Credit: John Fensterwald / EdSource.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber after testifying before the State Board of Education in 2016.

Legislation to add a year to the two-year probationary period for California teachers passed the Assembly Education Committee, its first test, on Wednesday after contentious exchanges between the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach.

With Weber voting in favor, Assembly Bill 1220 got the bare minimum of four votes to move on. O’Donnell, a former teacher and teachers union representative, cast the sole vote against it, while Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, a candidate for the 2018 race for state superintendent of public instruction, expressed concerns about the bill but didn’t vote. Neither did another Democrat on the committee, Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who also chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.*

California is one of a half-dozen states with a teacher probationary period of two years or less; in 42 states, it’s between three and five years, according to a staff analysis of the bill. Weber’s bill would make three years the norm for granting permanent status or “tenure,” although probation could be extended to a fourth or fifth year for teachers who show promise but could benefit from further coaching and training.

“No one can justify 18 months,” Weber said, referring to the point in a teacher’s second year that districts must decide whether to fire or promote new teachers. “This is a simple bill that should not raise eyebrows; three years are standard across the nation.”

California’s short probationary time was one of five teacher protection laws challenged in the Vergara v. California lawsuit brought by the advocacy organization Students Matter. In 2014, a state district court judge ruled that the state’s tenure, dismissal and layoff-by-seniority laws violated low-income, minority students’ constitutional right to an equal education. A three-judge appeals court panel overturned the decision, ruling that the Legislature, not judges, should determine tenure and other teacher issues, and the state Supreme Court last year let the appeals ruling stand.

In the past two years, largely along party lines, bills to change tenure and the other laws behind the Vergara case have died in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Weber, a former San Diego Unified board member and college professor, said she introduced AB 1220 at the prompting of two teacher organizations, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus.

Speaking for the bill, Liz Sanders, an English teacher and bargaining leader for the California Teachers Association at De Anza High in Richmond, said the current time limit presents districts with a predicament: “Either grant tenure while unsure or dismiss struggling teachers,” continuing a churn of new teachers.

But opponents said extending probation by at least a year will make the profession less attractive to potential teachers, compounding a teacher shortage. On behalf of the California Teachers Association, Karen Sher, a veteran teacher and instructional coach and member of the Oxnard Union High School District board, said that the current law offers ample time for multiple evaluations to determine whether a probationary teacher should continue in the classroom. Keeping ineffective teachers longer harms students, she said.

The CTA and the California Federation of Teachers oppose Weber’s bill, while the Association of California School Administrators supports it. David Robertson, director of Human Resources for Twin Rivers Unified, said sometimes a new teacher starts out the first year in an early elementary grade, then is transferred to a higher grade in another school the next year. The principal of that school will decide on tenure based on three months of observations of a teacher facing new and different challenges. “That’s why we need the third year,” he said.

Under the bill, districts could continue to dismiss probationary teachers without having to cite a cause, as they now do. A teacher would need two consecutive positive evaluations to get permanent status; the decision would normally be made after three years. But districts could have an option of extending probation for a fourth or fifth year “in extenuating circumstances,” said Weber, for borderline teachers, who would then be entitled to district-provided mentoring and training.

O’Donnell, who at one point cut off Weber’s microphone after she interrupted him, insisted that districts would stretch probation into five years because financially it’s cheaper to continue to hire probationary teachers. As evidence, he pointed to some districts’ practice of hiring teachers in temporary positions for years before making them probationary teachers.

Weber called that a “bogus argument” and a mischaracterization to call it, as O’Donnell did, a five-year tenure bill.

Thurmond said he was troubled that probationary teachers would get teaching help only after the third year. “Why not front-load that help for all teachers at the beginning?”

Weber said the bill, while not perfect, provides “a beginning, a framework” for future legislation improving teacher evaluations and training.

* Also voting for the bill with Weber were Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, Heath Flora, R- Modesto, and Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin. 

 

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  1. THECOUGGAL 4 months ago4 months ago

    Or this will cause some incredibly amazing veteran proficient teachers to get frustrated and leave the profession because they moved here to finish out their career as they cared for family and then got screwed by a district because they wanted to “save money” and hire a younger teacher.

