Teacher Tenure

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teacherby Blair Howard

In the past few months, the Vergara v. California suit has been making headlines.   This lawsuit argues that teacher tenure is detrimental to students’ civil rights as teacher tenure impedes student access to quality education, because bad teachers cannot be fired.  Coincidentally, one of the first responses to an op-ed from the DTA executive board last month addressing teacher concerns about the district complaint process was that it was impossible to fire teachers, which, to that reader, made the complaint process unsatisfactory. The issue of how teachers are fired or not fired is a complex and timely topic.

From my vantage point, it seems the perception of the public is that it is nearly impossible to get rid of teachers, and that teachers unions wholeheartedly support bad teachers.  I would like to refute these erroneous beliefs and offer some insight as a person who has seen situations that resulted in teachers leaving the district or education altogether.

In supporting the belief that teachers cannot be fired,   opponents of teacher tenure will often cite the low number of teachers who were fired after gaining tenure and who were dismissed after going through the process to be terminated-the plaintiffs in the Vergara lawsuit put that number at 91 throughout the state.    While the number of teachers who get fired through this process is small, it does not count the many ways which teachers can be removed from their position.

For instance, the first two years in a district are automatically probationary, meaning that at any time an administrator can tell an educator they are fired. The principal does not need to give a specific reason or cause. As a result, many teachers are anxious for those two years, never speaking out for fear of losing their position if they cause trouble for the principal or controversy with parents. Additionally, districts can prolong non-permanent status in multiple ways, including keeping teachers on temporary contracts and delaying moving through the probationary process.  Moreover, because of budgetary layoffs, many teachers find jobs in other districts, which effectively starts their tenure clock all over again.

In this district I have a seen a number of teachers not invited back before they received permanent status. Permanent status, or tenure, is granted after two years of being evaluated in a district.   If administrators or colleagues have concerns about the ability of a teacher to perform their duties well, then it is on the administrator to either deny permanent status or coach the person so that they can become a better educator.     While tenure does not grant a job for life, it does guarantee a due process of teacher dismissal.

So what happens if after gaining tenure, a teacher is not performing up to expectations?   Many issues can influence the effectiveness of teachers, but they usually come up through the evaluation process or through observed concerns by an administrator. Most of the time, these concerns can be addressed and, if the administrator does their job, the teacher can improve at their job. The contract also provided for teachers to receive coaching through a peer through a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). As a former PAR advisor, I can attest that this program can work well as it provides a non-punitive route for a teacher to get help and improve their teaching.  Unfortunately, these steps do not always lead to improvement and next steps are required.

As an association, DTA and all teachers unions, have an obligation to represent and advocate for their members. In situations moving towards dismissal, the DTA must represent their member. The DTA can encourage an educator to find another place of employment that may fit them better, negotiate a buyout or suggest other routes to move the teacher out of the classroom. It is for this reason that many dismissal cases are never heard, because the teacher either moves on by their own volition, or leaves the district with some sort of encouragement.   Therefore, the numbers citing so few teachers being dismissed do not capture the full picture.

I would also like to clarify that the role of the association is not to protect bad teachers at all costs, but rather to ensure that due process is always followed, and that the process results in having high quality educators for all students.    Due process for both poor evaluations and complaints is important. In both cases when a teacher is accused of something, there should be an impartial process gets to the truth of the matter, and determines appropriate steps to resolve the situation.

The tenure system provides some protection for teachers much in the way that it protects college professors, a concept that is familiar to many people in Davis.  Tenure was instituted to protect teachers from the whims of administrators and other community dynamics that deprived teachers of employment. Teachers were fired for having unacceptable political views, becoming pregnant, getting married, teaching evolution, or wearing pants as a woman.   I view tenure as an alternative form of compensation. Teachers are not compensated at levels commensurate with their education, the demands of their work or their importance to society, so other benefits are offered such as a defined retirement and tenure. We trade security for pay.

Teacher Tenure and the Classroom

Ensuring that high quality educators are in each classroom is an interest shared by the district and the Davis Teachers Association. Many factors contribute to attracting and maintaining educators to the DJUSD including working conditions, compensation and the value expressed for their work. In our state, roughly 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. The question should not be how do we get rid of bad teachers, but how do we keep good ones?

Many dynamics contribute to attracting and maintaining educators to the DJUSD including working conditions, the value expressed for their work as well as compensation. Parents and students may not always agree with an educator’s decision, At the end of the day, as professionals, teachers work to try to reach the best possible outcome for all students, keeping in mind that we are beholden not only to individuals, but the community at large, the state and the nation. The vast majority of educators in the district are passionate, dedicated teachers who take great pride in their work and the service they provide for the community.

