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California K-12 Teacher Tenure System Struck Down
June 11, 2014 11:38 PM   Subscribe

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu said that the laws governing K-12 teacher job security were unconstitutional. Treu declared the rules governing K-12 teacher tenure in California were unconstitutional because they affect predominately minority and poor students, allowing incompetent instructors to remain in the classroom. He said in the decision that the protections "impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education." He went on to say that the evidence for this "shocks the conscience." The decision ends the process of laying off teachers based solely on when they were hired. It also strips them of extra job safeguards not enjoyed by other school or state employees. And, lastly, it eliminates the current tenure process, under which instructors are either fired or win strong job security about 18 months after they start teaching. The case was brought by a Silicon Valley group, Students Matter. The suit has highlighted competing views of teacher tenure. The decision has lead to significant and spirited debate over K-12 teacher job protections.
posted by professor plum with a rope (147 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some background is available here on David Welch, the billionaire behind Students Matter, which discusses his investments in charter schools, privatized school programs and textbook companies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:46 PM on June 11 [11 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, is job security worth a quantifiable dollar amount, and does this mean there will be lawsuits determining just compensation that will bankrupt California?
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:58 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Let's be sure to include the reason why this affects predominantly minority and poor students:

Poorly performing teachers with tenure in California are moved to low-performing, low-income, largely minority schools, partly as punishment for being crappy at their jobs, partly hoping the teacher will be miserable and quit, partly to preserve quality eduction for the "more deserving" school populations, and mostly because they can't be fired because of tenure laws.

A solution could easily be found that could continue teacher tenure as a way to protect teachers who need the protection of tenure because their methods are unconventional yet effective, or whose viewpoints on subjects are out of vogue but are necessary voices from the wilderness.

But yeah, moving teachers who are crap at their jobs and ghettoizing them by moving them to ghetto schools... that pretty much is just shitting on the children of the ghetto.
posted by hippybear at 11:59 PM on June 11 [30 favorites]


Yay!! Fuck teachers! Now that we can easily fire all the freeloading dead weight, all of the cream will rise to the top, and our kids will finally have a real chance at economic mobility. C'mon magical market fairy! Do your stuff!

If teaching is so goddamn important, why do we rely on a system with one (overworked) teacher per classroom, with no meaningful backup, support or goals and metrics? Would you feel comfortable going to a doctor, lawyer - hell even auto mechanic or dentist who worked alone, without a meaningful support system? Of course lots of teachers get terrible results. Anybody with skills and talent either burns out, adjusts their expectations, or moves on to a more rewarding job.

I do think that in a future, utopian version of a public school system administrators at each school should have the ability to hire/fire/recruit/reassign teachers onto their team. Not fire as in, lose their job, benefits, etc. but remove them from their school and replace them with someone who they can work better with.*

This assumes a magical fantasy world where budget priorities and curriculum are determined by individual schools, administration infrastructure is minimal and efficient, and local parents are involved and engaged in the running of the school.

*It's been well established all over the US - and likely farther afield - that administration can ruin a teacher's career, regards of any union protections. I think everyone would be better served if it was explicit who the teacher had to serve/appease/impress in order to succeed at their job. ...and similarly, the administrator/principal could be held to real account if they had the power to select their team.
posted by Anoplura at 12:12 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]


It reminds me of working for the guy quite awhile ago where, despite my being an at-will employee, he literally trumped up a whole bunch of things he thought would make me so upset I'd quit before he finally laid me off, just to avoid my filing for unemployment. Letting schools lay teachers off without cause seems to not solve the problem of bad teachers at all, since cause exists. There seems to already be a procedure for getting rid of teachers for cause. So why isn't it being followed, and why aren't we asking for the heads of the administrators on silver platters when they refuse to follow those procedures and instead assign those teachers to work with underprivileged students?
posted by Sequence at 12:19 AM on June 12 [8 favorites]


Hippybear, do you have any anecdata/evidence for your premise that bad teachers are sent to "bad" schools? I'm not necessarily doubting this, but I have quite a few friends who are current or former teachers in and around Los Angeles, and this doesn't seem to jibe with their experiences. Teacher assignment around here seems largely random, and transferring schools is something you apply for and wait and hope. It's not something that happens to you - no matter how good or bad your perceived performance is. Administrators around here just don't have that kind of power.
posted by Anoplura at 12:21 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Anoplura: It's something I heard at some point on the radio (NPR) during the day. I'm trying to do research but am on the verge of sleep and I need to catch this wave or I'll be up all night. I will look tomorrow morning when I get up and see if I can provide sources.
posted by hippybear at 12:38 AM on June 12


The biggest problem is how you rate teachers to determine who is 'ineffective'. Children vary wildly in natural talent for the subject, work-rate, motivation, parent support etc; any given student can vary wildly between subjects to boot. How students respond to some material varies too. Being a teacher includes accounting for that, and adjusting your course materials and teaching strategy per pupil of course; but there are definite limits on what you can achieve, no matter your own skill level, and is directly affected by class size.

Teaching children is not like making widgets. Even in the same yeargroup in the same department in the same school, two classes can be quite different in their achievable improvement. When you're so affected by the variability of the children, how on earth do you judge which is the better teacher by metrics? Let alone then expand that across departments, or between schools, where you add in the social mix, background and financial issues for pupils.

I forsee more senior teachers ending up cherry-picking the strongest students for their subject, so that the new/young teachers get left with the least capable students, the hardest to teach disruptive ones and the least interested. They will then end up getting hammered on the 'amount improved' metrics and thus getting fired first when budget cuts roll around again. And you'll have the same end result of newer teachers getting the chop over older ones that tenure produces, with no significant impact on eventual outcomes, yet will have butchered the protections of all teachers from the whims of bureaucracy and shouty parents - thus leading to the best remaining or potential teachers who can go get a much better paid job in the private sector to decide it's not worth the russian roulette career.

That that will then lead to a yet poorer quality public education system with larger class sizes, and thus greater demand for the private education system that bankrolled this suit I'm sure is entirely coincidental.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:47 AM on June 12 [23 favorites]


I'm honestly not sure how much this will really affect teachers, since frankly, you have to be insane in the first place to teach these days. I say, having been in the education field for two decades.
posted by happyroach at 12:52 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, teaching is a really hard job. It's physically demanding. You get very little respect and second-guessed by everyone. What you do is really important. I mean, the five-year washout rate is between 40 and 50%. That's indicative of a crappy job.

On the other hand, I too have tenure. I'm a university professor. For a spot like mine, you go through a national search with hundreds of applicants. Then you spend six years working your ass off. It took me years to figure out how to teach. Tenure decisions are reached in the seventh year. I needed to publish, teach well (no, really; we care about that), and serve on a bunch of committees for tenure. Before that, I spent my 20s in graduate school working toward the PhD. That teachers get the sort of job protection I have--at the end of the second year--strikes me as absurd. I don't know how they know who the good teachers are after 18 months. I mean, I wasn't a good teacher after 18 months, and my students are much easier to teach than K-12 students are. It's also not clear to me why that sort of job protection is necessary at the K-12 level.

I could see last-in, first out being reformed somewhat, with evaluations based on class visitations by peers and administrators, student evaluations (we have all of these in our teaching evaluations), as well as (only somewhat) test scores, and seniority. Time spent teaching really does make one a better teacher. So you have a system where when the layoffs have to come, it is based on these sorts of evaluations and not just seniority.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:55 AM on June 12 [14 favorites]


To clarify: K-12 teachers in CA get tenure at the end of their second year.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:58 AM on June 12


Those Creationist textbooks need a new market! Yay!
posted by mobunited at 1:01 AM on June 12


evaluations based on ... student evaluations

hiring or firing teachers based on whether students say they like them in their evaluation forms is, er, problematic to say the least
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:10 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


hiring or firing teachers based on whether students say they like them in their evaluation forms is, er, problematic to say the least

I agree. That's why I suggested having evaluations be only part. Also, they should be examined for evidence of good teaching, rather than evidence of popularity. We do this at the university level.

I also should say that, to the extent that there is a problem in K-12 education in the US, tenure isn't the main issue. Those states without tenure don't do better in educational statistics than those with tenure. And, as Diane Ravitch is always saying, if you really care about K-12 education, fix the poverty problem. The main predictor for poor K-12 outcomes is poverty.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:16 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


The biggest problem is how you rate teachers to determine who is 'ineffective'.

BINGO! In many--most?--schools, it's largely based on their own students' standardized test scores. Your kids do bad on tests? You're a bad teacher, full stop.

What's that? The kids that do bad are almost always from low socioeconomic families? They don't have the resources--like computers, a place to do homework, even pens and paper--that other kids have? They often live in dangerous areas, and often don't even have the daily nutrition that allows them to focus on school work? They come from families that don't speak English and they don't speak the language well themselves? They have to take care of brothers and sisters because their parents are working two jobs each? (and on and on and on)

All of that is not the teacher's fault. Well, it's gotta be somebody's fault. Teachers make a handy punching bag.
posted by zardoz at 1:24 AM on June 12 [26 favorites]


The biggest problem is how you rate teachers to determine who is 'ineffective'.

But both the state and the teachers themselves disagree, since as the judgement points out:
'State Defendants' exhibit 1005, "California Standards for the Teaching Profession" (CSTP) (2009) in its opening sentence declares: "A growing body of research confirms that the quality of teaching is what matters most for the students' development and learning in schools." (Emphasis added).

'All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child's in-school educational experience....

'... Dr. Berliner, an expert called by State Defendants, testified that 1-3% of teachers in California are grossly ineffective ... the extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.'
If you think that teaching is important - like, good teaching is better than bad teaching - then you must have a way to identify good and bad teaching, even if it's only at the level of "you know, it's debatable for 97% of teachers, but this 3% here? They're rubbish. Why don't we sack them?"

Of course, if you think that teaching can't make a difference because of things like "natural ability" - and many would agree, at least in the eugenics movement - then this ruling doesn't make sense. But I think we should sack poor teachers. And anyone who thinks that teaching matters must surely agree.
posted by alasdair at 1:27 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


That teachers get the sort of job protection I have--at the end of the second year--strikes me as absurd.

They are coming for you next, you know.
posted by thelonius at 2:11 AM on June 12 [57 favorites]


I'm okay with the concept that these laws are bad and should be changed, but I'm not clear exactly why being a bad law makes it unconstitutional.

Seems to me that he could have just barred the practice of moving underperforming teachers to underprivileged schools.
posted by empath at 2:17 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


BINGO! In many--most?--schools, it's largely based on their own students' standardized test scores. Your kids do bad on tests? You're a bad teacher, full stop.

I thought teachers were rated based on their improvement, not their final score. Is that not true?
posted by empath at 2:18 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


They are coming for you next, you know.

The Economic Upside to Ending Tenure
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:52 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Blazecock's link is astonishing.

Without tenure, all faculty could be hired instead on five-year renewable contracts...professors might also be willing to give up some compensation in return for flexibility..."It would be so much different if there were a free and open labor market. People wouldn't be stuck for life in all kinds of cities they don't want to live in."

That's right, professors will apparently be glad to take a pay cut in exchange for breaking the chains of tenure that cruelly hold them in lifelong scholarly employment.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:07 AM on June 12 [50 favorites]


What's that? The kids that do bad are almost always from low socioeconomic families?

There obviously ought to be better integration right from the beginning, with poor kids and rich kids attending the same preschools and all the way up. Problems with schools (including any problems with teacher quality) will always be solved first for the children of people with money. But good luck pushing that idea past the well-to-do governing classes who decide these things.
posted by pracowity at 3:40 AM on June 12


That teachers get the sort of job protection I have--at the end of the second year--strikes me as absurd.

Christ, of all the denuded, exploited, predatory fields to draw inspiration from, universities are the last place I would look. Watching the downward slide of conditions in higher ed pick up speed to the point its breaking the sound barrier... I wouldn't wish that on anyone. You are lucky you got tenure - literally every single academic I know under 50 (bar one) - is a sessional academic working from contract to contract with a shit tonne of unpaid extras (like most of their marking etc) thrown in for good measure. Come the summer holidays they are effectively unemployed for three months. Oh yes, some are "Fellows", where the uni gives them a shitty cubicle, basically steals half of any grant they bring in and then "pays" them a paltry salary out of the cut they took.

I mean, the whole sector is moving to a vast underclass of highly educated, underemployed people barely earning more (And sometimes less) than what a graduate in the corporate or government sector would.

"Bad" teachers are perennial problem, no doubt, but I fail to see how stripping all teachers of their basic protections and job security will help that - especially when the driving force behind it are vested interests making money from tax dollars set aside for education. Teachers get a fucking pittance paid to them as it is - job security is one of the few selling points left to the profession.
posted by smoke at 3:51 AM on June 12 [29 favorites]


In case you need a scorecard, here's where we stand: Strong collectives for lawyers and judges are A-OK; for teachers, not so much. But, it's all for the children.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:08 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I too have tenure. I'm a university professor. For a spot like mine, you go through a national search with hundreds of applicants. Then you spend six years working your ass off. It took me years to figure out how to teach. Tenure decisions are reached in the seventh year.

The key difference is that those decisions are made with considerable input from current tenured faculty in universities, who carry out the tenure reviews and review the applicants themselves. In the public school system, hiring decisions are made almost entirely by administrators and politicians at the local and state levels. Teachers' job security will end up having more to do with who the principal is, who is on the school board, who the state superintendent is, and what the state legislature thinks should be taught.

For that matter, eliminating tenure at the university level is a good way to further extend the reach of administration and state legislatures. Legislatures already do everything they can to extend this sort of power over public universities as it is, and once any form of tenure is eliminated in K-12 the argument will be that this proves the whole idea is outmoded.
posted by kewb at 4:10 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Also, university tenure makes a poor analogy because professors have much greater control over the curriculum than public school teachers do. Some of these arguments seem to be that teachers can only fail themselves, rather than being failed by poorly implemented or ever-shifting metrics and curriculum requirements, chronic underfunding of the educational system as a whole, and the bizarre and uniquely American contradiction of demanding strong local control while appealing to national or international standards and methods.
posted by kewb at 4:13 AM on June 12 [13 favorites]


The state and the teacher unions were so blinded by ideology that they lost this argument by stipulating to the ridiculous notion that bad teachers are a meaningful contributor to the underperformance of students from low income families. Parents' inability and/or unwillingness to support learning and good behavior is much of the cause, and the rest is due to unwillingness of administrators to use tracking and expulsion to create an appropriate learning environment for those able and willing to learn despite parental deficits.
posted by MattD at 4:29 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


The state and the teacher unions were so blinded by ideology that they lost this argument by stipulating to the ridiculous notion that bad teachers are a meaningful contributor to the underperformance of students from low income families. Parents' inability and/or unwillingness to support learning and good behavior is much of the cause, and the rest is due to unwillingness of administrators to use tracking and expulsion to create an appropriate learning environment for those able and willing to learn despite parental deficits.

A large part of the push for both "teacher accountability" (job insecurity) and charters in certain quarters is driven by this sentiment, which amounts to opposition to the very notion of compulsory education as a public good (and, indeed, the very notion of public goods).

Children do not pick their parents; to expel them on the grounds that it saves "the good ones" requires either a plan for giving them the support they need elsewhere or, as would likely happen, simply abandoning them to factors over which they have no control and which are not the result of their free choices.
posted by kewb at 4:41 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


Letting schools lay teachers off without cause

Tenure means the provision of an appeals process prior to termination rather than the requirement of cause.
posted by jpe at 5:05 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Oh, I know they're coming for university tenure. It doesn't have groups gunning for it in quite the way they're after K-12 tenure, but there are people who would like to see it go away.

I'm not so lucky as to have tenure as I am lucky to have landed a TT job. That's the real crapshoot.

