A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, October 31, 2005

This will keep me off the blog list of NEA Today forever....

...but I'm going to do it anyway. It is time to speak out.

Incompetent teachers should be fired. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I was reading the debate about proposition 74 in California, which comes up for a vote soon. Prop 74 would, among other things, increase the amount of time necessary to gain tenure as a public school teacher to five years from the current two years. But increasing the lagtime for tenure is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. Unspoken is the fact that those teachers were hired by someone, observed by someone (supposedly), and rehired by someone. Bad teachers do not pop out of nowhere. I don't see laws addressing these facts. Instead, I see yet another attempt to demonize teachers, while leaving untouched the larger issue of making teaching an honored and valued profession.

I'll say it again: incompetent teachers should be fired. However, I hope people understand that simply raising the years until teachers get tenure will hardly end incompetent teachers in the classroom.

First of all, the hiring process needs never to be based on nepotism and cronyism. I remember well sitting in a human resources office in a chichi district, listening to the director talk about how he was going to hire the son of so-and-so for this spot-- then he tried to hire me as a $12K a year assistant so that I could hold the hand of Junior. One of the most incompetent teachers I know was hired because he was a graduate of the high school at which I taught. And he's still teaching.

Second, teachers need to be evaluated by someone who knows what to look for in establishing judgments of competence and incompetence. This means that administrators should get out of their offices and be cognizant of what is going on in the classrooms. If they are too busy to do this-- which would seem the most important job of all-- then work should be reassigned so that administrators can do this. This should be their primary job, not number-crunching or stating the obvious ("There's an achievement gap!"). If administrators did this, it wouldn't matter how long it took to get tenure-- because they would know what's going on.

If there is a problem, they need to provide feedback and guidance to give the teach a chance to improve. They need to have the knowledge and experience to be able to provide this feedback and guidance. They need to amass documentation to use in getting rid of the deadwood. I knew an AP who falsified observations for 4 years-- she hadn't been in a classroom to observe since Clinton's first term. And it took the other administrators 6 years to figure this out. Might I point out that that is more than the amount of time it would take to get tenure under Proposition 74?

But you don't hear about passing laws forbidding these types of practices-- because it doesn't make teachers look bad, it makes administrators look bad. It doesn't allow the continued myth that there are a multitude of rotten teachers in our schools.

If a teacher is fired, they should not be given a good recommendation to go quietly just to make things nicey-nicey legally-- that just passes on the problem to some other school district, and betrays our sacred trust. And as Redhog says in his post of October 28, teaching IS a sacred trust.

We teachers have our part to play in this. We must not remain quiet when we see a problem. We must be able to trust that if we report a problem, it will be acted upon. School districts and teachers must demonstrate the will to get rid of bad teachers-- we know who they are. There's not a lot of them, but there are some. We need to understand that we teachers have an investment in this-- after all, the guy who reads the paper every day instead of teaching may well be the administrator of tomorrow.

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At 11/1/05, 9:25 PM, Blogger Jim Connolly said...

Hear, hear.
I'm in CA, and our unions are telling us that Prop 74 would likely be the end of the universe as we know it.
I don't agree with that assessment, but neither do I think Prop 74 would do what its authors intend. Because it's as you say: if teachers are being hired and evaluated improperly, there will be no improvement.
I can kind of understand the reluctance to write bad evals; nobody really wants to be the one to tell someone that they stink at their job, so they don't say it. Or they're afraid the union, or worse, the lawyers, will get involved, so they don't say it. Then the bad teacher/administrator/janitor/dishwasher/whatever winds up staying on and becoming a fixture, nearly untouchable. How many principals have had to keep lousy employees because the principal before them didn't let them go when they had a chance? How many have traded bad employees from one school to the next in "the dance of the lemons?"
There's a problem, alright, but I don't think this will fix it.

At 11/1/05, 10:22 PM, Blogger Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

California Proposition 74, the teacher tenure initiative proposes to change the California education code (i.e., CA law) to make it easier to fire K-12 public school teachers.

It is being touted in California as a reform in that it claims teachers need to work for a full five years (as opposed to 2 years) before K-12 public school teacher supposedly get "tenure" and thereby have a "job for life" wherein K-12 public school teachers cannot be fired, even if they are unprofessional and poor teachers.

I am a public school teacher in So. Cal. and want to point out we do not get tenure. This is not just a play on words, but we actually do not get tenure.

The Governor claims that Prop. 74 is needed because (a) the school are under-performing in significant part because of bad teachers, and (b) bad teachers cannot be fired because they have "tenure."

There is no such thing as tenure for K-12 public school teachers. For the first two years of our employment, we are on temporary, probationary status where (a) we can be fired mid-year without cause, and (b) our contracts expire at the end of the year unless the school district chooses to re-hire us.

However, if we pass our evalutations for those two probationary years and we are re-hired, we then get permanent teacher status, which only means our contracts do not expire every year.

Once we get permanent status, public school teachers can be (and are) fired for the following reasons according to the California Education Code (i.e., CA law) section 44932:


(1) Immoral or unprofessional conduct.

(2) Commission, aiding, or advocating the commission of acts of criminal syndicalism, as prohibited by Chapter 188 of the Statutes of 1919, or in any amendment thereof.

