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.