Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

Chris Roberts, a new teacher in Ohio, was attracted to the message of StudentsFirst. He was impressed by what he read and by “Waiting for Superman.” He joined and was invited to apply for their Teachers for Transformation Academy. He was offered a stipend of $5,000 to be StudentsFirst Teacher for Transformation Fellow in Ohio. But in his fourth year of teaching, he had an epiphany. He realized that StudentsFirst was wrong about everything that mattered to him as a teacher. He turned down their offer and the $5,000. And he wrote an eloquent letter to explain why.

This is a small part of a powerful letter:

“Now after four years in the classroom, my view of education has changed. Now, I am not so convinced that the StudentsFirst agenda is what is best for students. Those “older teachers” whom I felt didn’t deserve the seniority protections were actually some of the most helpful people I’ve ever come across. Their years of experience meant they had a wealth of classroom management advice to share. They weren’t stubborn curmudgeons as portrayed by those trying to “reform” education. They are some of the most caring, loving people I’ve known. Are there a couple of bad eggs every once in a while? Yes. But that is the case in any profession. You occasionally will find a bad doctor, hence malpractice suits. But instead of “reforming” the medical field and basing doctors’ evaluations on patients’ health, politicians instead push for tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors. I guess you could say that Republicans are pushing to protect bad doctors. One of the problems that I see with eliminating seniority protections boils down to money. Schools are strapped for money, it is nearly impossible to pass a levy and the state seems content with defunding. The more experienced teachers tend to be the most “expensive”. Despite their ratings and evaluations, I could see many schools getting rid of those teachers not because they perform poorly, but because it would be cheaper to bring in a new hire. Students could suffer from this.

“As a parent, I have a problem with the evaluation systems being pushed by StudentsFirst and other corporate-driven reformers. With teachers’ evaluations being based on progress on student test scores, that means students must be tested to an extent never seen before. In every single class, multiple times a year, students are taking more standardized tests. My six-year old daughter told me this summer that she was afraid to go to first grade “because of the tests”. She is afraid she won’t do well on them. That is pathetic. Children should be excited to go to school and learn, but school has become more about tests rather than learning. School is about getting a certain score on a certain test. Education policies are killing children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder if this is intentional. Are there certain people out there who want to destroy public schools through excessive testing, defunding, and unfunded mandates in order to make people “want” privatization of schools? It sometimes seems like it. Whether intentional or not, unfortunately StudentsFirst’s agenda aligns with this style of reform that we have been seeing take over the public education conversation. Although I believe in free market capitalism, I see that in the case of education the more private corporations get involved in education, the worse our schools get. There are large corporations making these tests, the politicians force these tests upon our schools, and the test companies also make the textbooks and curricula for the schools to follow. It is a terrible marriage of big business and big government and children are the ones taking a hit. Teachers are becoming scripted robots and these corporations are making billions from our tax dollars, which could instead be going towards improving our schools. I, for one, do not want my children subjected to so much testing.”

Arthur Goldstein teaches English to immigrant students in high school in New York City. He has taught for many years. He has written about the importance of tenure, which enables him to advocate for his students without fear of losing his job. He can be a whistle blower without fear of losing his job. He has academic freedom because he has tenure.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times doesn’t like tenure. He also doesn’t like public schools or teacher unions as he was possibly the only columnist in America to write a positive review of the movie flop “Won’t Back Down,” which was underwritten by the far-right billionaire Philip Anschutz.

In this post, Arthur Goldstein dissects Frank Bruni’s opinion column, in which he cites Whoopi Goldberg as an authority and State Senator Michael Johnston of Colorado, who wrote one of the most punitive teacher evaluation bills in the nation. Four years later, does Colorado have the great schools and great teachers Johnston promised when he pushed the bill through? Of course not. Smoke and mirrors. Another DFER triumph built on demoralizing teachers.

Sara Stevenson, school librarian in Austin and a member of the blog honor roll, is intrepid. she reads the Wall Street Journal every day and responds promptly to every attack on public schools and teachers, one of WSJ’s major preoccupations.

She wrote the letter below. She forgot to ask Peterson and Hanushek to give up their tenure at Harvard and Stanford to prove they don’t believe in tenure:

From: Sara Stevenson
Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Subject: Response to Paul E. Peterson on Teacher Tenure (8-18-14)
To: “ltrs, wsj”

Paul E. Peterson cites surveys of parents, communities, and teachers to determine the percentage of current teachers whose performance deserves a D or F rating. He underscores that even teachers rate 13% of their colleagues as failures. Stated inversely, teachers approve of the performance of 87% of their cohorts. Peterson and Eric Hanushek use this data to fuel their mission to exterminate “bad teachers” from the profession. At the same time, our current Congress has an 8% approval (92% disapproval) rating. I’m interested in the percentage of “bad” actors in other professions.

