Archive for the ‘teacher tenure’ Category

Tenure Issue 1: Dismiss the Teacher

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Have you read about the June 2014 Vergara vs. California decision?

High school students in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Alum Rock Unified School Districts brought the case to court because their education was impaired by “bad” teachers that were not dismissed even after long time complaints. These teachers are not the ones you hear about that have sexually harassed girls and boys, that have kept alcohol in their desk drawers in order to take a shot during breaks, or that have disrupted faculty meetings with argument, resorting to insults and physical intimidation. They can be dismissed quickly.

The teachers described in the Vergara decision deliberately performed poorly in the classroom insulting, berating, or ignoring student requests. The students cower in their seats, fearful of asking questions, or shout out in frustration.

Would you not think that there should be a procedure for the principal to dismiss that teacher immediately? It isn’t that easy.

Teachers unions formed long ago to protect teachers’ rights after an unending list of circumstances when a teacher was dismissed for untenable reasons. Now with tenure established, there is a specific set of judicial procedures that must be followed to terminate employment. Teachers are protected from unfair harassment, but “bad” teachers are protected too.

Step One to remedy this situation that wreaks havoc in the public schools is for unions (I’m a member of CTA) to rework the process for dismissal. It’s not hard when a teacher is arrested, but any number of procedures can delay the termination of a teacher like those brought up in the Vergara trial.

It is true that students deserve a qualified teacher who teaches the subject and that treats his or her students with respect. That is how the classroom should be managed, not by dictatorial insult and punishment.

Step Two, with high quality in mind, upgrade the status of teaching. Every education article you read says raise the salary and stabilize the workload so that each state can attract people who will stay in the field.

The quality of teacher preparation must be upgraded and not by slo mo action. California State Universities have begun this effort.

Professional development programs, especially with the Common Core State Standards implementation, can ease the fears about something new. Coalition for Community Schools and Communities in Schools are two organizations dedicated to caring for qualified teachers country-wide. Seek out their models.

Political policy awareness in the state government and the local community is a priority. One of the strongest decisions in the suit was to revise the “last in, first out” teacher layoff policy. The California State Legislature’s goal for the new session will be to rework (with the unions) that part of the tenure regulations. In addition, one benefit in Teach for America’s program is the Leadership for Educational Equity.

How can students be assured of success if the people teachers elect to support education do not step up?


Tenure Intrudes Just as School Year Begins

Monday, August 20th, 2012

So far school begins a few days earlier each year. I’m still ready to teach fourth grade, but the hitch that disturbs a smooth opening is student overflow. Too many new third graders have enrolled in the attendance area for my school. In consequence, the question is which students will move in with fourth graders. Next, the same number of fourth graders must be moved to a fifth grade.

Unless the district can be persuaded of the disadvantages, there will be one three-four combination and a four-five combination classroom. Some schools, however, are not filled with the maximum number of students so newcomers could attend those schools-if the district makes that decision.

Advantage: by staying close to the nearby school the student has less travel time and has the chance to become friends with more neighborhood children of a similar age.

Disadvantage: no parent or teacher wants to mix their child in a combination grade level if possible; it’s difficult to find time to teach each grade’s curriculum so no child is shortchanged. In my school district third graders have 24/1 student/teacher ratio, so a three-four combination has 24 students, thus forcing the move for fourth graders into a four-five combination class  with 33 students (maximum classroom size allowed) and less individual attention.

With the nationwide attention to Common Core Standards and yearly exams geared to the curriculum covered for the student’s grade level, any lay person can see the difficulty for student learning. In addition, unless you have worked with third grade or fourth grade or fifth grade age children in a classroom, you don’t recognize the differences in children’s social maturity and thus the ability to absorb academic learning.

Now, I think I’ve covered the reasons I dread the possibility of a combination grade, even though I consider myself highly-qualified to accommodate the circumstances if necessary. Teachers in many schools have had to adjust to such peculiarities of the public or private or parochial school.

In the meantime, I follow the news media, grasping onto new school year stories. The big one is “tenure.” The issue is a big time feature of teacher’s financial reward and classroom effort. State departments of education and teachers’ unions have finally found ways to compromise on the issue. The two factions have faced the fear for teacher security, wrenched from the hands of authoritarian school administrators, and the inability to dismiss “poor” teachers, constantly on the minds of education policy makers.

New York, New Jersey, Idaho, Florida and 14 other state legislatures have developed some type of tenure resolution, usually based on evaluation of class students’ academic growth shown by score improvement on yearly tests and administration’s rigorous teacher observation plans-with some variations.

My school district hasn’t yet had staff development on any change in tenure policy, but I’m thinking ahead about two difficulties. What about the school’s position on state records of improvement, like California’s Academic Performance Index? What will the teacher’s individual evaluation for tenure be like? With all the variables that indicate student learning, combination classrooms add one more possible hurdle for students and teachers.

Nevertheless, I know to wear my welcome smile when I pick up my new students on the first day.

Political Obstructions Shake Schools

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Politics is taking over all thought and action on education issues, pre-school to college. Clashes echo over the benefits of Common Core Standards, a project of the National Governor’s Association-bipartisan at one time in the recent past. Salvos from both liberals and conservatives about state budget needs for schools lead to rising college tuition and cuts in scholarships. Disparities flare in the U. S. over ethnicity of special ed students suspended although viable alternatives exist to reduce harsh measures.