But anyway, this isn't about me.

Let me reiterate this: If you want to improve the product of American K-12 education, teacher tenure isn't the thing to try to reform. Bad teachers contribute overall very little to our educational problems. There may be other reasons to reform it, such as the reasons I sketched above. On the other hand, there are reasons *not* to reform it: We already have a market failure with 40-50% of teachers leaving the profession within five years. That indicates that compensation isn't high enough, and diminishing job security is a way of de facto reducing compensation. Now, the usual suspects will propose paying more and getting rid of tenure. But we all know they'd do the latter and magically not have enough money for the former. The same sort of bullshit is happening with pensions--we'll agree to defer payment to state workers in the form of pensions. And then magically the money isn't there.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 5:13 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]




you have to admire the artistry of it: using concern for the children of the working class to gut job security in one of the last unionized workplaces.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:19 AM on June 12 [17 favorites]


So students have a constitutional right not to be trapped with a poor teacher. Hmm.

So if I were to make the argument that low teacher salaries meant that schools were not able to attract the most talented people to the profession, and thereby trapped a certain percentage of students with a bad teacher, would the court mandate an increase in teacher salaries? Does this line of reasoning only apply to taking benefits away versus adding them? Does this line of reasoning apply only to unions and not to management?
posted by Chanther at 5:50 AM on June 12 [17 favorites]


It's also not clear to me why that sort of job protection is necessary at the K-12 level.

You have much more faith in school boards and administrators than I do.

K12 teachers, like nearly all local employees, need strong protection because without it they have to worry about being fired for any of a zillion dipshit reasons a bored moral busybody might come up with. They were seen coming out of an r rated movie. They were seen kissing someone of the same sex, or the wrong race, or both. Someone saw them on the street and they were swearing. They don't seem to go to church, or they go to a wrong one. Their partner said something arguably racist. Or, they have to worry about being fired because they wouldn't suck their principal's dick, in either completely literal or a million metaphorical ways. Or, they didn't work fr the right people's re election.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:55 AM on June 12 [15 favorites]


Yay!! Fuck teachers! Now that we can easily fire all the freeloading dead weight, all of the cream will rise to the top, and our kids will finally have a real chance at economic mobility. C'mon magical market fairy! Do your stuff!

Are you suggesting that life is not an Afterschool Special where simple solutions wrap up all the problems within minutes of implementing them?

These ugly days, people who are Middle Class or Working Class get whacked for any perceived perk they fought for and are made to look like greedy robber barons for having them while real greedy robber barons can just do whatever they please.

Can we just elevate those who are denied rather than take away from those who have made headway in life?

I will not be surprised when one day a court rules that not being chained to your desk is a frivolous perk that needs to be done away with immediately...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:11 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


I don't know about LAUSD, but I teach in a fairly large district in Orange County, CA with two distinct zones, one hugely affluent and the other very poor with some schools that were identified as program improvement (failing) under NCLB, and I've never seen nor heard of anyone being bundled off to a school on the other side because they were ineffective.

I do know of teachers who were fired in their first two years for being crappy... in fact, in those first two years a teacher can be let go for no reason at all, as long as the principal just says they weren't a good fit for the school. We get tenure on the first day of our third year.

K12 teachers, like nearly all local employees, need strong protection because without it they have to worry about being fired for any of a zillion dipshit reasons a bored moral busybody might come up with.

Absolutely. No matter how much things are changing nationally, there's going to be an administrator (or 1,000) who don't think gays or whoever else should be teaching the children.

One problem with getting rid of tenure is that there is no product of my work that I can hold up and say, "Look, here's quantifiable evidence that I do a good job and this guy is just out to get me." I teach in an affluent area, so my school's test scores are great. But there are years that the scores are not great, whole grade levels of kids who score low as a group all the way through school... like 10% lower than the rest of the school. Why? It's the topic of endless discussion, we don't know. Teachers joke that there was something in the water that year.

An even bigger problem: who the hell is going to choose to teach in low-income areas or with at-risk kids if test scores are what determine whether or not they keep their jobs? I liked teaching in low-income schools and it was just chance that I ended up where I am, but without tenure teachers will leave those schools as quickly as possible. There are all kinds of reasons test scores go down that have nothing to do with the teacher.
posted by Huck500 at 6:16 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


An even bigger problem: who the hell is going to choose to teach in low-income areas or with at-risk kids if test scores are what determine whether or not they keep their jobs? I liked teaching in low-income schools and it was just chance that I ended up where I am, but without tenure teachers will leave those schools as quickly as possible. There are all kinds of reasons test scores go down that have nothing to do with the teacher.

You seem to misunderstand the point of lawsuits. Lawsuits aren't about improvement. They're about assigning blame. And teachers are the perennial whipping boy of the whole damned system.
posted by Talez at 6:19 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


I think there could be a middle ground. There needs to be financial protections for teachers, but also the ability to lay off/fire a teacher too. A previous commenter said there is a process. There sure is, but it takes up to 2 years and over $250,000 to do it. There is such a large financial disincentive to the district that mostly they just let the teacher be and the students suffer.

What I propose is a 5 year contract for all teachers after their 3rd year. If a district wants to fire a teacher they can, but they must pay the higher of the remaining time on the contract or 1 year salary. This brings it more in line with what many professionals have in their world. Districts would have to renew to another 5 year contract before some date, say the 4.5 year mark so that that teacher can try to find another job if they wish.

New teachers coming in would monitor a district's turnover rate prior to accepting a position. It would create an incentive for districts to be a better educational environment because they would constantly have to "recruit" their teachers to stay. Districts that retain teachers would be doing so because of pay and working conditions. Teachers who perform would have the protections of a contract that guarantees them a minimum of 1 year's pay severance.

Another alternative would be to have statutory time frames in which 3020-A hearings (NY for the procedure to remove a teacher) must be completed. Say 6 months.

But, true education reform only comes from addressing the social and economic issues surrounding low performing districts as well as a continuous evaluation program for teachers and professional development for the teachers.

Just my two cents.
posted by 724A at 6:19 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


While I'm skeptical of the motives of David Welch, reading the judges decision suggests that making a few changes to the tenure system would allow it to be re-instated.

1) He specifically calls out the 2-year statute as being outside the mainstream (most states range from 3-5) and also being effectively more like 18 months because of the timing of evaluations.

2) He also notes that the last-in, first-out nature of the system is a lose-lose scenario, and it's also atypical compared to other states.

If the tenure date were shifted to four years and administrators were allowed to use methods other than seniority in addressing layoffs, I suspect it would be much harder to dismiss tenure.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:32 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


mark berndt was a tenured teacher in southern california. he pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd acts with children (specifically, blindfolding them and playing a "tasting game" where he fed them cookies topped with his own semen).

the process to fire him was so tedious and cumbersome, the district opted instead to pay him $40,000 for his resignation. i don't think he deserved a $40,000 payday for this.

i support the judge's decision.
posted by bruce at 6:46 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


Removing tenure will put upward pressure on teacher wages. So I hope the CA taxpayers are ready to hand over more money to the government to both offer higher compensation to qualified teachers and to also pay for the training and processing of many more new hires.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:50 AM on June 12


The result of this is going to be that nobody worth a damn is going to want to teach in California anymore.

OK, I've only known a few CA teachers, but I know a lot of NY teachers, and from what I've seen they're not that different. They certainly don't go into it for the money. It's a shitty, demanding, soul-sucking job with no support, ridiculous hours, zero respect, and comparatively lousy pay for the amount of training you're required to have and the amount of work you need to put in. Job security and decent benefits are the two big perks that keep good, smart people in the field when everything else is going badly.

If you peel the onion deep enough, I'm willing to bet you'll find somebody whose motive is to break the public school system by hemorrhaging teachers out if it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:54 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]


the process to fire him was so tedious and cumbersome, the district opted instead to pay him $40,000 for his resignation. i don't think he deserved a $40,000 payday for this.

See, maybe I have different ideas of "tedious" because I'm an accountant by trade, but I think the way this gets referred to in various places is what gives me pause. Does it actually cost $250k to make this happen? Then that part absolutely needs to change. Or is it just "tedious"? Look, adminsitrative jobs are tedious, that's what they are. I'm guessing that's probably not the right word for it, but it's the sort of word I hear regularly. We pay people to run schools so that they can do hard things, cumbersome things, tedious things to make the schools run properly. We do not pay them to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used elsewhere, however. I wonder if the public support would shift if we stopped talking about this in terms of "hard" and started actually putting a dollar figure on how hard, and actually came up with what we thought a reasonable dollar figure should be instead. Clearly, it needs to be more than zero, and it should probably be less than what it is now?
posted by Sequence at 7:08 AM on June 12


If you peel the onion deep enough, I'm willing to bet you'll find somebody whose motive is to break the public school system by hemorrhaging teachers out if it.

MOOCS. How the rentier class thinks of education.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:13 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


My wife is a teacher who'll be going on strike on Tuesday, barring Hail Mary deals over the weekend, so consider me firmly on their side here.

Tenure is an old, bad solution to mitigating bad administration. Without tenure you can still have negotiated checks and balances to prevent abuse. With tenure you incentivize the kind of administrative sleight of hand solutions that lead to stacking bad teachers in 'hopeless' schools.

We were at a dinner party on the weekend, and someone brought up "OMG it's so hard to fire people because they have so many 'rights'." And I called bullshit. I said "you're whining about paperwork", and the guy who'd been in HR jumped in to tell a litany of stories about how the laziness of managers is usually to blame for bad employees because they won't bother with the procedure to fire someone or properly discipline them, so when it's obvious they should be fired, the paper trail isn't there and the dismissee can rightfully say "If I'm so terrible, how come I've never been disciplined or even counseled?"

My wife has seen three teachers fired for cause at her school over eight years, with a teaching staff of sixty. It involved scheduled reviews and performance evaluations and hearings, and at the end, the incompetent teachers were gone. Tenure isn't necessary for job security, and it's a stick that guys like David Welch can beat the union with.

Both sides should have an interest in unwinding the perverse incentives of the tit for tat that decades of negotiations create. I don't credit Welch with good motives here, but this is not a hill on which the unions should die.
posted by fatbird at 7:20 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]



So if I were to make the argument that low teacher salaries meant that schools were not able to attract the most talented people to the profession, and thereby trapped a certain percentage of students with a bad teacher, would the court mandate an increase in teacher salaries?


See McCleary v State of Washington

tl;dr: More or less yes. They ruled that underfunding WA state schools was unconstitutional.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:21 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I don't think there is an infallible way to ascertain who the "bad teachers" are. Now, usually, between the parents, students, administrators and fellow teachers, there is a pretty solid consensus on the relative efficacy of teachers. Inefficacy stands out like a sore thumb, and is widely noticed. The 3% figure in the above material sounds close to the truth to me. I worked in one inner-city high school where one social studies "teacher" did pretty much nothing in class. He was a very effective basketball coach, though: State Championship! (The problem that was him was solved when he sold a half-ounce of cocaine to the Feds.)

But what are you going to do…take a vote? You can see where teachers voting on each other might be a little problematic.

Those who mention vindictive administrators are not overstating the case. There are a lot of bad principals out there. One day, the most scholarly gentleman in our school, an AP Literature teacher for twenty years, voiced a mild disagreement with the principal in a staff meeting, and was placed on "administrative transfer" the next day. That means he had to look for a school that would take him. Most of the English teachers left in disgust. I ended up in a very high-scoring school. So, technically, one year I was a poor teacher; the next year I was golden.

There are so many people - not usually big fans of the teachers' unions (the AFT and the NEA) - who come up with all kinds of half-baked ideas. In my city, they are planning to tie fully half of our effectiveness rating to our students' test scores. (The rest is a mix of student evaluations, principal evaluations, meeting self-created goals, and the worst, having some unexperienced doofus from Downtown evaluate us thrice yearly.)

What is the test that is to determine our worth? Why, it's a brand new one, all done on computers, rife with problems as far as I can tell. It's called PARCC, tied to the Common Core.

Teaching is a wonderful job in many ways. I don't complain about the money, because I used to be a musician, and the money and especially the pension plan looks pretty nice by comparison. But it's not like we can afford trips to Europe, or to send our child to college (luckily she got two generous scholarships). And my wife is a lawyer. (A public defender…but her life belongs on another thread).
posted by kozad at 7:24 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Great. We're all entitled to adequate public schooling, and it is, indeed, a violation of a child's right to an education to trap them with shitty teachers.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:32 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


There seems to already be a procedure for getting rid of teachers for cause. So why isn't it being followed, and why aren't we asking for the heads of the administrators on silver platters when they refuse to follow those procedures and instead assign those teachers to work with underprivileged students?
posted by Sequence at 3:19 AM on June 12 [5 favorites +] [!]


Unions. The teachers union has very specific rules for getting rid of a tenured teacher. And to sum it up, unless the teacher is a raving sex pervert with kiddie porn at his/her desk it is nearly impossible to get rid of a tenured teacher. It is true that under performing teachers get dumped in under performing schools, and it is also true that better performing schools are rewarded with more funding. Hence this ruling.
posted by Gungho at 7:34 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


public school employee here...

Who evaluates the teacher and how?

Until that's worked out none of the problems in public education will ever be solved.
posted by judson at 7:42 AM on June 12


See, maybe I have different ideas of "tedious" because I'm an accountant by trade, but I think the way this gets referred to in various places is what gives me pause. Does it actually cost $250k to make this happen? Then that part absolutely needs to change. Or is it just "tedious"? Look, adminsitrative jobs are tedious, that's what they are.

If it takes a long time and you also have to hire another teacher (while still paying the first), that's a huge problem. If you have to pay lawyers, that's a huge problem. They even had to pay off a child abuser (there was photographic proof of him abusing his students IN the classroom, before someone claims that it was a witch hunt and/or hysteria). Why? Because fighting with him would take too long, meaning it would cost too much money.

Improving schools is complicated and difficult and it's not a black-and-white teachers are good, everyone else is bad kind of thing.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:43 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Unions. The teachers union has very specific rules for getting rid of a tenured teacher. And to sum it up, unless the teacher is a raving sex pervert with kiddie porn at his/her desk it is nearly impossible to get rid of a tenured teacher.

Ironically, it is difficult and expensive even when he's making the goddamned porn in his classroom with his students.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:44 AM on June 12


There seems to be a whole lot of rhetoric that says that anecdotal it's impossible to get rid of bad teachers whereas there are also people in this thread that say that no it's actually quite possible to get rid of poor teachers if the administrators follow the procedures.

I see this all the time in public sector jobs, bad managers complain that they can't fire bad people and keep good people when the truth of the matter is that they often fail to follow the HR rules in place that are there in order to reduce the risk of wrongful termination lawsuits.

I understand that there are almost certainly bad teachers that get disproportionately shuffled to low performing schools with a whole host of socio-economic problems and there is a magnifier effect but I also don't think the just throw them all out school of management is particularly useful either.

The truth of the matter is that we need to rethink pedagogy in the US and there needs to be all sorts of options put on the table but I think it's specious to claim making teacher contracts at-will is the optimal solution. If anything it's liable to increase the aggregate cost of education because people are going to be willing to accept current pay structures without the assurance of tenure.
posted by vuron at 7:45 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


If I wanted to fix the gigantic mess that is LAUSD, I would not start with the teachers.