Blair Howard is the current President of the Davis Teacher’s Association.  This is part of a monthly column from DTA.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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32 thoughts on “Teacher Tenure”

  1. South of Davis

    Blair wrote:

    > From my vantage point, it seems the perception
    > of the public is that it is nearly impossible to get rid
    > of teachers

    Then he goes on to point out that it is in fact “nearly impossible” to fire a teacher (91 teachers is less than one tenth of one percent of teachers in CA and that rounds to a 0% chance of getting fired).

    > and that teachers unions wholeheartedly
    > support bad teachers. I would like to refute these
    > erroneous beliefs

    then he says “all teachers unions, have an obligation to represent and advocate for their members. ”

    It looks like these are not “erroneous beliefs” if the person who says he is going to “refute” them just “supports” them.

    I’m a supporter of teachers and for the most part the teachers in Davis (and other neighborhoods that have parents who care) are great.

    Unfortunately the system we have where it is “nearly impossible” to fire a teacher just ends up pushing all the teachers that should be fired in to poor areas where (unfortunately) most of the parents don’t care (and/or complain).

    For more than 30 years I’ve been tutoring underprivileged kids off and on and with rare exceptions (like a TFA kid) the teachers in these “bad/rough/poor/gang” areas are horrible.

    Below is link to more info I got from a friend who is real involved with Democrats for Education Reform after the Vergara lawsuit went to trial:

    http://studentsmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/SM_Opening-Remarks-Presentation_01.26.14.pdf

    I hope the teachers union realizes that it is not just super right wing Republicans that want to reform tenure, but a lot of super liberal, pro union Democrats of color who are bummed that poor districts that need the best teachers have become the dumping ground of bad teachers who want to do as little as possible before getting their CalSTRS pension and retiring.

    1. Frankly

      Nice post SOD. Unfortunately this piece by Mr. Howard gets a D+ for lack of demonstrated critical thinking skills. But that fits the model for what we are used to from education establishment thinkers.

      Let’s be clear… there should be no room for any teacher other than those that are either developing excellence at a reasonable pace, or experienced and demonstrating consistent excellence.

      What percentage of teachers could we identify as failing to perform at a level of excellence? How many of those teachers are tenured and looking forward to their retirement?

      The issue here isn’t just teacher performance; it is a failure of leadership. The entire business of teaching needs to be transformed. The entire system needs to qualify for an A+ grade. What we have today is an average D+ system, with Davis getting a B- and many urban school districts getting an F.

      Teachers need to be at-will employees with clear performance expectations. So do principles and administrators. They most perform at the top levels in order to keep their jobs. This is not a hostile concept in any way shape or form, since 95% of the working world have these very conditions.

      1. wdf1

        Frankly: Let’s be clear… there should be no room for any teacher other than those that are either developing excellence at a reasonable pace, or experienced and demonstrating consistent excellence.

        Once again, Frankly, measurements. How do you measure these things?

        Your essay on measurements is way overdue.

        1. Frankly

          “These are employment proceedings, so many details will remain confidential.”

          One of the great big problems with education is that it operates like a cartel. Since academics have the lock on media-qualification for research, it is absolutely the fox guarding the hen house.

          It is astounding to me that so many are duped into allowing over 60% of our total state and local tax dollars to be spent on a system that is allowed to withhold information from the public… and that clearly is under-performing with respect to our needs.

          1. Frankly

            No. I started working on it and then realized I would likely be significantly challenged and targeted and so it turned into a more in-depth research project. And I have been lacking the sit down time to complete it.

            I know quite a lot about the best practices in employee performance management, but not the current practices in the education field. And this is where I have been frustrated with the lack of information and it has become even more clear that the system is rigged like a cartel to prevent outsiders from seeing inside the box.

            So, I have to talk to people I know and trust… and then this becomes a much bigger project. And so it is taking me more time since I don’t have a lot of free time these days. I have to work 6 months of the year just to pay my taxes… 60% of which goes to fund our under-performing education system.

            What a dilemma.

        2. Mark West

          “Many issues can influence the effectiveness of teachers, but they usually come up through the evaluation process or through observed concerns by an administrator. Most of the time, these concerns can be addressed and, if the administrator does their job, the teacher can improve at their job. The contract also provided for teachers to receive coaching through a peer through a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). As a former PAR advisor, I can attest that this program can work well as it provides a non-punitive route for a teacher to get help and improve their teaching.”

          According to the author, the method of evaluation already exists and is in work today. Do you disagree?

      2. hpierce

        Sorry to pun… our “principles” should not be ‘at-will’… however, I recall my dad saying “it’s not that I didn’t like high school, it was just the principal of the thing”. Best to all.

  2. Mr. Toad

    “For more than 30 years I’ve been tutoring underprivileged kids off and on and with rare exceptions (like a TFA kid) the teachers in these “bad/rough/poor/gang” areas are horrible.”

