Two years ago a judge in California found for plaintiffs who essentially claimed that low student achievement of children in poverty was caused by due process and teachers unions. They blamed due process, sometimes called “teacher tenure” for allowing “bad teachers” to remain in the classroom. Here’s what I said back then.
SO MANY “BAD TEACHERS“
How many bad teachers are there in California…and why do they seem to be located only in schools with high levels of student poverty?
After an extended discussion with a (non-teacher) friend who lives in California it’s clear that there are some aspects of California laws that could be changed. California has one of the shortest probationary periods in the country before permanent status is awarded. It was also clear that (in my friend’s opinion) the process of firing a teacher for cause in California is too cumbersome and takes too long (similar objections have been made about the process in New York and other states).
This week the appellate court reversed the decision. Here’s what the California Teachers Association had to say…
“This is a great day for educators and, more importantly, for students,” said CTA President Eric C. Heins. “Today’s ruling reversing Treu’s decision overwhelmingly underscores that the laws under attack have been good for public education and for kids, and that the plaintiffs failed to establish any violation of a student’s constitutional rights. Stripping teachers of their ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise and the appellate court justices saw that.”
…and from NEA…
“Today was a win for our educators, our schools and most importantly, our students.
“Now we must return to working on real solutions to ensure all of our students succeed. Only when teachers, school boards, and administrators work together can we ensure that there is a great public school for every student.
“The Vergara v. State of California lawsuit was an example of using our court system for political goals. The unanimous three-judge panel’s opinion states it clearly. The plaintiffs’ case–instead of addressing and proposing solutions to the real problems–focused on the wrong issues, proposed the wrong solutions, and used the wrong legal process. It was not about helping students and has become a divisive distraction from the real work needed to improve student success.
Peter Greene, at Curmudgucation, did his usual excellent job of analysis. First, the reason Vergara was pursued in the first place…
There is no question that Vergara (and the New York case and the new Minnesota case) were breathed to life for one reason and one reason only– to try to stick it to those damn unions. We know the people– we’ve read their articles, talked with them on twitter, seen them in the comments section of a thousand different online conversations. They hate the union. Hate it. They think the roadblock to everything decent and good is the teachers’ union, that the teachers’ union is a giant scam to make teachers and union reps rich while thwarting the plans of brilliant visionaries who just want to be free to implement their grand design without having to answer to anybody, least of all the hired help. They think that public schools are a scam that the union came up with to suck the taxpayers dry while teachers sit and eat bon-bons and ignore the cries of downtrodden children. They hate the union, and like many people on many sides of many issues these days, they are looking for any argument, no matter how disingenuous and cynically constructed, that can be used to make the union shut up and go away.
He continued with a good description of why teacher seniority is a positive thing…and why job protections such as due process (aka tenure) are important.
I believe that the benefits of a seniority-based system are huge. Huge. It incentivizes people to look at teaching as a career, a job to which they can devote their entire life, which in turn encourages them to be the very best they can be and to invest themselves in training and self-improvement. It gives stability and institutional memory to a school, creating ties that bind a community together and making a school a community institution that connects people to a history that matters. It helps draw good people to the work because you may not ever be paid real well, but at least you don’t have to spend half your time worrying about losing your job over something stupid. And it protects teachers so that they can do their job like professionals with an educational mission instead of political appointees who are busy trying to suck up to whoever has the power to fire them this week.
School boards and teachers unions negotiate together for a contract. Outside arbitrators can be used when there are stalemates. The two parties should work together to give teachers a decent contract which includes ways to help teachers who need help and to remove teachers who are not doing their jobs.
There is no need to keep bad teachers in the classroom. Teachers and school boards can work together to help school systems function efficiently and allow teachers to teach. Due process for teachers means that administrators have to do their jobs and document why they think a particular teacher needs to be removed from the classroom, and what they have done to help the teacher improve.