Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and co-sponsoring teacher organizations got a win last week when the Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation to lengthen the probationary period for teachers. The wording of the bill, however, tempered their enthusiasm. A powerful legislative committee watered down the language before sending it to the full Assembly.
Weber, D-San Diego, and the two foundation-backed teacher organizations behind the bills, Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, now face a choice: Settle for what they got or try to strengthen the bill in the Senate, in line with that they first proposed, and hope for the best.
They’ll meet next week to plan their strategy, said Joe Kocurek, Weber’s communications director.
California has one of the nation’s shortest probationary periods for teachers – two years, though it generally works out to be 18 months due to the March 15 deadline in the second year to notify teachers of their status. Weber and others have argued that that period is not long enough for many teachers to demonstrate that they’ll be effective in the classroom. As a result, when in doubt, districts often dismiss teachers rather than grant tenure – the legal protections that come with permanent status, such as layoffs by seniority and due process hearings before they are fired.
“Often we turn away good people who have the potential to be really good teachers,” said Weber, a retired professor at San Diego State and former San Diego Unified school board member, in remarks before the Assembly vote June 1.
Assembly Bill 1220, as first proposed, would extend probation to three years for all teachers. To get tenure, teachers would have to receive an “effective” rating – as local districts would define the term – for two straight years. Districts could add a fourth or even a fifth year for teachers showing promise but needing more time to develop skills. Districts would have to commit resources to help probationary teachers in their fourth and fifth years and use multiple experts to do the evaluations.
Weber and the two teacher organizations said that longer probationary periods are particularly needed when beginning teachers are reassigned to teach different grades or subjects or are transferred to new schools during their first two years – or may have different principals reviewing their skills. The Association of California School Administrators, the California PTA and the California Association of School Business Officials support the bill.
But the California Teachers Association, which fought the original and current version of the bill, countered that a longer probation would discourage people who are thinking about teaching, and that two years is enough time on which to judge a teacher’s long-term potential. The CTA and some key Democrats, including Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, also argued that districts could make four or five years standard for probation to save money through lower salaries for probationary teachers.
Weber promised to tighten the bill’s language to prevent that scenario, but the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, a former labor leader and organizer, made that issue moot by eliminating the potential fourth and fifth year of probation. The committee has huge power to derail or amend bills with a financial impact or, with AB 1220, that potentially could obligate the state to pay for some probationary teachers’ evaluations and training.
The new version keeps the current system, with two years as the standard period, but would allow a third year of probation if the district develops an improvement plan to address deficiencies that a teacher’s evaluation identified and then makes training and other help for teachers a budget priority.
Probationary teachers would remain at-will employees who can be dismissed without citing a cause. For most of the 20th century, California had a three-year probationary period for teachers but in 1983, the CTA cut a deal for a two-year probation in exchange for eliminating probationary teachers’ due-process rights. Forty-two states currently have a probation period of three to five years.
The new version may have reduced a potential expense for the state, although Weber and the sponsors question whether there would be any state-mandated expense anyway. The new bill also became more palatable for many Democrats. Gonzalez Fletcher declined, through her office, to comment on the reasons for the changes. Weber, in an interview, said the committee probably would have killed the bill but for the changes.
The Appropriations Committee passed the amended bill 11-1 with five abstentions on May 26. The full Assembly approved it 60-5, with 15 abstentions, including Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who’s running for state superintendent of public instruction. O’Donnell, who voted against the original bill in the Education Committee, voted for the new version.
Under the headline “Don’t Bring the Trump-DeVos Agenda to California,” the CTA sent out an alert urging legislators to vote down the revised bill. “Instead of extending the probationary period, provide due process for teachers during the probationary period” – a right teachers have in most states, the CTA wrote.
In her five-minute remarks, Weber talked up the bill. She didn’t criticize the changes; she called the amendments “a simple fix to a complex problem.”
But Mike Stryer, a former teacher in Los Angeles Unified and now executive director of Teach Plus, said his teachers say the bill now doesn’t go far enough, and “we are hopeful the Senate will bring back key provisions.” A requirement for showing teacher effectiveness, he said, “needs to be an explicit part of earning permanent status.”
