My View: This is Why We Have Tenure

davis-high-schoolImagine the scenario, which actually isn’t that far-fetched in Davis, the daughter of a school board member is looking to get into Harvard for college, but one day gets too drunk partying before a key test and flunks the test.  For the term, she gets only a B instead of an A and ruins her 4.0 grade point average.

After the teacher fails to change the grade, the school board member, using her powers of persuasion, convinces the school district not to renew her contract for the next year.  But this is a popular teacher and the parents rally to her side.  The rest of the school board meet in a special session and vote 4-1 to restore her contract with the school board member, whose daughter got the B, dissenting.

The next year, the student is again in that teacher’s class and, being a discipline problem, the teacher sends her to the principal several times, ultimately forcing the school to suspend her.  The school board member files a complaint and ultimately the teacher is suspended and fired.

If this seems impossible, consider – in a world without tenure – that is the potential minefield that a teacher might face.  It might not be the child of a school board member, but perhaps a large donor or powerful community member.

Tenure is a controversial subject, and many see it as a means to protect bad teachers.  In reality, it is a protection mechanism to protect the ability of a teacher to be able to teach their class as they see fit, give grades, and offer discipline without fear of being politically railroaded.

Those protections are not in place for coaches and principals and we have seen firsthand in the last few years the hazards of the ability of the school district to fire or terminate the contract of at-will employees.  And while the public can pressure the school district, privacy and personnel laws make it difficult, if not impossible, for the public or the media to get to the bottom of these stories.

Critics like Michelle Rhee criticize tenure as a means to protect “incompetent teachers from being fired.”

However, while tenure does not guarantee lifelong employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process – unlike the dismissal of a coach or principal.

That is by design, as it makes the process for firing teachers “deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from ousting a teacher for personal or political motives,” as Time Magazine noted in a 2008 article.

Time notes, “The start of the tenure movement paralleled similar labor struggles during the late 19th century. Just as steel and auto workers fought against unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages, teachers too demanded protection from parents and administrators who would try to dictate lesson plans or exclude controversial materials.”

Critics argue that we have made tenure for elementary and high school teachers too easy.  College professors are required to record a sizable amount of published research with long probationary periods.  K-12 teachers, on the other hand, can win tenure after working as little as two years.

But the controversy over the dismissal of the volleyball coach should depoliticize the issue of tenure.  The reality is that, in places like Davis, the failure to have tenure would turn the very act of teaching into a circus.

Just as we see the controversial firing of athletics coaches, we would see teachers under pressure, fearful that giving a B to the wrong student might result in their dismissal.

What is clear is that this is not just a problem that resides in the fact that the coach lacks tenure.  The school board knew or should have known that a problem existed here long before the issue came up again this past week.

The school district clearly needs to take steps to prevent parents who sit on the school board from using their authority to retaliate against coaches and teachers that they believe have acted detrimentally to their children.

By the same token, critics of tenure will argue that it has gone too far, making it difficult to remove teachers who are performing poorly in the classroom.  And there is little doubt this is true, but the problem is finding an objective way to separate the teacher who is performing poorly in the classroom from the teacher who is unpopular or who has upset a powerful entity in the community.

That is the heart of the matter here.  From what we can tell – based on the timeline that was published today and public discussion, it may actually be only one parent that has a problem with this coach, but because it is a parent strongly situated in the school district, the result has been not one but two dismissals.

The fact that the coach was reinstated last year and has appealed this year notwithstanding, we can see the potential in a system of at-will employees for abuse.

The question going forward in the broader public discourse is this: informed by such potential for abuse of power or undue influence, given the vulnerability that a teacher has, given the competitive process which many parents have for academic achievement, particularly in a community like Davis – is there a better way to handle poorly performing teachers while leaving key protections in place for other teachers?

I confess, I do not have a great answer to this, but I think critics of tenure need to confess that this is not an imagined danger.  We see it right here before us, in our very own community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. iPad Guy

    “The next year, the student is again in that teacher’s class and being a discipline problem, the teacher sends her to the principal several times, ultimately forcing the school to suspend her. The school board member files a complaint and ultimately the teacher is suspended and fired.”

    Just imagine, you say. Could you have you conflated anything else more inflammatory in covering this case?

    Just imagine. I get it—the imaginary teacher who gets unfairly fired is the coach; the imaginary school board member is the school board member, and the imaginary student who is being disciplinary problem is the volleyball player. You can’t be so subtle that it keeps me from figuring out your analogy.

    “But the controversy over the dismissal of the volleyball coach should depoliticize the issue of tenure.”

    We’re not getting off to a very good start.

    1. Frankly

      Agreed iPad Guy. I think David is working hard to hold on to this old liberal canard of justification for a continued support of prehistoric education system labor practices… that we now know are a giant detriment to the welfare of children.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Frankly I know you know, how intense parents in this community can be about things that effect the future success of their children, and the lengths some of them will go to ensure that their child is given every possible advantage.

