City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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Larry Sand
Terrible Tenure « Back to Story

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Another consequence of permanency is that it makes it much harder for new teachers to make a career. A new teacher here in South Australia usually has to take a series of temporary jobs before they have a chance of permanency. Quite often they have sympathetic principals who are keen to retain them. However the principals are not in a position to sign off on the job because all permanent teachers must be placed before jobs can be given to non permanents.As a result many good new teachers leave for more predictable employment.
We don't have a central 'rubber room' here, but incompetent permanents are distributed around the school system, often to cause havoc in the schools unlucky enough to get them. Getting rid of such teachers is as difficult as it sounds in California with the teachers union right behind them.
Another consequence is that the teachers union has great difficulty arguing for pay rises on the basis of the excellent work that so many teachers do. This argument is undermined by the well known and widespread presence of incompetent teachers who seem immune to any attempts to deal with their incompetence.
Taking the last paragraph of this article as fact, what exactly is the difference between the State of California -- the part in charge of teacher (mis)behavior -- and the Catholic Church? There seems to be not much difference between bouncing pedophile priests from one parish to another instead of removing them from contact with children and the teacher described. Why has there been no outcry? The Catholic Church has been vilified for decades but this is the first I've heard of this sort of behavior from teachers and school administrators. Unless you count the recent outbreak of teachers boffing their students, of course...
Mr. Sand seems a bit confused about the role and desires of administrators.

Administrators are no more inclined, or required, to run good schools then teachers are to run good classrooms. So there's really not all that much in the way of incentives for an administrator to go through the laborious, expensive process of firing a tenured teacher.

What administrators are strongly incentivized to avoid is public embarrassment. So the crime Mr. Sand's colleague committed was less the inappropriate touching then of creating a problem with which his superiors had to deal making them look like the inattentive and not particularly concerned people they are.

But to get back to tenure, it's a solution to a problem created by the public education system as it currently exists.

School boards and administrators are seen as dangerously indifferent to teaching skill because they can be. Good teacher, bad teacher, it really doesn't make that much difference to the teacher's superiors. So to keep those folks from treating teachers as the power they wield, and their indifference to results, tempts them to act we have tenure.

It's a lousy solution but the alternative, treating teachers as if they were as disposable as toilet paper which administrators could since those administrators have no responsibility for kid's learning, isn't much of an alternative.

The solution to the problem is to put the fate of teachers into the hands of those who desperately want the kids to get a good education and that "someone" is parents.

School choice means that parents are the ultimate arbiters of a school's survival and that means the determiners or the continued employment of the teachers and administrators employed by the school. The administrator who doesn't care whether his teachers are competent is an administrator who'll be looking for a new job either by being fired or by having the school dissolve around them. Either way, the problem a lousy administrator, the lousy teachers they'd employ, are solved.

As school choice spreads the governance bodies of those choice schools will be strongly motivated to search for administrative candidates who have a history of running schools that satisfy parents. Those administrators will be strongly motivated to find, and retain, teachers who have the same skill. Under those circumstances the problem poorly addressed by tenure simply disappears - good teachers won't have much to worry about and bad teachers won't have to worry for very long.
Was Mr. Sand a better teacher in his third year of teaching than in his 10th? His 15th? His 20th? His 30th?

As with finding the missing heat to account for the stalling of GW, teacher effectiveness studies reveal that the unknown is more important than the known:

- Are the teachers in elementary or high schools?

- What are the quality of the teachers' training programs?

- What are the quality of the schools in which these teachers teach?

- How does attrition play a role in these findings? ("[D]ifferential attrition of teachers with different levels of effectiveness may confound findings about the effects of teacher experience. While some evidence suggests that teachers who remain teaching after three years are less effective on average than those who leave (Clotfelter et al. 2007a), other research has found that less effective teachers are more likely to transfer and leave teaching (Boyd et al. 2009;Goldhaber, Gross, and Player 2007; Harris and Sass 2007). These conflicting findings raise questions about whether the measured effects of experience reflect improvement with experience or higher attrition of less effective teachers" (http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/1001455-impact-teacher-experience.pdf)).

I highly doubt Mr. Sand would be so glib as to include his more than 35 years of teaching to support his glib assertion "that teacher effectiveness peaks in the first three to five years on the job, and that the majority of teachers don’t improve over time."

James Samuelson
Was Mr. Sands a better teacher in his third year of teaching than in his 10th? His 15th? His 20th? His 30th?