Rather than focusing on drumming out “bad teachers,” why don’t we focus on improving teacher conditions and training and on attracting more talented young people to the profession? With 40% of all teachers leaving the profession within five years, it’s certainly not a sinecure, in spite of certain states with teacher tenure. Finally, Peterson cites other nations, including Finland, as role models in education in spite of the fact that 100% of Finnish teachers are unionized with tenure protections. We need to shift our focus in this tired education debate.

Sara Stevenson
Austin, Texas

Peter Greene describes what it would be like to teach in a public school without tenure. Anyone in the building with more authority than a teacher has the power to end his or her career, for any reason.

The worst thing, he writes, is not that you can be fired for anything at all. The worst thing is the threat of firing.

He writes:

“Firing ends a teacher’s career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher’s career.

“The threat of firing is the great “Do this or else…” It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

“Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers’ money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don’t speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they’re wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

“Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

“The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

“The lack of tenure, of due process, of any requirement that a school district only fire teachers for some actual legitimate reason– it interferes with teachers’ ability to do the job they were hired to do. It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, “Do as I tell you, or else.”

“Civilians need to understand– the biggest problem with the destruction of tenure is not that a handful of teachers will lose their jobs, but that entire buildings full of teachers will lose the freedom to do their jobs well…..

“Without tenure, every teacher is the pawn and puppet of whoever happens to be the most powerful person in the building today. Without tenure, anybody can shoulder his way into the classroom and declare, “You’re going to do things my way, or else.”

“Tenure is not a crown and scepter for every teacher, to make them powerful and untouchable. Tenure is a bodyguard who stands at the classroom door and says, “You go ahead and teach, buddy. I’ll make sure nobody interrupts just to mess with you.” Taxpayers are paying us for our best professional judgment; the least they deserve is a system that allows us to give them what they’re paying us for.”

Two teachers from Long Island, New York, wrote a letter to Whoopi Goldberg to explain to her that “tenure” means “due process.”

Alicia Connelly-Foster of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, NYSUT, AFT, NEA, and Viri Pettersen, President- Rockville Centre Teachers Association, NYSUT, AFT, NEA patiently explain that it takes a minimum of three years for a teacher to win tenure, during which time he or she is observed repeatedly by trained administrators.

They write:

“In New York state, the granting of due process is contingent on three years of observations. These observations are conducted by several different qualified administrators and occur quite frequently throughout each of these three years. Administrators hold degrees and certifications granted by the state, which, in turn, authorizes them to make these observations along with suggestions, criticisms and praise. Often, administrators from varying levels, including building principals, district-wide directors, or district office members, such as a superintendent of schools, observe the non-tenured teacher. New teachers are guided through mentoring by experienced educators, with supporting documentation showing that this mentoring occurred reported to our State Education department. The new teachers are required to participate in special professional development, geared to increasing their efficacy. At any point in this three-year process, administration or the Board of Education may elect to remove the teacher from the classroom, thus ending his/her employment with the district; no questions are asked. At the end of three years, the district has three options: to recommend the teacher for tenure (pending Board of Education approval), deny the teacher tenure, thus ending employment, or grant the teacher a fourth year of untenured status where the observation process, coupled with mentoring and professional development continues. At the conclusion of this fourth-year, the district has the option for retention as a tenured educator or dismissal.”

Why do teachers need due process? They write:

“Due process rights are important because they allow us to stand up for our students, through giving voice in supporting and protecting them. With due process, teachers can stand up for the student who we think may be unfairly suspended, especially when a parent is not available to defend the child. We can fight against rescinding support services of a special needs child because those services are too costly. Many times, parents may not be able attend their child’s CSE/IEP meeting. The only one in the room advocating for that child may well be the teacher.

“Without tenure, we could not stand up against the injustices we witness against children by districts that may temporarily have forgotten our reason for being here – our students and educational community. Without tenure, we could not stand up to our administrators/supervisors when something is wrong. Without tenure we could not stand up against harassment and workplace bullying. Without tenure, we could not stand up against racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry and age discrimination. These days, many veteran teachers are no longer being viewed based on their outstanding contributions to our educational communities; instead they are more frequently being categorized based on their position on the pay scale. Without tenure, age-discrimination will become a pandemic in schools.