        Such a parent attempting to use their influence as a school board member or over one they know to get a teacher, who they see as standing in their child’s path to success, fired, seems well in the range of possibility.

  2. growth issue

    Here’s a list of some of the negatives of teacher tenure:

    “1.Teacher tenure creates complacency because teachers know they are unlikely to lose their jobs. Tenure removes incentives for teachers to put in more than the minimum effort and to focus on improving their teaching. [8]

    2.Tenure makes it difficult to remove underperforming teachers because the process involves months of legal wrangling by the principal, the school board, the union, and the courts. A June 1, 2009 study by the New Teacher Project found that 81% of school administrators knew a poorly performing tenured teacher at their school; however, 86% of administrators said they do not always pursue dismissal of teachers because of the costly and time consuming process. It can take up to 335 days to remove a tenured teacher in Michigan before the courts get involved. [2] [4]

    3.Tenure makes seniority the main factor in dismissal decisions instead of teacher performance and quality. [21] Tenure laws maintain the “last-hired, first-fired” policy. On Feb. 24, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District, claiming that basing layoffs on seniority harms younger teachers as well as “low-income students and persons of color.” [22] On Oct. 6, 2010, both sides settled to cap or end layoffs at schools. [23]

    4.Tenure is not needed to recruit teachers. Sacramento Charter High School, which does not offer tenure, had 900 teachers apply for 80 job openings. [3]

    5.With job protections granted through court rulings, collective bargaining, and state and federal laws, teachers today no longer need tenure to protect them from dismissal. [24] For this reason, few other professions offer tenure because employees are adequately protected with existing laws. [25]

    6.Tenure makes it costly for schools to remove a teacher with poor performance or who is guilty of wrongdoing. It costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher in New York City. [27] New York spent an estimated $30 million a year paying tenured teachers accused of incompetence and wrongdoing to report to reassisgnment centers (sometimes called “rubber rooms”) where they were paid to sit idly.Those rooms were shut down on June 28, 2010. [6]

    7.With most states granting tenure after three years, teachers have not had the opportunity to “show their worth, or their ineptitude.” [28] A Nov. 21, 2008 study by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education found that the first two to three years of teaching do not predict post-tenure performance. [29]

    8.Tenure does not grant academic freedom. No Child Left Behind in 2001 took away much academic freedom when it placed so much emphasis on standardized testing. [10] According to an Oct. 1, 2006 survey published in Planning and Changing, 56% of school board presidents disagreed with the statement that teacher tenure ensures academic freedom. [18]

    9.Tenure at the K-12 level is not earned, but given to nearly everyone. To receive tenure at the university level, professors must show contributions to their fields by publishing research. At the K-12 level, teachers only need to “stick around” for a short period of time to receive tenure. [30] A June 1, 2009 study by the New Teacher Project found that less than 1% of evaluated teachers were rated unsatisfactory. [2]

    10.Tenure is unpopular among educators and the public. An Apr.-May 2011 survey of 2,600 Americans found that 49% oppose teacher tenure while 20% support it. Among teachers, 53% support tenure while 32% oppose it. According to a Sep. 2010 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 86% of education professors favor “making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers – even if they are tenured.” [31] [32]

    11.Teacher tenure does nothing to promote the education of children. Former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said in 2008, “Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but it has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults.” [27]

    12.Teacher tenure requires schools to make long-term spending commitments and prevents districts from being fiscally flexible. Teacher employment contracts generally lack provisions for declining enrollment and economic turmoil. [33]

    13.Tenure lets experienced teachers pick easier assignments and leaves difficults jobs to the least experienced teachers. Senior teachers choose to teach more resource-rich and less challenging populations instead of the classrooms that would benefit the most from experienced teachers. [34] Public Agenda President Deborah Wadsworth argues that teacher tenure leads to “a distribution of talent that is flawed and inequitable.” [34]

    14.Most school board presidents criticize teacher tenure. In an Oct. 1, 2006 survey, 91% of school board presidents either agreed or strongly agreed that tenure impedes the dismissal of underperforming teachers. 60% also believed that tenure does not promote fair evaluations. [18]”

      1. wdf1

        And on top of that, it is intellectual laziness and cowardice to not provide any sources for your quotes or endnotes. In a grade school or college class, it’s plagiarism and would get you an “F”.

        1. growth issue

          I did use “quote” marks and I see many excerpts from articles posted on this blog daily without sources listed. David has told me that one can post sections of an article as long as one doesn’t post the entire article. I’m sorry wdf1 if you don’t like the content because it conflicts with your views.

          1. Matt Williams

            G.I., if you copy and paste the webpage address for the material you quoted, I will append that link to your original post. That way everyone can focus on the substance of the material rather than the form of its posting.


          2. growth issue

            Matt, are you going to be vigilant and make everyone supply a link to all quoted material that is or ever will be posted?
            I really don’t understand the uproar, as I say I see quoted material posted on here daily without links? Why the uproar now?

          3. Matt Williams

            I actually agree with you about the uproar … that is why I asked you to help me address it.

