Tag Archives: Pros and Cons of Teacher Tenure?

Landmark California case regarding teacher tenure: Vergara v. California

1 Feb

People become teachers for many reasons. Among the top ten reasons to become a teacher are:

1. Student Potential
2. Student Successes
3. Teaching a Subject Helps You Learn a Subject
4. Daily Humor
5. Affecting the Future
6. Staying Younger
7. Autonomy in the Classroom
8. Conducive to Family Life
9. Job Security
10. Summers Off

Because of the recession, many are turning to teaching as a career that might have employment possibilities. Although there may be job cuts as states and some locales cope with diminishing tax revenue, the education sector still looks good in comparison with other sectors. Information about teaching requirements can be found at Education Week Career Community http://resources.topschooljobs.org/tsj/states/

The issue of teacher tenure is important because:

There is no shortage of data that show a significant percentage of teachers leave just when they are becoming consistently effective. However, at the same time, too many teachers who have not become consistently effective achieve permanent status, also referred to as tenure.

The question surrounding teacher tenure is how to protect quality teachers from unfair termination?

What is Teacher Tenure?

A good basic description of teacher tenure as found at teacher tenure. http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-925/tenure.htm James gives the following definition:

Tenure is a form of job security for teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period. Its primary purpose is to protect competent teachers from arbitrary nonrenewal of contract for reasons unrelated to the educational process — personal beliefs, personality conflicts with administrators or school board members, and the like.
The type and amount of protection vary from state to state and — depending on agreements with teachers’ unions — may even vary from school district to school district. In general, a tenured teacher is entitled to due process when he or she is threatened with dismissal or nonrenewal of contract for cause: that is, for failure to maintain some clearly defined standard that serves an educational purpose.

Time has a good summary of the history of teacher tenure at A Brief History of Tenure

What are the Pros and Cons of Teacher Tenure?

One of the best concise defenses of K-12 teacher tenure is from Cleolaf’s blog at Why K12 Teachers Need Tenure The reasons are:

A) The teacher shortage is not evenly distributed. High performing schools don’t have the same problems attracting teacher. High paying district don’t have the same problems attracting teachers….
B) This really comes down to the question of why principals might want to be rid of a teacher. I would suggest that any manager would want to be rid of any employee who makes his/her job or life harder. Ideally, this would only be low performing teachers, but that is a fantasy view.
Any kind of rabble rouser can make a principal’s job harder. …Obviously, union activists are already protected by other labor laws.
C) Academic freedom in K12 is not like in higher education, that’s true. But it is still an issue.
A teacher who tries to raise the bar in his/her classes can create no end of problems for a principal. If standards in school have been too low, and a teacher demands more than students are accustomed to, students and their parents can demand enormous amounts of principal’s time. This is a different form of rocking the boat, but can still be enough for a principal to wish to be rid of the teacher.
Principals cannot be experts on everything. Once, when teaching high school English, my principal as a former middle school math teacher. He insisted that I as an English teacher, “not worry about critical and analytical thinking” and “just teach English.” Though he had no training or experience with high school English, he had ideas about what it meant. He did not approve of the fact that I was spending as much time on teaching my student how to reason as on the mechanics of writing. …
Another principal might be an old school traditionalist and insist that English classes only be about books. He might not approve of using film or video to teach about theme, plot, symbolism, character development, story arcs, allegory and any of the rest. But a teacher might feel that this would be the best way for students to learn these lessons….
No, we don’t need tenure if principals can be counted on to make good decisions in the best interests of children. But they are human, and therefore often make decisions in their own interests. Moreover, we have a real shortage of high quality principals, even as we are breaking up large schools into multiple small schools and opening up charter schools….
I do not suggest that there are not problems with our tenure system. A lot falls to principals, perhaps too much. Teacher observation and evaluation is not easy, and the tenure process in dependent on principals making good decisions about teachers during those first three years. …And that is why we still need tenure. It takes a series of bad decisions over a number of years for a poor teacher to get tenure. But without tenure, it only takes one bad decision for a good to be dismissed. http://ceolaf.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-k12-teachers-need-tenure.html

Cleolaf points toward insufficient teacher assessment and evaluation as a prime cause of problems with teacher tenure. Research confirms that good principals are key to high performing schools. Good principals are also the key in Cleolaf’s view to making a tenure system work. Vergara v. California is a California case about teacher tenure.

