Determining that a less ambitious approach to reform has a better chance to succeed, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, has scaled back a sweeping bill addressing teacher protections that are the focus in the Vergara v. State of California lawsuit.
Bonilla’s revised Assembly Bill 934 would add a third year of probation for beginning teachers before they could be eligible for due-process protections known as tenure, or permanent status. Achieving this, she said, “would be an important step forward.” AB 934 faces its first vote Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee; bills attempting to lengthen the tenure process have failed in the past.
Stripped from the bill were several key provisions, including:
- A requirement to lay off teachers with two straight poor reviews before laying off teachers with less seniority;
- The creation of multiple ratings for teacher evaluations instead of the current pass-fail system;
- The removal of many of the dismissal protections for teachers that superintendents had blamed for making it difficult and expensive to fire teachers. Dismissal protections would have aligned with procedures to fire classified school employees.
Five state teacher protection laws establishing a two-year tenure process, layoffs based on seniority not performance, and dismissal procedures for teachers were targets of the Vergara lawsuit, which the nonprofit Students Matter sought to overturn in filing the case on behalf of nine student plaintiffs. Having won in the district court and having lost in a state court of appeal, Students Matter has asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case.
But Students Matter also called on the Legislature to fix the laws on its own and had endorsed the original AB 934. Last week, it withdrew its support and called for its defeat, characterizing it “a mere shell of its former self” and “a bad deal for California students.”
Bonilla, who will be termed out of office this November, dismissed the criticism as not understanding that change sometimes must be incremental. A big bill with many elements faced “a heavy lift,” Bonilla said, so she weighted what is “doable over what is desirable” and focused on tenure.
Bonilla will still face an uphill effort, since the California Teachers Association posted an action alert on the original bill asking teachers to call on lawmakers to kill the original bill. It called it “an all-out assault” by “corporate millionaires and special interests” – a reference to Students Matter’s creator and funder, Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. CTA also opposes the amended version.
But by slimming down the bill, Bonilla also has picked up support. The Association of California School Administrators endorsed it, pending some language changes, and Bonilla said that the California School Boards Association will back it, too.
California is one of only a half-dozen states that grant tenure in two years or less. It works out to actually 16 months in California because of notification requirements.
Thirty-one states establish tenure in three years, and the rest provide it in four or five years or don’t offer tenure, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Probation too short?
Witnesses during the Vergara trial in 2014, including some superintendents, testified that 16 months was not enough time to judge the future performance of some teachers, and the short probationary period allowed some poor performers to slip by. Once they got tenure, it became difficult to fire them for poor performance, they said. Other superintendents, testifying for the state and the CTA, disputed that it was a burden.
In 2014, the San Jose Teachers Association and San Jose Unified agreed to establish a third year of probation for some teachers who needed an extra year. But state law stood in the way of enacting it, and the Legislature last year failed to act on a bill making an exception for San Jose.
Last year, Brown vetoed AB 141, a bill that Bonilla authored that would have required the state to pay for a mandatory training program for probationary teachers, Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA). Most districts pick up the cost already, but some districts shift the cost to teachers.
Bonilla didn’t resubmit that bill this year, but AB 934 would require districts to continue to provide coaching in the third year of probation.
In its original form, AB 934 would have required that districts and teachers negotiate a collaborative process to evaluate new and struggling teachers, called Peer Assistance and Review, in which teachers have a say in recommending who gets tenure and which teachers could be dismissed but only after receiving extensive coaching. In exchange, the bill would have removed some of the legal processes that have made firings expensive and lengthy.
Although the revised bill drops these provisions, it would permit districts and teachers unions to negotiate solutions on their own.