            With that said, you clearly went to a website in order to copy and paste the material. It really isn’t a whole lot to ask that you simply go up to the white address bar and copy the address listed there, and then paste that address at the end of the quoted material. Is that an onerous thing to ask?

          4. wdf1

            My point, exactly, Matt. Thanks.

            I have a busy day and will be away from the screen until later. Will post more then. In the meantime, my thanks to Don for the link.

          5. growth issue

            Okay, but why are you jumping me when you let that practice go on here daily? Is it because the content is disagreeable to you?

          6. Matt Williams

            G.I. please send the Moderator some examples and he will try and remedy those exmples of that practice.

            If you prefer, post them here.

          7. Matt Williams

            G.I. I checked out the following dozen articles and did not find a single example in 344 total comments. So I renew my request, “Can you point me to an example?”:

            15-Feb School Board’s Role in Crawford Scandal = none

            15-Feb Down to Three: Matt Pope Leaves the Race = none

            14-Feb Panel Discussion will Highlight Police Abuse in West Sacramento = none

            14-Feb Special Commentary: District’s Failure to Conflict Out Board Member at Heart of New Controversy = one (properly attributed to the Enterprise)

            14-Feb Who Will Be the Interim City Manager: The Case For Going Outside = none

            14-Feb Closing Arguments in West Sac Police Sexual Assault Case = none

            14-Feb Achieving the Vision – Multimedia Presentation = none

            13-Feb Office City Announcement on Pinkerton’s Departure = one (properly attributed to Factfinding report for DCEA)

            13-Feb BREAKING NEWS: Board Votes 4-0 to Hear Appeal for Volleyball Coach = one (properly attributed to the Enterprise)

            13-Feb My View: Will Not Support Sales Tax Measure in June = none

            13-Feb Council Puts Water Rates on the Ballot in June; Judge Orders City Briefing in YRAPUS Case = none

            13-Feb “Achieving the Vision” – The Davis Economic Development Paradigm = none

            13-Feb Election Digest: Democratic Party Leans Toward Endorsement of Wolk = none

    1. Frankly

      David and wdf1 – I find it intellectually-lazy for the two of you to dismiss all these valid points in GI’s post because he copied them from somewhere else. David, as a journalist and someone that put time and effort into your article, I can understand your question. But wdf1, you are guilty of some of the same bad stuff that I see in the public education system as a whole… ignoring challenges and deflecting unwanted discussion using system-derived protocol artifacts.

      I read through GI’s list and every one of those points has validity.

      1. David Greenwald

        1. I raised some of those issues in my column
        2. his post was not responsive to my points
        3. his post was lazy cut and paste – ironic since you considered my response lazy.

        1. growth issue

          David, even though you did show some examples of what critics say is wrong with tenure, your article is basically backing the pracitice. I just put up some examples of what the critics are saying in the interest of fair balance.

    2. wdf1

      The rest of the article from G.I.’s post above:

      1. Tenure protects teachers from being fired for personal, political, or other non-work related reasons. Before tenure, teachers could be dismissed when a new political party took power or a principal wanted to make room to hire his friends. Women were dismissed for getting married, becoming pregnant, wearing pants, or being out too late in the evenings. [1]

      2. Tenure prohibits school districts from firing experienced teachers to hire less experienced and less expensive teachers. The threat of firing has increased in recent years as many school districts face budget cuts. [8] Marcia Rothman, a teacher for 14 years, said at a Dec. 16, 2010 protest in New York, “They don’t want old experienced teachers who are too expensive. It’s a concerted effort to harass older teachers, so they can hire two young teachers.” [9]

      3. Tenure protects teachers from being fired for teaching unpopular, controversial, or otherwise challenged cirricula such as evolutionary biology and controversial literature. [10] According to Edison State College teacher David McGrath, tenure “ensures academic freedom to teach important concepts such as evolution, and classic texts such as ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ all of which have been banned by some school districts, as recently as this year [2010], in America.” [11]

      4. The promise of a secure and stable job attracts many teachers to the teaching profession, and eliminating teacher tenure would hamper teacher recruitment. Starting salaries for teachers are frequently lower than other occupations requiring similar levels of education and training. [12] A Mar. 2008 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that public school teachers received 15% lower weekly earnings than workers with comparable education and work experience. [13]

      5. Tenure helps guarantee innovation in teaching. Without the protection of tenure, teachers may feel pressured to use the same lesson plans and teach directly to standardized tests. [14] Former California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr said, “Teachers are afraid to try new, innovative things if they are afraid of losing their job.” [3]

      6. Teacher tenure is a justifiable reward for several years of positive evaluations by school administrators. Administrators are responsible for evaluating teachers before granting tenure and helping to develop struggling teachers. The existence of inadequate teachers should be blamed on the poor judgment of administrators, not teacher tenure. According to a 2008 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, not a single state has even “partly” developed a “meaningful” tenure-granting process. [15] [4]

      7. Tenure is a good system that has become a scapegoat for problems facing education. Eliminating tenure will not reduce class sizes or make schools cleaner and safer. [16] If tenure is abolished, problems of underfunding, overcrowding, and lack of control over students’ home lives will persist. [10]