“Without tenure, the wonderful academic success stories and teacher innovations promoted in our educational communities are likely to dwindle because teachers will be afraid to defend their high student expectations to administration. Without tenure, academic freedom and creativity in the classroom will disappear. Without tenure, people will be afraid to defend social justice or advise the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at school, for fear of reprisal from a homophobic supervisor. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to “tweet” and participate in political rallies (including those rallies where communities come together in the fight for better educational legislation and ending over-testing of students). Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to join a political party for fear of retaliation over their political ideologies. Without tenure, teachers will become afraid to be so-called “whistle-blowers” against a school district’s failure to comply with Special Education regulations. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid they may suffer for what their friends or family do. Without tenure, teachers will be afraid to refuse to change a grade or falsify attendance records and/or legal documents, if directed by an administrator.

“Tenure does not equate to “a job for life.” Tenure equates to due process rights, which requires the district to do its due diligence in removing a teacher from the classroom and prevents that reason from being arbitrary and capricious. As far as the union goes, it is not the union’s responsibility to “defend bad teachers”; rather, it is to ensure that the district has done everything it needs to do on its part and that corruption/abuse has not taken place during a due process hearing. (Note: To clarify another misconception being promoted by some, New York’s teacher tenure law has been streamlined to address lengthy due process hearings and cost associated therewith.)”

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.

Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.

But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.

“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.

“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.

Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.

She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.

The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.

Politico.com reports this morning that Laurence H. Tribe, a legal scholar Harvard, has joined the campaign to eliminate teacher tenure. “Students Matter, which led the Vergara lawsuit to overturn teacher tenure and other job protections in California, will announce this morning that constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe is joining the group as senior adviser. Tribe, a Harvard law professor, will advise on legal strategy as Students Matter seeks to bring similar suits in states across the country.”

The burning question of the day: Will Laurence H. Tribe relinquish his tenure at Harvard Law School? More important, will he join with other activists to abolish tenure in higher education? Or do these eminent lawyers just like to beat up on the female-dominated teaching profession in pre-K-12?

Multimillionaire equity investor Rex Sinquefeld doesn’t like public education. Apparently he doesn’t like teachers either. He doesn’t think teachers should be evaluated by their administrators but by the standardized test scores of their students. Evidently he doesn’t know that this method of evaluating teachers has failed to work wherever it was tried; evidently he doesn’t know that even the District of Columbia, which was first to implement this method, has put it on hold. Mr. Sinquefeld also seems unaware that about 70% of teachers don’t teach tested subjects.

He was unable to get these ideas adopted by the Missouri state legislature so he created a Constitutional amendment, which will be on the ballot this fall. It is called Constitutional Amendment 3.

If it passes, the problems and costs will begin. Missouri will have to develop tests for every subject that is taught and administer them at the beginning and end of each course. How will Missouri measure the effectiveness of art teachers, music teachers, physical education teachers? Vast new sums must be spent to create and administer dozens of new tests.

Experience in other states shows that teachers in affluent districts will get higher ratings than those who teach children in poor districts and those with disabilities. The tests measure advantage and disadvantage, not teacher quality.

The bottom line with Mr. Sinquefeld’s proposal is that it will be very costly and it will not identify the best and worst teachers. It will reward teachers in high-income districts and punish those who choose to work with students who are English learners or have disabilities or are homeless.

It will take decision-making power away from local administrators and shift it to a centralized bureaucracy. It has been tried and failed in many districts. It demoralizes teachers by reducing their jobs to nothing more than test scores.

There are research-proven ways to improve education, such as early childhood education, reduced class sizes for the students who need extra help, regular access to medical services for those who can’t afford it, and experienced teachers. These strategies have a solid research base.

Missouri should do what works, rather than investing many millions of dollars in proven failure.

Peter Greene writes a farewell letter to Michelle and dissects Campbell Brown’s talking points.

Peter speculates on Michelle’s departure and hopes she understands why she provoked the reactions she did::

“Maybe education was providing too few rewards and too much tempest. People have called you some awful names and said some terrible personal things about you, and though I have called you the Kim Kardashian of education, I don’t condone or support the ugly personal attacks that are following you out the door. But I understand them– you have done some awful, awful things, and I’m not sure that it’s ever seemed, from out here in the cheap seats, that you understand that teachers and students are real, live human beings and not simply props for whatever publicity moment you are staging. I’m not saying that you deserve the invective being hurled at you; I am saying that when you poke a bear in the face repeatedly, it eventually gets up and takes a bite out of you.”

As Michelle leaves, stage right, she hands off the baton as leader of the campaign against “bad teachers” to Campbell Brown, who explained her goals in an opinion piece. Since she is not an educator, he feels he must explain that her effort to take away tenure from “bad teachers” will take away tenure for ALL teachers. He asks how she will judge the quality of teachers. If she really wants to protect those who are caring, dependable, and inspiring, how can she be sure that these are the same teachers whose students get higher scores?

Ultimately, he wants know how removing employment protections will attract more “great” teachers to the classroom.

Campbell would do well to listen to Peter.

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.

“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.

“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”

Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.

Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.

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