Teacher-tenure reform shaping up as big education fight this year

SACRAMENTO – Despite the oft-discussed need for education reform in California, the state Legislature will only consider one major reform bill this year. Even that bill’s passage is uncertain, given opposition from the powerful California Teachers’ Association.

The issue involves the contentious matter of teacher job protections, which the union says are necessary to counter unfair and politically motivated firings. Education reformers believe such protections – tenure, a seniority-based layoff system, and the long and costly dismissal statutes – deprive some students of a quality education.

The main dismissal-related measure this year is Assembly Bill 1220, which extends the time period before teachers are eligible for tenure, at which point they can only be fired for certain types of misbehavior. The bill would extend the probationary period to three years for districts with more than 250 students and mandates an individualized improvement plan for teachers in their third year.

Currently, teachers are eligible for tenure after just two years, and they must be told whether they will receive tenure after only 18 months. That forces school districts to make tenure decisions rather quickly. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and other backers argue that “districts would make wiser hiring decisions with more time,” according to EdSource, which recently analyzed 10 education-related bills that have passed the Assembly or Senate but still must be approved by the other house.

This is the latest bill that responds to issues raised in a much-publicized California legal tussle. In the Vergara case, nine public-school students filed suit against the State of California and the California Teachers’ Association claiming these policies violate the California Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. As Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu explained in his June 2014 decision, the plaintiffs argued that these protections “result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students.”

Treu agreed with the plaintiffs. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” the judge ruled as he tossed out as unconstitutional teacher tenure and other job protections, including the “last in, first out” seniority system under which younger teachers are the first to go whenever districts must implement layoffs. The appeals court overturned the ruling in 2016, pinning most of the problems on poor decisions by the school district rather than the job-protection statutes.

Later that year, the state Supreme Court declined to review the case on a 4-3 vote, thus letting the appeals court’s decision stand. But the controversy didn’t subside. In direct response to the appeal court ruling, reformers introduced Assembly Bill 934 last year to extend the tenure process to three years and allow districts to negotiate an “alternative teacher dismissal process,” according to the bill analysis. The CTA opposed the bill, which died in committee.

The union likewise opposes this year’s bill. “AB1220 is the wrong solution to support good teaching and learning, and it’s disappointing that leaders in the Assembly refused to work with educators to improve the bill,” said CTA President Eric Heins in a June 2 statement. “Forty-six other states provide due process rights to teachers on day one. California is taking a step back by adding another year without any rights for our newest educators.”

Reformers argue that including new rights for probationary teachers from “day one” would make it even harder to get rid of those teachers who don’t make the grade. They note that 42 other states have probationary periods ranging from three to five years.

“California has one of the shortest times for a teacher to demonstrate classroom readiness and achieve permanent status,” according to a statement from Weber’s office. “A statewide survey of 506 teachers in traditional California schools found that 85 percent of teachers think that tenure decisions should be made after at least three years of classroom instruction. Only 15 percent of teachers found California’s current two-year timeline was sufficient.”

Backers of extending the probationary period point to statistics raised in Treu’s decision. The judge pointed to testimony suggesting that 1 to 3 percent of California public-school teachers are “grossly ineffective,” which amounts to 2,750 to 8,250 such teachers statewide. That’s a large enough number to have “a direct, real, appreciable and negative impact on a significant number of California students,” he wrote.

While AB1220 will be heard July 12 in the Senate Education Committee, another high-profile education bill this year has reformers concerned. It would ban for-profit charter schools, beginning in 2019. Backers argue that it’s a misuse of tax dollars to fund charters that have the goal of maximizing profits. Opponents argue the bill is part of a broader attack on charter schools and note that for-profit online charters provide needed services for a small segment of students with special needs or who are bullied in traditional schools.

There are other education measures that are still alive in the Legislature. As EdSource explained, they would “require more accounting for spending under the Local Control Funding Formula, mandate a later start time for middle and high schools and further restrict student suspensions.” But the teacher tenure and for-profit charter measures promise to be the most contentious matters for this legislative session, and the ones most important to track.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]


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  1. Ronald Stein
    Ronald Stein 5 July, 2017, 18:50

    Tenured instructors are “not required to teach” to keep their guaranteed job. A guarantee with no accountability for performance. This can be fixed by approaching job guarantees like that of private industry – there are no guarantees! An even playing field would provide tenure opportunities for heart surgeons, airline pilots, and construction workers, etc., so that they too have guaranteed jobs with no accountability for performance.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 6 July, 2017, 12:25

    Comrades Comrades

    Glad to be back. Missed you-

    How bout that Venezuela messing up socialism. Pity.

    Old Uly is stressed, hair blowing all over and he is in the rental yard smoozing a couple blue haired West LA doomers. Will end well.
    Lots of the doomed wiped out our outgoing stock this long weekend-

    We gave out 12 foot flag poles and embroided American flags made in Mumbai to movers of over 2500 miles.

    Going to be 106 today…… We are hitting the ice cold Snapple hard, one of Rush’s favorites!


    Reply this comment
    • ricky65#
      ricky65# 10 July, 2017, 08:20

      Queeg- Welcome back to Venezuela north.
      Unfortunately for you runaway slaves are not treated kindly on the Uly rental yard plantation.
      Be careful the lashes on your backside do not fester and get infected in this insufferable heat.

      Reply this comment
  3. JPR11
    JPR11 9 July, 2017, 17:17

    Any question on WHO runs CA?

    Reply this comment
  4. Queeg
    Queeg 11 July, 2017, 09:21


    Quick trip to Crescent City to get a horse trailer….did a quick run through SF on way back…streets tore up and lots of workers leaning on shovels….that China Town needs shut down…filthest place in America……in fact, the whole town is a decayed cess bog in need of massive intervention somehow!

    Reply this comment
    • CaliExpat
      CaliExpat 6 August, 2017, 07:03

      Returned home to the Motherland in late June to see friends in San Jose, the supposedly “only part of Cali doing well economically”.
      We were HORRIFIED to see chest high weeds EVERYWHERE in public access roadways from the post El Nino spring rains, trash strewn everywhere as well…
      Guess ol SJ has had to cut back headcount to pay for those that remain’s lavish benefits and pensions…
      Venezuela North, indeed…

      Reply this comment

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Tags assigned to this article:
Education ReformRolf TreuVergara

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut is CalWatchdog’s contributing editor. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

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