Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource (2014)

The latest attempt in the Legislature to lengthen the probation period for new teachers has stalled for the year. On Wednesday, the author of a bill to add an optional extra probationary year pulled her bill amid the surprise emergence of a competing bill by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.

Thurmond’s Assembly Bill 1164 adopts the position of the California Teachers Association, which is expected to support his candidacy, and appeared last week as an alternative to a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Her bill would extend the standard two-year probation to a third year for those teachers “on the bubble,” showing potential but needing further help and supervision. Thurmond’s bill also would permit a third probationary year, but contains conditions and restrictions, advocated by the teachers’ unions but criticized by school districts, that aren’t in Weber’s bill.

Both bills were scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, with supporters and opponents planning to testify. But with little explanation, Weber said she requested that the committee take the bill up next year instead. “We have run up against some deadlines, so I have decided to hold the bill in the Senate Education Committee until we can hammer out some of those outstanding issues,” she said in a statement.

Thurmond, in turn, pulled his bill, which first appeared in print on July 6 after he stripped language in a bill he authored on foster care reimbursement and replaced it with the tenure language. In requesting that the committee hold his bill, too, he said he would “continue a dialogue” with Weber on the tenure issue.

Weber’s amended bill passed the Assembly with a 60-5 vote last month with Thurmond one of 15 Assembly members who abstained. Her original bill — co-sponsored by two foundation-backed teacher organizations, Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence — would have mandated a third year of probation for all teachers with an optional fourth or fifth year for a small proportion of teachers. The Assembly Appropriations Committee, which has wide discretion to amend bills, scaled it back so a third year was required for only some teachers. The committee changed the wording without consulting Weber.

Joe Kocurek, Weber’s communications director, said that Weber was concerned that more amendments out of her control might be imposed if the bill moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We want to make sure the bill is addressed in an open way in a policy committee,” he said.

Bob Blattner, a Sacramento-based school consultant, said Weber appeared to make the right call. “It was a shrewd tactic, rather than sending her bill to Appropriations where all kinds of things could have happened behind closed doors,” he said. Now Weber will take up the bill in 2018, an election year; polls have made it clear that voters support her position on teacher tenure, he said. (Two recent voter surveys are here and here.)

Return to the past

California once had a three-year probationary period after which teachers were granted permanent status or “tenure” — shorthand for a collection of legal protections, including the right to contest firings and the right to seniority during layoffs. Then in a 1983 deal, probation was reduced to two years, but probationary teachers relinquished the right to contest dismissals. Districts can fire teachers without having to cite a cause.

Probationary periods in most states are three or four years. In California, the probationary period actually works out to 18 months, since California teachers must be notified of their future status by March of their second year on the job. They automatically get tenure if the deadline is missed. Recent bills in the Legislature to change the law have gone nowhere (see here and here).

Thurmond’s bill would restore for third year probationary teachers the right to be told the cause of a dismissal and contest it through evidentiary hearings and other due-process requirements that probationary teachers had before 1983. It also would require every district to adopt a program in which veteran teachers would mentor third-year teachers, and a team of teachers and administrators would recommend whether to grant tenure. The state had reimbursed districts that set up this program, called Peer Assistance and Review, until the state converted many grant programs into flexible funding with the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013-14.

School management organizations, including the Association of California School Administrators and the California Association of School Business Officers, were ready to oppose Thurmond’s bill.

They argued in a letter that the imposition of potentially expensive and time-consuming hearings would discourage them from extending probation to teachers who would could benefit from it.

Bill Lucia, president of the nonprofit EdVoice, and the school management group said Thurmond’s bill would turn the third year of probation into an adversarial process, to the disadvantage of teachers who could benefit from the extra help. Many districts currently rate probationary teachers as “needing improvement” in their first- and second-year evaluations. Thurmond’s bill would encourage them to rate them as unsatisfactory in order to justify the third year, they said.

“In many districts, the ‘needs improvement’ rating is used to identify teachers with potential and in need of support, while ‘unsatisfactory’ is used to identify those who are not re-employed, even for a second year,” the management groups wrote.

In a letter of opposition, Lucia wrote that expanding collective bargaining rights and establishing a right to appeal a decision not to offer tenure would be big disincentives to extend probation an extra year.

Instead of alleviating the teacher shortage by giving them more protections, as Thurmond argues, “AB 1164 will make the teacher shortage in California worse by sending a clear message to prospective teachers in California that you are more likely be rated unsatisfactory as a new teacher,” Lucia wrote.