Since I started working with K-12 educators, I've come around on charter schools primarily because they have spending flexibility that no LAUSD principal will ever have (unless they are at a pilot school).
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:48 AM on June 12


There are also teachers who sexually abuse their students, and there is a not insignificant amount of anecdotes about how it is hard to fire those people.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:52 AM on June 12


But dismantling unions and pretending standardized testing is a reflection of a teacher's ability is far easier to get people on board with, because complicated discussions on budgets tend to make ones eyes glaze over.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:53 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Due process is important even if it's going to cost the school district money rope-rider. Yes it costs money to put people on administrative leave and to use lawyers but it also protects teachers that might be innocent. It also forces administrators to be judicious in how they approach personnel problems with counseling, mentoring and actual leadership being used to transform under-performing teachers into good teachers.

The truth of the matter is that teaching is a difficult profession with a tremendous burn out rate early on. Retention of good teachers is a constant problem even while more attention is typically paid to the bad teachers. Having a system where the principal can just hire and fire teachers at will without needing extensive performance review documentation would be detrimental to education as well.

Yes it should probably be easier to get rid of teachers doing illegal things especially that endanger child safety but I'm not convinced that the tenure system as a whole is responsible for the problems indicated and I'm not sure that replacing it would automatically solve problems and wouldn't possibly result in a host of other unintended consequences.
posted by vuron at 7:54 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Due process is important even if it's going to cost the school district money rope-rider.

Fine, then don't pretend like it's just lazy administrators not doing their jobs, which is what I was responding to.

Due process rights need to be balanced with other rights, notably, in this case, the rights of students to an adequate education. They're not the only rights that deserve protection.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:01 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Due process is important even if it's going to cost the school district money rope-rider.

Yes, but there's vast, green fields between at-will employment and a procedure requiring hundreds of thousands in lawyers fees to be spent in order to terminate someone. Requiring several stages of documented reviews and counseling followed by an internal hearing with a union rep is basically what happens in Canada, and we don't have nearly the issue with teachers (or union members generally) burrowing in.

Imagine the effect it would have for the union to say "we'll give up tenure and agree to a streamlined disciplinary process, if you peg our salaries to the rate of inflation." Seismic shocks ensue.
posted by fatbird at 8:02 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


If you want a solution to tenure protecting sexual predators then negotiate policies with the teacher union that fast-track disciplinary review and termination in cases of sexual abuse. That seems like a fair compromise that unions would be happy to incorporate. Dismantling tenure because it's been used to shield bad teachers seems like a bad solution. Policy solutions should be tailored to the problem at hand and I'm reluctant to assume that child safety is the ultimate goal of this when the more likely scenario given the supporters is that they want to dismantle protections given to public sector unions and replace the existing public education system with a market driven solution when the truth of the matter is that the body of literature supporting market based charter schools especially serving disadvantaged populations is mixed at best.
posted by vuron at 8:03 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


It's also not clear to me why that sort of job protection is necessary at the K-12 level.

As ROU_Xenophobe says ... only even more so, because along with all the "moral" issues there are also often stupid in-class issues.

Example. You have the son or daughter of a school board member in your class. And that student sucks. Doesn't pay attention. Doesn't do the work. Sometimes just doesn't show up. You treat him or her like you would any other student, and presto, you have a political conflict with the school board.

There are imminently sensible reasons to protect older K-12 teachers from being arbitrarily fired. Maybe the way tenure works in CA is screwy. I'm willing to believe that. But the answer is not going to be doing away with tenure full stop.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:06 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I work with lazy administrators all the time that think that the onerous nature of getting rid of public sector employees (and these are people with no union) basically means they need to either accommodate shitty employees or make their lives hell so they voluntary quit or seek alternative employment. I've also seen plenty of bad administrators shield low performing friends while singling out high performing employees because they are threats to the status quo.

And this is because actually documenting employee malfeasance with HR is somehow seen as a terrible burden.

I'm not sure that you are ever going to get to a system where there is no predators stalking the grounds of schools, I also don't think you'll ever get to a system that eliminates bad administrators from being vindictive to perceived enemies.

Furthermore given the various times in which a school administrator has conspired with teachers to artificially inflate test scores through organized cheating on standardized tests or through outrageous policies that tend to classify poor performing students as special needs (or targets for expulsion) I'm not sure I want to undermine one of the primary checks and balances against administrative power in public education.
posted by vuron at 8:11 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


the answer is not going to be doing away with tenure full stop

It could be. The union's role here is guaranteeing due process, not ensuring employment for substandard teachers. Due process can mean a lot of different things and still achieve its goal of blunting arbitrary power without hamstringing effective adminstrators.
posted by fatbird at 8:16 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


724A: "What I propose is a 5 year contract for all teachers after their 3rd year. If a district wants to fire a teacher they can, but they must pay the higher of the remaining time on the contract or 1 year salary. This brings it more in line with what many professionals have in their world. Districts would have to renew to another 5 year contract before some date, say the 4.5 year mark so that that teacher can try to find another job if they wish. New teachers coming in would monitor a district's turnover rate prior to accepting a position. It would create an incentive for districts to be a better educational environment because they would constantly have to "recruit" their teachers to stay. Districts that retain teachers would be doing so because of pay and working conditions. Teachers who perform would have the protections of a contract that guarantees them a minimum of 1 year's pay severance."

The problem is that a lot of "turnover" is actually related to insane state funding systems. We must -- for exactly this reason of fairness -- let our teachers know whether we will be rehiring them for fall by April 1, I think. The state does not finish its budget for the next school year until June 1 at the earliest, and 30% of our budget comes from the state. (Around 85% of our non-capital budget goes to teacher salaries and benefits.) The specifics vary a bit from state to state, but that's fairly typical, which is why you see districts lay off 25% of their teachers in the spring and rehire most or all of them in August. But, a lot of them move on to other jobs during the summer.

In addition to that, we have a student population of around 14,000 and a teacher population of around 1100 ... we can easily go +/-25 teachers a year just from minor shifts in student population as they move, age, move in or out of special ed, an unusual number of them sign up for French, etc. One of our stickiest "forecasting" difficulties is simply knowing how many teachers we will need and ending up with surplus biology teachers but not enough special ed teachers, for example, and trying to place those biology teachers SOMEWHERE so we don't lose them, but then they're suboptimal at their jobs ....

So, unless the state starts budgeting on a two-year budget for schools so that we can predictably know how much money we will have the next year (and guarantees that budget -- right now my state budgeted x amount for schools and we all built our budgets on that, but then informed us they were only going to actually pay us 85% of x, leaving us all with multi-million-dollar budget deficits), there isn't enough predictability. AND we still wouldn't be able to afford 1-year severences just on the normal shifts in population, with that predictability from the state.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:16 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I have a hard time placing our woes at the feet of the teachers. I didn't do K-12 that long ago; I graduated from high school in 1978 (and went on to college). My education had time for today's core classes plus art and music and penmanship and shop. Today, it seems to me that they cover less ground and still can't get on the stick.

ALL of the emphasis in recent memory has been solely to institute programs that can be quantitatively expressed. No Child Left Behind, Common Core, etc. Punch in the numbers, spit out the numbers, and slash and burn as recommended by the numbers. That's all important information, I'm sure, but it's not an acceptable replacement for actually managing a public education system.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:34 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Tenure for university professors, I get. I don't particularly agree with the system 100%, but I get it. Having new ideas shouldn't get people fired.

But for K-12, where there's a set curriculum? What's the point?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:38 AM on June 12


It's kind of like how home ownership and rent control are good for a community because it allows people to put down roots and not worry about where they will be living next year or next week.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:42 AM on June 12


But for K-12, where there's a set curriculum? What's the point?

I bet tenure is worth 20k a year. You want to pay 20k more a year to each teacher in your state? plus training fees for new employees?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:46 AM on June 12


On one hand my dad was a public school teacher and I know and respect all of the pro-tenure arguments.

On the other hand when I was in high school my district went through a cash crunch. The administration punted two of our best teachers to middle school because they lacked seniority, while moving two useless burnouts who'd been shunted to permanent study hall duty back to teaching full-time. Instead of bright, engaging, personal interaction we got a shell of a man reading and testing straight from the textbook and an alcoholic with more bourbon than coffee in his mug who stopped making sense around noon every day. That's just not right.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:52 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


I bet tenure is worth 20k a year. You want to pay 20k more a year to each teacher in your state? plus training fees for new employees?

Maybe? In a lot of locations there aren't enough teaching jobs for new graduates, so I don't know that the tenure thing will really make that much of a difference. Sadly, there aren't a lot of options for these kinds of middle-class jobs anymore. That's not a problem we should solve on the backs of poor students of color, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:54 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


The biggest problem is how you rate teachers to determine who is 'ineffective'.

BINGO! In many--most?--schools, it's largely based on their own students' standardized test scores. Your kids do bad on tests? You're a bad teacher, full stop.


Yes, and part of the trouble is that the opponents of NCLB and other reform efforts have never bothered suggesting an alternative system of teacher rating. If they had, then there could be a real debate over how to reward good teachers and punish bad ones, but they haven't, meaning the terms of the debate are stuck at "rate teachers" vs "you can't possibly rate teaching."

Removing tenure will put upward pressure on teacher wages
[and elsewhere]
Imagine the effect it would have for the union to say "we'll give up tenure and agree to a streamlined disciplinary process, if you peg our salaries to the rate of inflation." Seismic shocks ensue.

Here in NY, teacher's unions were repeatedly offered that deal, and repeatedly turned it down. I'm a high school teacher, and I would be thrilled to give up tenure in exchange for more money. But the union repeatedly refuses that offer (and has never offered membership a chance to vote on it), so that's out.

As another teacher in my school put it: "The thing about teaching is that if you give a shit about the students, it's a really hard job . If you don't give a shit, it's a really easy job with lots of vacation time. So the only thing keeping you caring– and therefore keeping your job difficult– is your own motivation. That's hard to maintain. It's even harder to maintain when you know there's no reward for doing better, and no penalty for doing worse. And then when you're surrounded by people who've figured out that they can just go on cruise control and get the same benefits that your hard-working ass gets, well... Some day even the heartiest soul will just give up."

Teachers should be paid more. Teachers should have longer-term contracts. Teachers should have a clear, accessible process for fighting illegitimate firings. But tenure for k-12 teachers is poison.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:00 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


There is the mistaken notion here (the judge) that a good teacher is what makes for learning. Clearly there are other things too: class size, equipment, home environment, administrative support, etc. To single out "bad teacher" is clearly to miss out on import things.

Question for the judge: if tenure is of no importance, why do our supreme court justices have it?
ps: those students thaty went top court were sent there by a very wealthy anti-union guy
posted by Postroad at 9:07 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


our US supreme court justices (and all article III federal judges) have it because it's in the constitution. that's the fault of madison/jefferson/franklin, etc., not me. next question!
posted by bruce at 9:27 AM on June 12


I'm a public school teacher, and I'm tenured (and this is my lunch period), and I think this is a good thing.

It feels like the teacher's union thrives a bit on stirring up fear among its rank and file, and that there's always this push to get us to vote and lobby our representatives because if we lose tenure then all of us are in danger of losing our jobs. My approach to my job in recent years, though, is to ensure that I'm good enough at my job to be the last person my boss would want to fire, and that even if he were corrupt (which he's not) and had a nephew or something that wanted my job, which always seems to be the fear, that he'd bump someone else instead.

And I do believe I'm good at my job. Maybe not the best in my district, but hopefully one of the best in my school. And once you believe you're good enough at your job that you'd still have it without tenure, tenure starts to look a little shitty. It's not really offering you much protection, but it IS protecting some of your colleagues, teachers who are on the bubble or are not as good, and it's acting as a disincentive for them to get better. And if you decide that you don't like your job, it makes it tougher to find another one at a school where you might be happier, because there's a possibility that the job you want, is occupied by someone who can't be easily fired because they're tenured.

Secondly, I urge people to really take a close look at standardized testing. It's not so much a matter of strict pass/fail numbers anymore, at least in New Jersey, it's more about improvement relative to other students who were starting at the exact same place based on their test scores the previous year, which I think is a much fairer way to do it. And teachers like to point to the kids with difficult life circumstances as sandbagging their scores, but they tend not to talk about the kids with stable home lives, who are also often in their classes, who would have passed no matter what they did.

Finally, an inconsistency that I find pops up in a lot of writings by teachers who defend tenure and oppose testing is the idea that there's not an effective way to accurately measure teaching. A lot of the time these same people take for granted that they're effectively measuring the learning of their students, without explaining how or why, other than perhaps a mention of the number of years they've been doing it. It's really a case of special pleading or something. But to me, you shouldn't shy away from having someone else double check your work if your confident in what you're doing, and a hell of a lot of effort goes into making sure a statewide standardized test is accurate. Your typical teacher doesn't understand what a Rasch Model is or incorporate it into their assessments, and they don't know about the several hundred page reports that document the methodology and the results of the standardized tests they're criticizing.
posted by alphanerd at 9:34 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


Regarding the abuse thing (which seems a bit of a distraction), it seems a simple matter to modify the tenure and employment rules to say that teachers convicted of a felony (or certain felonies) may be dismissed without review or severance. And maybe while accused of one they can be placed on leave with pay. I am very pro-teacher and generally pro-union, but stuff like "it's really hard to fire a child molester and we had to give him $40,000" is outrageous to me. He should get zero.

Regarding the more general tenure issue, 2 years does seem awfully fast. Based on other professions (law partner: 7 years; senior software engineer: 5-7 years; etc) it seems super low. However, if it's that short because pay and conditions are so poor that you need it to attract people, the solution is to fix those things.

A couple of people I know who quit teaching in our (pretty good) school district did so not because of pay but because they had all kinds of cool ideas and administration essentially beat them down. In my opinion, board and admins should ensure the school has resources and keep the wheels turning, but a collective of teachers should be the ones making decisions related to teaching (materials, curriculum specifics, etc). Maybe they do have a say - can some teachers weigh in? It just seems like education has too much of a weird hierarchy where the people who know what needs doing don't have the power to do it.

Also, I hate the whole idea of teachers competing like it's a private industry. Teachers should be in teams and be judged as teams, not individuals. In software if you do agile teams/Scrum one of the first things you have to do is go to HR and tell them you'll be de-emphasizing the whole "reward the top x%" thing. This would seem even more important in something like teaching. You still have to have some way to axe people who just won't play ball or who are driving the rest of the team crazy, of course. But as a long-time manager, if there are two people trying hard and both are doing well but one is 10% better or smarter, who the hell cares? And the 3% "grossly ineffective" seems pretty low. I would say the everywhere I've worked (private industry) it's more like 10%+ grossly ineffective, and those people didn't necessarily get pushed out.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:56 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


TFB, it's easy to see why the union refuses to make that deal - they don't believe that the district will honor their end of the bargain. And considering the past history of school - teacher relations, they're quite justified in believing so.

Ultimately, these issues ultimately come back to a lack of trust of the school districts by teachers, which is why they force districts to go by the book. Sadly, instead of actually trying to resolve this problem, the districts elect to demonize the unions for protecting their membership from management capriciousness.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:02 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I strongly suspect, though I cannot prove conclusively with my limited time and resources, that the same voices alleging that the education systems in various states, regions, and districts are rife with horrible teachers who can't be fired because of corrupt unions so we need to NUKE THE WHOLE SYSTEM are the same voices who claim that there is rampant welfare and voter fraud so we need to NUKE THOSE RESPECTIVE SYSTEMS as well.

Seldom do you hear "Well, let's spend some time investigating this and determine whether the existing rules and regulations need to be tweaked or better enforced."

Instead, it's always "No, we need to immediately throw out the entire system and replace it with something else", and that something else -- puuuuuuurely coincidentally -- always seems to remove power from and/or punish those who were already getting the crap end of the stick.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:08 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


freecellwizard: A lot of times, "it's too difficult to fire X" is code for either:

"we screwed the pooch by not managing properly and developing a paper trail from the start, fatally injuring our case", or

"we screwed the pooch by not looking over the procedures and laws relevant to the matter, and have violated them, fatally injuring our case."

