Teacher tenure at issue

first_imgSACRAMENTO – High school English teacher Adam Bearson holds up a thick booklet that he says has become like homework for teachers. He is supposed to fill out each page, evaluating his own skills at giving a lesson, working with students and cooperating with administrators. Done every two years, the evaluation comes on top of the 150 hours of coursework he must complete every five years to maintain his credential as a permanent teacher. After nine years in the classroom, Bearson, 42, said the job is getting harder and the paperwork more burdensome. He now worries that a ballot measure promoted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will undermine one of the key attractions of teaching in California’s public schools: job security. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Proposition 74 has come to be known as the “teacher tenure” initiative because its main focus is on increasing the probationary period for new teachers from two years to five. It’s another of its provisions that has veteran teachers worried. They could be fired after two straight poor performance evaluations. The governor has said both provisions of the initiative are designed to improve the quality of education in California schools by weeding out bad teachers. Veteran teachers are concerned that changing the terms of their permanent status makes them vulnerable to an evolving door of school principals, some of whom might judge them on personality rather than performance. “Good teachers have tenure to protect them from bad administrators,” said Bearson, a teacher at San Juan High School in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights. He and other teachers said students benefit when teachers feel secure, not when they are subject to managers’ changing whims. “Teachers are extremely well-prepared and well-trained, like never before. We have more education than CPAs, nurses, engineers, police officers, yet we make less money,” said David Eldridge, a 49-year-old Olivehurst math teacher who left a career in property management to become a teacher. “One of the ways they compensate for less pay is by giving us more security.” Margaret Fortune, chairwoman of the Proposition 74 campaign, said fears of good teachers losing their jobs if the proposal passes are overblown. Still, she said changing the state’s tenure laws is a necessary step in Schwarzenegger’s overall plan to improve education. “Teacher quality is at the core of student achievement,” Fortune said. “Anything we can do to improve teacher quality will also assist us in raising the achievement level of kids.” Under state law, administrators must compile up to 150 pages documenting problems in addition to a poor-performance evaluation before they can dismiss a teacher. The initiative reduces that workload and paper trail to just two evaluations, she said. Proposition 74 was placed on the Nov. 8 special election ballot after another Schwarzenegger education-reform proposal fizzled. Earlier this year, he said he wanted teachers’ raises to be based on merit instead of length of service. But that proposal was set aside, at least temporarily. Proposition 74 has failed to generate widespread support. A poll released late last month by the Public Policy Institute of California showed 47 percent of likely voters oppose it, with 43 percent in favor; 10 percent were undecided. Observers say Schwarzenegger’s education agenda lost momentum when teachers and their unions blasted it as blaming them for systemic problems. Susan Rasky, a professor of political journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said the governor wanted an education issue on the ballot. With the merit pay proposal dropped, tenure was one of the few options left. “It seems like a totally poorly thought-out measure, whatever underlying policy measure there might be in terms of reforms,” Rasky said. “You don’t have a lot of opportunity to explain it, and you give them an opportunity to say that you’re blaming teachers.” The governor has said the existing tenure system virtually guarantees teachers a job for life. Making young teachers work longer to gain permanent status and making it easier to let permanent teachers go will improve classroom quality, he has said. If voters approve it, Proposition 74 would make California one of only three states in the nation in which teachers would have to wait five years for protection from random dismissals. The others are Indiana and Missouri. Most states have a probationary period of three years. Schwarzenegger initially proposed a 10-year probation. The California Association of School Administrators has fought for changes to tenure for years but is neutral on Proposition 74. The initiative doesn’t address the system’s real problems, such as a lack of flexibility, executive director Bob Wells said. His group represents 15,000 principals and other administrators. “Many new teachers that we hire are actually ready to earn permanent status after their second year. Taking away from us the ability to award tenure to the best and brightest that we hire actually hurts us in recruiting highly qualified teaching staff,” Wells said. “On the one hand, we’d like to have the option of extending probation beyond just two years, but requiring us in all cases to take a full five years is extreme.” He also said the dismissal process for senior teachers outlined in Proposition 74 doesn’t eliminate the legal appeals that cost districts so much money. Fortune said the proposition is meant to save school districts money by reducing the required documentation. “There are plenty of horror stories about spending upwards of $250,000 to release a bad teacher and having to document specific instances above and beyond poor performance for a number of years,” she said. “The people who end up paying for that costly process are the kids in the classroom.” The state does not track how many teachers are fired in any given year. In Los Angeles Unified, only one or two permanent teachers are dismissed each year, of around 40,000 in the district, said employee relations director Robert Fisher. In the San Francisco Unified School District, just one teacher out of 4,000 in the district was fired for poor performance during the last three years, said Lorna Ho, special assistant to the superintendent. The district prefers using a program that pairs teachers having trouble with experienced mentors. Of 15 teachers referred to the program in 2003-04, 13 quit voluntarily, Ho said. The California Teachers Association has spent $50 million fighting Proposition 74 and two other initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot – one that would restrict the use of union dues and another that could reform education spending. The union said the tenure initiative, if approved, would hurt recruitment at a time when it forecasts a shortage of 100,000 teachers over the next decade. Katie Angelone, a first-year high school history teacher in Citrus Heights, said many of her college peers dropped out of her certification program at Sacramento State University before they were even placed in a classroom. She said the governor doesn’t understand how public schools work. “He may have been ‘Kindergarten Cop,’ but he doesn’t know what teachers go through,” Angelone said. “The state’s the one that gave us the credentials in the first place. We’re just doing what the state told us to do, and now we’re being targeted.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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