team is seeking for New York taxpayers to float their legal bill. Attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, the firm working this case, was found to have some of the highest legal fees in the entire country, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. Some attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis make over $1,200 per hour. In the unlikely event that Brown’s lawsuit succeeds, New York taxpayers could be shelling out millions for her legal stunt.


MYTH: It takes 830 days to fire a teacher in New York State.

“the average process for attempting to remove a teacher took 520 days, and a staggering 830 days when a teacher was charged with incompetence” – Campbell Brown in the New York Daily News, 6/24/2014

REALITY: Campbell Brown is using dated numbers that suit her interests, not figures that reflect the realities in New York State.  The number quoted by Campbell Brown comes from a six-year old report compiled by the New York State School Boards Association, who have never released the actual data. Additionally, the figures quoted by Campbell Brown predate the reforms of 2012. There’s a reason that Campbell Brown is using old data—a recent review of teacher dismissal cases showed that the median time spent deciding cases after the 2012 reforms was 105 days.  In New York City, where slightly less than one-third of the state’s teachers work, the DOE’s reputation for failing to pay arbitrators is a major cause of the City’s backlog.


MYTH: Virtually every teacher is granted tenure, and any evaluation during the three-year probationary period is just a formality.

“[I]t is out of the ordinary for a teacher to be denied tenure. The default is to grant teachers tenure and the process is a formality, rather than an appraisal of teacher performance.” – Campbell Brown’s complaint in the NY lawsuit.

REALITY:  Research cited in Campbell Brown’s complaint contradicts her. .  She failed to mention that the cited research found that in New York City, following already enacted legislative reforms, “principal effectiveness ratings” were found to be “highly predictive of tenure outcomes.”  How predictive?  According to the researchers, New York City principals granted tenure to “less than two percent of those rated Developing and less than one percent of those rated Ineffective,” while granting tenure to 94% of highly-effective teachers. Research quoted in Campbell Brown’s legal brief utterly dispels the idea that tenure is automatically granted, and clearly supports the conclusion that principals use teacher effectiveness ratings to make tenure decisions.


MYTH: Principals are incapable of determining how effective teachers are within three years, but would magically become capable of making that determination, if only they had one additional year.

REALITY:  As anyone who has ever supervised anyone else in a work setting knows, it does not take anywhere near three years to assess the effectiveness of any employee.  Academic research backs this up, and superintendents in similar lawsuits have testified that they were able to effectively evaluate teachers in even less time.  Furthermore, in many places in New York state, principals have the option of extending teacher probationary periods to four years—the period that Campbell Brown has identified as optimal for evaluating teacher effectiveness. In fact according to the research Campbell Brown cites in her lawsuit, in New York City 97% of the time principals extended teachers who were rated “developing.”


MYTH: Now that we have laws to prevent discriminatory firings, teacher tenure is pointless.

“Tenure laws around K through 12 education were passed in the early nineteen hundreds, the idea being to protect women and minorities before civil rights laws were in place” – Campbell Brown on Fox5, 7/29/2014

REALITY: Teacher tenure is still a very important buffer, protecting student education from institutionalized bigotry.  For example, in 2010 the Texas Board of Education attempted to replace the word “slavery” with the phrase “Atlantic Triangular Trade” in educational materials. Texas school teachers led the fight against this racist and insensitive attempt to whitewash U.S. history.  They were able to be vocal in opposing this policy because Texas grants teachers due process after three years.  Additionally, because of these protections, had the policy been adopted, teachers would have been able to teach students about the realities of slavery with the knowledge that they were protected as education professionals.  This is not the only case in recent memory—several states have recently grappled with legislative attempts to dilute evolutionary or planetary science.  Tenure gives teachers the freedom to teach all subjects free of political bias.


MYTH: Campbell Brown’s lawsuit was brought by regular families from across the state.

REALITY: Campbell Brown’s plaintiffs include a healthy helping of conservative activists and paid employees of Brown’s partner organizations.  Of the seven plaintiffs in Campbell Brown’s lawsuit, at least two are on the payroll of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.  Keoni Wright, the lead plaintiff, is a paid organizer with StudentsFirst New York, as is Nina Doster.  Additionally, plaintiff Carla Williams is something of a cause celebre in rightwing circles, having previously appeared on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Carla Williams received assistance from The Frederick Douglas Foundation, a conservative organization that released a video comparing Barack Obama to Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein.


MYTH: Campbell Brown’s lawsuit is full of unbiased facts and scholarly research that supports a clear policy position.

REALITY:  Campbell Brown’s legal complaint is full of omissions, bias, and opinion passed off as fact.  Several segments of Brown’s complaint cite statistics that do not cover New York City—where one third of the state’s teachers reside.  In both cases, the exclusion of 1/3rd of New York teacher makes its way into Brown’s complaint only as a footnote!  Brown’s complaint cites such noted thought-leaders as John Stossel, a libertarian Fox News contributor, and includes citations to editorials and research that is not peer-reviewed and isauthored by lobbying groups.


MYTH:  Eliminating seniority protections would place better teachers in the highest-need classrooms.

REALITY:  Leaving aside the issue of how one evaluates teachers, removing seniority protections is likely to increase the flight of teachers out of schools in poor districts or neighborhoods.   New York City schools are already facing a crisis of experienced teachers fleeing schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, and the teaching profession altogether. Since research shows that experienced teachers are more effective, this is a significant problem for urban areas.  Research also shows that teachers value job security, and without job security, schools may have to raise salaries to stay competitive in attracting effective teachers.


MYTH:  Teacher protections do not help kids.

REALITY: Research cited in Brown’s complaint shows that New York City’s tenure system helps push ineffective teachers out of New York City schools and out of the teaching profession. Multiple academic studies show that teachers’ working conditions have a positive impact on student achievement.


MYTH: Campbell Brown’s lawsuit does not seek to totally eliminate due process for teachers.

“That’s one of the arguments that the union makes, that they’re going to lose due process rights if we change these laws—but that’s simply not true” – Campbell Brown on The Colbert Report, 7/30/2014

REALITY:  Campbell Brown’s lawsuit is seeking to invalidate ten subsections of New York law that substantially provide for all of the due process protections for teachers.  If Campbell Brown was seeking to reform the system, she would be working to collaborate with legislators in making legislative change.   Instead, Campbell Brown is looking to completely dismantle due process for New York teachers.


MYTH: Campbell Brown is focused on providing students with the ‘sound basic education” that is their right under the New York State constitution.

REALITY: A “sound basic education” is every student’s constitutional right under the New York State constitution. But the right-wing, Wall Street-funded organizations that are propping up Campbell Brown have actively worked to undermine students’ right to a “sound basic education” by opposing state compliance with the funding plan ordered by the New York State Court of Appeals in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.