Jennifer Medina reported in the New York Times article, Fight Over Effective Teachers Shifts to Courtroom:

In a small, wood-paneled courtroom here this week, nine public school students are challenging California’s ironclad tenure system, arguing that their right to a good education is violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad instructors. But behind the students stand a Silicon Valley technology magnate who is financing the case and an all-star cast of lawyers that includes Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general of the United States, who recently won the Supreme Court case that effectively overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage….
At issue is a set of rules that grant permanent employment status to California teachers after 18 months on the job, require a lengthy procedure to dismiss a teacher, and set up a seniority system in which the teachers most recently hired must be the first to lose their jobs when layoffs occur, as they have regularly in recent years.
Teachers’ unions, which hold powerful sway among lawmakers here, contend that the protections are necessary to ensure that teachers are not fired unfairly. Without these safeguards, the unions say, the profession will not attract new teachers….
The month long trial promises to be a closely watched national test case on employment laws for teachers, one of the most contentious debates in education. Many school superintendents and advocates across the country call such laws detrimental and anachronistic, and have pressed for the past decade for changes, with mixed success. Tenure for teachers has been eliminated in three states and in Washington, D.C., and a handful of states prohibit seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs. But in many large states with urban school districts, including California and New York, efforts to push through such changes in the legislature have repeatedly failed.
While several lawsuits demanding more money for schools have succeeded across the country, the California case is the most sweeping legal challenge claiming that students are hurt by employment laws for teachers. The case also relies on a civil rights argument that so far is untested: that poor and minority students are denied equal access to education because they are more likely to have “grossly ineffective” teachers.
Judge Rolf Michael Treu, of Los Angeles County Superior Court, will decide the nonjury trial. His ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the State Supreme Court…
The first witness for the plaintiffs was John E. Deasy, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District and a staunch opponent of tenure rules and “last in, first out” seniority for teachers. Mr. Deasy testified that attempts to dismiss ineffective teachers can cost $250,000 to $450,000 and include years of appeals and legal proceedings. Often, he said, the district is forced to decide that the time and money would be too much to spend on a case with an unclear outcome, in part because a separate governing board can reinstate the teachers. Such rules make it impossible not to place ineffective teachers at schools with high poverty rates, he told the court….
Teachers’ unions contend that such job protections help schools keep the best teachers and recruit new ones to a job that is often exhausting, challenging and low paid. Mr. Finberg, the lawyer for the unions, said in court that the fact that Mr. Deasy has increased the number of ineffective teachers dismissed from the classroom — to about 100 of the district’s 30,000 teachers — suggests that the laws are working.
The plaintiffs’ legal team, from the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, includes not only Mr. Olson, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, but also Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Apple in its antitrust case on e-book pricing. The lawyers and public relations firm behind Students Matter previously teamed to overturn the California ballot measure against same-sex marriage and say this case could have a similar ripple effect across the country. Among the boldface names siding publicly with the plaintiffs is Antonio R. Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, who joined them in a news conference outside the courthouse this week….
Teachers’ unions nationwide have fought changes in employment laws, contending that their members must be protected from capricious or vengeful administrators. In Colorado, where a sweeping law in 2010 created a new system to evaluate teachers, the unions are suing over a provision that lets principals decide whether to hire veteran teachers who lost jobs because of budget cuts or drops in enrollment.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a telephone interview that the California case echoes the fights she had when she led the teachers’ union in New York, and called the lawsuit “worse than troubling….”
State education laws across the country are changing. School districts in 29 states use poor effectiveness as grounds for dismissal, according to a report released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank that tracks teacher policies. Just five years ago, no states allowed student performance to be considered in teachers’ evaluations, said Kate Walsh, the executive director of the center. Now, 20 states require such data.
“We have really seen mountains move in some places — the trend in the country has been toward meaningful ways to evaluate teachers and to use that evaluation to make tenure decisions,” Ms. Walsh said in an interview. “But I don’t think anyone has figured out how to implement them particularly well yet.”