    I taught all sorts of kids and I can tell you its much easier to teach kids who are prepared to learn. It is much more difficult to teach kids in “bad/rough/poor/gang/” areas. I was the same person in both areas but I had better outcomes in a better situation. The teachers I worked with in the high risk program were amazing, dedicated, hard working, conscientious, caring, and diligent. Its unfair to generalize in such a manner. These teachers you are so willing to condemn in mass have a tough job. You really should try to walk in their shoes before you them. I did see inexperienced teachers struggle and fail and when my own personal health problems started effecting my ability to get the job done my boss helped me find my way out. As the author states few teachers go through the entire termination process because most find another way out. As in most jobs its better to resign than get fired and that is the route most teachers take before push comes to shove.

  3. wdf1

    SoD: Then he goes on to point out that it is in fact “nearly impossible” to fire a teacher (91 teachers is less than one tenth of one percent of teachers in CA and that rounds to a 0% chance of getting fired).

    In the Vergara trial, John Deasy, former Superintendent for LA schools affirmed, under oath:

    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.
    source

    If one school district can fire 99 tenured teachers in one year, it makes me skeptical when you introduce that 91 tenured teachers were fired state wide in a year.

    Also missing from this discussion is the ability to evaluate how many tenured teachers were forced or encouraged to quit or retire before being fired.

    These are employment proceedings, so many details will remain confidential.

    But Deasy’s testimony suggests that administrators can do an effective job of removing teachers if they choose to.

    1. South of Davis

      wdf1 wrote:

      > If one school district can fire 99 tenured teachers in one year, it
      > makes me skeptical when you introduce that 91 tenured teachers
      > were fired state wide in a year.

      The union in LA knew the Vergara case was going to trial and decided to “let” the district fire some people (including some really bad people that never should have been around kids) rather than let them take the stand and help make some BIG changes to tenure in the state.

      How many teachers have been fired in Davis (ever)?

      1. wdf1

        The union in LA knew the Vergara case was going to trial and decided to “let” the district fire some people (including some really bad people that never should have been around kids) rather than let them take the stand and help make some BIG changes to tenure in the state.

        Citation?

        How many teachers have been fired in Davis (ever)?

        Again, from my comments above, I don’t think firings are procedures that the district, or any other employer, would typically advertise, so how would anyone know one way or another.

        Also, I suspect (though I have no proof) that a number of teacher retirements and resignations in Davis may have been, in part, to avoid worse consequences for staying on the job, including potential firing. But clearly what you want is an airing of dirty laundry on this issue, which I don’t think the administration would engage in public.

        1. South of Davis

          wdf1 wrote:

          > Again, from my comments above, I don’t think firings are procedures
          > that the district, or any other employer, would typically advertise

          It is not a secret that many teachers should be fired:
          “In Los Angeles About 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million”

          http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/06/local/me-teachers6

          The Daily News reports traditional rubber rooms have been replaced with unused offices and even cramped utility closets, where although numbers have improved, on an average day roughly 200 teachers sit and collect their normal salaries. And for their time, the city is projected to shell out a staggering $22 million to teachers doing absolutely nothing this year alone.

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/16/rubber-rooms-in-new-york-city-22-million_n_1969749.html

          I’m not a right winger anti-union guy reading the Drudge report (the LA Times and Huffington post are also not right wing or anti-union). I’m a guy that supports teacher raises and parcel taxes to get more money to schools that is sad that due to some strange pack mentality has teachers unions fighting to keep hundreds of millions of dollars going to teachers to don’t teach and to fight the dismissal of people that (that they know) should probably never have been teachers….

          1. wdf1

            SoD: It is not a secret that many teachers should be fired:
            “In Los Angeles About 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million”

            They need timely due process. This seems to reflect elements of poor management.

  4. Davis Progressive

    the problem with no tenure is you get a school board member who has a thing for a teacher, just as we saw with julie crawford and nancy peterson and there’s no protection for that employee.

      1. Frankly

        This is a silly point.

        I have great employees and sometimes a customer comes unglued and calls me to complain. Why would I punish a good employee for an over-the-top emotional customer? There are ways to deal with this stuff. Sometimes doing some coaching and training for how the employee can better defuse the complaint. In other cases management uses expert skills to smooth over the irate customer as much as possible.

        If the principle performance is being correctly assessed, he/she would be an idiot to fire a good teacher just because he/she did not like the person. And an idiot principle would not last in a system where performance is adequately measured and managed.

        However, “like” is an interesting word with respect to the workplace. In general there are usually reasons that some employee is not liked by their manager… and those reasons generally translate into valid performance issues. Demonstrated attitudes and demeanor matter. For example, an employee demonstrating a lack of respect toward a manager can undermine that manager’s ability to lead others. That type of behavior can negatively impact a performance work culture. So, “like” can be a symptom of other problems. And those problems need to be identified and measured. And the employee not liked should be giving clear expectations for how they need to improve, and eventually shown the door if they do not.

