Educators: Ending 'tenure' no magic bullet

Atherton entrepreneur behind lawsuit challenging teacher tenure and seniority rules

A court decision last week to throw out state teacher tenure rules may lead people to think that this is the solution for providing quality education for all students, a shortsighted view in the opinion of local educators.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on June 10 decided that tenure rules, which allow teachers to get lifetime job protection after just 18 months, were unconstitutional because they allow ineffective teachers to stay in the system, thereby depriving equal access to a quality public education for all students.

"I think some people believe that if you get rid of tenure, you've solved the problem and quality (of education) will go up," said Deborah Stipek, dean of the school of education at Stanford University. The problems are elsewhere, she said, in teachers' lack of social status and paychecks that don't reflect their value to the community. Society needs to invest in the best and brightest, train them well and provide on-the-job support, she said.

"Tenure is a red herring," Woodside High School English teacher Tony Mueller said is an email. "Rather than going after labor unions and worker's rights, 'reformers' should confront the real problems with our education system: gross inequity in funding based on geography, the drastic cuts in social spending for the poor, the obscenely small amount of money spent per pupil in California, the constant attack on teachers from those intent on privatizing the system, and inherent American anti-intellectualism that is suspicious of science, poetry, foreign languages, and history."

The lawsuit

Nine public school students represented by Students Matter, a nonprofit with a mail-drop in Menlo Park and founded by Atherton resident and Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, sued the state and the state Department of Education in May 2012, alleging "outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers."

The statutes in question -- on tenure, dismissal and last-in-first-out teacher-layoff policies -- were declared unconstitutional in a June 10 decision by Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles County Superior Court. Judge Treu suspended the decision pending an appeal by the state.

The lawsuit asserted that teachers play a crucial role in the lifetime achievements of their students, and that ineffective teachers can have a dramatically negative impact. Lawyers for the students claimed that such teachers are "disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students," which has adverse effects on the quality of their education, Judge Treu wrote in summarizing his decision.

Testimony at the trial included a study asserting that a typical classroom of students collectively loses $1.4 million in lifetime earnings when taught by an ineffective teacher for one year, the judge noted. A witness testifying for the state said that up to 3 percent of California's 275,000 public school teachers, about 8,250 teachers, are "grossly" ineffective. "The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience," Judge Treu wrote.

He compared the students' plight to the separate-but-equal schools for African-American students, a practice struck down by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Educators respond

The ruling is "certainly a dramatic decision," and tenure is symbolic on both sides of the issue, Ms. Stipek of Stanford said. "I think most teachers oppose getting rid of tenure because they don't believe or have not experienced that other strategies for judging the quality of their work are fair," she said.

Two evaluation tools are now available: assessment by the principal and measurement of the achievement of students taught by the teacher. For the first to be useful, Ms. Stipek said, principals need to know effective teaching when they see it. "Some do, many don't," she said, and training is uncommon.

As for measuring student achievement, if students arrive in the fall prepared for the work ahead of them, assessing their progress can be uncomplicated. Students not adequately prepared can still learn a great deal and make "huge progress," but it won't show up in a by-the-numbers evaluation of the teacher, Ms. Stipek said.

Progress is being made on effective evaluation techniques, but teachers have no faith that current methods are fair and unbiased, she said. Job security -- tenure -- is a fall-back position, she said, adding that she is very sympathetic to administrators whose hands are tied by union rules when trying to reassign teachers.

Woodside High teacher Tony Mueller said that some of the "world's best education systems have highly-unionized teachers with even better job security than in California." The lawsuit, he said, is "an attack on unions, workers, and teachers with the intent of breaking unions and privatizing public education."

Students Matter did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Woodside High English teacher Sue Rhodehouse said in an email that she has seen ineffective teachers removed, often speedily. "The current system just ensures due process," she said. "This is a challenging job. Those years that I am given a difficult assignment, I am eager to take up the task because I know that I am guaranteed due process should the need arise. Without this process ... I would question my career choice and discourage others from entering the field."

Teaching as a profession loses 50 percent of its new teachers within five years, said Fred Glass of the California Federation of Teachers. The current system protects academic freedom, he said. "One thing that makes teaching attractive is that somebody has your back," he said. "If you raise a controversial issue such as religion or politics, you won't be fired."

Related stories:Simitian: Tenure ruling 'fairly reasoned' | ■ Legal team hammers on tenure rules, and wins


Like this comment
Posted by happy with the decision
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I applaud the court's decision. I don't think the ruling is a magic bullet -- there's too much that's wrong with California's schools to think that any one adjustment will solve all their problems. I don't think anyone is claiming this is a cure-all -- that's really a straw man argument. But the court's decision is a step in the right direction.

I have a question for Dr. Stipek -- what is the best way to evaluate a teacher's performance? If the principals aren't qualified to evaluate teachers, and if test scores aren't a good metric, then what? I would love to know, from a teacher's standpoint, how do we evaluate a teacher's performance in the classroom?

Like this comment
Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Classic Straw Man argument. NOBODY said it was a magic bullet. But it is a good first step. That is all anyone expected it to be.