These are behaviors that should not be rewarded either.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:08 AM on June 12 [8 favorites]


I strongly suspect, though I cannot prove conclusively with my limited time and resources, that the same voices alleging that the education systems in various states, regions, and districts are rife with horrible teachers who can't be fired because of corrupt unions so we need to NUKE THE WHOLE SYSTEM are the same voices who claim that there is rampant welfare and voter fraud so we need to NUKE THOSE RESPECTIVE SYSTEMS as well.

Well, in my case, I'm mixed race (white and Mexican-American-ish) and so are all my relatives, except the ones who are also part black. Anti-reform rhetoric is often racist and designed to keep teachers in unlosable, middle-class jobs on the backs of poor children of color, who can't have reforms that are shown to make a huge difference (like year-round schooling) at least in part because teacher's unions won't go for them. I was lucky enough to have parents who could get me into (relatively cheap) private school and then a charter school so I got to opt out of the racist public schools, but a lot of Mexican-American kids couldn't do that. That's why I care.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:18 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


But yeah, being on the side of anti-public school assholes makes me ill. But I'm not on the side of the teacher's unions, either.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:19 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I strongly suspect, though I cannot prove conclusively with my limited time and resources, that the same voices alleging that the education systems in various states, regions, and districts are rife with horrible teachers who can't be fired because of corrupt unions so we need to NUKE THE WHOLE SYSTEM are the same voices who claim that there is rampant welfare and voter fraud so we need to NUKE THOSE RESPECTIVE SYSTEMS as well.

Your strong suspicions are wrong, and attacking people's arguments with "Well I bet you also think [totally unrelated bad thing]" is a really crappy way to conduct discussion.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:49 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


So tell me, with this proposal for year round schooling, are you going to add a commensurate raise in salary (since, after all, you are asking them to work additional months)? Are you going to acknowledge that teachers use the "down time" in the summer both for personal matters as well as continuing professional education and make sure that they will still have adequate time for both? Or are you just proposing that the school year be extended and that teachers should just accept it at the current terms "for the sake of the children"?

Because if it's the latter, why should the teachers take that deal? And to call them racist for not taking a bum deal is deeply offensive. Furthermore, anti-"reform" people like Ravich will be some of the first people to point out we don't have an education problem so much as a poverty and inequality problem that negatively impacts minorities most, while the "reformers" continue to ignore this, trying to blame teachers for societal problems.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:55 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


So...the judge rules that teachers shouldn't get tenure, certain benefits, and other job security safeguards because it might be bad for some students.

When can I expect to see that mega-zillionaire CEOs have the same reductions, and don't get gigantic golden parachutes, because it's bad for some workers?
posted by CrowGoat at 10:57 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


When did I call them racist? And of course they use the downtime for "personal matters". I understand the concept of downtime. The rhetoric that it's not teaching that matters, but the shitty homes and communities that kids come from, and that these kids can't really learn no matter who teaches them is, indeed, racist.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:57 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I've never had tenure. For the last twenty-some years, I've been on a year-contract basis, because I teach in a private school. For the right to be let go any old time (which, by the way, almost never happens to anybody), I get a heck of a nice 401K matching plan, good health insurance, relatively small class sizes, control over my curriculum, very little accountability, and almost no standardized testing. Also, free lunch in a nice dining hall, and parking. And I'm paid well enough that I don't want to find another job.

We want teachers in public schools to be saints, apparently.
posted by Peach at 11:01 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Experts also said that more needs to be done to rectify conditions outside of school, such as crime and poverty, that impede learning.

So any time now the best police officers will be deployed to areas with the highest crime rates.

Industrial and commercial zoning laws will change so impoverished areas have equal amounts of green space and residential districts near schools.

If there's one way to make school districts better, it's forcing them to spend money on lawsuits rather than reducing class sizes.

All about the kids. Yeah.

I don't get the connection between bad teachers and arbitrary low test scores.
If I've got a guy 5'7', 110lbs and he's bench pressing 80lbs and I train him and he's benching 150, and I've got another guy who's 6'10, 550, and he puts up 200lbs and I train him and he still only puts up 200lbs, and the "passing" mark is benching 200lbs, I fail to see how that's a measurment of success.

I take a 4 year old and they can press 180lbs, that'd be considered miraculous. But no, didn't put up 200, so, fail.
Granted physical and academic standards are different things. But proportional improvement is improvement.
Arbitrary standards seem, well, arbitrary.
And regardless of background or socioeconomics, if a kid who couldn't read from 1st to 10th grade is now reading at an 11th grade level, but he's in 12th grade, you'd look at the teacher he had that last year as a miracle worker. But the way it seems to work now, it's a fail.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:17 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Actually the education literature has been pretty clear that year round school with no increase in the total number of classroom days has resulted in limited if any improvements in student academic success. If you go to year round school with an increase in classroom days you can see a significant improvement in student academic success but doing so it also going to come with a significant material costs (as a parent with a daughter in a year round private montessori this cost to me is massive).

And that's not even getting into the fact that in a large number of school districts the facilities simple can't be retrofitted to accomodate schooling in the summer due to the cost of cooling the schools is too high.

Ultimately though I think year round schooling with an increase in classroom days equivalent to the addition of the summer months is probably the right long term strategy because there is some evidence that continuity of education being a critical part at least for primary schooling. Plus there would be some additional societal benefits because parents wouldn't have to scramble for summertime childcare and student with food scarcity could be effectively fed during the summer.

Personally I'd be more than happy to pay more taxes to accommodate year round schools with a net increase in classroom education and increased services to under-served populations but I strongly suspect there is no political will for doing so.
posted by vuron at 11:21 AM on June 12


Personally I'd be more than happy to pay more taxes to accommodate year round schools with a net increase in classroom education and increased services to under-served populations but I strongly suspect there is no political will for doing so.

As would I. The summer break is a huge step back for poor kids, not for middle-class and well-off kids--it's a huge contribution to an educational gap that plagues poor children for the rest of their life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:23 AM on June 12


Regarding the abuse thing (which seems a bit of a distraction), it seems a simple matter to modify the tenure and employment rules to say that teachers convicted of a felony (or certain felonies) may be dismissed without review or severance. And maybe while accused of one they can be placed on leave with pay.

California law already allows teachers to be fired or have their certificates revoked if they're convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. And all the "$40,000 payday" stuff boils down to him receiving back pay while on suspension, and legal fees.

I am very pro-teacher and generally pro-union, but stuff like "it's really hard to fire a child molester and we had to give him $40,000" is outrageous to me. He should get zero.

I don't think anyone would disagree that it should be pretty easy to fire a child molester, especially since they're going to miss a lot of work what with being in prison and all. The question is how hard it should to be fire someone who's been accused of sexual abuse but not yet convicted of anything, especially when LACSD and the DA are taking their sweet time doing anything; it seems to have taken them a year from a DNA test confirming that it was Berndt's semen on a spoon in his classroom trashcan to even arrest him.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


One of the elephants in the room that's specific to California and LA is the rubber room. A couple of years ago, the LA Times did a big expose on LAUSD's rubber room where they stick teachers they're waiting to fire (but can't, because of union and procedural rules).

It's not completely unique--I remember reading the same story in the NYT about NYC schools ten years ago--but it's really damning. To be fair, there are arguments to be made on the other side (teachers in 'teacher jail' are waiting for their principals to have time to deal with them and some cases are quite spurious).

Certainly, though, as a person who went through California public schools and who has multiple friends who are current California teachers, I've seen poor teachers shunted off to poor schools or to classes more likely to have poor (as in both poverty and intellect) students. I also say this as the close relative of a former California SpEd teacher who was allowed to remain in her job teaching physically vulnerable children after her own children were removed from her home by CPS.

I think extending the tenure timeline to four years and raising teacher pay would be practical measures for improvement which should be considered in conjunction with revision of dismissal rules for poor performing teachers (especially those convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors).
posted by librarylis at 11:37 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Your strong suspicions are wrong, and attacking people's arguments with "Well I bet you also think [totally unrelated bad thing]" is a really crappy way to conduct discussion.

Let me give some background here.

My wife was a public school elementary teacher in Texas for 5 years and we're friends with several people who are public school teachers in several different states. I occasionally hear discussions of people who are poor teachers (and generally not very good people beyond the classroom) but I've never heard anything to convince me that there are schools and school districts riddled with bad teachers who are just coasting by and depending on the union to bail them out.

If anything, I've seen and heard more evidence of the opposite: that teachers in poorly performing schools that serve marginalized demographics (poorer students and/or racial minorities) tend to be more dedicated, because what drives them to get out of bed in the morning and go off to deal with the metric fuckton of problems they're going to see during the school day -- while having to hear over and over and over from, primarily, Republicans that they're what's wrong with America -- is not some "Fuck it, at least it's a secure job" mindset. It's the fact that they actually want to do something for their kids.

I've done community service and substitute teaching in some of the poorer schools in Travis and Hays county -- and I'm about to reveal my biases here -- and as far as I'm concerned, teachers who have to deal with crap infrastructure, constant threats to funding, uninvolved parents (though I hesitate to cast stones at the parents in those situations since they're often dealing with a ton of crap themselves) but still find ways to bring at least a little light into their students' lives deserve just as much feting as first responders and people who serve in the armed forces.

But I've noticed in posts from my friends and family on Facebook and in soundbites from politicians in the media that the same folks who frequently laud measures that make the welfare system less helpful, who assert that there must be rampant voter fraud because...well, there just must be, often repeat the "teachers unions are evil and corrupt and we need to hold teachers accountable" line. Yeah, sometimes it is shady to say "If you think this thing, you probably also think this thing," but sometimes things sure as hell do correlate.

All that said, of course there are grossly incompetent teachers. As I stated above, I've heard stories about them. I've observed them in my time as a sub. But like I asserted in my first post, as with the voting system and the welfare system, why is it that people who claim to be acting in the best interests of the children and society and America always immediately reach for the most drastic measures in their toolboxes? Several people in this thread have pointed out that there are already ways to fire bad teachers. Several people in this thread have said, "Okay, if you're going to nuke the structure of tenure, maybe we can also try these other measures (all of which cost more money)".

But the "reformers" act like they're Kiefer Sutherland in 24 running down the street shouting into their cell phone, "NO, WE CAN'T APPROACH THIS IN A SLOWER AND MORE MEASURED MANNER! NO, THERE'S NO MONEY TO GIVE TO THOSE POOR SCHOOLS AND THERE'S NO TIME! BLOW THE WHOLE THING UP NOW!!!"
posted by lord_wolf at 11:45 AM on June 12 [8 favorites]


My mom's been teaching in LAUSD for 2 decades and was union rep for a fair few years of that. She personally participated in having two teachers removed from their school. In both cases the teachers were tenured and I don't believe firing was even floated as an option. In both cases they did administrative transfers to schools in less affluent neighborhoods. In one of these cases it was extremely clear that the teacher in question should not be in front of a classroom anymore - a mental health matter.

I am very, very pro-teacher. UTLA fought for benefits that directly impacted my life and the lives of all the members of my family. I got an excellent education in my thirteen years as a student at LA Unified schools. But I'm not going to pretend the system in LA is perfect as it is now. It should *not* be the case that a teacher who's incapable of maintaining even a modicum of control in the classroom should be made "someone else's problem" rather than dismissed. And the fact that the union takes a hard line on this incredibly unfair practice makes the union seem very anti-student.

I read another article about this decision where the president-elect of UTLA said, "This decision today is an attack on teachers, which is a socially acceptable way to attack children." Really? That's the money quote you're busting out? I'm sorry. The attack on children in this particular skirmish is coming from the people who are fighting tooth and nail to keep abysmal teachers in the classroom.
posted by town of cats at 11:57 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Why The California Tenure Decision Is Wrong and Will Hurt Disadvantaged Students
The line of precedents cited by Treu to justify his extraordinary intervention are, in themselves, unexceptionable. The California courts have long held that under both the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution education is a fundamental right that must be provided on equal terms. This doctrine is salutary; indeed, like Justice Thurgood Marshall, I think the Supreme Court erred by not reading the 14th Amendment the same way.

The question, however, is whether this doctrine is applicable to these cases. There is one huge difference between this week's case and the previous holdings. Previous precedents involved cases where poor school districts were being treated differently under state law. In Serrano v. Priest I and II, the issue was one of poorer school districts receiving fewer resources, and Butt v. California concerned a school district closing six weeks early because of a lack of resources. These were clear cases of equal protection violations: Poor districts were treated differently than affluent ones in ways that almost certainly had deleterious consequences for the education of students in the former.

n this case, however, there's no formally unequal treatment; the tenure system created by statute in California statute applies to all school districts. For most of the conservatives cynically praising Treu's decision, this should be the end of the discussion; to their thinking, as long as districts are treated the same there's no equal protection violation. But conservatives are wrong about this.
...
These questions aren't purely hypothetical; Treu's shaky causal logic could be tested in a number of ways. As Treu points out, many states provide less or no tenure protection to teachers. A serious opinion would then consider the question of whether these states are less likely to concentrate poor teachers in poor school districts. He might also consider whether teacher tenure has led to poor educational outcomes in other national contexts. But Treu's opinion is the opposite of serious; it just uncritically takes the shoddy arguments made by reflexive opponents of teacher's unions at face value and, even worse, reads them into the state constitution.

posted by tonycpsu at 12:51 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Regardless of the policy merits of teacher tenure in general, or California's version of the same, this is a badly-reasoned opinion. It has a gaping hole in that it fails to explain how striking down tenure will lead to better teachers being placed in poorer districts.

See also: http://prospect.org/article/why-california-tenure-decision-wrong-and-will-hurt-disadvantaged-students
posted by burden at 12:52 PM on June 12


The rhetoric that it's not teaching that matters, but the shitty homes and communities that kids come from, and that these kids can't really learn no matter who teaches them is, indeed, racist.

So, you're arguing that Maslow's hierarchy is racist? Because the point that is being made is that a child who is concerned about survival - having a safe regular place to sleep, enough to eat, that their family is ok - is not going to be as focused on education because of that concern for survival. You point to yourself as an example of someone who came from such a community and is able to learn, but given the autobiographical details you gave about your parents supporting your education and having the resources to put you in private school, I'm wondering if you're an example of a point that Coates made in his recent magnum opus on reparations - that your family was excluded from living in a community more appropriate to your socioeconomic status due to race.

town of cats: The thing is, it takes two to tango, yet the role of the school districts in making the situation so acrimonious is often ignored. The bad old days where teachers had their entire lives dictated by school policy aren't that long past.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:58 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


See McCleary v State of Washington

tl;dr: More or less yes. They ruled that underfunding WA state schools was unconstitutional.


It should be noted that this works in Washington state because the Washington state constitution guarantees sufficient education for kids. Here's the snippet:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”

I'm not familiar with other state's constitutions, but supposedly Washington has the strongest education clause in the nation, which is partly why the McCleary decision came so strongly in favor of heavily increased school funding.
posted by john-a-dreams at 2:00 PM on June 12


"Yes, and part of the trouble is that the opponents of NCLB and other reform efforts have never bothered suggesting an alternative system of teacher rating. If they had, then there could be a real debate over how to reward good teachers and punish bad ones, but they haven't, meaning the terms of the debate are stuck at "rate teachers" vs "you can't possibly rate teaching.""

That's just flatly not true though. For example, here's the Chicago Teachers Union proposal.

They generally want multivariate evaluations with a lot of soft or subjective ratings included, such as administration and peer evaluations.

And something that I feel almost constitutionally compelled to mention yet again here is Campbell's law: "The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." (Related is Goodhart's law:"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.")

