Legal Update #1 SY 09-10 Concerted Effort by DoDEA to Go After Educators

To: FEA Leaders and Educators (For Immediate Distribution)
From: H.T. Nguyen, FEA Executive Director/ General Counsel
Date: August 27, 2009
Re: Legal Update #1 SY 2009-2010- Concerted Effort by DoDEA to go after Educators

A. Disturbing Developments

There have been several recent developments that have made clear to the Association that management has decided to make a focused and concerted effort to "go after" DoDEA educators. As demonstrated below, DoDEA management is using deceptive language to push claims that DoDEA educators are not accountable for their work and that DoDEA schools are "stagnating." Some of these developments include:

* In response to FEA's request not to go forward with her plan to hire the nearly 160 "Resource Managers," Dr. Shirley Miles' response was that these positions were created to support principals so they can "guide instruction through more frequent observations of teachers and increase accountability."

While this sounds innocuous enough, Dr. Miles' public statements (see below) show that she is manufacturing a crisis, so she can make DoDEA educators the scapegoat for that crisis, and move control of our schools from the local level to DoDEA Headquarters.

* The July 4, 2009 article in the Stars and Stripes, quoting from a meeting led by Dr. Miles in Naples, stated the following: "One of the bigger challenges for Miles is to find out why test scores for DoD students, though above the national average, have stagnated for the past decade. ‘We know that across the board…our test scores have flat-lined for the past 10 years, and in some areas declined," Miles said.'"

If this was true, it would indeed be a cause for concern. Instead, DoDEA schools remain recognized and praised, even by DoDEA's own press releases, as among the best in the nation. (see below).

* The Stars and Stripes article also contains the following: "Miles told the audience during the nearly three-hour meeting that change was imminent. ‘We have been sitting on our laurels for a little bit too long,' she said. ‘There needs to be a little more level of anxiety. There needs to be a little kick in the bottom for folks to move along, and some don't want that. They will be dragged into the 21st century or they will be put on another path." "I ask you to be patient. Change is coming. The accountability will be strengthened and enhanced…That will affect the competency, complacency and apathy…The bar has been raised.'"

Considering parents of DoDEA's students who complete DoDEA's own Customer Satisfaction Survey consistently give very high ratings to the DoDEA schools and educators, as well as our national recognition for outstanding academic achievement (see below), one has to question the validity or necessity of recent policy decisions.

(For the complete July 4, 2009 Stars and Stripes article on Dr. Miles statements, please use this link.)

* Our office has a copy of the agenda from the most recent "Administrator's Conference," which contains several sessions demonstrating that DoDEA used this conference to train its administrators on how to remove educators.

Considering that policies for removal actions are well established and principals are already aware of and well trained in these procedures, the inclusion of so many sessions on the administrator's conference agenda appears to be an unambiguous directive from DoDEA headquarters that, in order to be a 'good' principal, one must begin firing educators -- regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

* Dr. Miles' August 25, 2009 Policy Memorandum on Electronic Gradebook, which is a violation of existing agreements, leaves us with little doubt that she is going after educators.

B. The Facts

The Association strongly disagrees with Dr. Miles' mischaracterization of our DoDEA educators. In the August 2009 FEA Journal, FEA President Michael Priser noted that DoDEA test scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) have remained in the top 5 (among the states) in reading, writing and science, while Math scores have stayed in the top 10, over the past decade.

In fact, in a July 30, 2009 Stars and Stripes article, a new independent report studying the gap in academic achievement between white and minority students by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that "DoDEA's gap is smaller than the nation's." The article also quoted a DoDEA official saying "the results indicate that [African American] students in DoDEA are scoring higher than their stateside counterparts on the center's test, not that white students are scoring lower."

Moreover, in DoDEA's own press release issued August 27, 2009, DoDEA used this very NCES report to tout "that DoDEA was only one of two states whose gap was smaller than the nation's average gap in all of the grade and subject areas studied in the report. DoDEA's score gaps are consistently below 20 points on the test's 500-point scale. The national average gap across grade levels four and eight was 27.5 points."