Like this comment
Posted by Rich
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm

This is such an important step to returning some form of accountability to our public schools. Throughout my son's schooling, if I raised a concern about a teacher, the administration always said, "sorry, but our hands are tied because the teacher is tenured."

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I simply cannot fathom how anyone can defend guaranteed lifetime employment after 2 years of service. Would you take your child to get his haircut by someone who could never be fired?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 19, 2014 at 11:00 am

I always say follow the money and it will lead you to the waste!!

The Union needs to be abolished. Job security should be on how well you work and how well the students actually learn.

But soon free schools will be a thing of the past, because of the dawn of the internet age. If people want free educations all they will need is an internet connection. If parents what the physical teacher type schooling, they should pay for it.

Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Eliminating tenure is a great first start!

Today, teachers have to work for only 18 months, then they have a job for life (short of shooting the principal). After 18 months, all they need do is show up. They do not have to teach or keep up their teaching skills.

That is why Charter Schools are so popular.

Let's replace lazy union teachers with non-union dedicated teachers!

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher Erin
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

It should be easier to fire really bad teachers, but tenure isn't the problem. Its the three pillars of Teacher union control, the graduated pay scale , the seniority system and the most pay for the least amount of work that cause all the problems. The unions do their job so well that public isn't aware of how schools actually work.

Teachers are paid by how many years they work and how many units of course work they have completed. Period. The course work can be anything, it does not need to be post graduate or even related to the subject they are teaching. Think underwater basket weaving. You might get a small bonus for a masters but it's not much.

In many if not most schools teaching jobs are assigned by seniority. The teachers actually choose their assignments, sometimes it is even what kids will be in their class. If a school has to cut back on staff then the most senior teachers stay, the least senior go. Did you know that this issue was different than the actual tenure issue? The unions are counting on the fact that you don't.

Unions do a fantastic job, I should know I am member, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do for their members, get the most work for the least amount of pay. They make sure that their members don't do anything extra. Really. The union boss actually asked me not to do a fun project with my students because nobody should do anything extra, ever.

Truthfully the CTA could really care less about tenure - they don't like defending the really bad teachers - this decision just makes it easier. Just don't mess with the pay scale, seniority or work effort.

Like this comment
Posted by Beth
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Great comments Konrad and Erin

Teachers and students would be much better off with out the unions and the elected school board members they control. The entire LASD board is in the unions pocket. In fact Tammy Logan is very upset about the Tenure decision.

I look forward to day when all schools are charters.

Like this comment
Posted by Sweatshop lies
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 22, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Notice what so-called "teacher Erin" wrote:

"Unions do a fantastic job, I should know I am member, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do for their members, get the most work for the least amount of pay. "

She is railing against the unions but then says they are trying to get the least pay for their members! I guess she doesn't understand that unions are actually trying to get fair pay for their teachers and not just the lowest dollar amount.

This is typical of the conservative view that education should be limited to vocational and religious. The proponents of this philosophy are often uneducated themselves and want to drag down the next generations to their level.

A conservative judge in Southern California has ruled against education, which is no surprise. We'll see what happens finally...

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher Erin
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Well that was a huge mistake on my part.

What I should have written is:

The most pay for the least amount of work.

Hope that clears everything up.

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 7:38 pm

This is such a no-brainer that the unions should be first in line to make concessions on tenure. Defending the indefensible just makes moderate folks throw up their hands and choose private education - if they can afford it - thus worsening the divide that everyone claims to be so concerned about.

Like this comment
Posted by Good move
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:34 am

I think this is a significant step forward in the education reform movement, but not because it will have a major impact on outcomes. Certainly getting bad teachers out more efficiently, and eliminating tenure (and the potential for associated complacency by tenured teachers) will have some positive results. But the reality is that most under-performing, and under-served student populations won't magically transform into high performers because of this. This will hopefully eliminate the noise and the focus on teacher tenure that is the calling card of many "school choice" advocates. Tenure is an offensive notion to a huge percentage of American's and eliminating it will show that there are many more important areas that need focus, and that the simplistic anti-union focus of charter advocates is no real solution. Truly *good* teachers, who care primarily about their students, should embrace this development.

Like this comment
Posted by Fascisti Beth
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 10:02 am

@Beth derides teachers unions AND the elected school boards who govern our local schools -- and "she" pines for the day when all schools are charters run by un-elected, un-accountable boards and run by private companies focused on maximizing profit. Sounds about as un-American as anything I've seen on this board. Fortunately, it seems like a solid majority of Americans still prefer democracy...

