Dubious reforms in Prop. 74 will end up harming teachers

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As a former classroom teacher in K-12 schools and a parent of children who attended public schools, I realize how critical it is to staff our urban classrooms with “good teachers.” As an assistant CSUN professor diligently working toward tenure, I recognize the difficulty in obtaining a semblance of job security while negotiating a process that has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to teach and connect with my students; assess my “real” contributions to the CSUN community; whether or not my publications or community work are a measure of my scholarship and activist bent. Is this the process we want our classroom teachers to experience? If so, is this new “tenure process” really going to transform public schools or is it simply a ruse to punish teachers for society’s benign neglect of our educational system?

The proponents of Proposition 74 argue that “tenure reform” will improve the quality of education due to a new focus on teacher performance and accountability. They argue that California has a tenure process that virtually guarantees teachers a permanent job regardless of their competence.

In place of the current system, supporters of Proposition 74 propose a new process that will give more authority to principals and administrators who will decide whether or not a teacher’s performance is worthy of job security. According to supporters, the new process will reward good teachers and weed out the “bad” teachers.

Baloney!!! Teachers, who are already inundated with dubious reforms will be more likely to seek other employment where the probationary period is reasonable, rather than to face a process that forces them to experience the nation’s most stringent tenure and evaluation process, one that might result in their firing for any reason.

As a former union representative, I know teachers are never guaranteed a job for life. I have witnessed probationary teachers, some who were very talented and promising, fired for no good reason during what is currently a two-year probationary period. Proposition 74 would result in subjecting new teachers to the vulnerabilities of probation for a full five years.

Under the present Education Code, K-12 teachers do not achieve tenure after probation but “permanency.” In fact, even now Principals can, if properly documented, dismiss “permanent” teachers for poor performance, unprofessional conduct, criminal acts, dishonesty, or other improper behavior.

Under current law a permanent teacher can be terminated at any time during that teacher’s career, but the termination cannot be arbitrary or without “just cause.” The democratic nature of our legal system allows the teacher the right to a disciplinary hearing, union representation and “due process.” This is democracy!

Moreover, in my experience as a union representative, I have been forced to represent and defend great teachers who simply refused to follow the orders of inept administrators. I have seen seasoned, experienced and highly competent teachers disciplined by administrators whose teaching experience was minimal and who did not understand the complexities of the urban classroom. This proposed reform does nothing to guarantee that the administrator involved, whose judgment will determine the fate of the teacher’s career, is a competent, caring and effective instructional leader.

Do we need to reform the “tenure and evaluation process?” Perhaps, but Proposition 74 is not the answer. This process of achieving permanency is subject to the collective bargaining agreements between the union and the school district. Passage of this proposition would only increase the likelihood of tenuous, lengthy and costly negotiations.

Further, the implementation of any new procedure would result in the increase of union-district disciplinary hearings, since the number of teacher dismissals would be expected to climb. This move would only take money out of the classroom and pour more money into district bureaucracies.

I propose that instead of punishing teachers, who are already at the mercy of an educational system that fails to compensate them for their difficult job, we should engage in real educational reform. We should limit the number of students in the classroom, provide teachers with the necessary resources with which to teach and give them the monetary compensation of which they are worthy.

We should quit punishing teachers for the failed educational policies of the state and federal government and join them in their struggle for educational justice. Join organizations such as the American Association of University Women, the California School Boards Association, ACORN, California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and others in voting NO on Proposition 74.

Theresa Montaño is an assistant professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department and vice president of the CSUN California Faculty Association.