As with finding the missing heat to account for the stalling of GW, teacher effectiveness studies reveal that the unknown is more important than the known:

- Are the teachers in elementary or high schools?

- What are the quality of the teachers' training programs?

- What are the quality of the schools in which these teachers teach?

- How does attrition play a role in these findings? ("[D]ifferential attrition of teachers with different levels of effectiveness may confound findings about the effects of teacher experience. While some evidence suggests that teachers who remain teaching after three years are less effective on average than those who leave (Clotfelter et al. 2007a), other research has found that less effective teachers are more likely to transfer and leave teaching (Boyd et al. 2009;Goldhaber, Gross, and Player 2007; Harris and Sass 2007). These conflicting findings raise questions about whether the measured effects of experience reflect improvement with experience or higher attrition of less effective teachers" (http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/1001455-impact-teacher-experience.pdf)).

I highly doubt Mr. Sands would be so glib as to include his more than 35 years of teaching to support his glib assertion "that teacher effectiveness peaks in the first three to five years on the job, and that the majority of teachers don’t improve over time."

James Samuelson
Ventura Capitalist April 14, 2014 at 6:15 AM
As to Mr. Fitzhugh’s straw man, think tank eggheads are not paid with taxpayer money and are not entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of children on a daily basis.

In 2005 Arnold included teacher tenure and probationary period reform in his package of ballot proposals. He did little to campaign for their passage, and if I recall, the CTA mortgaged their headquarters building to buy the defeat of this existential threat. This spanking from the teachers (and the nurse’s union) left Arnold a broken man and his governorship was effectively over.

Surely we can all agree that teachers who molest the children must be removed from the classroom. Not so fast...

Mark Berndt had been molesting children in LA schools for decades, including “tasting games” where he fed his semen to 9 year old children in the classroom. The LAUSD had to make a $40,000 payoff to him (and the union lawyers) to make him stop appealing his termination. Why the payoff? The review board, consisting of two union teachers plus another member, was preparing to send him BACK TO THE CLASSROOM. Think about it... two of these sainted “All About The Children” union teachers were preparing to send this monster back into the classroom of 9 year olds. Paying him to go away was the only way to protect the students.

By the way, The staff and administrators at Miramonte elementary school looked the other way for years. The way Berndt was finally caught was that he had taken pictures of his degrading acts with the children, and THE GUY AT THE DRUGSTORE called the cops.

And did you know that state law (written, bought and paid for by the CTA) also demands that the investigation records of child molesting teachers be shredded after 4 years? This permits the perverts to bounce from district to district without fear of background checks.

Yes, it's all about the children for the CTA.

Now here’s what the SF Chronicle said about SB 1530, an attempt to reform the firing process:
“The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent - or more sickening - than in the defeat of SB1530. Even more disturbing than the union's predictable dogma was democrat legislators' equally predictable acceptance of it.”
http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/editorials/article/SB1530-defeat-a-disservice-to-children-3684559.php

The teacher’s union and their democrat Chihuahuas in the state assembly killed the bill.

The state of California is a disgrace. The public employee unions are the reason why.
Just curious...What percent of think tank pundits are fired each year for incompetence?


Will Fitzhugh
I happen to be a tenured instructor at a California community college. It occurs to me that despite tenure, the laws/regulations for letting incompetent teachers go (or those who commit certain types of crimes) could be streamlined. Make it easier to let problem teachers go would be the solution.

Yes, I know that many teacher unions would try to do a Scott Walker on legislators who agreed to that. But that is the fault of spineless politicians who know no other way to make a living (and the voters who whine).

Having said that, tenure does serve a useful purpose, even at colleges. It does allow a measure of academic freedom. No, not to spew forth one's own views to the exclusion of others in the classroom, but to teach students to think for themselves.

In my classes, we deal with some very controversial topics, e.g. abortion, homosexual marriage, etc., and tenure helps me to be able to do that. If it wasn't for that, perhaps some disgruntled student, either on the political left or right, could likely get me fired. How are students able to learn without seeing both sides of an issue?
In a free market, most of the bad teachers would starve...
We can talk about teacher tenure, but before we do, how about talking about management. Perhaps management tenure or excess mobility, whatever shoe fits the foot. Of course teacher tenure is a totally unrealistic concept that has no application in any other industry.
The current system is a huge disservice to both students and good teachers. It is the primary cause of the drop in the educational status of the United States. We have teachers' unions to thank for this, as I'm sure tenured teachers who are under-performers do on a regular basis.