There are some things, especially in the social sciences, that are very hard or near impossible to measure, generally because of a host of confounding variables. I know it goes against the technocratic grain, but coming up with an accurate rating for teachers may rely so much on large-scale measurements and be so noisy that coming up with an ultimate metric might be a fool's errand.
posted by klangklangston at 3:28 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


"The rhetoric that it's not teaching that matters, but the shitty homes and communities that kids come from, and that these kids can't really learn no matter who teaches them is, indeed, racist."

Teaching matters less than poverty, yeah. That's not really racist — if anything, it's acknowledging the larger structural forces, including racism, that can be demonstrated to much more directly impact educational outcomes than teaching quality. Teachers really are scapegoats in this, and complaining that a structural approach is racism is likely to be counterproductive at best.
posted by klangklangston at 3:30 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


If you get a speeding ticket, that does not make you an expert on law enforcement.
If you file a lawsuit, that does not make you an expert on the law.
If you eat at a restaurant, that does not make you an expert on cuisine.
If you use a Flowbee, that does not make you an expert on hair styling.
If you fly in an airplane, that does not make you an expert on avionics.

But just watch in slack-jawed wonder at all the people who had a shitty teacher for 7th grade math who are, as a result, experts on education. I can think of no other profession with so many armchair quarterbacks. Some of us have actually studied the field, have taught for many years, and even have advanced degrees on the subject. You'd think those would be the voices that are listened to.
posted by zardoz at 4:23 PM on June 12 [9 favorites]


Teaching matters less than poverty, yeah. That's not really racist — if anything, it's acknowledging the larger structural forces, including racism, that can be demonstrated to much more directly impact educational outcomes than teaching quality. Teachers really are scapegoats in this, and complaining that a structural approach is racism is likely to be counterproductive at best.

If someone is making reference to academic outcomes and saying, "this is another bad consequence of structural problems," then it's not racist.

If someone is trying to deflect blame for poor academic outcomes that they are playing a part in, and they're not "approaching" a structural problem in a meaningful way, then I agree that it's a racist argument.

As a teaching professional, you know what you are up against when you sign your contract for another year.

The professional stance is to look at problems constructively, to recognize that there are teachers who manage to succeed with their students despite obstacles like poverty, and to figure out who those awesome teachers are, what they are doing, and how you can replicate it and become one of them.

So, yeah, if someone is blaming structural problems for the lack of success in his/her classroom and not busting his/her ass to learn from the best and succeed in spite of those problems, I would agree with the young rope-rider 100% that he/she is basically enjoying an "unlosable, middle-class job on the backs of poor children of color."
posted by alphanerd at 7:03 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I work in education in an administrative capacity, and I tell you, if was a student today confronted with the standardized testing that I know will determine if my teacher was retained or let go, I'd be telling her, "I could be smart for you if the price was right."
posted by SPrintF at 8:09 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


As a teaching professional, you know what you are up against when you sign your contract for another year.

The professional stance is to look at problems constructively, to recognize that there are teachers who manage to succeed with their students despite obstacles like poverty, and to figure out who those awesome teachers are, what they are doing, and how you can replicate it and become one of them.


You're assuming a lot, most of which you can't support easily. First, you assume that teaching takes place in a simple structure defined by teacher-student population, rather than against a backdrop of administrative, political, and community concerns.

Second, you're arguing that the existence of some teachers -- How many? Where? Under what working conditions? -- who consistently succeed as teachers -- By what metrics? Are they the same metrics as other teachers? -- indicates that they employ fixed, easily transferable, non-localized strategies that can be identified and transplanted with certainty and effectiveness.

Fourth, you're assuming that the success of some teachers must mean that there are no structural problems related to educational outcomes that cannot be addressed through changes in teaching methods.

And fifth, you're assuming both that teachers have the time, the capacity, and the moral responsibility to carry out informal, yet absolutely accurate research into successful teaching strategies directly relevant to the structural problems of their communities and classrooms while also developing lesson plans and responding to the specifics of state curricula and changes in nationally-mandated curriculum.

When you throw in the stuff about "you know what you're getting into," you even contradict some of your own assumptions. The argument you're making seems to misunderstand both the role and the power of a classroom teacher; it requires all teachers to become exceptional because it assumes that the exceptions are doing something that most other people can easily identify and replicate.

All of your suggestions sound like good, hard-minded common sense….right up until the most basic questions about implementation and plausibility are asked. Then they turn out to be a pretty thin variation on "work harder *and* smarter, or you're stupid, lazy, and racist! You signed a contract, so figure it out or quit!" And that sounds like a good way to en up with either a teacher shortage or with an enormous turnover rate due to burnout and failure, neither of which is likely to help those structurally disadvantaged students you seem so worried about.

Ultimately, it places a ridiculous burden for successfully addressing structural problems entirely on the backs of teachers, who you've just defined as term-based contract workers. How well do you think that will actually work? Speaking of reproducibility of results, where else have you *ever* seen that kind of burden-shfting work?
posted by kewb at 5:05 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


No one talks about the fact that the evidence in this case consisted of many videos of horrible things by teachers in their classrooms. But we can't confuse the need to make teachers accountable to be at least trying to teach with how to test that. The arguments conflate all too often. We should be able to easily get rid of the pornographers, the drunk, and the drug addled and teachers who call children racist names. Now in California it is nearly impossible to do without a long legal battle. And many times they send those to the poor kid schools where they believe no one will complain like happens with the rich kid schools

Frankly, I am not clear what purpose tenure serves now given that it was created before employment laws existed. Since 1978 laws have been enacted that virtually eliminate those past reasons for tenure.
posted by OhSusannah at 6:23 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Again, you seem to think that this situation occurred solely because of the unions, ignoring the way that school districts treated teachers prior to the unions forcing rules about how they could dismiss teachers on them. Teachers were pretty much controlled not just at work, but all throughout their lives, forced to present the right "image" not just in the classroom, but the community. And those influences haven't gone away.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:33 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


But just watch in slack-jawed wonder at all the people who had a shitty teacher for 7th grade math who are, as a result, experts on education. I can think of no other profession with so many armchair quarterbacks. Some of us have actually studied the field, have taught for many years, and even have advanced degrees on the subject.


...but are still shitty 7th grade teachers.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:45 AM on June 13


Frankly, I am not clear what purpose tenure serves now given that it was created before employment laws existed.

I'm not sure what employment laws you think exist in the US. It's entirely legal to fire someone because you saw them coming out of an R-rated movie. It's entirely legal to fire someone because you simply personally dislike them. It's entirely legal to fire someone because they broke up with your relative. It's entirely legal to fire someone because you don't like who they hang out with. It's entirely legal to fire someone because they drink alcohol, or because they don't drink alcohol. It's entirely legal to fire someone for no reason whatsoever. In most states, it's entirely legal to fire someone because they are homosexual, or because you think they might be.

You can fire someone for any reason, or no reason, except for (1) what's contained in a contract and (2) those narrow reasons that firms have been specifically forbidden from firing people, such as race, religion, or sex, or a refusal to commit illegal acts. Though even then it can be hard to show that you were fired because of your race or religion, instead of for no reason at all, unless the firm has a clear pattern of firing or refusing to hire people-like-you or unless it has actually told you that you're being fired/not hired because of the forbidden reason.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:06 AM on June 13 [5 favorites]


NOBODY is opposed to getting bad teachers out of classrooms, and NOBODY believes there are no bad teachers currently in classrooms. There are bad members of EVERY profession.

It's just that nobody can agree on how to ejudge which are the "bad" ones, and that so many of the people who want to do so have demonstrated that what they're really interested in is getting rid of the highest-paid teachers, or the teachers who disagree with administration, or the teachers who clash with PTO's, or the teachers on the losing side of office politics, etc.

I have no problem with re-evaluating the terms of tenure and how it's earned, and I don't think most people would be, either. But this is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:52 AM on June 13


Again, between tenure and at-will employment, there's a vast range of options that offer relative guarantees of continued employment, and effective ways of counseling or getting rid of bad teachers, however you define that. Tenure is an extreme end of the job security spectrum, and very much starting to look like as much of a liability as a benefit.
posted by fatbird at 10:24 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Tenure Is Not the Problem
Teacher protections are not why poor schools are failing. Segregation is.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:49 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


And why should the teachers trust that they would receive any of these protections? Especially considering that there are some well funded forces that want to remove those protections for their own purposes?
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:49 AM on June 13


You're assuming a lot...

I'm not assuming any of those things.

We've got to be in agreement that there are metrics in order to be having this conversation in the first place, and there is nothing wrong with assuming that the success of teachers, by whatever metric, is attributable to behaviors that can be observed and replicated.

Your typical teacher should be familiar with research into what works and what doesn't. They don't need to carry out this research themselves anymore than you or I need to do the research ourselves to know that poverty is a predictor of poor educational outcomes and that structural racism is a real thing. They can go to workshops, read books, take graduate classes, etc., and get the results from experts who tell them how to put it into practice.

I wouldn't demand perfection from teachers, but I would look for someone who is using a good process to improve their practice.

The reason I see racism associated with the mindset under discussion here is that with the "don't blame the teachers, look what they have to work with" argument, those people are putting their effort into avoiding accountability.

They're trying to make a name for themselves as people standing up for teachers, and they're not really standing up for their students by talking about everything they are doing to succeed in spite of those bad circumstances, and demanding that their colleagues do the same.

So when you say, "where have you *ever* seen that kind of blame shifting work," that's the flip side of the blame game being played by the people making the "look at the social conditions" case, which is an *actual* case of unrealistic expectations, because the argument is to not expect more than the status quo until society solves poverty, racism, etc.

Those problems are far more intractable than clarifying what it takes to really be a professional as a teacher working in that situation, and are beyond the scope of what a teacher can address in their capacity as a teacher. If it really *is* so difficult to figure out what the specific behaviors are that lead to success and how to replicate them, then people who are struggling to succeed as teachers in those communities should be at least making noise about how to improve the flow of that information. But that's not the case you're making, and it's not the case people typically make in the context of the "working with disadvantaged students is really hard" argument.

Here is a great example of the sort of editorial I'm talking about. The author doesn't mention race and only touches a little on class, but the guy is writing from a place of privilege, and we know who he is talking about. He doesn't say a thing about what he's doing to figure out how to make a difference with these disadvantaged students, but he does say he's been teaching for 38 years and has written a bunch of books.

The editorial appeared in a paper published near the school where I teach, and someone printed out a bunch of copies of it and left them on the table in our faculty room.
posted by alphanerd at 12:34 PM on June 13


So, tell me, alphanerd:

How do you get a kid to be concerned about education when they don't know where they will be sleeping that night?

How do you get a kid to spend time at home working on educating themselves when they have a full time job taking care of their family, because their parents are either unwilling or unable?

How do you get a kid to care about the doors education opens in the future when they grew up watching society grind up their parents who played by the rules get repeatedly screwed by society because of their ethnicity?

You're arguing that teachers should be fixing massive societal issues, without any support or even acknowledgement of what they are up against, and in many cases facing outright hostility from a society that has turned them into scapegoats. And when people point out the reality of the scope of the problem, you argue that this is just blame shifting. So, at what point do we actually acknowledge the reality of the situation without someone claiming that its just a dodge?

And no, when it comes to something with so many inputs like education, I don't think there is any sort of approach that can be applied universally. The fact that the people who claim that they have such solutions have been often outed as frauds (see: Paige's "Houston miracle", Rhee's "Baltimore miracle") just provides further illustration.

It's time we stopped demanding teachers fix society's sins.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:32 PM on June 13 [4 favorites]


So, let's assume that, as the school reform movement promises, we can come up with metrics that can help school administrators create incentives, be they carrots or sticks, to help increase student success where where they currently struggle. How do we then create incentives for teachers to take these jobs, where they know they'll have to work harder than they would in a district where the kids come in with many advantages?

If we in turn assume the current median teacher salary is a fair price for their labor, and we want to, as part of the school reform deal, take away policies that provide teachers job security, then we will have to increase that salary to compensate the teachers for their loss of job security:
Part of the deal for teachers for years has been accepting lower salary– and, increasingly, little respect, particularly from the media– in exchange for job security. With the demise of tenure, that attraction would be gone. So that’s suppose to get more talented people into the system… how, exactly? I cannot understand that logic. Teacher attrition is sky-high, with best estimates of between 40-50% leaving the profession within five years of starting. That amounts to something like a thousand teachers quitting for every school day of a given year. Anecdotally speaking, most successful, Ivy League striver-types do not consider teaching as a serious option. But why would they, when there’s so many more remunerative, less stressful, less emotionally grueling, and better respected options out there? If your argument is that a profession’s problems stems from a talent deficit, you should be doing everything to make the job more attractive, not less.

Now there’s a standard bit of argumentative kabuki that happens when this point is brought up: people announce that they would be fine with trading tenure for higher pay, a kind of more money for less job security swap. I have heard that from people all over the ideological and political map. The problem is that we’re not going to get higher pay, not on anything like a system-wide scale. Paying teachers more would require more revenues and that would mean more taxes. What’s more, American public schools are funded primarily through local and state taxes. Does anybody think that we’re going to get broad and coordinated state and local tax increases across the country to pay teachers more? Anybody? We can have a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of a swap, but it’s irrelevant, because we’re not going to get the additional pay part and essentially nobody really thinks we are. That makes this “concession” very frustrating for me. It’s a concession that isn’t. Instead, what we’re likely to get is the demise of tenure and the same bad pay and lack of respect relative to other professions. How does that possibly jibe with an effort to hire a ton of talented and hard-working people into teaching?
This is where I think school reform supporters need to show their work. If you're going to push for sweeping change to tenure laws that will impact a whole lot of people, you need to have an answer as to where the influx of excellent teachers will come from, and how we'll pay them the higher wages they'll demand.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:24 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


I'm not assuming any of those things.

When you mention "using a good process," you're assuming that there's an identifiable, globally applicable, and almost entirely teacher-centric "good process" that somehow overcomes the effects of structural problems with multiple inputs. Further, you're assuming that teachers have the freedom and the power to implement these undefined, hypothetically replicable "good processes."

And finally, you're still placing the burden of research and accuracy into methods onto teachers in addition to their existing duties, with the added duty to police and direct other teachers (which is an incredibly bad idea for the same reason that having co-workers police and direct one another in any system where the workers don't set their own work goals is usually a bad idea).

Additionally, you discuss the need to improve "information flows" without ever really mounting a convincing argument that the problem of replicability in education results is a communication problem rather than a problem of localization or scale. (It may be that you don't believe in social problems that are not information problems, but that's a pretty huge assumption of its own, a sort of technocrat's fallacy.)

And then you imply that if the impacts on education due to factors such as poverty and racism are huge social problems that are beyond the power of teachers to solve through better teaching, then blaming teachers doesn't make sense….and then you're saying that can't be true because then you couldn't blame teachers. Because if we don't all do that we're racist…somehow.

But, see, the counterargument isn't that "nuthin' works with those disadvantaged kids." The counterargument is that teachers are not actually terribly well-positioned to address the causes or consequences of various structural disadvantages, and that the solutions to these problems -- including their impact on education -- needs to happen before and outside the classroom in order for any in-classroom solution to be all that effective.

Good teaching methods cannot address, or at least cannot address in any thorough or especially effective fashion, malnutrition that provably harms student's abilities to concentrate and develop intellectually, it cannot compensate for a lack of resources in the student's home (which can include things like *electricity* as well as intangibles such as a quiet study space or a capable parental figure), and it cannot compensate for the measurable effect of stress on decision making once the student leaves the classroom or before he or she enters it. Yet all of these factors demonstrable and provably affect students' ability to succeed educationally.