Like this comment
Posted by Get out much?
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2014 at 7:23 pm

@ Fascisti:

I see the clouds that move across the sky
I see the wind that moves the clouds away
It moves the clouds over by the building
I pick the building that I want to live in

I smell the pine trees and the peaches in the woods
I see the pinecones that fall by the highway
That's the highway that goes to the building
I pick the building that I want to live in

It's over there, it's over there
My building has every convenience
It's gonna make life easy for me
It's gonna be easy to get things done
I will relax along with my loved ones

Loved ones, loved ones visit the building,
take the highway, park and come up and see me
I'll be working, working but if you come visit
I'll put down what I'm doing, my friends are important

Don't you worry 'bout me
I wouldn't worry about me
Don't you worry 'bout me
Don't you worry 'bout me

I see the states, across this big nation
I see the laws made in Washington, D.C.
I think of the ones I consider my favorites
I think of the people that are working for me

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong
I'm a lucky guy to live in my building
They own the buildings to help them along

It's over there, it's over there
My building has every convenience
It's gonna make life easy for me
It's gonna be easy to get things done
I will relax along with my loved ones

Loved ones, loved ones visit the building
Take the highway, park and come up and see me
I'll be working, working but if you come visit
I'll put down what I'm doing, my friends are important

I wouldn't worry 'bout
I wouldn't worry about me
Don't you worry 'bout me
Don't you worry 'bout ME…

- Don't Worry About the Government - Talking Heads

Like this comment
Posted by David Rooode
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

One needs only look at Bullis Charter School where there is no teacher tenure. Parents pressure and on the spot evaluation will replace an ineffective teacher mid year. No union, no bloated salary, and no wasting time developing a bond with the students. Most efficient use of taxpaper dollars. There is a reason Bullis is the best school in the state.

Each Student Counts

Like this comment
Posted by MVER
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm

@ Get Out Much?

Love your post. I think we have some wacky posters here. Don't know what's up DR and Fascisti hope it's the smae person wouldn't want too many of those running around. Stop trying to relate everything charter schools.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom Sawyer
a resident of Gemello
on Jun 24, 2014 at 10:46 pm

As long as we are posting lyrics:

"The Trees"

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream 'Oppression!'
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'
Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw

Like this comment
Posted by Real mom
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I always laugh when "Ms." Strong quotes Rush! The biggest tell of them all!

Like this comment
Posted by Mom Too
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:56 pm

@ Real Mom

LOL I thought the same thing as well. Rush as well as the Sweatshop Lies and Fasciti post. Think "she" must be on the union payroll

Like this comment
Posted by BullisIsBully
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2014 at 1:08 am

Unfortunately, the core of BCS is rotten. They promulgate lies as revenge for a good decision by LASD to close an under-subscribed school.

The rest is just greed by BCS to take public funds for use in a private school. A complete bastardization of the charter school law. Shame on them!

Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jun 27, 2014 at 7:56 am

BB needs to find a different hobby. It's summer, leave your house, take a hike. Enjoy the world, stop the hate.

Like this comment
Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I can't believe that so many of you are entirely missing the whole point of tenure.

It ensures that a teacher will not be fired for teaching all points of view, including those that differ with the principle's!

Without tenure, we will have classrooms overseen by principles who will (probably secretly) decide what teachers can present to the class and what they must not = on fear of being fired! And how they must present, like lectures only, not any film or music, etc.

I know I taught for years. There are better ways to get more out of teachers!

Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm

C'mon Linda, when you make statements like that it hurts your credibility...not only on this topic, but on others.

Public school principals answer to the community and to the school board. They are accountable for ensuring State standards are met, and that the schools are being run in a manner that's consistent with what's best for students, parents, the local community, and yes...teachers. If any of those constituents are upset, or if standards aren't being met, or if academic measures slip...then principal's job is in jeopardy. So, no...principals are not secretly monitoring classrooms to micromanage classroom presentations.

As a former teacher, it's surprising you don't know that your boss was the "principal" (not "principle").

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I have been a High School Teacher for 20 + years. If you want to improve the system here are a few suggestions:

1. Stop forcing teachers to pay union dues. Even if you don't join the union you still have to pay most of the dues.
2. Change the pay system. Keep years but
- credentials in subjects that have a shortage of teachers this includes Math, Physics, Special Education, Computer Science.
- Reward teachers for good reviews by paying them more.
- Reward teachers for innovation
- Let qualified individuals enter the teacher workforce through a much shorter route - less teacher ed, more internship.
- Change grades 3-8 to a specialized credentialing system. We need more teachers that understand math and science and fewer teachers that majored in sociology.
-Require skills test to make sure that teachers understand the subject that they are teaching.
-Make it easier to get rid of the sit at the desk and read the computer teachers.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but we are not going to fix the system unless we figure out a way to get smarter teachers in the classroom. Especially in the k -8 schools. There some really great teachers out there and some that are not.

Like this comment
Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 4:45 pm


No matter how accountable the principal may be to all those you mentioned, I have worked with a few who had secret agendas that would shock you, and I was safe to really teach every student in the manner that presented the material in the best way for their learning how to learn, because I had tenure.

Many principals just wanted top scores on the standardized tests, which sure miss by a mile as a way to insure someone is actually being educated.

Yes, yes, I well know & have taught that a principal is "your 'pal'"
--Guess my subconscious was seeing it differently the other day. Ha.

All of you, please reread the article. It sites much more than I touch on.

Tenure really meant much freer speech in the classroom. This turn of events moves us much closer to losing all of our freedoms, especially with "Core Curriculum" inserted into all public classrooms. "Core Curriculum" is such propaganda for value change to support UN Agenda 21. Seriously look deeply into it.

Don't make assumptions and end up fooled.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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