      8. Tenure allows teachers to advocate on behalf of students and disagree openly with school and district administrators. [14] Award-winning history teacher Kerry Sylvia said that without tenure, she would be afraid of being fired because of her public opposition to initiatives by administrators. [17]

      9. Contrary to public perception, tenure does not guarantee a teacher a job for life. Each state’s tenure laws establish strict requirements and processes for removing a tenured teacher. Tenure also guarantees teachers a termination hearing before the board of education or an impartial hearing panel. [18]

      10. Tenure protects teachers from being prematurely fired after a student makes a false accusation or a parent threatens expensive legal action against the district. After an accusation, districts might find it expedient to quickly remove a teacher instead of investigating the matter and incurring potentially expensive legal costs. The thorough removal process mandated by tenure rules ensures that teachers are not removed without a fair hearing. [14]

      11. Tenure encourages the careful selection of qualified and effective teachers. Since it is difficult to remove tenured teachers, tenure encourages school administrators to take more care when making hiring decisions. Additionally, tenure prompts administrators to dismiss underperforming teachers before they achieve tenure and cannot be removed as easily. [19]

      12. The formal dismissal process guaranteed by tenure protects teachers from punitive evaluation systems and premature dismissal. It allows under-performing teachers a chance to improve their skills rather than be hastily fired. [4]

      13. Tenure allows teachers to work more effectively since they do not need to be in constant fear of losing their jobs. [19] Without the anxiety and fear of losing employment, teachers can focus their efforts on providing the best education for students.

      #5 and #8 above apply to the situation in the Success Academy cited by Frankly below. If you don’t follow the game plan and directly contribute to higher standardized test scores, then you’re out of there. It doesn’t matter if you think there are ethical problems, or that non-template learners could be better accommodated in other ways.

      1. Frankly

        wdf1 – I give you credit for working so damn hard to protect the education status quo. It is folks like you that help the heroes of progress to hone their game.

        So, what you are basically saying/arguing, is that the only reason that these charter schools in New York have achieved so much better outcomes having a student demographic that is primarily the children of disadvantaged families, is that they push out the low-performing students, but the public schools cannot. Is that correct?

        1. wdf1

          Frankly: It is folks like you that help the heroes of progress to hone their game.

          Does it occur to you that it is folks like you that help the heroes of progress on the other side to hone their game?

          So, what you are basically saying/arguing, is that the only reason that these charter schools in New York have achieved so much better outcomes having a student demographic that is primarily the children of disadvantaged families, is that they push out the low-performing students, but the public schools cannot. Is that correct?

          It is a main reason, yes. Rather than low-performing students, an alternative familiar phrase to you might be “non-template learners.”

          Also, another characteristic of many charter schools who cite improved standardized test scores relative to other schools is that they focus on math and English language arts to such a high degree that they don’t teach much else.

    3. wdf1

      From G.I., 8:43 a.m.: 4.Tenure is not needed to recruit teachers. Sacramento Charter High School, which does not offer tenure, had 900 teachers apply for 80 job openings. [3]

      That was in 2003. That also happened to be in the wake of the recession previous to the Great Recession. There would have been lots of teachers laid off or looking for work then.

      1. Frankly

        So, are you denying that there are plenty of qualified applicants for teacher jobs that lack a tenure opportunity?

        As an aside, I would think that people attracted to a job that gives them life-long job security might not be the type of people we need to have educating our kids these days.

        1. wdf1

          A lot of ideas about school reform come from the business world. Not everything from the business world necessarily applies to teaching conditions or motivations that individuals have who go into teaching.

          Teachers are not necessarily going to be motivated by money. At best they would prefer to have enough to not worry about it. I think most teachers are motivated by a sense of purpose about making a difference in the lives of others with their careers. I don’t know any teachers who have gone into the profession for the money. That is only one of several mismatches in assumptions behind merit pay.

          Motivation by fear also may not promote an effort to be creative and try new things, but rather stick with what the conservative administrative establishment game plan is. In other words, the status quo, which is measuring the quality of teaching and education through standardized tests.

          The business world tends to operate on a shorter time frame than is ideal for viewing education, i.e., making quarterly earnings, etc.. It takes 13 years to get a student from kindergarten to 12th grade. ~17 years if you throw in 4 years of undergraduate education. In the standardized test score environment, teaching quality is being defined by what is testable, and that may not include social, life, and work skills that might be more beneficial in the long term. The result is that you will have graduates who are great at taking tests but might suck at interacting effectively with customers in retail sales.

          Related to time-frame perspectives, a kindergarten teacher enjoys seeing a high school graduate come back to visit years later. That experience allows the teacher to get some feedback on how the student’s experience was through school and going into college and beyond. It may confirm that the teacher’s efforts in the student’s early years were worthwhile. Or it may bring into focus how the teacher could have done a better job. If the prevailing philosophy is that experienced teachers are past their prime and should be shown the door to make way for younger, “fresher”, and “more energetic” teachers (something that is suggested in your comment above), then how is that long term feedback ever going to be a positive factor? The institutional memory will be gone, education system will have moved on to the next fad — new math, whole language, NCLB, Common Core, etc.