Your single school or school district may have dodged the bullets, but be aware. In this nation thousands of teacher jobs have been lost; class sizes have risen as the number of children ready for school has climbed to 7% for the next year; salaries are reduced by using furlough days, i.e., fewer days in the school year; and so on and so forth.

Across states, much of the reduction in school services is due to anxiety over reduced revenue for the state budgets and reluctance to raise revenue except by local bonds or parcel taxes. Nationwide, the political quandary rears over increasing revenue and reducing government programs. The desire to control the national debt and turn the deficit into surplus leaves the effect on education nearly lost in the complex argument.

Numerous times this blog has reminded readers of the momentous changes that have rapidly occurred since the current administration has put an emphasis on education: accountability for all-teachers and administrators; improved student achievement in the lowest-performing schools; variety in techniques and strategies shown to increase learning; legislation to help poor families with health, nutrition, and job training.

Nonetheless, if certain budget possibilities gain the upper hand next year the country may find discretionary spending in agriculture (affecting food for schools), education, transportation, science and more reduced by three-fifths. Medicaid would become a state block grant, in effect dropping about 14 million people from health coverage. And who do you think those people include? The children over whom pundits wring their hands because they need to have access to the best education possible.

In spite of fears for education, promising actions have been described in the media. The New Teacher Project offers a study with recommendations to create policies aimed at retaining high-performing teachers and holding administrators accountable for maintaining high-performing schools. It is suggested (following on many similar research proposals) to set clear standards for teaching effectiveness and offer higher earning potential for excellent teachers.

Further, a state with conservative leaders has instituted programs to extend the academic learning year. Arizona ‘s Balsz Elementary School District took advantage of state legislation that offers 5% more financing to districts that add 20 school days per year. The funds were used to raise teachers’ salaries to pay for the additional teaching.

A liberal legislature and conservative governor designed legislation to revise tenure provisions and establish revocation of said tenure when necessary. Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, signed the new tenure bill developed with bipartisan support and aid from the state’s teachers’ union.

Optimistic news, but what would the education world look like, much less the rest of society, if cuts to discretionary funds take effect?

Eliminate tenure-Ensure teacher quality

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

In the State of the Union speech earlier this month, President Obama spoke of moving education for the nation’s children up front. The time to exert ourselves is now. We can make improvements that will help the country grow long term.

Great! But the road to student success brings to mind a plethora of factors: tests, budgets, vouchers, evaluation, curriculum, core standards, classroom management, teacher preparation. The list goes on and on.

But wait! A number of state governors are making loud noises about teacher tenure. They are positive that eliminating just this single hundred year old fixture of teacher protection from arbitrary dismissal will solve the problem of low-performing schools.

Every teacher knows the stories of weak colleagues with high salaries and poor classroom management who couldn’t be dismissed without lengthy hearings and attempts to help them improve. And every teacher knows the stories of teachers who were harassed by administrators because they stood up for their rights until they left the profession.

Simply tossing teacher tenure from the state’s education legislation may be the easy thing to do, but would hardly be the solution to teacher quality or achievement for students.

Other measures are being debated.

For instance, Memphis city school system is trying to settle its budget woes by merging the city schools with the suburban schools of Shelby County, Tennessee. Such a merger has set off a conflict of rich and poor, urban vs. suburban needs, shifting costs. Still, those disputes are attempts to improve the achievement of students-the goal of education.

Maybe vouchers are the end all and be all. The Florida legislature has written another bill to make money available for students in failing schools to move to private schools. It could be one way to dismantle low-performing schools, but how to judge whether the particular private school is going to help the new students?

In New York City Schools, Learning Leaders is a volunteer organization that provides tutors and parent education to promote literacy for a school’s low-performing children. The results indicate higher scores on standardized tests, improved attendance, enhanced social skills and behavior. The model is an intense focus on factors to improve achievement for students.

How about three models espoused by organizations to improve teacher quality? William J. Slotnick of Community Assistance and Training Center has helped Denver Public Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina. They focus on models where teachers and principals set goals and select measures for yearly student achievement. Teacher evaluation is based on success in completing the goals.

A report on establishing teacher quality, written by Education Resource Strategies in Watertown, Massachusetts, suggests guidelines for schools, districts, and states. All suggestions are based on a bottom up strategy which should ensure teacher and union participation.

Here are the five suggestions: create teams to plan for change; empower the teams; build better steps to recruit highly qualified personnel to carry out the plan; help teachers achieve potential; reward personnel contributions to student achievement.

A third model offered by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality describes similar steps for improving student achievement and teacher quality. The NCCTQ report specifically takes up the ‘third rail’ of teacher tenure when addressing teacher evaluation issues.

In California all of the problems noted above are hitting the schools: budget woes and merging districts; education experts advocating vouchers; unions offering accountability models for teacher evaluation; models showing ways to improve student achievement in failing schools. It is highly unlikely that the California legislature will cut teacher tenure from the education code. It will, however, be part of a revised teacher evaluation system.

It will be a hard row to hoe. But the ask is to move forward, make change for the good of the country.