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At its heart, the landmark June 11 Vergara ruling in California superior court was a decision in support of the notion that every child has a constitutional right to an excellent teacher.

In finding California’s teacher tenure laws and “last in/first out” seniority rules unconstitutional, the judge found that such provisions create inequities in our schools that often leave our most vulnerable students with the least effective teachers.

teachers' professional growth
Jonas Chartock

But these are also policies that don’t serve the modern teaching profession very well. A system that gives advantages to educators based solely on the time they’ve put in and not on their performance leaves little room, or incentive, for teachers to grow in their classrooms.

That’s why California educators and others across the country should seize this moment as the blank slate opportunity it is — a chance to recreate policies that support students in their learning and teachers in their own professional growth.

On the one hand, this means rethinking how we make tenure a meaningful milestone and how we institute fair, effective evaluation policies so that schools can objectively make personnel decisions based on effectiveness.

But another key piece of this conversation should focus on the roles we think teachers can and should play in their schools in leading their peers to better student outcomes. For too long, teaching has been a solo sport, conducted behind closed classroom doors where some naturally excel but where most work day in and day out with untapped potential. In order to realize the more equitable school system called for in the Vergara ruling, we need schools where great teachers are given the incentive to stay and where their talents can be replicated across many more classrooms. After all, high poverty schools aren’t just losing great teachers to “last in/first out” policies. They’re losing them to frustration and more attractive opportunities.

Creating new avenues for advancement, along with additional training in the management skills required of effective leadership, can help reverse this trend.

Districts should commit to creating leadership paths for teachers that keep them in their classrooms but provide them additional responsibilities and compensation that serve their schools at large. Studies have shown that many teachers who left the profession early in their careers would have stayed had they seen some upward mobility. There is no better way to ensure a more equitable distribution of talent than to retain our best teachers and help support others in the realization of their potential.

Right now, the only professional milestone for most teachers, particularly those who want to stay in the classroom, is tenure. Teachers should have the opportunities to embark on careers where they are recognized for and able to leverage their impact. Their success in these roles, ensured by strategic investment in their skill-development, will shift the focus from whether or not we’re able to fire ineffective teachers to whether we’re doing everything we can to keep our best. The courts have given us a chance to do better and we should take full advantage.

Jonas Chartock is the chief executive officer of Leading Educators, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that works with districts and schools to train classroom teachers in leadership and management skills.

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Letters to the Editor

7 Letters

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  1. This will be quickly overturned. All public employees hiring, evaluation, and firing are, by their very nature, POLITICAL processes.

  2. This court ruling does not start to fix the problem of getting enough qualified teachers to teach in urban or Title 10 schools. Court finding that School district administration’s “last in/first out” seniority rules unconstitutional does not in any way ensure that every child will have an effective or highly effective teacher. In an MSNBC debate between one of the co-council for the plaintiffs and Randy Winegard this past weekend, Randy talked about how difficult to get teachers to move into urban schools. She talks about a district offering a $20,000 bonus to teach in tough schools with the number of takers being dismal. So how can one justify getting rid of low performing teachers if you do not have effective and highly effective teachers to take their place? Public school districts will never have budgets to pay those effective and highly effective teachers to get them to move. If $20,000 will not work what will. Paying off their student load might make a dent.

  3. What worries me about this decision is that it removes power from our teaching professionals. As a country we pay our teachers very little, even though we say that we support a top education for all students, we are unwilling to put the money and resources in to support that pipe dream. I come from a family of educators. They are dedicated to being the best teachers they can be, and love the opportunity for growth. However, within the pasts few years they have seen their salaries become stagnant, their class sizes grow at an alarmingly rate, and their list of responsibilities grow. We are essentially asking teachers, those on the front line of training our next generation to work more, get paid less, and have little to no guarantee that their jobs are secure. Tenure can “protect” poor performing teachers. However, it also is one of the final bastions protecting great teachers who have dedicated themselves to their work and their students. The conditions have gotten so bad I am curious as to why anyone would want to get into the teaching profession anymore. This marks a sad day for dedicated educators who have spent their careers working in low-income and high needs schools. With the rise in connecting teacher pay to student performance, which has been statistically proven to be quite ineffective, we are not providing any incentive for teachers to work in schools with high needs children or in tough schools. Instead of rewarding them for their valiant work with our most needy students, we punish them for not moving to a school with “better performing” students.

  4. While it may seem that by changing the tenure system will improve education it has the potential for misuse. Districts across the country use the lack of tenure to clean house to keep costs down. Older, more experienced teachers cost more to districts. Younger, newer teachers are less expensive in many ways. Not to mention health care costs. But that is another matter. It is not the benefit of the children they seek but the rather the financial bottom line.
    Children in low income areas deserve quality education and in many areas that is available. The elimination of tenure is another throw the baby out with the bath water approach. To ensure quality teaching would it not be a better approach to improve the monitoring of teachers performance? In many states that is what is happening. Positive results are being achieved without sacrificing tenure. Without some job security turn over in schools will continue to rise. High turn over increases the likelihood of student failure. Newer teachers do not have the insight that experienced teachers have gained.
    Finally, as an educator I am tired of those that are not in education making policy for those of us who have dedicated our lives to the improvement of children’s lives in this country. While I would be the first to say that education is not perfect but what government agency is? We have made our mistakes but regardless of what the so called international test scores show, we have a successful system that continues to serve ALL CHILDREN from every walk of life. No other country educates ALL CHILDREN, ALL THE TIME. By the way IF YOU CAN READ THIS THANK A TEACHER.

  5. Why, if tenure is the issue, are all the 10-10 schools (as ranked by the state of California based on standardized test scores public schools with tenure?

    Until we confront poverty in an institutional way, we will continue to have a divide by income neighborhoods. All the schools that were “good” schools prior to NCLB still are. All the schools that were considered “bad” prior to NVLB still are–if they haven’t been closed, or converted to a charter. Time for us to get. Real, it’s the poverty stupid, not bad teachers, tenure, or unions.

  6. Explain to me how doing away with tenure will stop all the new teachers that urban and rural districts with high ratios of low income students train and season but who then move on to suburban districts for better pay and less challenging teaching situations, will end.

    Also explain to me why new teachers would choose to teach in high poverty schools where there is dismal parent support, pressure from school boards to “excel”, which is code for moving students who start behind their suburban middle class peers up to middle class levels without the family and community support middle income students receive, with less money over student, and fewer community resources?

    And explain how low income students who start up to three years behind their peers IN fFIRST GRADE carch up with less family and community resources.

  7. I hope that Vergara proponents win, but. It, of course, for the reasons they want. Because if the judge’s views prevail, that means parents will be able to sue to prevent one district from paying more than another, or having smaller class sizes, or provide more amenable teaching situations, all the reasons that the huge number of new teachers that the large urban districts with large populations of children from poverty lose many of theexperienced teachers they developed to wealthy suburban districts that pay better and have less challenging teaching situations.

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