They cannot address these causes because they do not ameliorate the situations in which the causes arise. That takes funding, it takes community resources around the school as well as within it. So yes, large, structural social problems require more to solve them than the necessarily divided and often professionally and politically diverted intervention of a middle-class professional for a few hours a day five days a week, nine months out of the year.
posted by kewb at 6:31 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Question. What happens vis-a-vis the judge's ruling if, say, schools in Brookings, OR, offer tenure to their teachers and thereby attract better teachers on average than do schools in Crescent City, CA, half an hour away? (Especially if the best teachers say that they moved to or preferred teaching in OR because of the job security?) Could students in Crescent City sue their school on the grounds that they are getting a less-than-optimal education as a result of the lack of tenure for teachers in Crescent City?

If the facts worked out as suggested above, then it seems the logic of the judge's ruling would require tenure for teachers in Crescent City. (Or am I missing something important here?) And if that happened and Crescent City schools suddenly had to offer tenure to be in compliance with CA's constitution, wouldn't there be a domino effect such that pretty quickly every school in CA would be required to offer tenure?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:42 PM on June 13


How do you get a kid...

Right. I agree with you that these problems are hard and that there are going to be some kids who are very hard to reach.

The problem I have is when people only want to talk about those kids in a discussion about the expectations we have for teachers, and don't talk about how teachers can be doing more on their own side of the line, where they actually have the power to make some changes.

You aren't bringing these cases up as a starting point for a discussion about why teachers should be doing everything they can and should be looking hard at ways to improve their practice, you're bringing them up as an ending point for a discussion about the expectations people have for teachers.

When you mention "using a good process," you're assuming that there's an identifiable, globally applicable, and almost entirely teacher-centric "good process" that somehow overcomes the effects of structural problems with multiple inputs. Further, you're assuming that teachers have the freedom and the power to implement these undefined, hypothetically replicable "good processes."

I'm not assuming that good teaching practice can overcome the effects of structural problems, but I am saying that teachers should be having conversations about how they can be doing better.

As for the easily identifiable process, this is quite fortunately something that's become a lot clearer in recent years. Take the Danielson Framework, for example, which is the method my district uses for evaluation. There are others, but it gives a pretty good idea of what good teaching looks like and how it is different from bad teaching.

The process for improvement is pretty obvious from that document, but even in my district, you have people starting conversations about how ridiculous it is to think that you could run a class where students have input into the ways in which they are assessed, rather than asking to see if any of their colleagues have found a way to do this.

That's the kind of entitled thinking I'm talking about here. Another example is the "we can't do this in addition to our responsibilities" argument, the idea that these conversations and research into how to get better are something "extra" rather than something you should be doing anyway.


As for the whole policing colleagues bit, colleagues already enforce negative behaviors in schools that have toxic aspects to their culture. (I had words with two colleagues earlier this year who tried to pull me out of a class of students I'd found a way to pull together even though it wasn't scheduled, to cover one of them so she could enjoy a free period to which she was not contractually entitled).

If you Google around, you'll find lots of quotes and blog commentary supporting the idea that on the best teams, teammates hold one another accountable. And in teaching, teachers should call each other out, and call on one another to be good professionals, because the work we do with children is too important to suffer for the sake of politeness, which is another example of entitled thinking inherent in your position.
posted by alphanerd at 9:04 AM on June 14


I'm not assuming that good teaching practice can overcome the effects of structural problems, but I am saying that teachers should be having conversations about how they can be doing better.

1) Why, other than unverifiable personal anecdotes, do you assume they aren't?
2) Why do you think my concern is "politeness," rather than a set of many other problems*, such as the formation of unofficial and unregulated hierarchies, that emerge from co-worker policing in a system that already has people -- called "administrators" and "principals" -- who are supposed to be doing that work?
3) Why do you seem to think that the words "entitled" and "racist" are magical incantations that discredit reasoned arguments without your having to explain what, precisely, is "entitled" or "racist" about the reasons given?
4) Did you fail to notice how many times the Danielson Framework's rubric uses phrases such as "in collaboration with students, parents, and other school staff;" or "soliciting additional resources from the school or community?" Do you understand why these methods rely on parents who are willing, able, and ready to be engaged and on communities and schools having appropriate resources in the first place?
5) Do you understand that "quotes and blog commentary" are generally not good evidence for policy reforms and are not terribly convincing int he absence of data or other forms of general, rigorous proof?
posted by kewb at 9:22 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Tenure Is Not the Problem
Teacher protections are not why poor schools are failing. Segregation is.
posted by tonycpsu Yesterday [1 favorite +]


Not that old tune. Boston has spent millions desegregating schools and still ranks all over the charts. (out of 886 schools state-wide.)

310 Joseph J Hurley Boston Back Bay
451 Josiah Quincy Boston Chinatown/Bay Village
819 Blackstone Boston Boston South End
868 Mission Hill School Boston Mission Hill
886 William McKinley Boston South End

Everybody runs across a bad teacher while going through the grades. The good students will get past him/her. IMHO the real problem is the parents. Without a strong parental influence many students of all creeds and colors will fail.
posted by Gungho at 2:31 PM on June 14


...but are still shitty 7th grade teachers.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:45 PM on June 13


Case in point.
posted by zardoz at 3:40 PM on June 14


I'm not assuming that good teaching practice can overcome the effects of structural problems, but I am saying that teachers should be having conversations about how they can be doing better.


And what are you offering in return? You've removed teacher's job security AND you want them to do better. What are you offering to make it worth their while?

Come on man, ante up. Put a sweetener in the deal, or admit that this is just all about screwing over teachers.
posted by happyroach at 6:00 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


1) Why, other than unverifiable personal anecdotes, do you assume they aren't?

This is based on having read a large number of editorials similar to the one I linked above. The authors don't mention the specifics of the hard work they are doing to overcome the obstacles they're dealing with, even though they're presumably writing to an audience uninformed about the particulars of education.

That would be a great place for them to mention it, but they don't. This is because the point of these is to lessen the expectations people have of teachers working with disadvantaged students, to make the public more accepting of poor results.

2) Why do you think my concern is "politeness," rather than a set of many other problems*, such as the formation of unofficial and unregulated hierarchies, that emerge from co-worker policing in a system that already has people -- called "administrators" and "principals" -- who are supposed to be doing that work?

As I stated above, policing and enforcement of any workplace's norms gets done by its employees in ways both covert and overt. I've heard people in my staff room refer to department heads as whores, colleagues talk about how they let their students call one another retards so long as this is in the course of discussion about the lesson, and spend years upon years complaining day after day at lunch about their students.

At schools with toxic cultures, staff members enforce self-centered values and negative co-dependency on one another. I'm not proposing something new by saying teachers should enforce a certain set of values with one another, because this is something that already happens. I am saying that we should be making sure those are good values, meaning ones that are child-centered and encouraging of professionalism.

It may be the administrator's explicit job to enforce workplace rules, but that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't do it if you're just a colleague. People who put themselves ahead of students or who cut corners make everyone's job more difficult and you should call them out on it if you see it happening.

3) Why do you seem to think that the words "entitled" and "racist" are magical incantations that discredit reasoned arguments without your having to explain what, precisely, is "entitled" or "racist" about the reasons given?

That may be the conversation you wish we were having, but it's not the conversation we are having.

My position is that when someone is bringing up how difficult it is to teach disadvantaged students, but doesn't use this as a starting point for a discussion about the obligations a teacher has when working with them, and instead uses it as a reason to shut down a discussion about teacher accountability, the discussion takes on a racist dimension.

Since people don't expect great results from teachers working with impoverished minorities, this potentially allows teachers working in that setting to get by without putting a whole lot of effort into what they do.

I have no doubt that there are a lot of teachers working hard under those circumstances, but when I see an editorial or a comment online from someone who just wants to talk about how challenging the job is with the goal of lowering people's expectations, that person is likely engaging in casual racism or at the very least relying on casual racism on the part of his readers for them to accept his argument.

You don't see those people talking about how it's important to leave no stone unturned in reaching these students.

The entitlement, as I mentioned above, kicks in when you try to bring up professional development, and you get objections on the grounds that this is "extra" work, rather than stuff that comes with the job along with lesson planning, grading, and showing up to work. Or when you suggest that colleagues hold one another to a high standard of professionalism and the response is, "sorry, that's not their job."

4) Did you fail to notice how many times the Danielson Framework's rubric uses phrases such as "in collaboration with students, parents, and other school staff;" or "soliciting additional resources from the school or community?" Do you understand why these methods rely on parents who are willing, able, and ready to be engaged and on communities and schools having appropriate resources in the first place?

The Danielson Framework gives you a lot of flexibility if you want to improve your rating. In New Jersey, where I teach, the bulk of your evaluation is based on stuff the Danielson deals with, with 30% coming from standardized test results.

Since whether or not you lose tenure is tied to your rating, if you are worried about losing your tenure or about your test results, you can work harder at other areas of your practice, the idea being, I suppose, that eventually that effort will pay off in terms of improvement to your students' scores.

If you really cannot get any colleagues to collaborate with, or form any partnerships within the community, or what have you, you probably would have grounds for a lawsuit.

But I'm curious whether you're able to produce a situation where it's impossible for a teacher to receive a satisfactory rating, or if all of this is hypothetical.

Because it seems like your goal is to make it impossible to conclude that any teacher working in an impoverished/disadvantaged district is ineffective, because the conditions those teachers are working under are so adverse that no meaningful evaluation can be made. If I'm understanding this correctly, surely you can understand why people looking out for students would have a problem with this. What you think should be used to evaluate teachers?

5) Do you understand that "quotes and blog commentary" are generally not good evidence for policy reforms and are not terribly convincing int he absence of data or other forms of general, rigorous proof?

I don't think I'm suggesting that they form the basis of policy reform, and your response is an ad hominim. Have a look at who is making the observations that prompt the quotes. When successful athletes and coaches are independently noticing that teammates hold one another accountable on successful teams, there comes a point where you have to take that seriously. If you don't buy that, there's research into the functioning of organizations that will back it up.

And what are you offering in return? You've removed teacher's job security AND you want them to do better. What are you offering to make it worth their while?

What were they offering their students or their communities to begin with, if they're worried about losing their jobs in the absence of tenure, and haven't been making a process toward continual improvement a part of their practice until now? In return, they get to keep their jobs.

And I'm not trying to screw over teachers. As I said before, I am a teacher, and I would not be worried about losing my job if tenure disappeared.

I'm sure there are many teachers working in disadvantaged districts who are already having important and difficult conversations with their colleagues about how to deliver the best education to their students. My problem is with teachers who only want to talk about how challenging their work is, and who don't want to talk about their own accountability or what their obligations are as professionals.
posted by alphanerd at 8:37 PM on June 14


alphanerd: What were they offering their students or their communities to begin with, if they're worried about losing their jobs in the absence of tenure, and haven't been making a process toward continual improvement a part of their practice until now? In return, they get to keep their jobs.

You seem to have a lot of opinions on how you would implement the rating system that would lead to teachers being fired, but not very interested in talking about how we would actually go about replacing them. If your roof is leaking, do you rip it off first and then go figure out how you'll put a new one on?

I and many others have asked several times what the plan is for when tenure is abolished and we've eliminated the supposedly bad teachers, and the only answer you have is that "they get to keep their jobs." Can you see why this would not be persuasive? Being a teacher doesn't give you a license to evade the serious questions about what we do after the rank-and-yank system is imposed.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:11 PM on June 14


The obvious answer is that you pay them more. I work in an industry where layoffs are common for no reason at all, not just for performance. You just demand more money to work at a job with no job security. I think the public education industry has conned teachers into taking low pay because they have a 'calling'. It's bullshit. No one is forcing you to be a teacher. If you don't like the job, if you think the pay is too low, and job security is a problem, do something else. When they can't hire teachers any more, they'll figure something out.
posted by empath at 10:07 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


empath: The obvious answer is that you pay them more.

With what money? Have we been saving Scrooge McDuck sized vaults full of money for just the right educators to reveal themselves?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:38 PM on June 14


Oh, and can I just say that "they'll figure something out" is the exact kind of glib attitude that makes people like me who would otherwise have very little skin in this game (other than being a U.S. citizen that wants the next generation to do well) shit our pants when we see the school reform movement gaining traction? "Fire some teachers now, we'll figure out the rest later."

I'm not asking y'all to play chess here and think twenty moves ahead, but could you maybe look just a move or two past the point where we eliminate tenure and start sending out pink slips?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:51 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I didn't say that I thought that getting rid of tenure first was great policy. I'm suggesting that teachers quit being teachers if they don't like the job that's being offered. Then people will either decide to shut down schools or pay more for teachers. At some point teachers need to stop complaining and stop teaching, instead.
posted by empath at 12:34 AM on June 15


That would be a great place for them to mention it, but they don't. This is because the point of these is to lessen the expectations people have of teachers working with disadvantaged students, to make the public more accepting of poor results.

They're not making these arguments in a vacuum, but rather in an environment where the response to anything a teacher has to say is "you're protecting tenure and bad teachers." So perhaps it is to tell the public that it takes more than *just* hard-working, professional teachers with minimal support to create good results, and that abolishing tenure and increasing job insecurity for teachers.

Because the assumption you're making, time and again, is that good teaching measurably and substantially overcomes structural problems. If you're not, then it's not clear how much sense the whole "soft bigotry of low expectations" thing makes, because the suggestion relies on the idea that low expectations under the current conditions in which teaching happens are the primary cause of bad educational outcomes.

But you also consistently fail to support your assumption by showing examples of successful, transferable success across socioeconomic lines, in the presence of low parental involvement or low funding, and in the absence of other explanatory factors. Absent that support, you haven't proven that it *generates results*, let alone that those results are replicable or transferable or that they produce enough of an effect to overcome the measurable effects of other structural forces.

It's telling that you're referring to ratings against a rubric of good teaching and using identifiers like "what are editorials about" to define "good" and "bad" teaching, when surely the point is to connect transferable or replicable methods to transferable or replicable results. That's what you need to make broad, general claims about how we define or identify good and bad teachers.

For that matter, you don't know whether the teacher writing the editorial you so despise is achieving good or bad results, or using good or bad methods, because they don't mention it. It's an argument from the absence of evidence.

And when you couple that with the idea of a lawsuit, you sound dangerously naive despite your professional experience. Thanks to local funding, a district primarily composed of economically disadvantaged people is a district without a tax base to fund the schools. A lawsuit might abolish teacher tenure, but it will not provide the resources for hiring more teachers, for creating the kinds of community and school resources that the lawsuit is about, and so on. The money literally isn't there. Indeed, a lawsuit against the district or the school means that the district or school has to *divert money* into defending a lawsuit. And now lawsuit will involve a parents who are unable or unwilling to become involved in their children's education.

The only other option is to bring in private money and charters, but both of these tend to foment greater problems and, in many areas, divestment of funds from the public schools in favor of the private schools.

And then there's the greater problem that eroding job security for teachers tends to end up linked to eroding public sector unions in general, and thus to deunionization. And deunionization,f or many of us, contributes directly and material to poverty itself. The argument we're making is that you need multiple reforms in multiple areas, and what we see is a laser-like focus on poorly supported concepts of teacher "effectiveness" or worse, "goodness" without much evidence of teachers' real agency in achieving substantial changes through pure method and dedication.
posted by kewb at 4:47 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I'm suggesting that teachers quit being teachers if they don't like the job that's being offered.

When you start requiring people to love their job at the same time you're arguing that they deserve less job security, you get into some extremely creepy ideological territory.

People int his thread keep telling me that the children are the priority, and then turning around and saying that nearly all the problems are the fault of bad teachers who cannot be fired. Either we have a system that's so stupid it entrusts something as hugely important as the future of children to a comparatively small group of middle-class professionals, or a lot of other ostensible stakeholders are shifting responsibility and blame.

