Friday, September 12, 2014

TNTP Proposes New Tenure Plan

TNTP, the Reimagine Teaching people and generators of plenty of fancy-looking reformy nonsense, have some more ideas for the post-Vergara world. They have decided to stake out a middle ground on the tenure wars, claiming that we don't need to eliminate it-- just fix it. And to that end, they have eight proposals to create "a more balanced system." It's all in this very fancy "paper," which I am now going to "respond to" in this "blog post."

1. Lengthen the Tryout Period

Awarding tenure after two years is too fast, say the reformsters. Let's make it five years.

Well, let me blunt. If your administrator can't tell whether someone's a keeper or not after two years, your administrator is a dope.

But why five years? Could it be because that will guarantee a more steady turnover, allowing us to pursue our goal of fewer (or none) career teachers, thereby reducing the costs of our school business (goodbye pay raises, and goodbye pension costs). As always, I'm really waiting for fans of the longer tryout period to wrap up their argument with, "...and that's why nobody should hire TFA short-timers ever."

2. Link Tenure to Strong Performance

Today, the only performance requirement for earning tenure is not being fired. In most districts, any teacher who remains on the payroll for a given amount of time is automatically tenure.

First of, depending on what you think constitutes being fired, this is basically saying that the only way to not get tenure is by not getting tenure, which is either very zen or very dumb. At any rate, I can tell you that my own small district has let teachers go prior to awarding tenure. But look-- there's a hugely weird hole in this argument. If your problem is that your district doesn't get rid of teachers during the years they don't have tenure, what possible good will it do to have more years of teachers not having tenure. If your administrators are too dopey to let poor tenureless teachers go, how will you fix that with more tenureless teachers??

Teachers should earn tenure only after showing they can consistently help their students make significant academic progress.

How dopey is this statement? Let me count the ways

1) Do you seriously want to claim that when it comes to your seven-year-old child, the only thing you want out of her teacher is to drag better test scores out of your offspring? That's it? Are you saying that when parents, particularly parents of small children, use the phrase "great teacher" that has no meaning beyond "teacher who got my child to score higher on those tests."

2) You have no idea how to tell if a teacher consistently helped students make significant academic progress. What you mean is, "teacher got standardized test scores to generate, via some invalid disproven VAM method, numbers that look good."

3. Make Tenure Revocable

"Teachers who earn poor evaluation ratings for two years in a row should not be allowed to keep tenure." So this suggestion means either A) tenure should not actually be tenure, which is absurd, or B) teachers with tenure should still be fireable, which is already the case. Next?

4. Focus Hearings on Students' Interests

This one starts out rather bizarrely. The argument is that while "just cause" hearings say they mean the district has to prove a good cause for dismissal, in practice, "districts have been held to a much higher standard." You would think a fancy thinky tank style paper might offer some support for that assertion, but you would be wrong.

TNTP claims that arbitrators often consider the possibility of remediation as a factor, and TNTP says that's like requiring courts to convict only if they think the defendant is both guilty and likely to  repeat. It's an odd complaint, given that the justice system is just riddled with places where punishment and rehabilitation wrestle for the upper hand. From the juvenile justice system (predicated strictly on rehab) up to three strikes laws (too many repeats and the punishment increases), the justice system is absolutely loaded with considerations of both rehab potential and recidivism. But TNTP is in a hurry to draw a line between not raising student standardized test scores and becoming a convicted criminal, so there we are.

TNTP wants the hearing to focus on the potential harm to students if the teacher went back to the classroom. So, um, wait-- the arbitrator should consider how likely it is that the teacher will do a bad job again? As the argument ouroboros disappears into its own mouth, TNTP does note that superintendents should come down hard on any principal abusing the process through incompetence or bad intent.

5. Make Hearings More Efficient

Quicker is what we're looking for here. I don't think anybody at all disagrees with the notion of speedy hearings. "I'm so happy that I get to wait even longer to find out what's going to happen to my entire professional career," said no teacher ever. TNTP wants hearings to take a day, because screw complicated situations or a need for either side to present all of their information. But keep the proceedings aimed at producing speedy results? I think we can all get on board with that in principle.

6. Hire Independent Arbitrators

Arbitrators depend on school districts and teachers' unions for their employment, and so might be inclined to keep everybody happy. TNTP suggests using hearing officers such a judges to hear cases, because those guys never come with any biases, and because the court system is bored and empty with hardly any other work to do.

TNTP's complaint is not without merit, but as with much of the tenure argument, it assumes that unions have a real interest in preserving the jobs of bad teachers. That's generally not true. Teachers' unions have an interest in preserving the process, in making sure that there's no precedent by which a district can fire a teacher just because, you know, everybody knows he ought to be fired. The union's interest is in making sure that the district does its homework. That's all. It's not unheard of for unions to be quietly happy that they lost one and that Mr. McAwfulteach is out of there. But the process must be preserved, because contrary to reformster lore, there are not a gazillion bad teachers clogging schools nationwide.