  2. A Brown 4 months ago4 months ago

    You cannot tie test scores directly to teacher performance. There are so many factors that go into student test scores. Yes, teachers must vigorously teach; however, teachers cannot control what goes on outside of the classroom. If a student stops learning once school is out, that student will not grow as a student and probably will perform poorly on tests. Learning takes practice and effort – effort that must be continued … Read More

    You cannot tie test scores directly to teacher performance. There are so many factors that go into student test scores. Yes, teachers must vigorously teach; however, teachers cannot control what goes on outside of the classroom. If a student stops learning once school is out, that student will not grow as a student and probably will perform poorly on tests. Learning takes practice and effort – effort that must be continued long after school hours. Students who have well-rounded educational experiences that are supported at home do better in school. Before you try to tie test scores to teachers, take a good look at their student populations. It truly does take a village to raise a child, which includes teaching them.

  3. A Brown 4 months ago4 months ago

    I think we are missing something here. Why hold the teachers solely responsible for the tenure dilemma? It does not take 18 months or even 6 months to determine if a teacher is good teaching material. It should be evident within the first few months of service. It is true that new teachers need to get their footing but the basics of whether or not they are good teacher material should … Read More

    I think we are missing something here. Why hold the teachers solely responsible for the tenure dilemma? It does not take 18 months or even 6 months to determine if a teacher is good teaching material. It should be evident within the first few months of service. It is true that new teachers need to get their footing but the basics of whether or not they are good teacher material should be pretty evident straight away. Do they practice good classroom management? Are they able to effectively teach the curriculum? Are they able to keep up with required paperwork? Are they able to relate to their students? Are they effective communicators with parents? How is their work ethic? Do they represent the teaching profession in a professional manner? Do they dress like professional educators? I posted that last questions because I have seen some very poorly dressed teachers here in California. T shirts and flip flops, or sundresses with bra straps showing, are not appropriate or professional dress for teachers, who are supposed to be professionals.

  4. Bill 4 months ago4 months ago

    This is going to hurt teacher shortage? Really? No: low pay, high cost of living, and overly burdensome credential programs are killing the teacher profession.

    If a teacher enters the profession because of tenure, they are in the wrong business and I would never hire them.

  5. Kristyn Jones 4 months ago4 months ago

    I guess I’m just confused as to why CTA had testimony on both sides of the issue. It says Liz Sanders, CTA bargainer,testified in favor of it, and Karen Asher on behalf of CTA, testified against it. Don’t they have any message discipline?

    Replies

    • Joe 4 months ago4 months ago

      CTA doesn’t have views on both sides, it’s poor writing by the article author. Those people represent their local organizations, not the State Organization. The article misleads the reader by implying they have some sort of position with the State CTA organization. Those views expressed in this article are of those individuals, and of those local associations. The only person authorized to speak on behalf of CTA proper is the President of the Organization.

      • John Fensterwald 4 months ago4 months ago

        Joe: President Eric Heins is not the only person who speaks on behalf of the CTA. Lobbyists, communications staff, and, in the case of this hearing, teachers on a panel asked to state the union's position from their perspectives as classroom teachers also speak on behalf of the CTA. The article stated clearly that Karen Sher, a veteran teacher and instructional coach and member of the Oxnard Union High School District board, spoke on behalf … Read More

        Joe: President Eric Heins is not the only person who speaks on behalf of the CTA. Lobbyists, communications staff, and, in the case of this hearing, teachers on a panel asked to state the union’s position from their perspectives as classroom teachers also speak on behalf of the CTA. The article stated clearly that Karen Sher, a veteran teacher and instructional coach and member of the Oxnard Union High School District board, spoke on behalf of the CTA at the hearing on the three-year tenure bill. But like any organization with 300,000 members, some teachers disagree with the CTA’s positions on issues and a few, like Liz Sanders, an English teacher who happens to be a local bargaining leader, are willing to speak out. I regret apparently not making the distinction clearly enough.
        As I have reported earlier, the San Jose Teachers Association agreed in their landmark contract with the district to extend probation to a third year, under certain circumstances. But the CTA opposed a bill that would have granted this exception to the law on tenure, a shorthand for extending permanent due process rights, to San Jose. The bill died. So much for local control.

