#1 Edited by Athadam (684 posts) -

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/us/california-teacher-tenure-laws-ruled-unconstitutional.html

"A California judge today ruled the state's laws governing teacher tenure and the firing of public school teachers unconstitutional, saying they interfere with the state's obligation to provide every child with access to a good education.

The plaintiffs in the case, Vergara v. California, argued that the tenure system for public school teachers in California verges on the absurd, and that those laws disproportionately harm poor and minority students. In his ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu agreed."

This ruling is big. It could potentially change the education system drastically. But this ruling in California won't exclusively stay within the state. Across the US, many states may follow suit as school officials and teachers are battling through this controversial debate. What do you guys think about this issue?

My thoughts:

I think that tenure should be reformed but not eliminated. I think that some people may have the wrong idea of what tenure actually is. From what I understand, all teachers are either are tenure or on probation. Teachers on probation (the newbies) can get fired at anytime. Tenure is different in each school district, but overall it's suppose to not allow school administrations to fire teachers on a whim. If a teacher is really bad, then the district can fire the teacher if they have evidence and go through due process. The problem with this, is that getting the evidence and going through due process is both time-consuming and expensive for districts, and when districts are short on time and are suffering through budget cuts - bad teachers get to stay.

I think that the best way to handle this, is by tenure reform - to make achieving tenure harder so that only good teachers can get it and we must somehow find a way to hold tenured teachers accountable by establishing a better and more efficient process for the districts to fire teachers. Tenure can attract talented and innovative people who wouldn't get into teaching without it.

Once the legislation is made, I am scared that fully eliminating tenure will force school districts to be "tough" on teachers who don't produce the best standardized test scores for students. I think that our educational system is in major need of reform, I think that it's easy to place individual blame on bad teachers (and there are plenty), but I also think that we are ignoring the real much bigger underlying problems that plague student's education like poverty, racial segregation, and questionable academic curriculums that don't adaquately prepare students for college, life, and employment.

I'm planning to become a teacher myself. Eliminating protections for bad teachers might mean more openings and positions for me in the future. But I worry that teaching will become more and more unattractive and we will lose out on potentially great teachers who will go into other fields instead. We live in a society where a highschool diploma isn't good enough for most jobs. That's understandable. But we are also witnessing the highest rates of unemployment in college grads and the largest amount of average student debt ever owed. I think the issue is much bigger than teacher tenure.

#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

You might want to edit the title so it isn't misleading.

#3 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (466 posts) -

This conflicts with previous Supreme Court rulings (Perry v Sindermann). It seems the ruling is only interested in how tenure is handled, not that tenure itself is unconstitutional.

#4 Edited by Ben_H (3336 posts) -

For high school teachers and such, sure. For universities or other places where research that may be considered controversial is going on, absolutely not.

#5 Edited by Athadam (684 posts) -

You might want to edit the title so it isn't misleading.

Sorry that it's misleading. It's true this ruling only happened in California (in addition to a couple of other states), but this thread isn't about what's going on in California, rather it's about how this ruling sets a precedent for many other states who are planning to the same and it's very likely that they will. Why? Because California is a big and influential state with one of the biggest public education systems in the US.

So I wanted to shift the conversation more about the concept of tenure itself rather than focusing on the news story.

#6 Edited by Fredchuckdave (5353 posts) -

Tenure is good for job security and bad for unemployment/favoritism based on experience. Experience is basically the only value metric (other than someone knowing you) that employers have at present in our society and while reducing it's impact would be nice it probably won't happen, ever.

#7 Posted by nophilip (108 posts) -

Unconstitutional seems like a strong word, but tenure is kind of a shitty practice. I'm in Michigan and didn't really see this in high school, but I certainly experienced the negative effects of tenure in college. Professors who clearly do not care about teaching because they can't get fired really puts a damper on any learning that might possibly take place in a classroom.

#8 Edited by Xanadu (339 posts) -

I had a class last semester that was terribly awful with a tenured professor. It was a 20th century music theory course. We had no assignments. No quizzes. At the beginning of the year we were told our final grade will be 50% based on attendance and 50% based on one total listening exam where he would play a piece starting at a random spot and let it play for a minute. We then had to write down the piece, composer, and date of composition. Well, as the final got closer and closer he changed his mind. Instead, our final (the only opportunity to earn a grade in this class) would be worth 100% and absences would only take away points after a certain amount of absences. People who came to everyone of his awful lectures believing our grade depended on it were pissed.

