At our most recent school board meeting, we unanimously passed a resolution to set aside a day, amended to a full week, to recognize and celebrate our teachers.
My personal view is that the vast majority of our teachers are wholly dedicated to providing learning experience and support necessary to develop the full potential of all their students. Recent examples of our great teachers being publicly extolled include Joe Puglia’s “Helping Voices Find Their Own Verses,” and my own “Learning That’s Magical.”
As much as we love our teachers, the school board recognizes that the state-level teachers’ union--California Teachers Association (CTA)--has been undeniably successful in helping to advance legislation that provides permanent (tenured) teachers with certain job protections not afforded to most employees today.
At times, these job protections interfere with providing the highest quality educational services for our children and/or with the decision-making flexibility of local districts, particularly in light of four years of major funding cuts.
For example, as districts are forced to reduce their teaching staff due to funding cuts, the state’s education code dictates that, with very few exceptions, the most recently hired teachers are the first to be laid off.
Unlike the private sector where employee performance is routinely considered in making staffing cuts, no such criteria is allowable when letting go permanent public school teachers in California.
In 2010, our school board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the education reform recommendations from the state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. These recommendations included:
- Probationary Period - Allow two additional years of observation before districts must make the decision whether to grant permanent status. (Current law is that probationary teachers are observed for two years before districts must decide whether to grant permanent status. Actually, with the March 15 notification deadline, the non-reelection decision needs to be communicated within 18 months.)
- Layoff Notices – Give districts until June 1 to make layoff decisions. (Current law requires districts to notify teachers of possible layoff by March 15, with final decisions to be made by May 15.)
- Dismissal Panel - Remove two teachers from the current three-person panel (Commission on Professional Competence or CPC) that issues a binding decision for termination hearings. (Current law requires permanent teacher dismissal hearings to be heard before the CPC, which includes an administrative law judge and two teachers.)
- Use of Seniority in Staffing Decisions – Require districts to use evaluations instead of seniority. (Current law requires that districts must use seniority to determine the order in which teachers are laid off, transferred, assigned, or reassigned.)
Two bills--SB 955 (Huff) and AB 2219 (Fuentes)–that were introduced at that time to address these concerns faced stiff opposition from CTA and went nowhere.
Critics of education reform, including CTA, argue that poor district management is to be blamed for educational failings and that job protections for teachers should not be weakened.
Mindful of these criticisms, our District has taken a number of proactive steps within our control to tighten and improve our employee hiring, professional development, and evaluation policies and practices including:
- Shortened the teacher evaluation cycle so that all teachers are formally reviewed within a two year cycle;
- Redesigned completely the evaluation instruments based upon the California Standards for the Teaching Profession;
- Provided annual training to the District’s management team related to effective and targeted evaluation feedback and practices;
- Tightened significantly the requirements for probationary teachers to achieve permanent status that includes face-to-face discussions with the governing board whenever a principal makes a recommendation for one of their teachers to become permanent, since most teacher job protections become effective once permanent status is attained;
- Trained site administrators in effective progressive discipline and/or assistance to support and direct employees’ improved performance and the corresponding file documentation which accompanies each level of assistance;
- Provided teachers with on-going professional development related to current best practices in instructional strategies; assessing student learning; analysis of student performance data to inform future instruction; strategies for effective classroom management; developing key essential lessons, etc.;
- Implemented a new student data management system (Illuminate) that allows teachers and administrators to easily access student performance data to identify areas of strengths and weakness related to instructional strategies and delivery. Although it is only one measure of effective teaching, being able to identify by course, standard and content cluster where students achieved mastery provides insights regarding student success and the quality of instruction that supported that success;
- Issued student surveys, asking students to weigh in on topics such as school climate and culture, administration, and perceived teaching effectiveness by course in grades 4-12. Again, although it is only one measure of quality instruction, research continues to demonstrate that students can provide meaningful data related to teacher performance;
- Revised Board Policy on Public Complaints so that the process is clearly defined and accessible to the public when concerns about teacher performance arise; and
- Instituted extensive performance-based practices in the District’s hiring procedures including the requirement for candidates to present a sample lesson to the interview panel to demonstrate their teaching strategies.
We continue to believe that our educational program is one of the finest in the state and that the vast majority of our teachers are truly exceptional.
Still, in our continuing efforts to make our educational program even stronger, there is little doubt that current California Education Code creates challenges and hurdles pertaining to employees that do not exist in the private sector. The Board’s position on tenure and other sensible educational reforms is a matter of public record.