Thurmond’s office did not respond to a request to discuss the bill.

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  1. Raoul 5 days ago5 days ago

    What I haven't heard this time around, though I may be missing something, is that the proposed tenure reform would give at least some tenure protection to teachers employed by smaller districts and county offices of education. Presently such teachers are given no permanent status or tenure protection under California law. Thus tenure protection depends on the average daily attendance numbers, and if the ADA is one student under the 250 student limit there … Read More

    What I haven’t heard this time around, though I may be missing something, is that the proposed tenure reform would give at least some tenure protection to teachers employed by smaller districts and county offices of education. Presently such teachers are given no permanent status or tenure protection under California law. Thus tenure protection depends on the average daily attendance numbers, and if the ADA is one student under the 250 student limit there is no tenure and if one student over there is mandatory tenure.
    Seems extremely unfair to teachers making the sacrifices to teach in underserved rural schools and doubtless limits the pool of willing applicants. It would also seem to present constitutional equal protection issues that might jeopardize the validity of the entire tenure law. A few years ago a state legislator introduced a bill to remedy this injustice but it died. Hard not to conclude that only big city teachers matter in this state.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 days ago5 days ago

      You raise an interesting issue, Raoul. I don’t believe either bill would change the disparity. Both would apply to districts with more than 250 students.

  2. CarolineSF 7 days ago7 days ago

    See the book “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer.

  3. Roger Grotewold 1 week ago1 week ago

    Gosh John, it appears that you have stirred up a hornet's nest with this article. Caroline SF seems to think you should be more clarifying in your article. I would imagine that including CTA ideas in your article would maybe have been more clarifying, if I read her comments correctly. Then of course you have Floyd, who deviates totally from the subject of your article to include his ideas on what should be important. I … Read More

    Gosh John, it appears that you have stirred up a hornet’s nest with this article. Caroline SF seems to think you should be more clarifying in your article. I would imagine that including CTA ideas in your article would maybe have been more clarifying, if I read her comments correctly. Then of course you have Floyd, who deviates totally from the subject of your article to include his ideas on what should be important. I guess Lincoln was right when he said, “you can please some of the people, etc. etc.” I actually thought you did a good job explaining what has happened to the two tenure bills that originally were proposed this year.

    Replies

    • CarolineSF 4 days ago4 days ago

      No, Roger, to be clear: What I object to is specifically the obfuscation of the nature of billionaire-funded Astroturf operations designed to promote the package of policies known as education "reform" (in this case Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence). These are not grassroots organizations of, by and for teachers, and it misleads the reader to portray them as such, or even to be vague about it. That's why I recommend the book "Dark Money" … Read More

      No, Roger, to be clear: What I object to is specifically the obfuscation of the nature of billionaire-funded Astroturf operations designed to promote the package of policies known as education “reform” (in this case Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence). These are not grassroots organizations of, by and for teachers, and it misleads the reader to portray them as such, or even to be vague about it. That’s why I recommend the book “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer, because it’s so enlightening (so to speak) about the way such Astroturf operations are funded and disguised as grassroots.

  4. Gary Ravani 1 week ago1 week ago

    This bill was a solution looking for a problem. There are very very good districts in California and then some that don't perform as well. Both kinds of districts operate under the same "tenure" (aka, permanent status) rules, but administrators in the high performing districts don't use "tenure" as an excuse for not doing their jobs appropriately. Also, and more importantly, the difference between high performing and low performing districts can be traced to … Read More

    This bill was a solution looking for a problem. There are very very good districts in California and then some that don’t perform as well. Both kinds of districts operate under the same “tenure” (aka, permanent status) rules, but administrators in the high performing districts don’t use “tenure” as an excuse for not doing their jobs appropriately. Also, and more importantly, the difference between high performing and low performing districts can be traced to the education and income level of the parents of the students in the respective districts, not to differences in teacher performance or “tenure” rules.

    Another “also” is that John is being disingenuous to suggest that “teachers” started Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence by mentioning they are “foundation” based. They are funded and organized by the same neoliberal billionaires that have been trying to undermine public education with big money, phony reforms, and law suits for over a decade.