The potential song list for pieces that could be on the final exam was 86 total tracks that span over 17 hours worth of music. That is total dog shit. There was no reason this exam couldn't have been split into multiple parts through out the semester, other then the professor was a total lazy piece of shit. His lectures were awful and produced nothing in terms of an actual education, he would go on tangents about nothing related to the class. Out of all 86 tracks we probably examined 12 of them in class. Here's an example of his douchery: A student asked if points would be docked off for incorrect spelling on the final and he ridiculed the student, asked him if he was serious and how old he was, in a very demeaning tone. I believe in the classroom setting and in most settings, no question is a stupid question. This "guy" doesn't believe that.

Well that was a bit of rant. I could go on for so long about this guy too. But basically after that experience I feel like no professor should have tenure.

#9 Posted by LawGamer (154 posts) -

I think your fear of other states looking to this case as precedent might be just a little overblown. Granted, I only scanned the opinion, but someone challenging another state's tenure statute is going to want as comparable a situation as they can get, and the opinion makes California's laws seem pretty out there and thus not a good subject for comparison. There were what, 4 or 5 states that had tenure attach in as short a time period as California? It was also pretty damning that the laws allowed for a situation whereby a non-certified teacher could end up with tenure. That's exactly the kind of illogical result a court is going to hate. I haven't read other state's tenure laws, but I'm guessing not many of them are going to make that same sorts of mistakes. I'm not saying it won't happen, but I don't think there is going to be a cavalcade of states suddenly having their tenure statutes challenged.

As far as actual tenure goes, I see a couple of issues. First, based on the California opinion as well as the very limited number of tenure statues I was exposed to in law school, it seems that at the public school level as long as teachers last long enough, everyone eventually gets tenure (If I'm totally wrong about this, just ignore the next paragraph or so). If that's the case, I think that's wrong. Tenure should really be awarded only to the top teachers as a reward for being good at their jobs, sort of like being offered a partnership at a firm. It needs to be at least slightly competitive, so that teachers have an incentive to improve, rather than just "sticking it out" until they hit the time period to get tenure. This is the way it tends to work in higher education. My grandfather, who was a tenured professor, needed to research, publish and teach, and do all of those things well for about eight years before he got offered tenure. It wasn't just given to him, he had to earn it, and it was an acknowledgment that he was a step above others in his field.

If you limit tenure, then the secondary issue is brought up of how do you determine who gets it and who doesn't? At the university level, professors usually have a track record that includes research and publishing. They also have student evaluations, which tend to be more honest and taken more seriously at the university level than at the grade school level. There needs to be something similar for public school teachers, and that's much more difficult. For one thing, the process tends to be highly politicized, so it tends to prioritize simple solutions over good ones. Secondly, there are not as many good measuring sticks because there aren't as many things you can trace directly back to the teacher. For example, public school teachers don't research or publish. You can't use student evaluations because those are petty. There are test scores, but those are more a measure of student performance than teacher performance, and using them rewards teachers who "teach the test" rather than teaching the underlying concepts. It's a tough question and one that I don't have an answer for.

@detectivespecial This doesn't conflict with Perry v. Sinderman.

Online
#10 Posted by helvetica (83 posts) -

Speaking only of Universities - while I've had good and bad professors, I believe they should have tenure. A professor's job is not only teaching, but also doing research. Achieving tenure is a big deal for a faculty member and it's not easy. If you're taking a class from a professor with tenure, it means they are highly successful in their field. It doesn't mean that they're particularly good teachers though.

If you're looking at taking classes, look for the faculty that have a job title of "Lecturer." That's all they do is teach and sometimes they are more focused on students.

#11 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4672 posts) -

I wouldn't call this a victory, as fixing the broken education system in America requires a lot more than being able to fire terrible teachers.

But it's a start.

#12 Edited by EXTomar (4640 posts) -

Honor the contracts. We shouldn't take away "golden parachutes" from CEOs just because it is suddenly inconvenient to complete the obligation and we shouldn't be doing this to tenured teachers either just because it is suddenly inconvenient to complete the obligation. Tenure is important for some jobs where it person acts as a scholar free from manager/employer constraints where throwing that aside shows is basically a breach in trust and contract.