See, Students Matter http://studentsmatter.org/

Here is the case summary for Vergara v. California:

Vergara v. California Case Summary: Californians shouldn’t have to choose: we can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve. We believe every child, everywhere, deserves great teachers, and so does the California Supreme Court and the California Constitution. The California Supreme Court has long recognized that equal opportunity to access quality education is every child’s fundamental constitutional right.
With the help of Students Matter, nine California public school children filed the statewide lawsuit Vergara v. California against the State of California in May 2012 to strike down the laws handcuffing schools from doing what’s best for kids when it comes to teachers. Meet the Plaintiffs.
We think it’s simple: reward and retain passionate, motivating, effective teachers and hold those accountable who are failing our children. By striking down the following laws, Vergara v. California will create an opportunity for lawmakers, teachers, administrators and community leaders to design a system that’s good for teachers and students. Because when it comes to educating our kids, there should only be winners.
Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after only 18 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.
Dismissal Statutes: The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. In the past 10 years in the entire state of California, only 91 teachers have been dismissed, and the vast majority of those dismissals were for egregious conduct. Only 19 dismissals were based, in whole or in part, on unsatisfactory performance.
“Last-In, First-Out” Layoff Statute: The LIFO law reduces teachers to faceless seniority numbers. The LIFO law forces administrators to let go of passionate and motivating newer teachers and keep ineffective teachers instead, just because they have seniority.
In May 2013, the state’s two largest teachers unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, intervened in the case to defend these statutes alongside the State. The 20-day trial for Vergara v. California begins on January 27, 2014.
View the full Vergara v. California case timeline and read about what happens if we win.
Also, view and download a one-pager on Students Matter and the Vergara v. California lawsuit.

Click to access SM_One-Pager-FINAL_01.25.14.pdf


Another view of teacher tenure is found at Teacher Tenure: A Life Sentence for Kids This paper begins with the following case:

In 1986, after school administrators in the El Cajon School District in California spent years documenting the more than 400 reasons for why high school English teacher Juliet Ellory was an unfit teacher, the district finally succeeded in firing her. It cost the district more than $300,000 and eight years of preparing and litigating the case. According to the overwhelming evidence against her, Ms. Ellory “hardly ever lectured,gave baffling assignments, belittled students and ignored repeated efforts by the high school principal to get her to improve.”1 Ellory’s tenure status had protected her from automatic dismissal. Though stories such as this one do not depict the average K-12 teacher, they are sufficiently widespread to provoke criticism and concern about the state of our public schools, as well as skepticism regarding the actual benefits of teacher tenure. http://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/law/centers/childlaw/childed/pdfs/2009studentpapers/roulbet_teacher_tenure.pdf

A key component of reforming teacher tenure is an improved evaluation system for teachers, which focuses on improving traits that produce student achievement.

Teacher Evaluation

The Center has produced a report, which focuses on teacher evaluation. Teacher Evaluation Proper evaluation seems to be key to both addressing many problems teacher tenure was developed to protect from faulty evaluation of a teacher and to improve the quality of those in the teaching profession. Evaluation is just one component, however. New teachers need a proper induction into the profession and mentors to help them hone their skills and methods of teaching. If problems emerge, teachers need proper training and coaching to progress.

No matter where a teacher is in their career lifecycle, they will be confronting the issues of elimination of teacher tenure and more rigorous teacher evaluation. Increasingly, one component of teacher evaluation will focus on whether students are showing academic achievement gains. The point of contention, which may provoke disagreement between the evaluator and the teacher is how student achievement is measured.

In times of recession, all jobs become more difficult to find and often job seekers do not have the luxury of finding the perfect job. New teachers may find jobs in schools often considered less desirable or schools led by principals who are not considered to be leaders or supporters of their staff. Not all learning occurs during the academic portion of your life’s journey. If one finds that the first job is not the perfect opportunity, then prepare for the time you will find the perfect opportunity. Look for a teacher(s) you admire and who are successful and model what has made them successful. People who are skilled and become expert at their craft or profession will weather whatever change comes along, whether it is an elimination or modification of tenure and changes to the way evaluations are conducted.

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