Under California law, teachers do not have tenure as most people think of it. There are three statuses: temporary, probationary, and permanent. Those that complain about teachers earning permanency too quickly only need to look at the 200 temporary teachers who lost their jobs in 2009 prior to the lay-offs in my school district. Many of those temporary teachers had taught in the district for up to a decade and never attained probationary status. The law allows school districts to keep teachers in a temporary status if they are serving in the spot of a teacher on leave of absence or serving in a spot paid for by a grant or with temporary monies. Probationary and permanent tracks give teachers seniority rights in a layoff situation. Permanency guarantees teachers due process rights that give them a hearing before a competency panel if they are dismissed. Most teachers do not make it through this dismissal process for a variety of reasons, but most often because they leave before they are formally dismissed. Permanent teachers leave my school district each year–often counseled out to avoid dismissal proceedings.
In 2005, the voters of California rejected a measure that would have increased the probationary period for teachers from two to five years. So now corporate reformers are looking to activist judges to circumvent the will of the voters and the legislative process. The purpose of a probationary period is to ensure that a new employee (in this case a teacher) develops the basic skills necessary to do the job while not stumbling to the point of wreaking havoc on the work environment (in this case a classroom). Veterinarians are expected to be handling even tough cases in about a year. Police officers have probationary periods from nine months to two years depending on their department. Many federal jobs have a one year probationary period (and even if federal supervisors got their wish to double the length of the probationary period, they would then match the teacher probationary period in California). Most jobs have probationary periods of mere months. If the desire is really to say that ineffective teachers cannot be rooted out by observing administrators in two years, especially when any teacher new hire (experienced or not) is observed multiple times as part of the formal performance evaluation process each of the two years, then they need to describe what the expectation is for administrators in this process because they are obviously not doing their jobs adequately in accordance with other professions.
Even in states with longer probationary periods, results of a Cornell University study suggest that the longer probationary periods are coupled with higher wages in order to attract talent. The study’s findings show that the more experience teachers and districts engaged in collective bargaining have a higher correlation of probationary period length and pay. Most states have a three year probationary period for teachers.
Mr. Welner, in this article, points out some very important questions that need to be considered if the Vergara ruling is enacted essentially wiping out all of California’s seniority and due process laws:
- How to attract stronger teachers.
- How to develop stronger teachers.
- How to retain stronger teachers.
- How to convince weaker teachers who are not developing to voluntarily leave. (The importance of this factor, relative to firing, is stressed by Gene Glass on his blog.)
It is easy to talk about firing teachers, but many fail to realize that in the coming years it will become increasingly difficult to hire teachers–as Baby Boomers retire and colleges of education shut down for lack of students, finding these effective teachers will grow more difficult.
Another thing that people who aren’t in the profession don’t realize is that teachers are other teachers’ worst critics. Teachers want their neighbors to be effective. Teachers want their colleagues to be professionals who are major contributors to the campus environment. But teachers also want adequate support and protection from capricious administrators and the ability to have good working conditions. When you cut education budgets for five straight years and layoff over 30,000 teachers in a state, how does that attract quality candidates to the profession? As conditions further deteriorate in our schools, especially in those serving the most vulnerable students, we have to start asking what we truly value. How can you starve the schools of resources, pack upwards of 40 students in a classroom, then demand to fire teachers at will? Tell the teachers who spend on average $945 a year on class resources that they are failing the kids. Tell the teachers who spend the weekend grading essays instead of being with their families that they are failing the kids. Tell the teachers who spend their unpaid summers paying for their own professional development that they are failing the kids. Tell them they deserve to be fired for not being the popular teacher. Tell them they don’t deserve clean, safe work environments–which are kids’ learning environments. Tell them again and again how awful they are– because that is what the media echo chamber sounds like.
Now forget about blaming teachers, and start supporting them. Let’s address the real issues behind equity for students in the classroom–issues like poverty, violence, facilities, and funding.