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Thread: Major Ruling on California Teacher Tenure System

  1. #1

    Default Major Ruling on California Teacher Tenure System

    I don't know how many people have seen this, but I thought I would get the opinions of others on here--there's always good debate on topics that might be a hot button like this one.

    California teacher tenure and seniority system is struck down

    I know we have people who are members here who are educators, and I want to come out up front and say I am NOT in any way trying to bash teachers or the work they do.

    With that said, in some ways I am curious to see the response to this. I have three children, two of which are college age now, the third will be in fifth grade in the fall. I have seen a wide range of capabilities from teachers, much the same as I have seen a wide range of capabilities in people in my field of employment. There have been mediocre teachers, a few bad teachers, and a number of excellent teachers that my children have experienced (not to mention the teachers I had growing up).

    I am fortunate that where I work, we take on a project for ourselves, bringing it from an idea all the way through to a final product. From there, we maintain responsibility for it until we leave the company or the product is obsoleted (and getting to obsolescence in my industry can take more than 20 years)! There is continuity, and responsibility, and those who cannot do well at the job are easily exposed.

    For teachers, they get a new batch of students on a regular basis. This can be seen as a long term project that is worked on by a team of people. The difference, though, is that the team does not work on the project all at once, but rather one member gets to work on it for a while and do their bit, then hands it off to the next after a prescribed amount of time.

    The problem is when you have one person in that team who doesn't hold up their share of the load. Milestones for the project are not met, and when the time is up, they just pass it along. Suddenly, the person after them is handed something that is far behind where it should be, and they now have to try and get it caught up.

    The biggest thing about the ruling in my opinion is throwing out the provision that should layoffs occur, a junior teacher must be let go one with more years, regardless of ability. This provision (going to my example above) is like laying off the person who is busting their ass to fix the mistakes of the person before, rather than getting rid of the problem. Where I work, we have had a few layoffs over the years and the first people let go are those who are considered 'dead wood'.

    So, I throw it out there for debate. What are your thoughts and opinions? I am especially keen on hearing from those members who are educators.

  2. #2

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    Tenure has its' strengths and weaknesses. The big one is that it protects the "in the trenches" teachers from the bureaucrats in administration that want to get read of squeaky wheels.

    There is methods of removing inferior teacher, but the problem is not in tenure. It is administration that do not take the time to document issues in a correct fashion.

    I had my share of teachers that were so dry it was excruciating to learn from them. I also had old teachers that were so out of touch with new technology they were a distraction. But I also had teachers that I never could get enough from them and they left you wanting more and I still look stuff up to this day to stay in tune with the changes.

    A side track but along the same line is something in our local paper that ranked the local schools in the area.

    IT was a pile of BS.
    The schools that where on the top of the list have the worst gang problem and the graduates that I have met are so mad now that they are in college, because they have found out is that all they got taught was how to take the state exams.
    They are having to go back and take remedial classes in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic because they scored so low on the college placement exams.

    The school that I have my kids at is community involved and interactive so that the kids are coming out well balanced and able to pass along into a work environment or go to college, but for some reason they are ranked as only fair with a 4 out of 10 rating. If you inquire with the state the only answer is that the scores are based on a complex cross reference scoring system.

    Remove the Tenure of teachers my pawtutty! cut a few administrators and hire 2-3 teachers and the budget would not be effected. Better yet (this aught to get me dinged) quit hiring teacher bases on what sports they can couch the school to state in.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogRTO View Post
    The biggest thing about the ruling in my opinion is throwing out the provision that should layoffs occur, a junior teacher must be let go one with more years, regardless of ability. This provision (going to my example above) is like laying off the person who is busting their ass to fix the mistakes of the person before, rather than getting rid of the problem. Where I work, we have had a few layoffs over the years and the first people let go are those who are considered 'dead wood'.
    I think it's worthwhile to separate layoffs and firings.

    The purpose of layoffs isn't to get rid of deadwood. It's to downsize across the board for various issues- budget shortfalls, shrinking enrollment, etc. Because this isn't a for-cause termination, you shouldn't necessarily be looking at cause as the issue at hand when you're determining who goes. I've worked in a lot of private companies and letting go the most recent hire or two is very common practice when budget problems trigger layoffs. I don't see why education should be treated differently from other skilled labor professions in this regard.

