Education Week - March 4, 2015 - (Page 32)

COMMENTARY Teacher Tenure: An Innocent Victim of Vergara v. California By David Finley "R otten Apples" was the inflammatory cover line for Time magazine's November 2014 cover story on the contentious Vergara v. California decision, which struck down a series of teacher-protection laws in the state. The New York Times editorial board also weighed in on the case, as did U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Vergara attracted national attention because incompetence in the teaching profession is a concern to public education everywhere. But I wonder if we all missed the bigger concern, regardless of our position on the outcome. The two-month trial of the state's "evil" tenure laws ended in June of last year. The charge: protecting the significant number of grossly ineffective teachers that have infiltrated the state's public education system, according to the plaintiffs. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found the statutes that protect teachers, as currently written, to be in violation of the California state constitution. Education reformers across the nation were euphoric over the decision. Similar suits against state tenure laws have been filed in New York, with others planned for Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oregon. If common sense prevails, they will not be successful. Frankly, I think the litigation is a waste of time and taxpayers' money. As a long-tenured public school educator, I know that tenure laws have no bearing on the problem of bad teachers. Incompetence in the profession extends far beyond the classroom door, deep into the bowels of public education. It is a systemic problem, and pursuing the elimination of tenure to solve it is a fool's errand. The education profession is a two-party sys" There seems to be a conspiracy among politicians and the media whereby teachers get thrown under the bus, while administrators are given a free ride." Jonathan Bouw for Education Week tem: teachers and administrators. Both are equally responsible for student learning. But in the Vergara trial, teachers alone took the rap for incompetence. In court testimony, administrators admitted their responsibility for removing ineffective teachers. But they also defended themselves, claiming that the mandated two-year probationary period is too brief and "forces" administrators to make premature tenure decisions. This defense is not only nonsense, it defies logic. In his 16-page ruling, Judge Treu used the terms "grossly ineffective" and "incompetent" nearly 20 times to describe teachers. In the case summary, the lawyers for the plaintiffs used the terms "grossly ineffective" almost 30 times. There were no other adjectives used in referencing teachers. Make no mistake: Vergara was focused squarely on "grossly ineffective, incompetent teachers." Consider the synonyms for "gross": flagrant, glaring, outrageous, and obvious. Bungling, helpless, incapable, inept, pathetic, worthless, and useless-are all synonyms for ineffective and incompetent. Am I the only educator to ask why any principal would need two years to make a tenure decision about a teacher who is this incapable of doing his or her job? The late Madeline Hunter, a former professor of mine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an author and internationally recognized figure in public education for nearly two decades, once said, in reference to determining teacher competence, that if you hear someone playing the piano, it doesn't take long to figure out if it's Liberace or the boy next door practicing. The validity of Ms. Hunter's statement was unwittingly confirmed by an expert witness for the Vergara plaintiffs. Jonathan P. Raymond, the superintendent of the Sacramento public schools from 2009 to 2013, gave testimony that included his experience of observing a teacher. "My first day as superintendent, ... I observed a teacher, an amazing teacher. ... I mean the energy and the connection that she had with children on just the first day [was] remarkable." He was so impressed that he wanted his son in her classroom. As a new superintendent visiting district PAGE 24 > DAVID FINLEY recently retired after 43 years in education. He taught for eight years and was an elementary school principal for more than 30 years, serving in both affluent and high-poverty districts. He lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. | INSIDE | 22 BEYOND CHARTERING 22 MAKING 'INNOVATION' LIVE UP TO ITS HYPE 23 THE FAULT IN OUR SCHOOL BOARDS 24 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 32 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 4, 2015 |

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 4, 2015

Study: Twitter Fanned Debate On Standards
Police Body Cameras Surfacing in Schools
Tracing Hillary Clinton’s K-12 Record
Boys-Only Programs Raise Legal Concerns
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Simulation Game on Slave Experience Provokes Questions
Education Week - March 4, 2015
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Rewrite of Framework for AP U.S. History Raises More Hackles
Blogs of the Week
Chicago’s Emanuel Forced Into Runoff
N.Y. Study Finds More Top Students Hired as Teachers
Deeper Look at Suspension Data Pinpoints Big Disparities
House Wrestles With Bill to Rewrite No Child Left Behind Act
Partisan Winds Loom For Some GOP Governors
Blogs of the Week
State of the States
PAUL T. HILL & ASHLEY JOCHIM: Beyond Chartering
MATTHEW MUENCH: Making ‘Innovation’ Live Up to Its Hype
JOHN MANNES: The Fault in Our School Boards
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
DAVID FINLEY: Teacher Tenure: An Innocent Victim of Vergara v. California

Education Week - March 4, 2015