June 25, 2005

The Teacher "Tenure" Initiative: Just Say No

Having explained why California voters should vote no on Governor Schwarzenegger's redistricting initiative, I would like to turn my attention to the even worse, so-called, teacher tenure initiative.

Here is the official summary of the proposition from the California Secretary of State:

Increases length of time required before a teacher may become a permanent employee from two complete consecutive school years to five complete consecutive school years; measure applies to teachers whose probationary period commenced during or after the 2003-2004 fiscal year. Authorizes school boards to dismiss a permanent teaching employee who receives two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Unknown impact on school district teacher salary costs as a result of changes in teacher tenure and dismissal practices. Fiscal impacts could vary significantly district by district.

The complete text is available at the State Attorney General's website. The proponent is Bonnie Garcia.

A good survey of all the issues and many links can be found at the Institute of Governmental Studies University of California website.

To start with, we need to be clear on exactly what "permanent employee" means and does not mean in the context of K-12 public school teachers. First "permanent employee" does not mean guaranteed, lifetime employment. Currently, permanent teachers can be terminated for a long list of reasons. Read what Section 44932 and 44933 of the California Education Code say. This is rather long but worth the time.

44932. (a) No permanent employee shall be dismissed except for one or more of the following causes:
(1) Immoral or unprofessional conduct.
(2) Commission, aiding, or advocating the commission of acts of criminal syndicalism, as prohibited by Chapter 188 of the Statutes of 1919, or in any amendment thereof.
(3) Dishonesty.
(4) Unsatisfactory performance.
(5) Evident unfitness for service.
(6) Physical or mental condition unfitting him or her to instruct or associate with children.
(7) Persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of the state or reasonable regulations prescribed for the government of the public schools by the State Board of Education or by the governing board of the school district employing him or her.
(8) Conviction of a felony or of any crime involving moral turpitude.
(9) Violation of Section 51530 or conduct specified in Section 1028 of the Government Code, added by Chapter 1418 of the Statutes of 1947.
(10) Knowing membership by the employee in the Communist Party.
(11) Alcoholism or other drug abuse which makes the employee unfit to instruct or associate with children.
(b) The governing board of a school district may suspend without pay for a specific period of time on grounds of unprofessional conduct a permanent certificated employee or, in a school district with an average daily attendance of less than 250 pupils, a probationary employee, pursuant to the procedures specified in Sections 44933, 44934, 44935, 44936, 44937, 44943, and 44944. This authorization shall not apply to any school district which has adopted a collective bargaining agreement pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 3543.2 of the Government Code.

44933. A permanent employee may be dismissed or suspended on grounds of unprofessional conduct consisting of acts or omissions other than those specified in Section 44932, but any such charge shall specify instances of behavior deemed to constitute unprofessional conduct. This section shall also apply to the suspension of probationary employees in a school district with an average daily attendance of less than 250 pupils.

Anyone who has ever worked in industry knows that the terms of dismissal listed above are as favorable to the employer, in this case the school district, as those generally found in the employee handbooks on most major companies.

Proponents of the initiative argue that teachers are hard to fire and that, therefore, they are seldom fired. It's hard to get data on this. I suppose that few are fired under 44932 or 44933. In industry, when the focus is on hiring far fewer are fired than when there is no pressure to increase staff size. No employer likes this fact but it is a fact. Despite very tight budgets, efforts to hire are still the order of the day in public schools. This is particularly true in math and science.

According to the California Department of Education, California school districts will need to hire 22,073 new teachers for the 2005-2006 academic year. There were 306,553 classroom teachers in California during the 2004-2005 academic year, the last year for which data is available, of which 19,247 were new hires. This amounts to over 6% new hires per year.

Below are the results of a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey on starting salaries in 2005. This is countrywide but I'm sure that, at least on a relative basis, it applies to California as well.

  • Accounting (private): $44,564
  • Management trainee: $35,811
  • Teaching: $29,733
  • Consulting: $49,781
  • Sales: $37,130
  • Accounting (public): $41,039
  • Financial/Treasury analysis: $45,596
  • Software design/development: $53,729
  • Design/construction engineering: $47,058
  • Registered nurse: $38,775

And here in lies the problem. There is a need to grow a teacher cadre at about 6% a year with a starting salary that is among the lowest of any profession requiring a four year college degree. Actually, more than fours years are required to get a teaching credential.

The following is anecdotal but I believe it represents the experience of many new teachers during the current two-year probationary period. I take this from a report by Joseph Arrieta one of the regular contributors to The Left Coaster :

My wife got her degree and her credential, which took five years. She signed a one year contract her first year for $24,000 a year, worked incredibly long hard hours in extremely trying conditions, and was told at the end of the year her services were no longer required.

One week before the next school year started she got a call—could she sign another 1 year contract and show up to work in a week? She hustled like mad to get all her materials back to her room and worked like a Trojan again for nine months. Again in June the letter came—thank you very much, please beat it.

Again she got the call, this time three weeks before the year started. In her third year her principal, who had total power of her future as a teacher, gave her tenure and a real professional slot in the school. Now she could plan, feel settled, get to truly know and commit to the staff and community, and look forward to raking in the big bucks.

Even if this turns out to be an isolated case, and I'm sure it isn't, just the rumor of such treatment combined with the low starting salaries will make it even more difficult to hire new teachers. And if this is true in general, it is even truer in science and math where skills are still widely sought in industry.

In addition to increasing the time it takes for a teacher to become a permanent employee, they want to give the School Districts the authority to fire any teacher that has two consecutive negative reviews. If you read section 44932 section 3, you know that they already can fire teachers for unsatisfactory performance. This new provision adds nothing and it may limit the ability of a district to take action if it must wait two full academic years.

If Californians are interested in bringing excellence to the classroom they need to increase teacher salaries so that hiring problems will be eased and no one will need to worry about keeping the inferior teachers in a frantic effort to keep even with classroom needs. And make no mistake; if this initiative is passes the cost of education will go up. And it will go up higher and faster then if we just did the right thing in the first place.

Just say, No!

Posted by DuaneSmith at June 25, 2005 01:55 PM | Read more on Current Events |

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