The arguments for and against teacher tenure are so well known by now as a result of the lower-court ruling in Vergara v. California that it’s futile to try to change the views of those on opposite sides of the issue. That’s why I think it’s time to consider a compromise (“Rethinking the rules on teachers and tenure,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 5).
A bill in the California Assembly would be a step in the right direction. Teachers who are given a rating of unsatisfactory would be provided with one year of training and support. If they didn’t improve, they could be fired, although they could appeal through binding arbitration.
When it comes to seniority, it would still count in case of layoffs, except for teachers rated unsatisfactory. The latter would be replaced by teachers with less seniority but with better performance ratings.
Tenure could still be granted after only 18 months, but principals would retain the option of waiting for a third or fourth year before making a decision.
Overall, I think that the bill is an improvement over what presently exists in Califonia and perhaps in other states. But I have some serious reservations, which I will address in the order presented above.
First, what constitutes evidence of an unsatisfactory rating? Is it based on standardized test scores in one year, or over several years? Does it factor in the background of students assigned to a teacher? What are the observation criteria? Are peers involved in the observation? These are all highly relevant questions that need to be answered beforehand.
Second, if seniority is superseded by performance, does that mean for teachers in all departments? Can teachers who are certified in more than one field prevail over others? How much weight would be given to these teachers’ backgrounds?
Third, what is the reason that tenure is granted after only 18 months for any teacher? Is conditional tenure a possibility under the bill? What are the grounds for firing a tenured teacher? Who chooses the arbitrator or arbitrators?
Teacher tenure should rightly be the responsibility of state legislatures, rather than of the courts. If AB 938 that I’ve described above can address the concerns I’ve raised, I think it warrants consideration. Yet I repeat that it will not put to rest the debate over tenure once and for all.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.