7. Stop Tolerating Abuse and Sexual Misconduct

Well, other than framing this as a "When did you stop beating your wife" fallacy, there's nothing to argue with here.

8. Lower the Professional Stakes for Struggling Teachers

We should be able to fire teachers without taking away their licenses. That way, presumably, principals won't be so reluctant to fire teachers, and they will do it more often because they won't be "concerned about ending the careers of teachers who might perform well in other circumstances."

Which is an odd phrase to throw in there. I'm just trying to imagine a situation in which a tenured teacher deserves to be fired from one school, but would be a great addition at some other school. I'm having trouble.

Unless what we're hypothetically fixing here is the problem of high-poverty schools being career-enders under the reformster system. Because if you teach in a high-poverty school, you will have students whose standardized test scores are low, which means you will be judged to be ineffective, which means you will not get tenure or, perhaps, you will be fired for being ineffective. Given all that, nobody who understood the system would ever take a job in a high-poverty school ever. But if they knew that after they were inevitably fired, they could still get a job somewhere else, that would make it more appealing, maybe?

While TNTP's proposal has some worthwhile components, it still contains the basic outline of a system that throws out tenure and replaces it with a teacher employment system based on test results. That serves the interests of nobody (not teachers, students, taxpayers, citizens, or parents) except for folks who want to reimagine teaching as the sort of job that never becomes a lifetime career.


  1. "But consider the fact that, of California’s
    275,000 teachers (a majority of whom are tenured), fewer
    than a half dozen are dismissed for performance each year.
    The numbers are very similar in other large states like New
    York, Illinois and New Jersey."

    I have no doubt that many teachers don't get as far as the dismissal process. They quit, leave, retire, resign before the hearings are ever scheduled. Union officials suggest this course of action to the teacher because they don't want to defend no-win situations. It would be fiscally irresponsible to spend members' dues in defense of the indefensible.

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  3. The "statistics" are a load of crap. School districts use all kinds of deceitful jargon to hide the REAL numbers of the teachers who get dumped all the time in school districts all over the country. Non-renewals, resignations in lieu of dismissals, forced resignations, and "dismissals" are ALL firings, and they number in the THOUSANDS a year. The ONLY thing school districts and "reformers" use in their deceitful arguments is those few teachers who actually go through the kangaroo hearings called "due process hearings" and lose, which 75 percent of those few who opt for them do. Almost all of them who are eligible take resignations in lieu of dismissals in exchange for a promise not to sue a school district and some itty-bitty amount of money. These teachers stupidly think this will help them in the job search process, but I can tell you it makes NO difference since you have to disclose any kind of termination, which a resignation in lieu of a dismissal is, on a job application. It gets thrown into the trash.

    People need to talk to teachers who have been dumped to find out just how much power principals have, and how little teachers really have and how easily teachers are dumped. It's a shock, let me tell you.

    1. Also, don't assume a teacher who is fired "deserves" it. Few do. School districts make crap up all the time to ruin a teacher because they can. They thumb their noses at the victims, daring them to sue. They don't care if they break the law because it isn't their money.

    2. I agree. I am a retired teacher from the Normandy School District. My last year was one of the worst years in my lifetime. I was harassed by a new superintendent because I had the nerve to speak with a school board member about conditions in my building (inside my classroom) without her permission. I was in a technology classroom where 15 desktop computers were housed. That Fall (2005) was a pretty rainy season. Rain poured into my classroom because of a leaky roof in the building. I followed necessary protocol - contacted my principal, who contacted maintenance. Maintenance dept. brought in trash cans and plastic to cover wires; but that was not enough. My students were still in an unsafe environment. So, I called a School Board member. Much to my surprise, this superintendent became furious with me. She forced my principal to write a letter of reprimand to me. My Union rep. forced the district to remove the letter of reprimand from my File. After that, this superintendent transferred me from that school to another building. This happened during the middle of the school year. After holiday break, I had to report to a new building where I was greeted by a new principal and sent to a new classroom where the students had had substitute teachers after substitute teacher. I finished out that school year by the grace of God. Then, I decided to retire. I refused to sign a new contract for fear that this superintendent would come after me again. I refused to give her the opportunity to fire me. Teachers all over deal with this sort of leadership all the time. No one can tell me that I didn't have the right to speak with a school board member. According to this superintendent, I had no right to "go over her head". I really feel sorry for teachers now-a-day because they have to not only work hard inside their classrooms, but they also have to deal with the foolishness of administrators who could care less about our youth. Google this name: Dr. Connie Calloway BTW, she was let go (bought out of her contract) by two school districts before she was hired by Normandy School district. After leaving Normandy, she was hired by Detroit school district...and was fired!!! How did that happen? Why did Normandy decide to hire her in the first place? Go figure!

  4. It's funny-- when standardized test results come in, reformsters assume that the data must be accurate and "prove" that X number of students are failing. But when the data don't fit the pre-determined conclusion (there are a zillion terrible teachers), then the data must be faulty.