Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

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.

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  1. Roger Grotewold 2 years ago2 years ago

    Once again we are faced with corporate interests and the school administrators that they influence making this situation a volley ball played back and forth with no positive and permanent solution. Assemblywoman Bonilla will be termed out of office soon and so her proposed solution will simply be a good memory that didn't come to pass. It is so important that CTA and the local teachers association stay active in helping formulate a solution acceptable … Read More

    Once again we are faced with corporate interests and the school administrators that they influence making this situation a volley ball played back and forth with no positive and permanent solution. Assemblywoman Bonilla will be termed out of office soon and so her proposed solution will simply be a good memory that didn’t come to pass. It is so important that CTA and the local teachers association stay active in helping formulate a solution acceptable by all parties involved. It is still obvious to me that corporate entities are going to continue pushing their agenda of more charter schools, until our state public school system will become just a memory from the past. Teachers must continue to become involved with their associations, far into the future, to guard against the intrusion of big business into the educational system.

  2. Bill Cavanaugh 2 years ago2 years ago

    Ms. Bonilla: As president of a medium sized teachers association, I have had thr unfortunate opportunity to sit in on dozens of non re-elect meetings. They typically include the worst principals in the district, those who provide the least amount of support to ALL of the teachers on their staffs. I encourage these soon to be out of work teachers to go find a district and a school where they will get the help that … Read More

    Ms. Bonilla: As president of a medium sized teachers association, I have had thr unfortunate opportunity to sit in on dozens of non re-elect meetings. They typically include the worst principals in the district, those who provide the least amount of support to ALL of the teachers on their staffs. I encourage these soon to be out of work teachers to go find a district and a school where they will get the help that they need to become a great teacher. The extra probation year isn’t going to help these individuals, it will only open them up to an additional year of abuse (because probationary teachers cnd up with all the lousy tasks on campus, how can they say no?) and little protection from their association into which they are paying the same amount of dues as the veteran who is earning twice as much. If you want to push legislation to improve schools, figure out a way to unload principals who are not getting the job done for their new hires.

  3. Jen Thomas 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thanks for the update on this bill, John. Mr. Andersen’s comments remind me of the “swap” for a two-year probationary period that CTA negotiated in the 70’s; it was negotiated with the right to non-reelect without cause, giving District’s enormous power to release probationary employees without telling them why or having just cause.

  4. Tour Guides 2 years ago2 years ago

    Interesting article!

    Training of teachers should be carried out in full.
    Strong teachers’ union, the key to success.
    This will help the cause.

    Thank you!

  5. Paul Andersen 2 years ago2 years ago

    When I began teaching in 1969, three years was the norm for probation. As unions became more powerful, this was negotiated down to two.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 years ago2 years ago

      Paul: As Lisa mentioned in her comment, the shortening of probation from three years to two was a tradeoff with management groups. As I understand, unions agreed to make probationary teachers at-will employees, and districts reduced probation to two years. One can make a good case that a stronger commitment to mentoring new teachers and the creation of Peer Assistance and Review, with a teacher/administrator panel deciding tenure decisions, in return for a three-year probationary … Read More

      Paul: As Lisa mentioned in her comment, the shortening of probation from three years to two was a tradeoff with management groups. As I understand, unions agreed to make probationary teachers at-will employees, and districts reduced probation to two years.

      One can make a good case that a stronger commitment to mentoring new teachers and the creation of Peer Assistance and Review, with a teacher/administrator panel deciding tenure decisions, in return for a three-year probationary period at least for some teachers, would serve all interests, including students.

  6. Lisa Dilles 2 years ago2 years ago

    When I became a teacher in California in 1979, the probationary period was three years. I believe it was shortened to two years as part of a deal about binding arbitration along the way. Whatever the case, why is it not mentioned? Wouldn't simply returning to a three year period seem less like "heavy lifting" than acting like we are creating something totally new? As a principal, I have heard from various teaching programs and even … Read More

    When I became a teacher in California in 1979, the probationary period was three years. I believe it was shortened to two years as part of a deal about binding arbitration along the way. Whatever the case, why is it not mentioned? Wouldn’t simply returning to a three year period seem less like “heavy lifting” than acting like we are creating something totally new?

    As a principal, I have heard from various teaching programs and even the union that three years which would in effect be 2.5 years, makes much more sense.

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