Put another way, a community whose children succeed or fail entirely on the basis of the quality and dedication of the teachers from it is a community in which *no one else* is doing anything worthwhile for the children. And almost by definition, that's a community that won't produce or keep good teachers in the first place. (You can expand "community" to "country" if you like.)
posted by kewb at 4:59 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


You seem to have a lot of opinions on how you would implement the rating system that would lead to teachers being fired, but not very interested in talking about how we would actually go about replacing them. If your roof is leaking, do you rip it off first and then go figure out how you'll put a new one on?

The flip side of this argument is that the assumption that nobody is available to replace you could be used to encourage stagnation and poor work habits.

My view is that administrators won't fire someone unless they think there's a good chance they'll be able to find someone better to replace them.

Because the assumption you're making, time and again, is that good teaching measurably and substantially overcomes structural problems.

I believe that the case that's being made by teachers who choose to engage the public is more about dialing down expectations than about what it takes to maximize their own potential on their own side of the line.

Disadvantaged students don't have to achieve the same things that affluent students do in order to improve upon their current results, and as a teacher, you have a professional obligation to have high expectations of all learners.

But you also consistently fail to support your assumption by showing examples of successful, transferable success across socioeconomic lines, in the presence of low parental involvement or low funding, and in the absence of other explanatory factors. Absent that support, you haven't proven that it *generates results*, let alone that those results are replicable or transferable or that they produce enough of an effect to overcome the measurable effects of other structural forces.

I've pointed you to the Danielson Framework which, along with other similar documents, has been adopted in my state.

You keep concocting these horrific examples of students who won't succeed no matter what you do, districts in which parents can't be involved and colleagues refuse to collaborate, but you haven't actually shown that any of these things actually exist in the real world.

You haven't explained how you think teachers should be evaluated, or whether we can expect better results from teachers working with disadvantaged students, even taking into account that they are working against long odds.
posted by alphanerd at 10:41 AM on June 15


alphanerd: The flip side of this argument is that the assumption that nobody is available to replace you could be used to encourage stagnation and poor work habits.

Yeah, sorry, but that dog won't hunt. I never said that there are insufficient replacements available under current conditions -- i.e. with the job security that comes with tenure. If you have evidence that this is the case, please show it, but what we're talking about here is the market for teachers after your preferred policy is implemented, not in the status quo ante.

Once again, the problem is that once you eliminate the tangible benefit of tenure, we'll have to pay the teachers more or work with fewer of them, and you've still not articulated how that will work in practice. I'm going to ask you one last time for a direct answer to that question, and if you can't do that or are unwilling to, then I won't belabor my point any further.

My view is that administrators won't fire someone unless they think there's a good chance they'll be able to find someone better to replace them.

OK, so you're essentially gambling teachers' livelihoods and the education of kids on the premise that administrators will think past their immediate needs. How many people do you think share this level of blind faith that you're putting in school administrators to do the right thing?

Look, as the supporter of a policy that would definitely ruin a lot of peoples' careers and could severely undermine the nation's educational system, the burden of proof is on you to convince the rest of us where we'd get the great teachers you're imagining. Answering my question by begging yours isn't going to get us anywhere.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:12 AM on June 15


I believe that the case that's being made by teachers who choose to engage the public is more about dialing down expectations than about what it takes to maximize their own potential on their own side of the line.

And your belief is predicated on some really questionable assumptions, as has been pointed out time and again.

You keep concocting these horrific examples of students who won't succeed no matter what you do, districts in which parents can't be involved and colleagues refuse to collaborate, but you haven't actually shown that any of these things actually exist in the real world.

No, I mentioned districts that lack the resources and communities that lack the resources to achieve the think you're blithely arguing are the sole or primary responsibility of teacheers. You have invented an argument you think you can win.

But sure, you want districts where external factors ensure that the deck is stacked against the students and the teachers?

Here's one.

Here's some more.

Hell, here're fifty more.

You want a discussion of how poverty affects children's educational development and parental capacities for involvement?

Here's a paper explaining that lower socioeconomic status can and does affect parent and child perceptions of risks and, thus, parent-child relationships.

Here's an NIH study linking lower socioeconomic status to behavioral problems and lower levels of child development.

Here's a paper from The Journal of Multiculturalism in Education that, while noting the need for better and more carefully considered engagement from schools and school officials, end sup finding that the biggest gains come from a variety of community programs aimed at improving parenting styles and providing opportunities for parental empowerment. The best results emerge from community involvement partnering parents, school officials, *and* community organizations in situations where funding is actually available. Note also that the case studies point to superintendents and principals, not teachers, meeting with parents and constructing programs. Why? Because teachers cannot do all of those things within the professional hierarchy of the public school system.

Here's another study from the School Community Journal making it clear that parental involvement is the only statistically significant variable in multivariate assessment of K-12 education outcomes, and discussing the problems of replicating school programs that succeed in one locale in others by noting the complex factors involved in parental uninvolvement. It points to school programs, but also discusses why the cost of such programs will not make them available everywhere.

So, you know, my points are based on the frankly unassailable research showing that the single greatest factors predicting student performance are parental level of education and parent income, even controlling for other variables. They're based on the unassailable realities of an economy in which people work far more than 40 hours a week and, in economically disadvantaged areas, these hours are built around multiple part-time jobs which often have hours that conflict with at-home time with the kids. These are not horror stories; they're rather well-publicized and well-understood realities

So unless you have something to point to other than a rubric and a handy accusation of racism or shirking or whatever it is that lets you get away with ignoring social contexts in favor of scapegoating, maybe it's time to admit that there are a whole boatload of complex factors that need to be addressed, and that the buck neither starts nor stops on a classroom teacher's desk.
posted by kewb at 12:29 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]


I'm not saying that districts don't exist in which factors are stacked against students and teachers. I'm asking you to show a district where it's impossible for someone to be rated effective under a system that uses a combination of test scores and observable components like the ones that are measured by the Danielson, because the problem you raised is, well, what about districts where there's no possibility of working with the community or with colleagues.

There comes a point where you have to take a position on whether you think there's a fair way to evaluate teachers working in underprivileged schools, and whether that's an important question to be asking to begin with, and I don't believe you've done that.

It's one thing to try to shoot down all attempts to evaluate teachers, or defend the current tenure system, or to dial down expectations of what teachers can accomplish while working with disadvantaged students.

But the thing that started this whole discussion was whether you're simply clearing room for people to do a lousy job there with no adverse consequences, and it really looks like that's what you are trying to do.

The real test of whether a teacher sincerely cares about doing a good job is if he's willing to talk about his professional obligations and how he fulfills them. It would be great if government or industry or Santa Claus stepped in to eliminate conditions of poverty and racism, but you seem to be of the position that *any* negative conclusions about teachers working in that situation are off limits until that happens.
posted by alphanerd at 2:18 PM on June 15


It's one thing to try to shoot down all attempts to evaluate teachers, or defend the current tenure system, or to dial down expectations of what teachers can accomplish while working with disadvantaged students.

But the thing that started this whole discussion was whether you're simply clearing room for people to do a lousy job there with no adverse consequences, and it really looks like that's what you are trying to do.


No, that is the motivation you are attributing through a combination of selective reading and bizarrely black-and-white thinking.

The real test of whether a teacher sincerely cares about doing a good job is if he's willing to talk about his professional obligations and how he fulfills them.

Except that your claim earlier was not "they're unwilling to discuss it when asked,m": it was "they don't mention it in their editorials and so they must not do any of it." That is is an arbitrary and idiosyncratic metric, and no one besides you has any reason to adopt it.

Frankly, lines like this make you come across as intellectually dishonest, from the name-calling to the complete unwillingness to consider the context of writing and speech acts to the arbitrary assigning of bad faith to your interlocutors.
posted by kewb at 3:25 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


The reason I got into this conversation was because I agree with the young rope-rider, who said The rhetoric that it's not teaching that matters, but the shitty homes and communities that kids come from, and that these kids can't really learn no matter who teaches them is, indeed, racist.

and

Anti-reform rhetoric is often racist and designed to keep teachers in unlosable, middle-class jobs on the backs of poor children of color, who can't have reforms that are shown to make a huge difference (like year-round schooling) at least in part because teacher's unions won't go for them.

I agree with this, and I see it in the sorts of conversations people choose to initiate and the sorts of conversations they choose to avoid about accountability.

I view a willingness to be held accountable to a high standard as being a hallmark of professionalism. I don't think this is controversial or unique to teaching. My observation is that, as a rule, people who write editorials opposing teacher evaluation systems, or who point out that teachers working with disadvantaged populations are up against a lot of challenges, don't tend to offer anything in place of the evaluation systems or expectations they are criticizing, and don't look at the supposed failures of these measures as a sign that we need something more reliable because of how important it is to have the very best teachers working with these disadvantaged students. They tend just to want to talk about why we shouldn't expect so much of them, and this makes me distrustful of them, their motivations, and their quality as teachers if they are teachers.

You are welcome to your opinion about how arbitrary it is to look at things this way or whether I'm generalizing.

I've asked you specifically to talk about whether you think it's indeed important to have an evaluation system in place in disadvantaged schools, and what you think it would look like, and you've yet to respond.
posted by alphanerd at 5:13 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I am not clear what purpose tenure serves now given that it was created before employment laws existed.

I'm not sure what employment laws you think exist in the US.


Gosh, I have worked as an employment law attorney for over 30 years and have yet to lose a case so I am very sure that there are employment laws that cover all the situations raised in your example. I know people claim they were fired for many of the things you say but in the end most, if not all, are myths perpetrated by folks who may have claimed that even though they were fired for incompetence. Just hit any search engine and look under "employment laws". Every case you cited would be covered.
posted by OhSusannah at 6:58 PM on June 15


My view is that administrators won't fire someone unless they think there's a good chance they'll be able to find someone better to replace them.

My view is that they'll keep hiring someone greener and cheaper to replace them, because with a new hire you can keep them for a coupole of years and then say, "Oh, well, they didn't work out, but you never can tell," if it doesn;t work out, then move on to the next one.

You keep concocting these horrific examples of students who won't succeed no matter what you do

Nobody's saying that the kids can't be helped by ANYBODY; they're saying that they can't be helped by the teacher alone, even though it's the teacher who's currently held responsible if they don't succeed.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:28 PM on June 15


ROU_Xenophobe: "I'm not sure what employment laws you think exist in the US. It's entirely legal to fire someone because you saw them coming out of an R-rated movie. [...] "

Public school teachers in the United States -- unionized or not, tenured or not -- have Constitutional Due Process rights because they work for a government entity. We definitely can't fire teachers for going to R-rated movies that are otherwise legal for them to attend, that'd be a straight-up First Amendment issue.

Firing a bad teacher for being a bad teacher is a legit pain in the ass even when the teachers are not tenured. Obviously when they're untenured you can just let the school year run out and release them when the year ends; if you've got an obviously incompetent teacher in October, there's no way you'll finish a firing process by May. It's much easier to either come to an agreement where they resign, put them in a no-student-contact position but keep paying them until May, or just leave them where they are and let the year run out.

I have a pretty spectacular list of appalling things you don't get fired for, which I generally can't share because they're personnel records, but suffice to say you can call students some SERIOUSLY MAJOR OFFENSIVE WORDS and then spend an entire year bringing legal proceedings over whether the school district can even put a disciplinary note in your HR file, citing various First Amendment and Due Process grounds.

(This is also why, incidentally, it takes for fucking ever to expel students even if they're, like, convicted of felonies.)

I think the California case has a lot of problems, and there are good reasons for unions and good reasons for tenure -- tenure in the K-12 system is less about freedom to teach unpopular viewpoints, and more about the fact that historically, in many parts of the U.S., public school districts have often been the largest employer in town, and became absolutely rife with cronyism, nepotism, and graft as politicians handed out teacher jobs to friends and supporters, not qualified teachers. It also protected a largely-female corps of teachers against a largely-male set of administrators and managers, who often set extremely unrealistic and restrictive rules for those female teachers.

On the flipside, it's very difficult to fire public school teachers in general (whether tenured or not), and tenure has created a lot of entrenched interests that -- as all systems do -- magnify certain problems over time. For example, teachers who change districts (in my state, anyway) lose their tenure rights, so you often have teachers who have a spouse with a great job offer 2 hours away, who end up commuting back and forth so as not to lose tenure. It really limits teacher mobility by locking them in to a particular district -- which can be a good thing because it promotes stability in schools and communities, but also creates a lot of situations where a teacher would like to move (to care for aging parents, for spousal work opportunities, because of changing kids' needs, whatever) but feels locked in by tenure. You also get teachers who "retire on the job" or who cannily use tenure rules (and union-paid lawyers, around here) to delay and avoid discipline for years on end.

---

Any system you come up with, however, has to take into account that teaching is one of the largest jobs in the United States -- there are nearly 4 million K-12 teachers in the US. It is not possible to simply say "Get rid of the bottom 25% and hire a million people who are better at it." It's not practical to get rid of the bottom 10% or even bottom 5%! You'd have to replace 200,000 people, and the economy would have to absorb all those displaced workers. Reforms that will actually impact the quality of classroom instruction will have to be some combination of a) decade-long targets; b) earlier sorting of potential teachers (during college, grad school, licensing, etc.) to proactively identify outstanding potential teachers and to counsel out poor ones; and c) improvement rather than replacement of existing employees. It's an absolutely ginormous profession, and even if we assume we can now accurately (and all of us, teachers and administrators and parents, in full cooperation and harmony) evaluate teaching effectiveness, "throw the bums out" can't be the entire next step. It's important to have it as an option for when necessary, but we're going to have to attack the problem on a lot more fronts than just firing people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:00 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


The Underpants Monster: "Nobody's saying that the kids can't be helped by ANYBODY; they're saying that they can't be helped by the teacher alone, even though it's the teacher who's currently held responsible if they don't succeed."

It's something like, 85% of the variation in student success comes from out-of-school factors -- primarily socio-economic status markers but also things like stability of the home, abuse & neglect, parental involvement, etc.

Of the 15% that "belongs" to schools, teacher quality is far and away the most important factor within the control of schools. And it is important! And it's the biggest thing we can control; we have to work on what we can control. But it's not a magic bullet and no matter how perfect our teachers get, that won't solve all the problems with education in the United States. A country that was serious about student achievement would get serious about anti-poverty programs. We know that's where the problem is.

One thing districts can do w/r/t teacher quality issues is, in high-poverty districts, use interviewing tools designed to identify teachers who will work well with children in poverty because, not surprisingly, that requires a specialized set of skills and aptitudes that not all teachers -- even if they are otherwise excellent teachers! -- possess. So much of the current reform movement is about identify The Good teachers and The Bad teachers, but teachers are not infinitely interchangeable widgets any more than children are. Very few teachers are great in any setting; most thrive in some situations and fail in others, and while we don't have a teacher-classroom match.com, we do have some crude tools that can help us match teacher skills and student needs a little better than the traditional method of "the principal's intuition." The principal's intuition is still important, but we can support that with further resources, backed by research on teaching children in poverty.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


I view a willingness to be held accountable to a high standard as being a hallmark of professionalism. I don't think this is controversial or unique to teaching.

Sure it is. What other professionals are evaluated on the performance of other people, people who are often unable to match the performance of their peers based on their parents' socioeconomic status? Teachers are held accountable for the home environment of their students, something almost certainly completely out of their control, and that environment can directly affect the teacher's rating.

What other profession has this hoop to jump through?
posted by zardoz at 8:11 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I am very sure that there are employment laws that cover all the situations raised in your example.