        It is a two-way street. If we want better leaders to help improve the schools, the employees working for those leaders must get rid of their entitled sense of power to resist and reject the demands of that leader. But it cannot happen with unions in the way, IMO.

        1. fyi

          The point is not silly–your response is. Just because you would do something under a certain circumstance does not mean that in a totally different field, with different people, a different profession, a different structure-that people would do whatever you would. The problem is that you vaunt yourself and your “expertise.”

    1. South of Davis

      DP wrote:

      > the problem with no tenure is you get a school board member who
      > has a thing for a teacher, just as we saw with julie crawford and nancy peterson

      I believe the board member “that had a thing for the teacher” is no longer on the board and Julie Crawford is still teaching and coaching volleyball (despite the fact that tenure does not protect coaches)…

    2. Barack Palin

      “the problem with no tenure is you get a school board member who has a thing for a teacher, just as we saw with julie crawford and nancy peterson and there’s no protection for that employee.”

      So just because there’s a few extreme examples we’re going to give all teachers iron clad protection even if they’re bad teachers?

    3. Frankly

      “the problem with no tenure is you get a school board member who has a thing for a teacher, just as we saw with julie crawford and nancy peterson and there’s no protection for that employee.”

      So, can someone succinctly explain why employees of the education system are so damn special with respect to this point? 95% of workers in California are “at will” employees and they are protected by copious wrongful termination rules and laws.

      California labor laws that protect employees are covered in the California Fair Employment And Housing Act. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state organization charged with investigating allegations of discrimination on the job. In many cases, employees must file a complaint either with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, the federal organization responsible for investigating employment complaints) before filing a lawsuit.

      There may also be local laws that prevent employers from firing or disciplining employees for a number of reasons.

      Frankly, the only class of employee not protected very well are white males under 40. But then those that tend to protect the education status quo don’t really care too much about white makes under 80, so we are good.

      But getting back to the question… why are education employees so special to require or need this extreme protection?

      Of course the answer is that they are not. It is just another irrational position that people take to protect the status quo adult jobs program we call public education.

  5. Themis

    If you want to change schools for the better, you need to start with getting rid of the administrators and school boards and not the teaching staff. The blame for underperforming schools is being placed on the employees that don’t have the ability to force change in schools. We should be asking teachers for their opinions on what needs to change in order to achieve success in education. Every school is different and we shouldn’t be expecting one set of rules to apply to all schools.

    1. Frankly

      Themis – I think this is a valid and fair point. I agree with you. Change starts at the top.

      However, I think we will see more teacher rebellion if and when that necessary change is implemented.

  6. Mark West

    “Tenure was instituted to protect teachers from the whims of administrators and other community dynamics that deprived teachers of employment. Teachers were fired for having unacceptable political views, becoming pregnant, getting married, teaching evolution, or wearing pants as a woman.”

    These are not arguments in favor of tenure, they are arguments in favor of nondiscrimination statutes, which are already on the books. Tenure for public school teachers is antiquated and completely unnecessary, and does nothing but protect the jobs of poor quality teachers.

    1. Mark West

      I don’t Toad, as the writer of this post says, the teachers and administration are already doing it, with a program designed to help them improve their work or get out of the business.

  7. MrsW

    I cannot easily find it, but in a previous post, someone referred to the issue of teacher compensation as being used to compensate for a poor working environment. I think that “can’t be fired” is also being used to describe something else, like cannot be influenced or limited influence.

    Talking to tenured DJUSD teachers over the years, it is true that they cannot be fired, but the environment can be made very hostile. I’ve observed that it is fear of being assigned to courses or campuses they don’t feel suited for, that prompts the “fear for my job” reaction. Sometimes they retaliate by “teaching to the contract” hoping parents will complain to the Administrators because the “Administration doesn’t listen to teachers.” Sometimes the working environment becomes so hostile, they look for another job.

    On a related note, shouldn’t it be our community’s goal to have schools that everyone, administrators, teachers, and students, feel safe and proud to be part of? How can we get that?

    1. fyi

      They can be fired, but the administration must commit to the process. They can also be moved out of the profession through various means–not just a hostile environment–and replaced with more capable educators. That happens in this district and others.

    2. hpierce

      Any “professional” who just “teaches (or, pick your other area) to contract”, isn’t, in my view, a “professional”. Also sign of why, in my opinion, there should be no formal unions for folks who claim to be ‘professional’. Yes, practically, you may need associations, but not those who, as a ‘requirement of employment’ exact dues and engage in political activity. Probably just me.

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