Dance of the Lemons in California Schools: Finally, Big Shakeup at the Awful California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

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Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 6:30 AM
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Buh-bye to Dale Janssen and Mary C. Armstrong, ousted from an agency that is among the most injurious to children in the U.S., the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. A withering state audit in April found the powerful commission to be a flagrant disaster.

Executive Director Janssen and General Counsel Armstrong work for the commission, which is supposed to revoke credentials from bad teachers but rarely does. The Commission helps assure that awful burnouts continue to teach. It's been criminal, what the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing does to youngsters.

Praise goes to California state Assemblyman Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens. Here's why:

Ricardo Lara did what scores of California politicians will never do because they are afraid of the commission's pals inside the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Those huge unions can break a politician's career like a dry stick.

click to enlarge Dale Janssen, finally ousted from "worst run" state commission.
  • Dale Janssen, finally ousted from "worst run" state commission.

Lara spoke up this year, pressing Governor Jerry Brown to fire Credentialing Commission honchos Janssen, Armstrong and Ting.

Nice work by Lara, chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in Sacramento. He hasn't got the power to fire anybody from the rotted Credentialing Commission, but he used his bully pulpit.

Kudos, too, to California's consistently competent State Auditor, Elaine Howle.

Howle was in the midst of auditing the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing last November when the Commission fired Kathy Carroll. a credentialing commissioner who had criticized incompetency inside the agency.

The firing of commissioner Kathy Carroll suggested a cover-up and the possible silencing of a whistle-blower.

Here's how inept the Teachers Credentialing Commission is: Carroll was fired from the Commission while she was in the midst of helping State Auditor Elaine Howle's investigators obtain internal information for the big audit.

That all went down last year, when this soap opera was just starting.

click to enlarge Looks gutsy, and is: California State Auditor Elaine Howle
  • Looks gutsy, and is: California State Auditor Elaine Howle

Then, Howle issued her jarring audit a few weeks ago, in April. The audit said that of the commissions Elaine Howle has investigated, this commission is one of the "worst-run" -- ever.

Among other things, employees told Howle that 24 past or present colleagues are related to one another. This is a tiny state agency of 160 people. That's egregious, old Soviet Union-style nepotism.

But clueless (former) Executive Director Janssen argued back that only "26 percent" of employees think the nepotism has hurt the agency's competence and morale. Good Lord.

And it took a 2007 investigation by Associated Press to embarrass the weak-kneed California state legislature into stopping the Credentialing Commission from chronically keeping secret the names of California school teachers who sexually abused students.

In 2007, the Commission's General Counsel Mary C. Armstrong, forced out this week, insisted that the sex abuse secrecy was good: "It's a balance between the rights of a teacher who may be falsely accused, and the rights of the public."

This Commission's hampering of school districts as they try to weed out awful teachers has led to the "Dance of the Lemons" in Los Angeles Unified School District and a similar "dance" at districts throughout California.

Today, failing California teachers cannot be forced from their jobs by Boards of Education without an act of God or dumb luck.

So, thousands of them are transferred from school to unsuspecting school (that's the "lemon dance" part), or paid to stay at home.

And all of this done in secret. Parents never know if their kids have a lemon.

click to enlarge "Ting Sun has got to go": Assemblyman Ricardo Lara
  • "Ting Sun has got to go": Assemblyman Ricardo Lara

If any local school district's Board of Education forgets its place and tries to fire a bad apple, here comes the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, led by political novice Ting Sun.

The Weekly's freelance investigative reporter Beth Barrett showed that LAUSD, which employs 33,000 classroom teachers -- some of whom should be in careers that involve no children, no math, no reading and no history -- has fired just four teachers. Four fired, from 33,000. In a decade.

Remember, to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, these are Jobs for Life. The youngsters who are being dumbed down by their failing teachers? A shame.

Efforts to fire California teachers are also exceptionally costly (about $500,000 in taxpayer money, per firing attempt), and take five to seven years of legal battle. Again, in good part thanks to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Capitol Alert in Sacramento reported these details Thursday about the new audit:

Auditors found flaws in nearly every aspect of the commission's regulatory process, including lapses in launching investigations, updating files, gathering facts, tracking cases and revoking credentials.

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara says that Sun, the commission's chairwoman, has got to go. Naturally, Sun has let it be known that she plans to stay.

She seems like a nice person who worked hard to advocate for charter schools. But California Governor Jerry Brown needs to clear out the entire top of the agency.

Instead of Ting, Janssen, Armstrong, or similar, Jerry Brown needs to get some people onto the Teacher Credentialing Commission who don't believe in Jobs for Life.

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