    As for merit pay, I'm all for merit pay in theory. I just have no idea how to implement it fairly. Students in most districts are not assigned to teachers randomly from the pool. It's a combination of scheduling necessities and student needs. Let's say that metal shop and auto shop are offered for Juniors in blocks one and two, but doing so forces them into my third block British Literature course (which we'll say is mandatory). More than likely, these will be students less interested in and inclined to the material in that class and the grades will likely be lower. That's going to mean my students' grades for British Literature may be lower than those for students in the other teachers' sections who drew students who signed up for arts electives- who are probably more inclined to and capable of doing well in the course. And what about for pairing teachers with students based on strengths? There are teachers who are great with the miscreant students and make a real impact on them. The problem is that the grades those students earn usually suck. In that class, victory isn't getting your students to earn A grades. It's getting them to focus on their work without punching a classmate or telling the teacher to go fuck a goat. How do you compare the grades of those students to a new teacher who the administration gave a collection of better students so as to not wear him out two months into his first year? You start paying teachers based on grades and teachers will start to fight tooth and nail over the good students. Even if you like working with the problem kids, you're going to resent the other teacher who gets strong students and as a result earns $5k more than you every year with far fewer headaches.

    I have a friend who's an 8th grade math teacher at one of the worst schools in Camden, NJ. I've heard a particularly excellent school administrator describe it as "a couple hundred kids and twice as many broken dreams." One day he (teacher friend) mentioned to a few of us that he caught his students cheating that week. We asked what he did and you know what he said? He let them cheat. I was a bit dumbfounded and asked him why. His answer floored me but was right on the money: "Don't you get it? The fact that they're cheating now means that they're finally starting to care!" I will tell you that hands down, this guy is one of the best teachers I've ever met.

    Take a moment and think on that. Then tell me that it's a fair way to assign pay on a merit basis to a teacher of the equivalent math course in Rumson-Fair Haven or Chatam schools districts (white and rich). This was but one story I've heard from him and every one that I hear is fucking inspirational to an extent that you could make a Hollywood movie about him. He's easily one of the best teachers in the state, but I don't know any quantitative measure that would ever tell you that.

    The only answer I can think of here is "cohort" tracking. I'll counter that the fact many students (particularly the bad ones) move around a lot. Cohort tracking will be virtually impossible to successfully implement on any meaningful scale and you'll lose tons of students to follow-up.

    I'll tell you something I think most people don't get: tenure reform and merit pay (assuming a way to implement it fairly) are very popular ideas among young teachers. Pre-tenure teachers bristle when they're at the bottom of the salary guide and outperforming a lazy veteran sitting at the top and counting down the last 5 years until reaching the retirement age. The problem is that politicians who also favor these usually don't want to stop there. In NJ, the politicians who favor these issues frankly want to see the unions outright broken. The moment teachers sense this, the wagons get circled and that politician will forever be dead to 90% of NJEA members.
    Last edited by AEsahaettr; 12-Jun-2014 at 09:10.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by AEsahaettr View Post
    I think it's worthwhile to separate layoffs and firings.

    The purpose of layoffs isn't to get rid of deadwood. It's to downsize across the board for various issues- budget shortfalls, shrinking enrollment, etc. Because this isn't a for-cause termination, you shouldn't necessarily be looking at cause as the issue at hand when you're determining who goes. I've worked in a lot of private companies and letting go the most recent hire or two is very common practice when budget problems trigger layoffs. I don't see why education should be treated differently from other skilled labor professions in this regard.
    The private company I work for has had to endure several layoffs over the years, and the way they did the layoffs was, IMHO, very well thought out. While a layoff was not a for-cause termination, it was also an excellent opportunity to get rid of those who are just barely keeping themselves from getting fired. Why should the company spend money out of the budget on an employee that they're not getting any return on investment from? It's cheaper just to hand them severance package that goes with the layoff and be done with it. If the budget is a problem, wouldn't it be better to get rid of the guy who's been there for five years and is earning $20k/yr more than the junior guy, especially when the junior guy is generating $200k/yr in extra revenue for the company? Doing layoffs without thought to who gets let loose is asking for problems to just get worse.