#13 Posted by Athadam (684 posts) -

@xanadu said:

I had a class last semester that was terribly awful with a tenured professor. It was a 20th century music theory course. We had no assignments. No quizzes. At the beginning of the year we were told our final grade will be 50% based on attendance and 50% based on one total listening exam where he would play a piece starting at a random spot and let it play for a minute. We then had to write down the piece, composer, and date of composition. Well, as the final got closer and closer he changed his mind. Instead, our final (the only opportunity to ear a grade in this class) would be worth 100% and absences would only take away points after a certain amount of absences. People who came to everyone of his awful lectures believing our grade depended on it were pissed.

The potential song list for pieces that could be on the final exam was 86 total tracks that span over 17 hours worth of music. That is total dog shit. There was no reason this exam couldn't have been split into multiple parts through out the semester, other then the professor was a total lazy piece of shit. His lectures were awful and produced nothing in terms of an actual education, he would go on tangents about nothing related to the class. Out of all 86 tracks we probably examined 12 of them in class. Here's an example of his douchery: A student asked if points would be docked off for incorrect spelling on the final and he ridiculed the student, asked him if he was serious and how old he was, in a very demeaning tone. I believe in the classroom setting and in most settings, no question is a stupid question. This "guy" doesn't believe that.

Well that was a bit of rant. I could go on for so long about this guy too. But basically after that experience I feel like no professor should have tenure.

I don't know too much about professor tenure since it is quite different than K-12 teachers, but I've had my fair share of terrible college professors. I'm a college science student at a research university in California. One of the requirements for lecturing as a professor in many of my courses, is that the professor has hands-on and active experience as a researcher. As a result of my University effort to bringing in "world class" researchers into our classrooms, we students suffer sitting through long lectures trying to hear and understand professors who can barely speak English.

#14 Edited by Xanadu (339 posts) -

@athadam: I feel you. My class was also a requirement for my degree which is the main reason why I was so frustrated with that awful experience.

#16 Posted by ViciousBearMauling (1001 posts) -

Shitty teachers just get moved to different schools instead of being fired for their total shittiness.

It shouldn't be that way.

#17 Posted by mlarrabee (2912 posts) -

The idea that anyone in any position in any field can achieve tenure is absurd. Past performance must be taken into consideration, but current performance is all that matters. Does anyone recall bailout funds going to fulfill bloated pensions? No, teachers aren't paid six figures, but the principle of performance remains.

#18 Edited by EXTomar (4640 posts) -

@viciousbearmauling said:

Shitty teachers just get moved to different schools instead of being fired for their total shittiness.

It shouldn't be that way.

Why not? This is how it works in the private sector. A sucky MBA gets into management and is tasked to "fix" something, nearly ruins their company, and finds a new place to land preferably before the company completely fails claiming benefits and bonuses along the way.

Side topic: I find it amusing that people think getting rid of tenure will improve the quality of education. It would seem to me the reason why education at that level is "awful" is because they aren't teaching as much locking people into do patented research on their area of study.

#19 Posted by Xanadu (339 posts) -

@extomar said:

@viciousbearmauling said:

Shitty teachers just get moved to different schools instead of being fired for their total shittiness.

It shouldn't be that way.

Why not? This is how it works in the private sector. A sucky MBA gets into management and is tasked to "fix" something, nearly ruins their company, and finds a new place to land preferably before the company completely fails claiming benefits and bonuses along the way.

Side topic: I find it amusing that people think getting rid of tenure will improve the quality of education. It would seem to me the reason why education at that level is "awful" is because they aren't teaching as much locking people into do patented research on their area of study.

As someone who is paying his way through school I don't feel like I should have deal with bad professors who don't want to teach the subject I am going to school for. Also, I'm not saying eliminating tenure will fix education. Eliminating tenure will make it easier to get rid of bad professors then it is to currently do so. That is all I care about.

#20 Edited by HerbieBug (4212 posts) -

@xanadu said:

I had a class last semester that was terribly awful with a tenured professor. It was a 20th century music theory course. We had no assignments. No quizzes. At the beginning of the year we were told our final grade will be 50% based on attendance and 50% based on one total listening exam where he would play a piece starting at a random spot and let it play for a minute. We then had to write down the piece, composer, and date of composition. Well, as the final got closer and closer he changed his mind. Instead, our final (the only opportunity to earn a grade in this class) would be worth 100% and absences would only take away points after a certain amount of absences. People who came to everyone of his awful lectures believing our grade depended on it were pissed.