The bill’s passage in the Assembly by an overwhelming margin shows that there is a “strong appetite for modifying tenure,” Stryer said. If that’s so, the vote reflects a sharp change of mind. In each of the last three years, bills to add a third year to probation have been sidetracked or defeated largely along partisan lines, with most Democrats opposed. The CTA lobbied to defeat all of the bills.
Facing uncertainty in the Senate, Weber and the teachers groups will have to decide if the weakened version that Assembly Appropriations moved represents the best that they can get.
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Larry Tynan 6 years ago6 years ago
Mr. Fensterwald, in the name of unbiased journalism, please let readers know which foundations are backing the two “teacher organizations”, Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence. As soon as readers know who funds these organizations, they can determine if they are truly just concerned teacher groups or puppets of organizations that have spent years pushing their legislation, litigation, and lobbying to eliminate seniority and due process, and promote test-based performance pay, among other things on their long list.
John Fensterwald 6 years ago6 years ago
Mr. Tynan: Educators for Excellence lists these funders, for fiscal 2015, on its website. I did not find a list of funders on Teach Plus’ website. Personally, I respect teachers who become involved in education policy organizations and think it’s demeaning to imply they’re “puppets” of funders you happen to disagree with.
Marc Sternberger 6 years ago6 years ago
The issue is really "due process." California is one of only four states that have no due process for their probationary teachers, making them "at will employees" at the whim of administration. After 40 years working in California public schools I've observed that most probationary teachers are non-reelected because an administrator didn't get around to evaluating properly, or the teacher was too outspoken about student rights and lack of resources or the … Read More
The issue is really “due process.” California is one of only four states that have no due process for their probationary teachers, making them “at will employees” at the whim of administration. After 40 years working in California public schools I’ve observed that most probationary teachers are non-reelected because an administrator didn’t get around to evaluating properly, or the teacher was too outspoken about student rights and lack of resources or the administration didn’t expend time or resources to help the teacher succeed.
Lengthening the probationary period will do nothing to change this and will most likely result in making teaching even less attractive to potential educators at a time when districts are already having problems filling positions. BTW: It is a myth that “permanent status” protects “bad teachers”! It merely ensures due process, protecting all teachers from vindictive or incompetent administrators. I believe Ms. Weber (from a higher education background) and her Assembly colleagues have confused due process with “tenure,” which is only available at the college/university level.
Frank Porter 6 years ago6 years ago
My 37 year career in California public schools, included 10 years of service as a teacher, during which I served proudly as union president and lead negotiator for my local CTA chapter for nearly 8 years. I believe in and support due process. However, the teacher tenure issue is largely about insuring and supporting teacher quality and professional standards, not about due process. The original proposed legislation provided statutory language that would … Read More
My 37 year career in California public schools, included 10 years of service as a teacher, during which I served proudly as union president and lead negotiator for my local CTA chapter for nearly 8 years. I believe in and support due process. However, the teacher tenure issue is largely about insuring and supporting teacher quality and professional standards, not about due process. The original proposed legislation provided statutory language that would enhance professional standards and support for beginning teachers, along with strengthening and improving administrative standards and practices in the evaluation process for beginning teachers. I encourage readers to read and support the original bill.
Paul 6 years ago6 years ago
The current practice of bringing teachers new to a school district in on temporary rather than probationary contracts, even when there is no legal basis for the temporary classification, affords districts more than two years to try out newcomers. See SRI's research report, "California's Beginning Teachers: the Bumpy Path to a Profession", https://www.sri.com/work/publications/california-beginning-teachers-bumpy-path-profession The bill was and is one-sided. The professional development language doesn't apply during the first two years, when it would do the most good. … Read More
The current practice of bringing teachers new to a school district in on temporary rather than probationary contracts, even when there is no legal basis for the temporary classification, affords districts more than two years to try out newcomers. See SRI’s research report, “California’s Beginning Teachers: the Bumpy Path to a Profession”, https://www.sri.com/work/publications/california-beginning-teachers-bumpy-path-profession
The bill was and is one-sided.