    I'll tell you something I think most people don't get: tenure reform and merit pay (assuming a way to implement it fairly) are very popular ideas among young teachers. Pre-tenure teachers bristle when they're at the bottom of the salary guide and outperforming a lazy veteran sitting at the top and counting down the last 5 years until reaching the retirement age. The problem is that politicians who also favor these usually don't want to stop there. In NJ, the politicians who favor these issues frankly want to see the unions outright broken. The moment teachers sense this, the wagons get circled and that politician will forever be dead to 90% of NJEA members.
    I will agree with you on the idea of tenure reform. The California ruling has simply thrown out the current tenure system, it has not outlawed tenure. If a layoff were to roll around, would you rather see the lazy teacher who is ticking off days til retirement let go? Or would you rather see the newer teacher who is outperforming the lazy one removed?

  5. #5
    acorn

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    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogRTO View Post
    .....
    I will agree with you on the idea of tenure reform. The California ruling has simply thrown out the current tenure system, it has not outlawed tenure. If a layoff were to roll around, would you rather see the lazy teacher who is ticking off days til retirement let go? Or would you rather see the newer teacher who is outperforming the lazy one removed?
    But isn't that the real question; how do you assess which teachers are performing?

    How do you feel about schools excluding children who may need more than minimal input to reach the required educational standard in a given subject? That scenario is one that plays out anywhere schools are concerned with performance ratings alone. If schools are forced to become more preoccupied with their league ratings than the needs of the individual student's, this will make education the preserve of the elitist few who can afford it.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogRTO View Post
    If a layoff were to roll around, would you rather see the lazy teacher who is ticking off days til retirement let go? Or would you rather see the newer teacher who is outperforming the lazy one removed?
    I'd like to see that, but I also realize that's not a realistic expectation of what will happen in many districts. Ever work in a system where annual raises are guaranteed but employment itself isn't? People at the top get offed all the time regardless of performance. In my old district, I started near the very bottom of the salary guide (~$42k/yr). If I was still there 5 years and an MS later, I'd be making around $60k/yr. I stay there another 10 years and I'd be making around $80k/yr. Many, many school districts view no teacher worth that amount of money and will gladly fire the person at the top to add two to the bottom.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by acorn View Post
    But isn't that the real question; how do you assess which teachers are performing?

    How do you feel about schools excluding children who may need more than minimal input to reach the required educational standard in a given subject? That scenario is one that plays out anywhere schools are concerned with performance ratings alone. If schools are forced to become more preoccupied with their league ratings than the needs of the individual student's, this will make education the preserve of the elitist few who can afford it.
    There are a lot of arguments about performance metrics, and it can seriously sidetrack the discussion. What about the idea of a modified peer review system? At the beginning of a new school year, each teacher evaluates how ready a new student is to take on the new material and whether or not they need significant review and re-teaching of the prior year's material? Go back and correlate that to the teacher the student had the prior year. There will be standouts. You should be able to get distributions that show which teachers did their jobs well the prior year and which ones didn't.

    As for excluding students who need more than minimal input, that is completely wrong in my opinion. You can't simply hand every teacher classes of self-motivated geniuses. There has to be an expectation that there will be a mix of student capabilities. Again, this wasn't about the 'league ratings' for the school, but the way that the current tenure system is set up.



    Quote Originally Posted by AEsahaettr View Post
    I'd like to see that, but I also realize that's not a realistic expectation of what will happen in many districts. Ever work in a system where annual raises are guaranteed but employment itself isn't? People at the top get offed all the time regardless of performance. In my old district, I started near the very bottom of the salary guide (~$42k/yr). If I was still there 5 years and an MS later, I'd be making around $60k/yr. I stay there another 10 years and I'd be making around $80k/yr. Many, many school districts view no teacher worth that amount of money and will gladly fire the person at the top to add two to the bottom.
    I have not worked in a system like that, and maybe that is an issue with the way the unions are negotiating the contracts? Where I work, neither employment or an annual raise is guaranteed. You have to perform on a regular basis to receive those. Those who are top performers get the highest raises, and nobody wants to let them go because they are so valuable. The current tenure system in California was struck down, and I'm not arguing against having tenure for teachers (at least I don't see I've made that argument). Maybe this is the time to think about what the best way to put a tenure system in place should be? Maybe a teacher's position in the system should be based on an equation weighting both seniority and performance, then should a layoff roll around, they get rid of the lowest ranking teachers?