          There is also a tendency in your thinking to value individual motivation over teamwork. Also decoupling education from poverty remediation programs. You claim that I use poverty as an excuse, that education alone will solve poverty conditions. I would advocate a system in which parents who need help (health care, food/nutrition needs, counseling, adult English classes, GED programs for parents) can go to their kids’ school to get some of these services, or at least get meaningful assistance to go elsewhere nearby for services. Teachers in lower income neighborhoods realistically have to have some social worker skills (or be able to refer to a professional social worker close by) to help a kid. During budget cuts, schools take on a perspective that strictly education is their mission, so cut the nurses, psychologists, and any other potential family assistance or counseling. An expression of that teamwork concept is found in the phrase, “it takes a village,” a concept that you eagerly disparage.

          Personally, I am more ambivalent about social welfare programs that help only adults. But I do find it worthwhile to promote social welfare program to help kids and their families who need it.

          1. Frankly

            I have a lot to respond to. I will later when I have some time.

            Suffice it to say at this point that I think there is whole lot you don’t know about best-practices in human resource leadership and basic motivation theory. There is nothing more or less altruistic in teaching than in any other profession. The human motivation drivers to make a difference and be recognized is the same regardless of what profession you chose. And your point that teachers don’t care about the money is in direct conflict with the recent demand by Davis teachers to be paid more.

            I have spent time in the school system both as a student and as a parent of students. I have also contributed time to the schools when my kids were attending. However, I doubt that you have spent much time working with and experiencing well managed private-sector companies that are good at human resource management. I have. I suggest you put some time into this and then come back to argue these points.

          2. Don Shor

            The human motivation drivers to make a difference and be recognized is the same regardless of what profession you chose…

            This blog post is an interesting perspective on motivation:
            My recollection from an Ag Econ class many years ago was that money is not a motivator, but the absence of money is a demotivator. As from what is usually called the ‘two-factor theory’: you don’t get better results or happier employees when you give them more money. But if the money you give them is perceived as being insufficient, you will have less motivated, less satisfied employees. You motivate them by giving them recognition, opportunities for personal growth, and ways to achieve better results. As he notes in the blog article: autonomy, mastery, and purpose are motivators.
            I think that wages and salaries may be presently demotivating factors for Davis teachers because they have gone several years without increases. It is possible that could be overcome by changing the step increases, rewarding them for achieving extra certifications or mastering other skills, etc.

  3. Day Man

    Either we hold teachers accountable but live with the risk of political manipulation, or we protect them from political manipulation and have almost no accountability. Tenure is the latter. I’d prefer the former. Of course political manipulation is bad, and of course if all else were equal we’d want to protect them from political manipulation. But all else is NOT equal. Protection from political manipulation at the expense of accountability is not worth it, in my opinion.

    Now, if someone has a proposal for how to protect from political manipulation while still maintaining strict accountability, of course that’s the best of all worlds, and I’ll support it.

    1. Phil Coleman

      The “either/or” dilemma described here is a bit simplistic, but probably deliberately so for the sake of brevity. Political intervention and interference in personnel matters is not limited to teachers, or even in the broader level of public service. I, too, await a proposal for an equitable solution.

    2. Frankly

      Welcome to life. The risks of exploitation of power against the less powerful is not isolated to the job of teaching… it is universal. And if we want to do an accounting of this, it is students that most suffer from this exploitation of power from some of the very teachers that demand we remove any and all of their risks.

  4. Frankly

    Tenure create a huge burden preventing districts from weeding out ineffective teachers. There is a strong connection between the poor quality of teachers and “a grossly substandard education” that the most vulnerable families and children are getting.

    In an academic research study Northwestern University, the researchers found clear evidence that students learned more from non-tenured teachers.

    We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students.

    In California “Students Matter” is suing the state that tenure is unconstitutional. In Vergara v. California, the plaintiff “challenges the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.”

    In New York, Eva Moskowitz, the Executive Director of a very successful and growing Charter School non-profit, has the New York and national teachers unions in a frenzy of political spending to destroy what she has built.

    “The 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.”

    Ms. Moskowitz has a very simple and interesting justification for moving away from the old public school model. She says “It’s incredibly boring”. Related to that she says “We think one of the sins of American education is intellectually underestimating children.”

    She rightly points out that traditional public schools lack the flexibility to design a curriculum and hire and fire teachers (the tenure problem). She says “engagement doesn’t cost any money. It can be done tomorrow if the adults decide that boredom is not acceptable and you embrace a curriculum that’s interesting and rigorous.”

    Tenure is just plain stupid. It is one of the primary indications that the education system is broken beyond repair and must be blown up and rebuilt.