  6. Scare Crow 4 months ago4 months ago

    This will not make teachers any better. In fact, it may cause the teacher shortage to get worse. In addition, teachers are not going to get better just because of a new law. You are not going to get liberal minded people to function competitively and at peak performance so that students will get better results until you can be fired for "lack of results" (test scores). In the NFL, when things go bad, we … Read More

    This will not make teachers any better. In fact, it may cause the teacher shortage to get worse. In addition, teachers are not going to get better just because of a new law. You are not going to get liberal minded people to function competitively and at peak performance so that students will get better results until you can be fired for “lack of results” (test scores). In the NFL, when things go bad, we don’t fire the players, we get rid of the head coach. In K12 education, when things go bad, we don’t do anything but make excuses and throw more money at it. If we could fire a superintendent with loss of all perks etc., then the new guy coming in will start to make real changes and heads will role.

  7. Bill Younglove 5 months ago5 months ago

    Some factors: Are an adequate number of evaluators freed up to do the job well? Is a state paid-for inductee (e.g., BITSA) program in place? Are teacher due process rights in place, even during the probationary period, no matter its length?

  8. Larry 5 months ago5 months ago

    “But opponents said extending probation by at least a year will make the profession less attractive to potential teachers, compounding a teacher shortage.”
    If a student who is still trying to decide on a career thinks they can pass a two-year probation period but not a three-year, isn’t it better that they decide not to teach while they’re still a student?

  9. Michael 5 months ago5 months ago

    This could be good. Three years is a better scale for judging the competency of a teacher. Extending the probation to 4 or 5 years simply gives administrators the option to drag a teacher on even if they have no intention of keeping them. That portion of the bill should be struck.

  10. el 5 months ago5 months ago

    “No one can justify 18 months,” Weber said, referring to the point in a teacher’s second year that districts must decide whether to fire or promote new teachers. So I will. Having watched the process for some time, I think the two years is beneficial for reasons quite different than most people argue. What I see is that principals are more on top of their new teachers, that they are higher on the to-do list, and that … Read More

    “No one can justify 18 months,” Weber said, referring to the point in a teacher’s second year that districts must decide whether to fire or promote new teachers.

    So I will.

    Having watched the process for some time, I think the two years is beneficial for reasons quite different than most people argue. What I see is that principals are more on top of their new teachers, that they are higher on the to-do list, and that it’s easier for everyone to keep top of mind who is probationary and who is not with the 2-year timeframe.

    When districts ask to be exempted, note what they want to do is keep some marginal teachers that they can’t decide about around for an extra year. If you force their hands, they’ll non-reelect rather than keep. So in my mind, people who want the three-year probationary period are (perhaps inadvertently) asking to keep more marginal teachers in for a third year.

    Teachers who are on this bubble instead go to new districts, where they get a new probationary period, and often there they work out great. Maybe they needed more time, or maybe they needed a different environment, or maybe they got better support from the new school.

    What I don’t see is situations where in year 3 or 4 that the administration suddenly notices that a teacher isn’t really working out and can’t be dealt with. Usually in truth the signs were all clear back in years 1 and 2, but administrators didn’t take the time to act on them. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

    We don’t want to see a situation where it’s easy for a principal to think there’s plenty of time later to evaluate and remove a new teacher. We certainly don’t want anyone to forget who is about to get tenured. We want principals to give new teachers their undivided (to the extent possible!) attention to evaluate and upgrade skills from the first day they set foot in the classroom.

  11. mike 5 months ago5 months ago

    This isn’t good for the teacher shortage.

    Replies

    • Floyd Thursby 5 months ago5 months ago

      We need to get rid of seniority and tenure completely. The problem isn't 5 years. What if a teacher is great for 15 years, then at about 40 starts calling in sick the maximum allowable number of days every year and doesn't work hard? What if a 30-year old teacher is twice as effective as a 60-year old teacher? In business, which is more efficient, the 30-year old is paid twice … Read More

      We need to get rid of seniority and tenure completely. The problem isn’t 5 years. What if a teacher is great for 15 years, then at about 40 starts calling in sick the maximum allowable number of days every year and doesn’t work hard? What if a 30-year old teacher is twice as effective as a 60-year old teacher? In business, which is more efficient, the 30-year old is paid twice as much and the 60 year old is fired which adds to profitability. We need to provide maximum productivity for kids. If a 30-year old performs better, pay them more. If any teacher isn’t honestly doing their best, let them go. We can pay more without deadwood. If we improve test scores, the economy will improve and tax revenue will improve and we’ll pay teachers who do try hard more.