    There is an opportunity here to find a better solution.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogRTO View Post
    I have not worked in a system like that, and maybe that is an issue with the way the unions are negotiating the contracts? Where I work, neither employment or an annual raise is guaranteed. You have to perform on a regular basis to receive those. Those who are top performers get the highest raises, and nobody wants to let them go because they are so valuable.
    You work in software development, or something to that effect, right? In your industry it's nearly non-existent and it's less common in the US than other parts of the world. Where it happens are industries with pension systems where it's incredibly common. This is also why unionization tends to happen in shops that offer pension plans. Offing employees just before they qualify for pensions happens.

    Anyway, this comes back to the problem that we're lacking a good way to quantify merit despite the fact that qualifying merit is easy. Everyone knows who the good teachers are and who's phoning it in.

    In any case, the current salary system is rather necessary. Let's say that tomorrow in NJ- a state where a lot of polarization between districts that support their teachers and ones that don't- salary guides disappear and all annual contracts are negotiated individually. I would estimate that roughly half of districts would retain their salary guide systems. Why? Because they know the other half of the districts in the state are going to slash teacher pay. Overnight you'll see all the good teachers cluster into the schools that keep $40-90k salary guides and push out all the mediocre-to-good teachers to the ones that price contracts based on what they know they can fill classrooms for. This will create horrible inequality in quality of education from one district to the next. I'm not saying there isn't equality now. But it'll turn into Panem vs District 12. A system that effectively forces all districts to pay teachers similar salary ranges is effectively protecting administrators to whom the bottom line is first and last concerns from themselves.

    I would agree with your idea of a system that weighs both salary and performance, but that comes back to the fact that I don't know any good way to judge performance quantitatively. Note my previous examples, and think about teachers in subjects like special ed who will get screwed simply because of their student pool. Considering the myriad of people who have weighed in on the matter in politics, I think it there was a good idea out there I'd have heard it by now. Again, merit pay as a concept is very popular among younger teachers. If there's a good way to enact merit pay out there, whoever has it is doing a great job of keeping it a secret.

  9. #9

    Default

    This is so ironic. I am about to deal with merit based pay systems because of some discrimination that I have found myself on the wrong side of. I think I know of a way to make it fair for everyone actually. You see the bus drivers in my city happen to be so selfish that they think their seniority makes their ego right all the time. The top administrator who is not part of the union is so afraid of them that he decided he would rather risk getting sued by me rather then face the wrath of the union instead. I was thinking of trying to get written into the law books at the federal level some rules that make it mandatory that any government agency must use a merit based system rather then a seniority based one when bargaining with unions. The idea is so simple that this bill which does not exist yet can involve concessions to unions of a specific type. Basically if union member wants to make $15+ an hour they could but their going to earn that high wage with what I am thinking about.

    Please keep in mind I will not give out details about the discrimination but I will answer any questions about the merit based system I was talking about.

  10. #10

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    The fundamental problems are that we can't evaluate teacher efficacy without spending lots of money (you have to have people in the classrooms, and that requires paying those people), and we can't improve the quality of teachers as a whole without spending lots of money (why would people with actual degrees consider teaching as a job when it pays so poorly and is stifled by terrible curriculum?). People want better education, but hate paying for it. No one wants to put in the amount of resources it would require to make substantive improvements, so we're stuck.

    People love to gripe about how bad the school system is, and gripe about how bad all of the proposed solutions are (e.g. standardized testing), but completely ignore the fact that any cheap solution to a fundamentally expensive problem is going to be bad. No one at all supports tax increases to pay teachers better or to pay for a system to actually identify where we can make improvements in curriculum or teacher quality. You get what you pay for.

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