The professional development language doesn’t apply during the first two years, when it would do the most good. Support in Year 3 depends on “existing professional development funding,” an envelope whose size, under the Local Control Funding Formula, is entirely at the district’s discretion. The individual budget is often $0 for incumbents, let alone for newcomers. Even if there were ample funds for individual professional development, the bill remains silent on the institutional practices (seniority when assigning positions; favoritism when drawing classes) that consign the newest teacher to the toughest grade level or set of courses, with the toughest students, in the district’s toughest school.
To be clear, a district need not have, let alone divulge, any particular reason when it opts not to reelect a teacher. The original bill made successful evaluations a necessary but not sufficient condition for permanent status. It required a teacher to demonstrate two complete consecutive years of effective teaching, but never required the district to grant permanent status in return! The amended bill, like existing law, mentions no link – not even a lopsided one – between evaluation results and permanent status.
Mostly, extending the probationary period gives a school district another tool to hold down its average teacher salary. A given classroom can be staffed with a string of teachers new to the district, who will never advance more than three steps from their respective starting points on the salary scale.
In 1983, there was a quid-pro-quo exchange: Districts gave up the three-year probationary period, but teachers gave up for-cause non-reelection. This bill restores the three-year probationary period without restoring protections for probationary teachers facing non-reelection.
It is absurd that any local school district has, since 1983, been free to invalidate the state’s investment in a teacher’s training at the flick of an administrator’s pen, and with no need to give a reason. (Most credentials are produced by the state’s public universities, and before LCFF, even private teacher preparation programs received some state funds. Non-reelection, or resignation in lieu of it, must be disclosed on applications for subsequent teaching jobs. In practice, saying yes makes the person unemployable in teaching.)
SD Parent 6 years ago6 years ago
Why is it that any effort to mentor a developing teacher and withhold tenure until he/she is deemed effective antagonizes CTA? If CTA wants to claim it cares about students, then it should care about the quality of its members, not just how fast it can add new ones. Yes, California has a developing teacher shortage, and there is legitimate concern about disenfranchising those who might enter the teaching profession. This, however, … Read More
Why is it that any effort to mentor a developing teacher and withhold tenure until he/she is deemed effective antagonizes CTA? If CTA wants to claim it cares about students, then it should care about the quality of its members, not just how fast it can add new ones.
Yes, California has a developing teacher shortage, and there is legitimate concern about disenfranchising those who might enter the teaching profession. This, however, also creates an incentive to grant tenure to someone quickly for fear that he/she could easily leave to another district. Trading a couple of years of tenure to a developing teacher who needs more mentoring to become more effective and avoiding the decades of youth who might be denied an effective education by a teacher who was granted tenure in a rush should be an easy decision for those who espouse to care about children. Hold out for something better, Assm. Weber and associates!
Frank Porter 6 years ago6 years ago
As a former school principal and superintendent, I faced the difficult task of non-re-electing teachers who were struggling and needing more time to demonstrate their capacity to be successful teachers. The 18 month probationary period is frequently too short, especially in the case of beginning teachers who may struggle in their first year and need more time and support to demonstrate their effectiveness. The current law forces administrators to make career changing decisions … Read More
As a former school principal and superintendent, I faced the difficult task of non-re-electing teachers who were struggling and needing more time to demonstrate their capacity to be successful teachers. The 18 month probationary period is frequently too short, especially in the case of beginning teachers who may struggle in their first year and need more time and support to demonstrate their effectiveness. The current law forces administrators to make career changing decisions for beginning teachers without the benefit of sufficient time and opportunity to allow beginning teachers to make improvements in their teaching practices and demonstrate their effectiveness. The proposed law as originally written, was a positive step forward for the teaching profession. Hurray for Assemblywoman Weber for her fortitude in pursuing these improvements to the teaching profession.
Doug Coffin 6 years ago6 years ago
It is not proper to say that California teachers receive tenure. Tenure implies that they are employees for life. After two years of successful probationary teaching teachers, if hired for a third year, receive the right to due process called permanence. This means that if they are relieved of their teaching duties there must be proof for cause.
Chris Bertelli 6 years ago6 years ago
Tony Thurmond abstains again. Doesn’t speak well of someone who aspires to lead the CDE to not have the courage to actually vote (twice) on this bill.
John S. Leyba 6 years ago6 years ago
Would such a change affect teachers currently in probationary status, or only those starting after passage of the change? Any details on that?