    David uses hypothetical, and somewhat fanciful, stories to make his case. But what he has failed to do is focus on the welfare of the students. He takes the common path of liberal Democrats these days to focus their consideration on the teachers as a first priority. However, what Davis and others… including many teachers… don’t even realize is that they are actually doing a great disservice to the profession of teaching by defending tenure. I know people that are fantastic teachers. And I know terrible teachers. Those that are fantastic have found their calling. Those that are terrible are in the wrong career. Yet tenure serves as both a “job lock” (to quote Nancy Pelosi on the benefit of 2.5 million fewer jobs as a result of Obamacare) to people in the wrong career, and a job impediment to all of those gifted teachers that would be a perfect fit.

    So tenure hurts teachers and it hurts the kids.

    Who does it benefit?

    1. David Greenwald

      “David uses hypothetical, and somewhat fanciful, stories to make his case. But what he has failed to do is focus on the welfare of the students”

      Not really what I looked at was applying the situation of Crawford to a teaching situation. Funny that you call it fanciful. The welfare of the students is clearly part of the situation, if they get caught up in a circus that won’t help.

      1. Frankly

        I said “somewhat fanciful”.

        I agree with your point that a student in the path if not well served, but you have not made any case for how tenure helps prevent that, or that benefits students in any way, shape or form.

    2. wdf1

      Frankly: About Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academies. Great scores, but read the fine print. If you want that kind of school for your child, good. But be sure to research the negatives, too. As someone who raised a “non-traditional” learner (i.e., severe ADHD diagnosis plus other things), I am personally sensitive to this issue. At one point we searched for schools that might be a better fit (including private, and what charter schools existed back then), but Davis public schools were the best we could find.

      Success Academy parent’s secret tapes reveal attempt to push out special needs student

      The News reported earlier this week that the Success network, which boasts some of the highest test scores in the city, also has far higher suspension rates than other elementary schools and that more than two dozen parents were claiming efforts to push their children out.

      How To Define ‘Success’?

      About Success

      So the next thing I looked at was their student attrition. If they ‘lost’ many students, these scores are tainted. Now there is only one Success school that has been around since 2007. That school started with 83 kindergarteners and 73 first graders. Those cohorts just tested in 6th and 7th grade, respectively. The school has ‘lost’ a big chunk of those original 156 kids. Of those 73 first graders in 2007, only 35 took the seventh grade test. Of the 83 kindergarteners, only 47 took the sixth grade test last spring. Overall, they have ‘lost’ 47% of the original two cohorts. If this is one of the costs of having such high test scores, I’m not sure if it is worth it.

      For the four cohorts that just took the fourth grade tests, those 316 students were, back in 2009, 443 kindergarteners, so they have ‘lost’ 29% of those cohorts. Now their high test scores aren’t completely explained by this nearly 30% attrition rate, but it is still something worth noting as we consider if this program is ‘scalable’ or not.

      When a school is ‘healthy,’ teacher are happy there and want to stay there. The Success schools are known to have huge attrition of teachers, in the neighborhood of 50% per year. I received this comment recently from a teacher who taught at one, which indicates that there are some good things about the school, but that there is a lot of test prep as well:

    1. wdf1

      Yes. Vergara vs. California. John Deasy is the Supt. of L.A. Unified.

      Deasy provides fodder for both sides in lawsuit

      The case, Vergara vs. California, challenges a set of laws that affect how teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure. Advocates contend that these regulations hinder the removal of ineffective teachers, diminishing the quality of the teacher workforce — an effect, they say, that disproportionately hurts low-income and minority students. This outcome make these laws unconstitutional, they contend.

      Deasy spent three days on the witness stand last week helping to make this argument. He testified that he is simply unable to remove all “grossly ineffective” teachers and that taking action against them has proved prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

      “Dr. Deasy doesn’t engage in speculation,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Marcellus McRae, who called Deasy as the first witness. “He has his hands on the steering wheel. And he’s telling people life as it really is.”

      In cross-examination, however, Deasy’s testimony also demonstrated a school system’s latitude under current law. The issue comes down to the choices and competence of management, not the constitutionality of current regulations, said attorneys for the state and teachers unions.

      Deasy’s testimony began with friendly questioning from McRae. The superintendent said that firing an ineffective teacher requires “volumes of documentation,” can consume several years and is “challenged at every step by the teachers union.” The typical cost can be about $350,000, he said.

      The difficulty of the process ends up harming student achievement as well as teachers’ morale, which is pulled down by working alongside an ineffective colleague, Deasy said.

      The superintendent added that an independent panel can reinstate a fired teacher. He repeatedly cited the case of a teacher who got his job back even after the panel concluded that the instructor probably cheated to improve students’ scores on state standardized tests.

      “We who hire cannot make a judgment to fire,” Deasy said.

      Attorneys for the other side, however, then brought forward data in which Deasy has taken pride: the increasing number of teachers fired or forced out.

      In 2011-12, L.A. Unified fired 99 tenured teachers. This compares to 10 in 2009-10, before Deasy became superintendent. In 2011-12, 122 teachers resigned in lieu of being terminated.

