Category Archives: SB736

The Issue of Tenure for Teachers

The Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled that tenure for teachers is unconstitutional (in the State of California), reasoning that California’s constitution guarantees “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.” The judge states that poor teachers end up teaching in schools in low-income neighborhoods.

I will agree with the judge that the problem of low-performing teachers concentrating into poorer schools is real (to a certain extent), and is very unfortunate. But here is where we digress: the issue has little to do with tenure. It has everything to do with “good” teachers being better able to dictate and settle into the more desirable positions at higher-performing schools. I think it’s obvious eliminating tenure will do nothing to fix this problem. This verdict is also demeaning to the great teachers who made a conscious choice to teach at low-performing schools to help those children.

When it comes to those who actually are in the business of delivering Public Education, I have observed that too few decision-makers outside of a school building care the first iota about the quality of Education. Most only care about providing Education at the lowest possible cost, and with the least amount of work possible. Most will make small exceptions to that rule-of-thumb to avoid either (a.) losing their jobs, or (b.) a public outcry so strong that they lose their jobs. Never forget this when trying to determine why politicians, DOEs and Districts make certain decisions.

This is not because teachers are morally superior, nor is it because administrators are evil and lazy; neither are true. It’s simply because teachers have the intrinsic motivation of actually looking these children in the eye every day.

With that in mind, yes, people say eliminating tenure is about firing bad teachers. This is a lie. Eliminating tenure for teachers is about firing experienced teachers at the top of the pay scale. Without tenure, experienced teachers will be fired at will without regard to their quality because inexperienced teachers are cheaper. Mark my words.

Many potential quality teachers already avoid Public Education because the salary is so much lower than is available elsewhere. If salaries are low, amends must be made somewhere. In Education, these “amends” are wrapped up into Tenure.

Tenure is a promise that if teachers endure a $30,000/year with a Master’s degree for 5-10 years, they will eventually make a decent salary with good job security. This Los Angeles ruling, SB736 in Florida, and the tide of political opinion is taking that away. [Aside: I blame Waiting for Superman, one of the worst influences on Education in the past quarter-century.

We have been told to be worried about bad teachers. Of course, bad teachers exist, and we should try to minimize their impact. But I see much less hand-wringing about bad administrators, bad superintendents, bad politicians, and bad judges, when they constantly make sweeping, harmful policy decisions that are sometimes ill-informed, and less often (but still too often) even malicious.

Teachers often are the only ones in the system fighting for your children. The only way we as teachers can shield your children from bad policy without fearing for our jobs, is tenure.

In short: Tenure protects teachers’ livelihoods when we stand up to corrupt or incompetent administration. Some of you hate the new standards? An experienced teacher with tenure can ignore the bad parts as long (as they’re acting in the children’s best interest) without fear of losing their jobs.

Without teacher tenure, most of us can’t afford risking our jobs. Without teacher tenure, your kids children have no protection from the whims of politicians who have no training or experience in Education. Without teacher tenure, teachers lose their ability to stand up to corruption and incompetence. Teachers have always been Education’s last line of defense from politicians harming children; many have a vested interest in taking that power away.

I love teaching, but if I leave it, a large part of it will be because rulings like this ensure I will not be allowed to make a living as a teacher when I am old. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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Absurdity of Student Growth Scores Sees Light of Day! Woo-hoo!

That should be the headline of Teachers Unions’ newsletters all across Florida this month, but it won’t be. And I know I am in the minority here among teachers, but here comes my unpopular opinion: I am thrilled teachers’ Value Added Scores are being released.

The Florida Times-Union sued the State of Florida for the release of these scores. It seems ironic that the State of Florida was the defendant(!), meaning the State of Florida paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in an attempt to hide these scores. Why? Did the State all of a sudden develop concern for teachers’ dignity?

We should honestly think about why the State felt hiding these scores was in their interest. We don’t have to think very hard, because the Florida Department of Education told us themselves:

FLDOE officials “warned against using the data to judge teachers’ performance.” Even though this data was designed — and still is used — by the State specifically to “judge teachers’ performance.”

So the State is using the scores to measure teachers, while telling the rest of us not to do the same. It matters because it’s ruining people’s lives, and driving good people out of Education. This data has some great teachers fighting for their careers, and other great teachers switching careers in disgust rather than battling against poor evaluations based on a metric the State admits to be bogus.

I believe in our hearts every teacher already knew this: it’s going to be an embarrassment and a blow to those in the State who think these metrics are valid. I’m calling it now that it will not be embarrassing or harmful to teachers. No, not even to those of us who have low scores. The scores are going to be so laughable (way too many false “bad scores” when only 9% of teachers get “bad scores”), that no one will blame the low-scoring teachers.

Student Growth scores, invalid as they are (they imply teaching is nothing more than test prep) are, sadly, here to stay (I hope I’m wrong). The best we can hope for is that they will be improved by seeing the light of day. And if the public is paying attention (we can only hope), this will happen because everyone will wonder why it’s so half-baked.