(3) Dishonesty.

(4) Unsatisfactory performance.

(5) Evident unfitness for service.

(6) Physical or mental condition unfitting him or her to instruct or associate with children.

(7) Persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school, laws of the state, or reasonable regulations prescribed for the government of the public schools by the State Board of Education or by the governing board of the school district employing him or her.

(8) Conviction of a felony or of any crime involving moral turpitude.

(9) Violation of Section 51530 or conduct specified in Section 1028 of the Government Code, added by Chapter 1418 of the Statutes of 1947.

(10) Knowing membership by the employee in the Communist Party.

(11) Alcoholism or other drug abuse which makes the employee unfit to instruct or associate with children.

In addition, the only permanency we have to our positons is that, if we are to be fired, we are entitled to 90 days notice (cf. Ca Ed. Code section 44939) in which we are allowed to a hearing to determine whether such charges are actually true.

That's it. That's the sum total of teacher "tenure."

The Governor in proposition 74 wants to extend our propationary status from 2 years to 5 years, longer than any other civil servant, and then wants to remove our right to have a hearing before we are fired.


Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D.

We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

At 11/1/05, 10:23 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! VERY Well Said!

Another really bad thing about Prop 74 is that there is nothing in it about administration/the district/etc. doing anything to help out a tenured teacher who is now receiving 'bad' evaluations.

Ms. C., Too bad you can't come out here to vote NO with us. By the way, the "author" of this horrid proposition is my own rep. in the Calif. State Legislature, Mrs. Bonnie Garcia. She has lost much credence with me.

At 11/1/05, 10:43 PM, Blogger Jim Connolly said...

I'm in California and will be voting against 74! In fact, I'm likely going to vote against all of the ballot measures. The "Governator" is trying to do an end run around a state legislature that he can't work with, and use his celebrity status to get voters to do the legislating for him. To that end he's pushed through this expensive, unnecessary special election. (Further comments on my own blog. Sorry for co-opting your space, Ms. Cornelius!)

At 11/2/05, 9:11 AM, Blogger Jim Connolly said...

Just re-read Polski's comment: It was addressed to MS C, not MR C.
Sorry to both Polski and our lovley and talented hostess for my mistake.

At 11/2/05, 7:47 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

Our site was put on NEA's little list several months ago in spite of the fact that the syndicate picks my pocket each and every month whether I like it or not.

Even though California (where we serve in the classroom.) "permanent" teachers can indeed be fired under current law, it usually takes two or more years and some 200 hours or more of an administrator's time to do so.

What is going completely unaddressed by anyone is the fact that the administrative aparatus of many public education systems (especially here in California) are infested with nepotism, cronyism, and multiple layers or redundant bureaucracies that have burgeoned to the point that it would be appropriate to refer to them as Administrative Empires.

These Empires are usually ruled by autocratic district Superintendents (such as our district's Dr. Evil) who insist on four-year revolving contracts [one year is automatically added as each year is completed] which make it all but impossible for small-town districts, such as ours, to get rid of them as these Autocrats would be entitled to full payment of their salaries while the replacement superintendent will also insist on a three or four-year contract.

At 11/2/05, 10:30 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks, guys! I would love to move to CA-- except for the fact that I couldn't afford a house there, and earthquakes and cheesy actors as politicians scare me WAAY more than tornadoes. :)

The problem is, to me, simply this: it's a logical progression to further the ultimate goal of the voucher patrol:

Jarrod, you are right. Teachers can be fired at any time. This law has nothing to do, really, with firing bad teachers. It has to do with savaging the education profession. We are portrayed as either idiotic or lazy. Oh, if only the principals had the ability to fire the lazy bums!

But principals already have the ability to fire the deadwood-- IF they will muster the energy to go and SEE, to document the problem, to attempt to correct, and then fire 'em if that doesn't work.

Prop 74, instead, is meant to create the impression that public education is irretrievably broken. It is then a hop, skip, and a jump to tip the next dominoes:

There are many bad teachers in public schools.

They get tenure and then they can't be fired.

Therefore, we must have vouchers to protect the poor children from this pigs at the public trough.

(But, hee, hee, hee-- only the very few talented or the wealthy will really be able to access private education in this manner. Therefore, we will be able to escape having to have our kids sitting next to the brown ones, the black ones, the immigrant ones, the ADHD ones, and most of all the poor ones. And we will get the government to give us a rebate on what we probably would have spent anyway! It's like free money!! And let's remember, private schools don't have to provide access to everyone, they don't have to provide the "least restrictive environment," they are free to discriminate however they wish.)

Money will drain from public schools, further impoverishing them. But the poor and middle class will still not be able to afford to leave.

Discipline problems will seem magnified, since that is all that will be left. Schools will appear more broken and out of the "mainstream" than ever.

Perhaps public schools may even be abolished altogether-- which certainly helped the South be an economic powerhouse when they shortchanged public education. But there WILL be lots of cheap unskilled labor to exploit....

I say, however, that we should not protect the bad ones. It's the best defense, and it's the right thing to do. But teachers don't do the hiring or the firing. We just get tarred with the same brush as the incompetent.

At 3/2/09, 5:56 AM, Blogger sexy said...

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