Furthermore, the July 30, 2009 Stars and Stripes article on the NCES noted that "DoDEA officials pointed to a Vanderbilt University study to explain why they believe that gap is smaller than other public school systems…" The article cited to the Vanderbilt study, which found that one of the key factors for DoDEA was "its quality teachers and counselors."

That DoDEA is staffed by outstanding educators is evidenced by the performance of its students. Few school systems in the U.S. can boast of the continued academic achievement DoDEA enjoys. That accomplishment is all the more remarkable when one remembers that the DoDEA student body is made up almost entirely of military dependents. As the children of armed services personnel, these students have faced many unique challenges over the past decade that could be expected to have diminished their academic performance, but it has not been the case in our schools.

Some examples of those challenges are: over 50% of military members with dependents have been deployed at least once, the student body "turns over" at least every three years which leaves little student body continuity, over 10% of the DoDEA student body has a diagnosed disability, and in 2005, over 1400 military dependents suffered the loss of a parent.

It is the special understanding of the military community that DoDEA educators have, along with the commitment and dedication of military families that allows our students to deal with these stresses and not just survive, but thrive.

The Association believes that, as great as our schools and educators are, we can always do better. FEA has worked closely with DoDEA management over the past decade to promote new and better ways of educating students and serving military families. However, recent unilateral management decisions, such as cutting back on professional development opportunities for educators, run counter to some of the things that the above-mentioned independent studies cited as reasons for DoDEA's success. For example, the Vanderbilt University study determined: "access to integrated, extensive professional development opportunities have helped DoDEA to attract high quality teachers and maintain a stable teaching force."

In fact, it is difficult to reconcile Dr. Miles' rhetoric and her dismissive assessment of the DoDEA educators with the praise that DoDEA officials heap upon the school system's achievements in Stars and Stripes and their own press releases. Attempts to create a crisis where one does not exist, in order to justify pre-determined policy decisions, demonstrate neither good leadership nor good educational policy.

NONE of DoDEA's achievements have occurred by accident or happenstance. They are the result of years of hard work and dedication by our DoDEA educators, matched by the commitment of students and their families. But those accomplishments are now being cavalierly dismissed by Dr. Miles as isolated instances rather than the true achievements that they are.

C. The Path Forward

While the Association has trained our FRS's and Local Presidents on employee's Due Process rights many times over the years, the FEA attorneys (in the field and in the FEA Washington Office) will spend a great deal of time in the Association local leadership trainings this fall following-up on our past training to ensure that our FRS's/Local Presidents remain prepared for what is coming and will be ready to deal with this very important issue.

The Association asks all members represented by FEA that if you begin to receive any sort of "special attention" from your supervisor or administration, to contact your FRS/Local President for advice as soon as possible. It does not matter whether you are a new teacher or a long-time veteran- if you suspect that your supervisor is focusing on you, please inform your FRS/Local President as soon as possible.

For example, if your supervisor begins to come to your classroom to observe and you subsequently receive any sort of letter, email, or notice from the supervisor or administration referencing your performance, understand that it is critical that you inform your FRS/Local President as soon as possible. By approaching the FRS/Local President quickly, the FRS/Local President can contact your designated FEA UniServ Attorney for advice and guidance to begin work on defending/protecting you, to ensure your rights are protected and you receive the fair and impartial treatment you are due.

(In the case of alleged misconduct, please contact your FEA UniServ Attorney for advice immediately, before any meeting with any officials. Please also refer to the FEA pocket calendar for further advice)

Please follow this guidance. Although being a highly competent and enthusiastic educator should be enough to shield you from being "targeted" by management; that is no longer the case. When vague, undefined terms like "accountability" are used as a pretext to go after educators by management, we must all remain on guard for false accusations and unfair treatment. Forewarned is forearmed.