With regard to the plaintiffs, do we really think the Times-Union sued so they could merely print a chart of teachers and their scores? Of course not, that would be boring; no one cares, and that wouldn’t sell newspapers. The Times-Union is (a.) seeking stories and (b.) fighting to preserve an open political process so they can have the option to perform investigative journalism.

And we as teachers should be thrilled at the kinds of stories that have been and will be written: Student Growth scores, especially as executed in Florida, are being exposed as the fraudulent metrics they are. It might become public knowledge that Teachers of the Year, respected teachers, teachers that the rest of us aspire to become more like, are getting “Needs Improvement” Student Growth scores.

All this is not to mention Elective teachers like me getting measured on the entire school’s Reading scores — which means I, an Information Technology teacher, am getting measured by students I’ve never met for a subject I don’t teach. Teachers’ livelihood and salary is based on complete nonsense that no one in the government has cared to fix in all the years of its existence.

Except now, they have no choice but to care.

Now, all of a sudden, we get the State admitting — actually, broadcasting to the press — that we “can’t use the data to judge teachers.” We get statements like this from the Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools:

I am convinced that the tools used to evaluate teachers should be consistent, fair, and reliable which they currently are not.

While releasing the data as a public record is not our chosen path to increase its usefulness, we will leverage this opportunity to improve communications and understanding about what these data can – and cannot – tell us

We can educate the public on the need for . . . inclusion of teachers in building quality and accurate statewide assessments.

The release of VAM data erodes the good faith and work of teachers throughout the state.

Aside: Why wasn’t anyone ever concerned about the good faith and work (not to mention morale) of teachers before the scores became public?

Now, let me be clear: time will tell regarding the sincerity of these statements, but I’ll give Dr. Vitti credit for making them, no matter how belated. I am not berating him for making these wonderful statements; quite the opposite, in fact. I’m pointing out that words like these are only being spoken because the scores are being released. And that is my point.

Officials are having to admit publicly that the experiment to measure teachers by student test scores is thus far a complete bust. This is not a surprise to those who have been in the classroom.

How the benefit of this decision to teachers is not obvious to the Union, I’m not sure. We should take advantage of this opportunity. I think teachers who have been wronged by this system should and will be highlighted to uncover the absurdity of systems like CAST, and ultimately, of SB736.

If it weren’t for this, the injustices never would have seen the light of day. I for one am glad they now might be.

Call me an optimist.

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DCPS places value of $0/year on graduate education

In 2011, Duval County stopped paying teachers higher salaries for having “advanced degrees” (Master’s/Specialist/Doctorate).

To my knowledge, we are one of a tiny handful of school districts in the nation that does not do so. Instead, DCPS pays a modest one-time supplement. After that first-year payment, DCPS places no value on the education level of its teachers.

This means a History teacher who majored in English and got certified by cramming for a subject area exam is paid the same as a bona fide historian with a Ph.D. This is not to say the former can’t eventually become a good History teacher, but the fact we value these two the same in DCPS speaks volumes.

DCPS and the teacher’s union (DTU) both inaccurately blame State Law SB736, which has a provision to:

Prohibit districts from using advanced degrees in setting a salary schedule for instructional personnel or school administrators hired on or after July 1, 2011, unless the degree is held in the individual’s area of certification and is only a salary supplement.

Truth be told, I have no problem whatsoever with this clause. As long as a teacher’s master’s degree is related to his/her certification, they still get paid a supplement, and money is money. And it really doesn’t affect many people, because most school districts, like St. John’s County, simply offer a recurring annual supplement to teachers who have a master’s or doctorate in their certified field, which is completely lawful.

The problem in DCPS is that they interpreted the law as a one-time supplement, DTU inexplicably let them get away with it, and no one has fixed the issue in the past three years.

As a paying member of DTU, it’s puzzling that (a.) the union let this happen in the first place, (b.) the union had to be made aware of the issue, (c.) the union has now been “aware of the issue” for two years, (d.) DCPS seems willing to resolve it, and yet it’s still not resolved.

Certainly, this issue certainly reflects poorly on the priorities of DCPS, but I think this issue is an even bigger embarrassment for DTU. They’re supposed to be arguing on our behalf as teachers. I as an individual teacher should not have to be bringing these arguments to their attention.

I apologize if this post appears to be self-serving. But in my opinion, this issue is bigger than a few teachers’ paychecks for two reasons that I’d like you to ponder:

  1. DCPS should make this district attractive to highly qualified and educated teachers. Simple logic suggests that teachers with Master’s/Doctorates who are able to move out of/avoid DCPS, will do so. Why wouldn’t they? And I don’t see how this possible “brain drain” could possibly be good for our students.
  2. When students see their own school board thumbing its nose at having highly educated teachers; when they see that DCPS literally says with their actions that education has no value, how can they believe any of us when we say education is valuable?

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