      The district also barred the transfer of teachers with poor performance reviews and gave principals the right to refuse jobs to instructors who lost positions at other schools.

      Deasy also criticized rules that force principals to decide whether to grant the job protections of tenure to a teacher after 18 months. A longer trial period would result in fewer bad teachers, he said.

      But Deasy also noted that he doubled the number of teachers who were refused tenure and thus were dismissed after their second year. As far as making good tenure decisions, “I believe we have done a good job at accomplishing that,” Deasy testified.

  5. Rich Rifkin

    Tenure is bad for education. It’s bad for K-12 students. And it’s bad for colleges. It does have some advantages in some cases. This might be one of them. However, the negatives (laid out by other posters above) far outweigh the positives. I think this all comes down to the question: Do we have public education for the benefit of public employees (i.e., the teachers)? Or do we spend our money on this enterprise to benefit the students? My own view is that it is the latter. Our primary focus then needs to be to erect a system which best serves their educational needs. And clearly, in my opinion, teacher tenure on the whole harms students, making it impossible to remove bad teachers.

    1. Jim Frame

      Cesar Chavez Elementary used to have a notoriously bad teacher, one who was mentally unstable to the point that she once tried to commit suicide in her classroom (after hours, thankfully). She was so bad that parents would transfer their kids out of the school for the year when their child got that teacher, so bad that she would start the school year with a full class and finish with as few as 6 kids. Parents complained for years — around a decade, I think — but the district was “unable to get rid of her.”

      I was at a social gathering the year before this teacher was finally sent packing, and got into a conversation with an attorney who specialized in school district matters, sometimes representing districts, sometimes representing complaining parents. I related the tale of this teacher, and he told me that if the district really wanted to fire the teacher they could do it in a matter of weeks, but most likely the Superintendent just didn’t want to spend the time, energy and political capital fighting the union over the matter. So instead of ousting this disastrous employee — admittedly a multiple-sigma outlier when it comes to problem teachers — the school had to limp along with kids traumatized by her volatile behavior and parents having to go to extraordinary steps to get their kids out of her zone of toxicity.

      I’m not familiar enough with K-12 matter to know where collective bargaining agreements leave off and tenure begins. But I think tenure plays an important role in post-secondary education, where protecting political independence plays a much more important role. Tenure abuses abound — we’ve all heard tales of tenured professors who essentially retire in place — but I bet those who abuse the privilege could be weeded out if there was sufficient will at the top to do so, and without dismantling the tenure system.

      1. Michelle Millet

        We need to offer protection to teachers so they can’t be fired for reasons like a parent or principal or a school board member not liking them.

        It also needs to be easier to fire the kind of incompetent and potentially harmful teacher mentioned above.

        As a side note, unions should support the removal of such teachers.

        1. Rich Rifkin

          “We need to offer protection to teachers so they can’t be fired for reasons like a parent or principal or a school board member not liking them.”

          Michelle, it all depends on WHY a parent, principal or board member does not like the teacher. Very often the dislike is due to poor performance. If poor performance can be demonstrated, then firing the teacher has to be one option available to the district. Generally, the principal is the best person to know who her bad teachers are and who the good ones are.

          When I was at Davis High, I had TWO bad teachers one year. Both were somewhat older men with serious drinking problems. Every teacher and school administrator knew these two were drunks and bad teachers. But they had tenure. Nothing could bee done to get rid of them. So my courses in US government and chemistry were complete wastes of time.

          When I was an elementary school student (at what was then called West Davis Intermediate), I had another terribly incompetent teacher. He was not young, but it was his first year in the district and he did not have tenure. After 4-5 weeks, when almost every parent complained, the guy was taken out of the classroom and fired at the end of the school year.

          What you need to understand is that for a lot of students–especially those coming from lousy homes where their parents don’t provide a stimulating environment–one bad elementary teacher can destroy the entire course of their education and their lives thereafter. It is crucial that bad teachers are removed or (if good teachers think it will help) they need to be retrained and mentored by teachers who know what they are doing.

          In my case, I was lucky to come from a good home and I was genetically gifted. So my few bad teachers–most I had were competent or better–did not destroy my life. But other children are not so lucky.

          1. Michelle Millet

            Teachers shouldn’t be fired JUST because a principal, parent, or school board member does not like them.

            Bad teachers that destroy the lives of students, who are not as genetically gifted as you, should go.

    2. wdf1

      Rifkin: And clearly, in my opinion, teacher tenure on the whole harms students, making it impossible to remove bad teachers.

      That is an assumption that doesn’t seem to be challenged. It seems to be in the realm of “everyone knows this to be the case.” Student Matters (cited elsewhere by Frankly) reports this:

      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.

      And yet the L.A. Times reports this court testimony from the current lawsuit:

      In 2011-12, L.A. Unified fired 99 tenured teachers. This compares to 10 in 2009-10, before Deasy became superintendent. In 2011-12, 122 teachers resigned in lieu of being terminated.

      The district also barred the transfer of teachers with poor performance reviews and gave principals the right to refuse jobs to instructors who lost positions at other schools.

