Friday, August 19, 2005

Tenure and Proposition 74

Proposition 74:
The Governor’s Proposition 74 would extend the present probationary period for k-12 teachers from two to five years. Proponents argue that this will give administrators more time to be certain that they deserve “tenure”.
This is a part of the consistent conservative argument that the problem with the schools is the teachers. Experience shows us that probationary teachers can get consistently good evaluations and still be let go by the district without reason or appeal. Why should a professional be put in this position for 5 years?

The proposal assumes that administrators are good evaluators, and that they use fair and reasonable criteria. There is no evidence to support this assumption. I have had over 34 years in the schools. I have observed administrators seek the removal of good teachers. This effort to remove teachers has significantly increased in recent years with the accountability movement. For example, in Sacramento City Unified principals were told to “do something” to improve the test scores. The easiest thing to do- which does not work- is to insist that all teachers teach the same way and to dismiss those who object.

What is called “tenure” is simply the right to due process- an opportunity to improve and the right to a hearing for those who choose to contest the administrator’s decision.

This initiative targets teachers as the problem in our public schools, without facing the problems of school budgets and finance. It misleads by claiming that tenure protects bad teachers, not acknowledging that tenure laws only provide due process guarantees.

In working in teacher preparation for the last thirty years I have found many future teachers believe that they give up their first amendment rights to free speech when they become teachers- at least until they get tenure. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Teachers have the same rights that all citizens have to express their views. They do have a professional responsibility to not propagandize.

In my own experience many teachers fear that they will be dismissed for disagreeing with a Principal until they tenure. That is, they see themselves as less than professionals.
My efforts to convince future teacher that they retain their first amendment rights have seldom changed their minds.

What do teachers fear? In particular teachers of English Language learners and Special Education students frequently see the school administration violating state and federal laws to provide services. They see money for special services used for other projects selected by the Principal. However, the teachers are reluctant to complain fearing dismissal. They say, “ well I will wait until I have tenure.”

Now, with this proposal tenure will be extended to five years. This gives the Principal and other administrators arbitrary power. There is no good evidence showing that administrator’s use this power wisely.

My argument is that if you keep quiet about your democractic rights for five years, you become a person who does not demonstate integrity. You become part of the problem.

Two years is plenty long enough for a professional to serve with limited procedural rights. Extending this only attacks teachers professionalism. If administrators can not do their job within two years- let them move on.

Our real problem is finding ways to keep new teachers in the schools. Proposition 74 will discourage new teachers.

What are your opinions?
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