  5. CarolineSF 1 week ago1 week ago

    Maybe we have a journalistic quandary here, but you are not giving your readers complete information with this description, John: "... two foundation-backed teacher organizations, Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence..." Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence are both Astroturf operations created by the billionaire-backed so-called education "reform" sector to promote the "reform" policies aligned with the free-market right and Betsy DeVos' U.S. Department of Education (and previously Arne Duncan's USDOE, to be fair). It's … Read More

    Maybe we have a journalistic quandary here, but you are not giving your readers complete information with this description, John: “… two foundation-backed teacher organizations, Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence…”

    Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence are both Astroturf operations created by the billionaire-backed so-called education “reform” sector to promote the “reform” policies aligned with the free-market right and Betsy DeVos’ U.S. Department of Education (and previously Arne Duncan’s USDOE, to be fair). It’s essential that the reader know that to understand the issue here, and obfuscating and glossing over reality confuses the reader instead of clarifying — which is a journalistic sin.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 week ago1 week ago

      Caroline: The journalistic sin I may be committing is repetition, because my response is the same as the last time you made the identical charges. Teachers formed these organizations to express views that differ from the prevailing union positions on tenure, evaluations, layoffs by seniority and other issues they feel strongly about. I respect them for organizing to express their views and work for change, as I do teachers active in their union locals … Read More

      Caroline:
      The journalistic sin I may be committing is repetition, because my response is the same as the last time you made the identical charges. Teachers formed these organizations to express views that differ from the prevailing union positions on tenure, evaluations, layoffs by seniority and other issues they feel strongly about. I respect them for organizing to express their views and work for change, as I do teachers active in their union locals and the CTA State Council. To claim that they are pursuing policies in lock step with the “free-market right” and the Trump administration to satisfy their funders’ wishes is both inaccurate and demeaning to the member teachers who have the courage to stand up for what they believe in.

      • Heather P. 7 days ago7 days ago

        That is not true. Those organizations were not formed by teachers. They are education reform organizations which have the backing of corporate donors, and those organizations are anti-union.

      • Jack Covey 7 days ago7 days ago

        John, I'm with Caroline on this one. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Your characterization of "teachers formed these groups" is wholly inaccurate. The Gates, Broad, and Walton foundation instigated the formation of both of these groups, and funds them, and demands total fealty to their corporate reform agenda. In Los Angeles, at least, Teach for America Corps Members make up the entirety of the leadership, and the vast majority … Read More

        John,

        I’m with Caroline on this one.

        He who pays the piper calls the tune. Your characterization of “teachers formed these groups” is wholly inaccurate. The Gates, Broad, and Walton foundation instigated the formation of both of these groups, and funds them, and demands total fealty to their corporate reform agenda. In Los Angeles, at least, Teach for America Corps Members make up the entirety of the leadership, and the vast majority of the membership of these groups.

        Ama, the Educators for Excellence leader in Los Angeles, has never taught a day in LAUSD, yet is quoted in newspapers as possessing some kind of expertise in issues related to teachers issues, when she has none. Per their masters’ marching orders, they’ve put out papers stating that teachers are hungry to be paid, evaluated, and even fired based on the standardized test scores of their students???!!!! No veteran teacher in LAUSD would ever sign onto this nonsense. They even testify in Sacramento, claiming to represent the teachers, when they don’t.

        Furthermore, in order to join Educators for Excellence, you have to sign onto a ridiculous oath that states that union-won job protections such as seniority, seniority-based, and Last-In-First-Out should be abolished. Failure to agree to this bars a teacher from joining this group. Therefore, you have an organization where there is no diversity of opinion on these or other issues. The top-down directives from Gates/Broad/Walton drive these groups agenda, not the democracy-from-the-ground-up fiction they try to promote to the public. Educators for Excellence even had a screening of “Won’t Back Down” as one of their outings –
        a movie that is to veteran teachers what Veit Harlan’s “Jew Süss” was to Jews (look it up).

  6. Vern 1 week ago1 week ago

    If either of these bills pass, where will the money come from each year for all the due-process hearings that will be required?

  7. FloydThursby 1 week ago1 week ago

    This doesn’t address the main issue, because some teachers do a good job for 20 or 30 years then stop trying as hard, call in sick the maximum, etc. We have to be able to judge quality every year. Tenure was meant for colleges, not K-12. We need to get rid of this anachronism.

    Replies

    • Heather P. 7 days ago7 days ago

      K-12 teachers do not have “tenure.” After the probationary period, we then have permanent status meaning that we have due process. Tenure is much different.