Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Teachers Need Due Process (Tenure) Now More Than Ever
One teacher wrote me that the principal in examining the teacher's grade book asked about all the zeros given some students for homework. The teacher explained that he was mainly giving credit to students who showed a sincere attempt at their homework, and that accuracy was not part of the grade. One of the reasons the teacher assigned homework was to allow students to improve their overall grade particularly when test scores were very poor. He said that students received zeros because they were refusing to even make an effort at the homework. The principal responded that the teacher had better find a way to remove those zeros from the grade book!
The above is an example of the loss of academic freedom by many teachers in today's high pressure environment. The system of accountability we have in Louisiana often has the unintended consequence of pressuring dedicated educators to show false progress. Without tenure, teachers who try to maintain reasonable standards are subject to being fired without recourse.
Another teacher wrote that she feared being fired because some parents did not agree with some of the science concepts being taught. Another teacher fears being fired because a student falsely accused the teacher of sexual molestation. Another teacher worries that a well connected new teacher wants her job. Many of these fears would disappear if the teacher was guaranteed a hearing and that legitimate evidence was required to be presented to a neutral party demonstrating the reason for dismissal. That's why teachers need tenure (which is only due process) today more than ever.
Here is a great quote I picked up today from the blog Crumudgucation:
"Firing ends a teacher's career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher's career."
Governor Jindal was successful in passing Act 1 of 2012 which among other things pretty much destroyed teacher tenure in Louisiana. Act 1 made it almost impossible for new teachers to get tenure and changed the tenure process in a way that removed almost all teacher protections. In fact the law so blatantly gutted due process for teachers that when the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) sued on behalf of a dismissed teacher in Monroe, a district judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it made a mockery of due process. Even before that, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers was successful in having Act 1 declared unconstitutional because it violated the rule that each legislative bill must contain only one main objective. That ruling is still being appealed by Jindal.
The above challenges by the two teacher unions eventually resulted in new legislation negotiated this last legislative session (Act 570) between the unions and the Governor to produce a new tenure law with a shortened process but that should offer teachers reasonable protection against unfair dismissal. This is an example of our teacher unions working both for the good of students and for reasonable protection of teachers.
But now teachers all over the country face an effort to strip them all all due process rights provided by tenure. And the proponents are using the excuse that the only reason for tenure is so that teacher unions can use it to protect bad or incompetent teachers.
Campbell Brown, who gained notoriety as a CNN news show host and who is the daughter of former Louisiana Secretary of State Jim Brown, has become the leader of a national movement to do away with teacher tenure. A group of unnamed rich people are funding a legal challenge to tenure in New York state with the intention of expanding their campaign to all states with teacher tenure laws. This effort has been encouraged by the recent Vergara decision in California which ruled against tenure laws in that state.
I am embarrassed to admit that Campbell Brown was born and reared in Louisiana.
Even though it is my understanding that she never attended public school and has no education credentials, she has appointed herself as an expert on the competency of teachers. Brown believes that our public schools would be better if teachers had no job protections, and could be fired at will by school administrators without the need to show any evidence of incompetence or neglect of duty.
Ms Brown who appeared last week on the Colbert Report made several highly questionable statements about tenure in New York and teacher competency in general. Here is a post by Mercedes Schneider with the interview of Brown by Stephen Colbert. Campbell Brwon also made a keynote speech at a LABI forum in Baton Rouge last year where she attacked teacher unions as defenders of incompetent teachers.
Here is an excellent fact checking analysis published in the Washington Post of some of Ms Brown's statements and assumptions about teaching that were expressed in her appearance on the Colbert report. In addition, here is a post by Diane Ravitch describing the best arguments ever for tenure.
Most of the facts and assertions made by Brown in her interview are inaccurate. As a professional educator who has real experience in observing thousands of tenured teachers and in generally comparing the teaching profession to other professions, I must say that I am deeply insulted by Ms Brown's inaccurate and disrespectful attitude toward career teachers.
I can honestly say that even though all professions have individuals who are incompetent, uncaring and neglectful of their duty, the teaching profession in my opinion rates at the top of all professions in the dedication, commitment, selflessness and competence of its members. I believe that if we could somehow magically remove all incompetent and uncaring teachers from the teaching force, there would be little overall improvement of the quality of education, simply because the biggest problems with education have nothing to do with teacher incompetence or the negative influence of bad teachers. In fact I believe all this teacher bashing and the latest repressive measures recently imposed on teachers are driving a large number of our best teachers out of the profession. And there are very few qualified persons stepping up to replace them. I am getting reports from all over the state about the continued exodus of qualified teachers. Some local school systems cannot fill these vacancies with even a warm body. Now those trends, not tenure, will eventually adversely affect the quality of education. This is just the reverse of what the reformers like Campbell Brown claim to be doing.
If you are a teacher, I strongly urge you to become a member of one of the two teacher unions. In this day and time unity is necessary for the very existence your profession. Teachers need to be members of thier unions just as all superintendents need to be members of the Superintendents' Association and just as medical doctors need to be members of the AMA. Don't let the detractors of unions like Campbell Brown fool you into giving up your primary protections against unfair treatment of your profession.
Posted by Michael Deshotels