Monday, June 16, 2014


There was a huge case decided in California while I was toodling about the Caribbean--the Vergara case, aka the Possibly-Get-Rid-Of-Teacher-Tenure-in-California or the Weaken-Teacher-Tenure-in-California case.

A fantastic summary of the outcome is here, but my favorite part is the slap at the CTA:
[I]n the course of the lawsuit, the California Teachers Association suddenly discovered the virtues of judicial restraint. The CTA denounced Vergara as a case of the courts overstepping their bounds. However, while I have sympathy for the point, I have trouble taking the claim too seriously. After all, teachers unions have unabashedly used the courts for years as a tool of education policy. They've used the courts to protect generous benefits, challenge layoffs, attack school choice, and force states to spend more on K-12. I'm okay with them getting a taste of their own medicine.
Yeah, what he said.

This could turn out well or it could turn out horribly.  If some of what I call "undue process" is removed from teacher protections, I'd be perfectly OK with that.  But let's not confuse ideals and good hope with "what is right", because judges don't know any more about how best to ensure a quality education to children than anyone else does.  And when a judge thinks he knows more than everyone else does, and is allowed to indulge that fantasy on the taxpayer dime, you end up with the debacle in Kansas City.

So the Vergara decision is a good and necessary start but we'll have to see where it goes.


maxutils said...

My take on tenure ... it is entirely possible that it comes to early in CA, BUT ... you can usually spot a teacher within the first two years -- although, due to the unions' requirements that layoffs/non-retentions be announced so early, it isn't really two years. Were I the CTA, I would give up that provision. That said: tenure is really important, because a) There is no real mechanism to objectively measure what a 'good' teacher looks like. I know for a fact that our styles are VERY different, yet both of us have achieved good results, and student respond well to us. b) if an administrator disagrees with our style, it is very easy for them to get rid of us, regardless of results. I was once criticized for not calling randomly on students in a math class ... well... i'm teaching the material Socratically, and most of them don't know the answer to my question, nor should they -- they're learning the material as we go. So, why would I want to embarrass someone? I use wait time, acknowledge the smarter one who usually answer with nods, and try to call on the person whose hand is raised for the first time. I think I'm right, because it makes for a comfortable learning environment ... but without tenure, I could have been forced to change, or leave. c) Administrators do not have the time to effectively evaluate each teacher, each year. So, you would literally be being judged based on a couple of 10-15 minute observations. Maybe enough to find the true incompetents ... but one bad day could damn an otherwise fine teacher.

allen (in Michigan) said...

My take is that this is a step in the unraveling of the public education system.

To most of those of us outside the public education sphere tenure looks to be an unreasonably sweet deal. I mean, if you're doing a good job what boss in their right mind would fire you?

But bosses in the public education system don't have to be in their right mind as the phrase might be understood outside the public education system. They can fire, absent civil service and union protections, excellent teachers and suffer no harm at all. So tenure is a solution to the problem of bosses who enjoy a lack of accountability for the reason they're ostensibly hired, educating kids.

The problem of unaccountable bosses is poorly solved by putting the restraint of tenure in their way. Obviously, if principals are accountable they have an intrinsic motive to select carefully between good and bad teachers when it comes to deciding who to get rid of.

Vitiating tenure serves the purpose of revealing the poorly-considered structure of public education. Tenure protects both good and bad teachers which is hardly supportive of the goal of educating kids. Principals are the natural agent of discrimination between good and bad teachers but without a reason to do so only a minority will. But that shortcoming of the public education system is obscured by tenure and by obscuring that flaw impedes recognition and reform.

maxutils said...

allen ... that is an exceptionally moderate and well reasoned response on your part ... and kind of dovetails on mine. The problem is really that neither teachers nor administrators have very good control over their inputs (students) and the only real measure of their outputs (education) is frequently a test the students have no stake in ... no one is FOR bad teachers, except, perhaps, bad teachers ... so, give me a better solution. Tenure might not be it-- but I have yet to see anything better.

Mr. W said...

well said Allen.

Darren, are you concerned that this could be abused by admin? Or districts when they need to cut money from the budget? Getting rid of the more expensive veteran teachers?

Darren said...

If there were no protections at all, that would be a concern. You can bet that, especially here in California, there will be *some* sort of protections for teachers. What might be good from this, though, is it won't take years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to fire a teacher who clearly shouldn't be teaching.

allen (in Michigan) said...

While we most assuredly live in a world of change I'm pretty sure some things haven't changed and one of those things that hasn't changed is that rich people will use their money to advantage their children. If they can't do it within the framework of the public education system then they'll do it outside the framework of the public education system. Charters inevitably lead towards an egalitarian future which means the rich will abandon the public education system now as they would have back when the public education system was being created. They didn't because school districts allow for as disparate a level of funding as the rich were willing to spend. But charters are a function of the state government and there's no rationale I can think of to legitimately arrange for funding to increase with income.

But the salient characteristic of charters, that parents are the ultimate arbiters of the continued existence of any particular charter school, can just as easily be applied within a district by the school board.

A school board could, absent interfering state law, simply fire the entire central office staff and tell the principals that they're on their own, that they're running their own shops. Parents send their kids to whatever school they want within the district and schools that don't attract enough kids get shut down. If a principal's got a hotshot teacher, that has the parents lining up to pump that teacher's hand, does that teacher need tenure? Hardly since what one principal finds valuable so will another. But of course that only applies to good teachers. Lousy teachers will be out in the cold which is where they ought to be but aren't.

So there you go, max. The solution you asked for.

maxutils said...

allen ... that's ALMOST my solution. One needs to be careful, though -- the teachers that kids want are not always the good ones. My daughter loves her English teacher because he gives up to 20% of their grade in extra credits points, many of which are non - verifiable. Often, the most demanding, and best, teachers are not popular ... so tenure IS important. But apart from that? I like your idea.

Darren ... as one who has been attacked ruthlessly merely for offering a modest proposal that most of you colleagues supported, and has relentlessly fought very administration-friendly student fees? You should be right at the top of the supporters of tenure. Because without it? Either of those things could have made you gone, despite your being a good teacher.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Max, I'm not sure where you got the notion that I think kids ought to be in charge except indirectly, i.e. if mom and/or dad think the kid's doing well then in a roundabout way the kid's in charge but not in any direct sense.

And you've got to look past the all-too-easily assumed incompetence of parents to the fact that they really do care more about that kid's welfare then you. Trouble is, the public education system's warping the relationship between parent and child requiring and encouraging the parents to be children themselves.

Some parents can resist the enticement inherent in the public education system to give up their parental prerogatives but many can't so they act like children - dependent, petulant, whiny, demanding. We're very much creatures of our environment and when the environment doesn't require us to grow up many of us don't. The public education system insulates parents from some of the traditional, even reflexive, demands of parenthood and in doing so robs parents of the imperative to grow into those demands.

Like I wrote, tenures a band aid on an inherently bad idea. Even the example you bring up of a teachers who panders to the students only works where parents can't exert their critical faculties.

Assuming kids might be fooled by a teacher like that isn't much of a stretch but parents? Some might be taken in but most would know a phony when they see one and all would know a phony when the results come in. When junior can't read it doesn't matter how many "A"s the most popular teacher in school handed out. If that's the reading teacher then that person's in trouble.