The potential song list for pieces that could be on the final exam was 86 total tracks that span over 17 hours worth of music. That is total dog shit. There was no reason this exam couldn't have been split into multiple parts through out the semester, other then the professor was a total lazy piece of shit. His lectures were awful and produced nothing in terms of an actual education, he would go on tangents about nothing related to the class. Out of all 86 tracks we probably examined 12 of them in class. Here's an example of his douchery: A student asked if points would be docked off for incorrect spelling on the final and he ridiculed the student, asked him if he was serious and how old he was, in a very demeaning tone. I believe in the classroom setting and in most settings, no question is a stupid question. This "guy" doesn't believe that.

Well that was a bit of rant. I could go on for so long about this guy too. But basically after that experience I feel like no professor should have tenure.

I had a habit of dropping classes day 1 if the syllabus had weirdness like this anywhere on it. There were a couple semesters in my time at uni where my original course plan changed entirely in the first week. To current college students, i strongly recommend you drop classes instantly if there are any red flags on that syllabus. Also rate my professors website is a valuable resource.

#21 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (466 posts) -

@lawgamer: Yeah, I meant his thread title stating that tenure itself was unconstitutional.

I can also tell you that, in Illinois at least, you are correct - public school teachers are considered to be 'tenured' after a certain amount of service, regardless of performance.

My wife is a public school teacher in Chicago and I also used to work for CPS; I assure you all that it is not terribly difficult or uncommon for a school to get rid of tenured teachers. It takes an entire school year to do so, but it happens all the time.

#22 Edited by Brendan (7734 posts) -

I'm unsure if this is entirely related (and I'm Canadian), but my mother is a retired teacher so allow me to offer a short story:

In the public school system, teachers have very little power, and depending on their principal they have few in the way of friends against bad kids and worse parents. My Mom was put on probation after some horrid 7th grade girls cocked up a lie that my mother put a kindergartener in a choke hold to discipline him, when she wasn't even on recess duty where the kindergartener was. My Mother was suspended while an investigation occurred, and her principal (boss) was so invested on distancing herself from my mother to not offend the parents of the 7th grade girls that she felt very alone. My mothers long career and union membership gave her the time to clear herself and get back to work. In the public school system teachers are against pretty much everyone because all levels up to the superintendant are in the employ of parents. Most parents are fucking idiots, at least when it comes to their kids.

I feel there is value in giving teachers protection against vindictive immature minds and powerful parents.

#23 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4672 posts) -

@brendan said:


I feel there is value in giving teachers protection against vindictive immature minds and powerful parents.

There is, but that protection should come with caveats just the same as it does in any other profession. There are a lot of terrible teachers out there. Even the mediocre ones would be okay. The people that tenure protects (along with your mother) are the people who do put children in choke holds, that do spend their entire day reading a book and not teaching, that do abuse children. These are the people that I (and many others) want to see fired. They quite simply have no right to educate our children when they themselves are shitstains upon humanity. I'm not even speaking from a political or moral sense here; I just mean that they are so fucking ineffective at their jobs that they wouldn't even be entrusted with the fryer at McDonalds, but we leave them alone with our fucking children?

As it stands, tenure is broken and it needs to be fixed. When problem teachers are only shuffled around to poorer neighbourhoods or to "rubber rooms" because there is no other recourse, the system is fucking broken and it needs to be addressed.

#24 Posted by ajamafalous (11942 posts) -

Put me down on the "I had a ton of terrible professors in college who were tenured for research and were terrible at actually teaching" list.

#25 Edited by President_Barackbar (3448 posts) -

The idea that anyone in any position in any field can achieve tenure is absurd. Past performance must be taken into consideration, but current performance is all that matters. Does anyone recall bailout funds going to fulfill bloated pensions? No, teachers aren't paid six figures, but the principle of performance remains.

As a student teacher, I always saw the real reason for tenure was so that a new school administration team couldn't come in and clean house or start forcing teachers to comply with extra duties without extra pay by holding their job over their heads.

#26 Edited by TruthTellah (8722 posts) -

Teacher tenure itself is not unconstitutional; how California and many states handle tenure may be unconstitutional.

So, hopefully this will lead to a reevaluating of tenure policies which often disproportionately hurt poor and minority communities by maintaining less effective but also nearly unfireable teachers in their schools.