      This tells me a couple of things: (1) That maybe a number of school administrators aren’t doing their jobs. (2) This is an employment procedure that is normally done behind closed doors and with confidentiality. How do we know who is leaving because the administration identified poor performance?

  6. Mark West

    The proper solution to David’s hypothetical is not tenure, but for the other members of the School Board to hold their colleague to a proper standard of behavior. Good governance requires that the actions of the offending Board Member be publicly called out and sanctioned. If the School Board Members hold each other to a proper standard of behavior, there is no need for special protection of teachers as a class against the inappropriate action of a single Board member.

    1. Tia Will

      Perhaps someone more familiar with tenure as it exists in the school system can help me out with this. A few threads ago Matt had made a comparison between the lack of tenure for doctors ( and had mentioned Kaiser specifically) and tenure for public school teachers. I would like to explain a little about the similarities and differences between the two systems from the point of view of a Kaiser doc who has been involved in hiring and administration.

      Although we do not have “tenure” as such, we do have what could be considered similar in that we have essentially a “probationary period” with two tiers followed by what could be considered analogous to “tenure” but which we call “senior physician” status.

      It works like this. A new hire is under fairly strict departmental supervision for a set time period during which they are assessed on their technical skills, fund of knowledge, appropriate medical decision making, interactions with colleagues, staff and patients and given feedback directly by their assistant chief and an assigned mentor so that they have the chance to improve any areas of weakness. At the end of that period they are put forward by their department for a vote of all senior physicians for advancement to a second tier position of what is called a participant. At this time they are anticipated to be fully contributory in all of the above parameters and to also take on other contributory roles within the group such as participation on committees, supervision of residents or medical student programs, peer educational programs, and the like.
      If at the end of this time period, they have fulfilled all of their duties and are judged to be fully contributing, they are again nominated by their department and put to a second vote of the entire senior physician group to advance to senior physician. This position offers relative protection so that a senior physician cannot be arbitrarily fired or demoted because a of a hostile assistant chief, or chief of department. Removal of a senior physician requires investigation, opportunities for improvement in the specified area, and thorough documentation of the deficiencies and failure to achieve improvement within a reasonable time period.

      I am frankly surprised that such a system that protects teachers from arbitrary dismissal for personal, philosophic,
      or ideologic reasons while still protecting the students from incompetence, negligence, or hostility on the part of the teacher does not seem to exist. All that would be needed would be agreement on some very specific measures of competency. A few suggestions would be : yearly competency tests to demonstrate continued mastery of their subject area ( analogous to our required yearly board re certificaiton tests ), periodic review of lesson plans ( analogous to our periodic chart review), periodic measurement of parent satisfaction ( analogous to our patient satisfaction surveys), and yearly assessment of the student gain in competency of the subject matter in the form of before and after mastery tests ( analogous to our percentage of patients screened for certain diseases or chronic conditions managed so as to meet target goals).

      In the opinion of those of you with more experience with the school system, would not such a system meet the criteria for protection of both the teacher and the students ? What would the down sides of such a system be ?

  7. wdf1

    Some of my reaction to the negative positions on the teacher tenure issue:

    There is the assumption that “incompetent” teachers aren’t being removed, or threatened with removal. You would never know either way, because it is an employment issue and subject to closed door hearings, unless somehow something got leaked to the media.

    Vanguard: However, while tenure does not guarantee lifelong employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process – unlike the dismissal of a coach or principal.

    If principals are more easily dismissed than teachers, that is a problem. Because then principals really don’t have incentive to initiate removing an “incompetent” teacher.

    How do you define an incompetent teacher? Is it the same way you would define an incompetent coach? Is it what a school board member thinks should be the definition of incompetent? Does Frankly get to decide what defines incompetence?

    I agree with Jim Frame’s example that the teacher, as he described above, clearly needed help. But I question some other examples that I have heard of teacher incompetence in Davis.

  8. J.R.

    Some see tenure as a protection mechanism to protect the ability of a teacher to be able to teach their class as they see fit, give grades, and offer discipline without fear of being politically railroaded.

    In reality, tenure is a means to protect bad teachers.

    (Sorry David. You don’t get to control reality.)

  9. wdf1

    Another issue connected to the teacher tenure issue. This is what life is like as a teacher in Catholic schools: Gay Marriages Confront Catholic School Rules

    The ouster of Mr. Z, as the former vice principal, Mark Zmuda, is known, comes amid a wave of firings and forced resignations of gay men and lesbians from Roman Catholic institutions across the country, in most cases prompted not directly by the employees’ sexuality, but by their decisions to marry as same-sex marriage becomes legal in an increasing number of states.

    This month, the band and choir director at a Catholic school in Ohio was fired hours after he told the school’s president that he planned to marry his boyfriend; in December, a French and Spanish teacher at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania was fired days after telling his principal he was applying for a marriage license in New Jersey. Similar ousters have taken place at Catholic schools, universities and parishes in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Missouri, New York and North Carolina.

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