Educate me, then. Why does the New York Department of Labor tell me that an employee can be fired for no reason, or for any reason, except for the few specifically forbidden reasons, when apparently that's not the case?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:20 PM on June 15


At a certain point, the question boils down to whether you want to put children first in decisions that are made about schools, or whether the adults come first. Since children are already marginalized, discussions like this are going to have a lot of the same characteristics of conversations about gender, or sexual orientation, or whatever, where the people who are on the side of power have so internalized their prejudice/privilege that they may not even be able to recognize it, and where the people arguing on behalf of those in power argue that you are "just out to get them" when in fact you are just trying to put things on an even footing, or in this case, prioritize the proper group.

And it is clear that commentators like kewb, tonycpsu, and happyroach are doing exactly this. None of them have acknowledged the importance of having accountability in education, and are trying to dial down people's expectations of what can be accomplished in disadvantaged communities, without putting anything in place to ensure that teachers are of high quality even though accountability needs to come first if these institutions are to exist to serve the public.

And this is exactly where you can see the problem with this position, whether you want to call it intellectual dishonesty or being anti-child or appealing to racism to excuse professional laziness: there is nothing inconsistent about saying we should be doing more to end the effects of poverty and racism, AND that it makes it difficult for these students to achieve the same results as their more affluent peers, AND that we should be doing everything that we can to ensure that the teachers working in those schools are of high quality and/or have incentives to become high quality, as measured by their willingness to put their effort where professionals put their effort.

But people who bring up the first two points (especially the second), including the people I've been arguing with in this thread have a tendency to avoid like the plague any admission that accountability is important, and perhaps especially important, in these disadvantaged schools. They're leaving the students completely out of consideration, unless considering them benefits the adults (e.g., as people whose difficult life circumstances mean we shouldn't expect as much of the teachers).

Other loose ends:

Sure it is. What other professionals are evaluated on the performance of other people, people who are often unable to match the performance of their peers based on their parents' socioeconomic status? Teachers are held accountable for the home environment of their students, something almost certainly completely out of their control, and that environment can directly affect the teacher's rating.

What other profession has this hoop to jump through?


Professionalism in this case means looking at those circumstances and realizing how important it is to be a teacher of extremely high quality. The system in my state, which uses the Danielson Framework, uses a combination of test results and stuff you actually *do* have a ton of control over, like your classroom observations and work you do in your community. I think it's a great system because it balances the concerns of the teachers who don't want everything hinging on test results against the concerns of the public, who want to make sure their teachers are taking their job seriously.

At this point, everybody knows that socioeconomic status affects what happens in school, including the teachers who signed up for the jobs teaching there. The question is, now that you have a system that takes other things into account, do you want to use it, or do you have something better to put in its place? What's the guarantee that the teachers in these systems are any good?

Except that your claim earlier was not "they're unwilling to discuss it when asked,m": it was "they don't mention it in their editorials and so they must not do any of it." That is is an arbitrary and idiosyncratic metric, and no one besides you has any reason to adopt it.

It's not arbitrary or idiosyncratic to think that someone writing an editorial would understand that it's in their best interest to make their best case there, and that this means assuring the public that their professional decisions are child-centered and that they believe in accountability if in fact those things are true of them, because to have these concepts on their radar to begin with means recognizing that asking the public to expect less of the students in their classrooms appears very much to be at odds with professionalism and accountability. If professionalism is important to you, you'll want to talk about it.

Once again, the problem is that once you eliminate the tangible benefit of tenure, we'll have to pay the teachers more or work with fewer of them, and you've still not articulated how that will work in practice. I'm going to ask you one last time for a direct answer to that question, and if you can't do that or are unwilling to, then I won't belabor my point any further.

They could institute a merit system instead of one that pays people based on experience, and give teachers the opportunity to earn back the supposed functional pay cut that was lost without tenure.

Or, they could wait until it becomes impossible to provide kids with an education because there aren't competent people willing to work for the low wages, which would cause some sort of legal action similar to the one that prompted this thread.

I predict that people will adjust their expectations somewhat. Superintendents will make the case to their taxpayers to pay a little more to maintain a school system consistent with community expectations, districts will offer something to their staff that makes it extremely difficult to fire someone who is competent (like New Jersey's current evaluation system), and teachers will ask for more money. Some of them will decide that teaching isn't for them, but many of them will stick around because they will realize that they are fine even without tenure, and that the $10,000 or $20,000 a year they said it was worth was an overestimate, or doesn't take into account the cost of changing careers.

OK, so you're essentially gambling teachers' livelihoods and the education of kids on the premise that administrators will think past their immediate needs. How many people do you think share this level of blind faith that you're putting in school administrators to do the right thing?

When New Jersey's tenure system was overhauled, administrators were placed in the same boat we were. I'm not sure what the ramifications of the California ruling were, but administrators have an interest in making sure their schools are run well. How much faith are you asking people to put in teachers, to still do a good job with such job security?

Look, as the supporter of a policy that would definitely ruin a lot of peoples' careers and could severely undermine the nation's educational system, the burden of proof is on you to convince the rest of us where we'd get the great teachers you're imagining. Answering my question by begging yours isn't going to get us anywhere.

If I disagree that the policy would definitely ruin a lot of peoples' careers, and think the educational system will be fine, do I still have the burden of proof?
posted by alphanerd at 3:01 PM on June 16


Yes, because you are the one wanting to change the status quo, so it's your job to show why these changes are necessary and will be positive. Furthermore, your critics have been backing up their position by pointing out why teachers fought for these protections - past abuses where school districts used to be able to control the lives of teachers. So no, you still have to show your work.

Frankly, your entire argument has been nothing but one large attempt to dismiss the criticisms you don't like by crying "but think of the children!" As I pointed out earlier to the young rope rider (and to which he avoided) the teachers unions aren't against the idea of policies to help underprivileged communities, but they are against being asked to execute on those programs without compensation or support, because they should "think of the children". You argue that communities will pony up money for better teachers, yet the fall of California education is a key example of why that's a pipe dream at best.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:28 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


alphanerd: At a certain point, the question boils down to whether you want to put children first in decisions that are made about schools, or whether the adults come first. Since children are already marginalized, discussions like this are going to have a lot of the same characteristics of conversations about gender, or sexual orientation, or whatever, where the people who are on the side of power have so internalized their prejudice/privilege that they may not even be able to recognize it, and where the people arguing on behalf of those in power argue that you are "just out to get them" when in fact you are just trying to put things on an even footing, or in this case, prioritize the proper group.

I can see why you'd want to view it this way, but of course it's actually both the teachers and the students in the poorer districts that are marginalized, and the both the teachers and the students in the wealthier districts that are privileged. Privilege/prejudice breaks down by ZIP code, not by who the teachers and students are. I'm on the side of the teachers and the students in the under-resourced districts who are both being put in an untenable position. The kids have many pressures outside of school to deal with, and the teachers have to work harder with kids who come in less prepared. Sorry, but this bit of rhetorical jiujitsu isn't going to work.

And it is clear that commentators like kewb, tonycpsu, and happyroach are doing exactly this. None of them have acknowledged the importance of having accountability in education, and are trying to dial down people's expectations of what can be accomplished in disadvantaged communities, without putting anything in place to ensure that teachers are of high quality even though accountability needs to come first if these institutions are to exist to serve the public.

First off, why am I required to answer your question before you answer mine? You're the one pushing a change to the status quo, so if you want to convince people, you need an answer for what the landscape looks like after you've gutted tenure protection.

As it turns out, there are aspects of California's tenure system I would support changing, some of which are touched on in this piece. But if we're talking about reducing job security overall, then we'll either get lower-quality teachers or we'll have to pay them more.

I have no problem saying teachers should be held accountable, but what you and I mean by accountable is likely different. I don't think one needs to gut tenure protections to hold teachers accountable, and until we have reliable methods for disambiguating how much of student performance to attribute to environmental concerns and how much to attribute to the teachers, implementing any kind of reduction in tenure is going to end poorly for everyone involved.

So there, I've answered your question, now answer mine. What do you do after you've fired the supposedly bad teachers? Where do the new ones come from?

When New Jersey's tenure system was overhauled, administrators were placed in the same boat we were.

Ah, yes, "the law, in its majestic equality..." What do you mean by "the same boat"? How many administrators were fired, and how many teachers were fired? Numbers or it didn't happen.

How much faith are you asking people to put in teachers, to still do a good job with such job security?

Again, you're the one who wants to upend the current system. My opinion is that a vast majority of teachers do a good job, and if we want them to do a better job, threat of firing them isn't the best motivator in the long-term.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:57 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


"At a certain point, the question boils down to whether you want to put children first in decisions that are made about schools, or whether the adults come first. Since children are already marginalized, discussions like this are going to have a lot of the same characteristics of conversations about gender, or sexual orientation, or whatever, where the people who are on the side of power have so internalized their prejudice/privilege that they may not even be able to recognize it, and where the people arguing on behalf of those in power argue that you are "just out to get them" when in fact you are just trying to put things on an even footing, or in this case, prioritize the proper group.

And it is clear that commentators like kewb, tonycpsu, and happyroach are doing exactly this. None of them have acknowledged the importance of having accountability in education, and are trying to dial down people's expectations of what can be accomplished in disadvantaged communities, without putting anything in place to ensure that teachers are of high quality even though accountability needs to come first if these institutions are to exist to serve the public.
"

That's flat bullshit, and fundamentally an ad hominem argument based on a disingenuous framing of the difficult issues of teacher compensation and evaluation. It's bad rhetoric — it implicitly frames the resistance to your suggestions as coming from an inability to sympathize with marginalized people, including one of the more rhetorically dubious gambits of privilege rhetoric (the invisibility of privilege). You've also begged the question: Does accountability of teachers need to come first for these institutions to serve the public? Well, that depends on the public policy goals, which are dubiously tied to your tenure arguments.

"And this is exactly where you can see the problem with this position, whether you want to call it intellectual dishonesty or being anti-child or appealing to racism to excuse professional laziness: there is nothing inconsistent about saying we should be doing more to end the effects of poverty and racism, AND that it makes it difficult for these students to achieve the same results as their more affluent peers, AND that we should be doing everything that we can to ensure that the teachers working in those schools are of high quality and/or have incentives to become high quality, as measured by their willingness to put their effort where professionals put their effort."

Another problem is that this is a facile construction that you're berating people for not cosigning, especially in this dishonest form: You're arguing that we should do "more" to end the effects of racism and poverty, but that we should be "doing everything that we can" to ensure teachers are high quality within schools. Not only is the implicit priority weighting problematic — why not do everything we can to mitigate racism and poverty, while only doing more to ensure high standards in teachers? — but the vague qualifier of "we can" undermines the ability to make that a defensible standard, and betrays the dishonesty of its formulation. If, hypothetically, teacher quality does represent 15 percent of the outcome for a student, and poverty represents, say, 60 percent, and we have a limited amount of resources to put toward ameliorating either, "all we can" could be dropping next to nothing into teacher quality and almost everything into poverty. And that's ignoring the differences in ROI/expected efficacy — a dollar to a teacher may be more or less effective than a dollar in fighting poverty.

It's fundamentally a values and priority statement phrased as if it's a logical constructing instead of an appeal to emotion, and implicitly casting people as racist for not agreeing is bullshit.

"They could institute a merit system instead of one that pays people based on experience, and give teachers the opportunity to earn back the supposed functional pay cut that was lost without tenure.

Or, they could wait until it becomes impossible to provide kids with an education because there aren't competent people willing to work for the low wages, which would cause some sort of legal action similar to the one that prompted this thread.
"

So… two non-solutions? For the first, merit pay (and bonuses generally) is inconsistent, and a hard sell to replace something like tenure where the whole damn point is the predictability. Further, the idea of "earning back" something that's taken from you is asinine to propose as compensation for having something taken back from you. It's also worth noting, again, Goodhart's Law, where proxies tied to incentives cease to be effective metrics.

As for the idea of crashing the system to prompt another lawsuit — that's just dumb. For someone who nominally is all about the kids, you obviously didn't bother to think through the effects on those hypothetical children's education.

"I predict that people will adjust their expectations somewhat. Superintendents will make the case to their taxpayers to pay a little more to maintain a school system consistent with community expectations, districts will offer something to their staff that makes it extremely difficult to fire someone who is competent (like New Jersey's current evaluation system), and teachers will ask for more money. Some of them will decide that teaching isn't for them, but many of them will stick around because they will realize that they are fine even without tenure, and that the $10,000 or $20,000 a year they said it was worth was an overestimate, or doesn't take into account the cost of changing careers."

You are not a very good predictor of public policy then. If teaching is already having a hard time retaining and recruiting people, a solution that simply banks on making everything acceptably worse and counting on people to stick it out because it's a hassle to change careers is a recipe for long-term worsening of teacher quality. While economics is often over-reductive, the idea that people respond to incentives is pretty basic, and the incentives would be to make this less attractive.

People aren't arguing against you because they hate kids or are blind to privilege — they're arguing against you because you're taking small, solid points and trying to over-generalize them beyond any available data in a fairly transparently ideological way, something that people are already on alert from due to the fact that it's similar to the rhetorical failings that underpin the court decision that the FPP was about. You've latched onto the politician's fallacy — things are broken, something must be done, this is something, thus it must be done — and become myopic about the broader discussion of American educational policy.

And for all your insistence on the Danielson Framework, it's worth noting that there are fairly reasonable criticisms of the system.
posted by klangklangston at 5:10 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Note that this is only the first phase in dismantling the treKking system. The next step will be to remove the requirements for certification, probably replaced with a one-two semester licensing program. Again the arguments will be the same as before; since the certificate programs are obviously broken, the pool needs to be expanded so more competent people from other walks of life can be brought in. For less pay, and no benefits.

Next, individualized curricula will be replaced by standardized scientific lesson plans created by corporations that I'm sure that alphanerd has no financial investments in. Individualized teaching will be replaced by a rote standardized teaching/testing cycle, and students who learn differently won't get special attention, but simply be shunted into special learning tracks defined by technicians thousands of miles away.

In the end, the mcjobbing of teaching will be complete: from a trained profession, it will have evolved into something where temp workers in three-month contracts will be hired for$10.00/hour, and fired when their students don't show signs of progress. In s month. Of course there will also be private schools for people who want old fashioned (still unlicensed) teaching. If people can pay for it. Guess where alphanerd will send his kids.
posted by happyroach at 8:44 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


Obama alums join anti teachers union case
Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead role in the public relations initiative.

The involvement of such high-profile Obama alumni highlights the sharp schism within the Democratic Party over education reform.

Teachers unions have long counted on Democrats as their most loyal allies. But in the past decade, more and more big-name Democrats have split with the unions to support charter schools, tenure reform and accountability measures that hold teachers responsible for raising students’ scores on standardized tests.

The national legal campaign is being organized by Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who told POLITICO that she has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months to get the effort off the ground. She intends to start with a lawsuit in New York, to be filed within the next few weeks, and follow up with similar cases around the country. Her plans for the New York lawsuit were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Brown’s campaign will be modeled on the recent Vergara v. California trial, which dealt a major blow to teachers unions. In that case, a judge earlier this month struck down California’s tenure system and other job protections embedded in state law, ruling that they deprived students of their constitutional right to a quality education because they shielded even the most incompetent teachers from dismissal. Teachers unions have said they will appeal.

The Vergara trial cost the plaintiffs’ team several million dollars, most of that bankrolled by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Welch.

Brown said her campaign will be far less costly because she’ll be relying on free legal representation. The New York case will be handled by attorney Jay Lefkowitz, a former deputy assistant for domestic policy to President George W. Bush. He will take it pro bono.

Thanks, Obama!
posted by tonycpsu at 4:26 PM on June 24


The teachers unions should threaten (at least) to start supporting Greens or Socialists and stop supporting Democrats.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:30 PM on June 24


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