Tenure, Temerity and the Truth
Los Angeles Times op-ed and teachers union defense of educational status quo are packed with malarkey.
Now in its third week, the Students Matter trial still has a ways to go. Initially scheduled to last four weeks, the proceedings are set to run longer. On Friday, Prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Judge Rolf Treu that the plaintiffs need another week and a half or so to conclude their case before the defense takes over. The coverage of the trial has been thorough, with the Students Matter website providing daily updates, as has the always reliable LA School Report.
The media have generally been either neutral or supportive of the case, which claims that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes enshrined in the state Ed Code hurt the education process in the Golden State, especially for minority and poor kids. The defendants are the state of California and the two state teachers unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.
Having studied and written about the case extensively, I am of the opinion that the defense has no defense and that the best that they can do is to muddy the waters to gain favor with judge. In an effort to learn what the defense will come up with, I have tried to read everything I can by folks who think the lawsuit is misguided. I have written before about California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel’s rather inept argument presented in the December issue of CTA’s magazine.
The CTA website has been posting more about the case as the trial has progressed, and it would appear that desperation has set in. The union’s old bromides hold about as much water as a ratty sponge.
The problems we face with layoffs are not because of Education Code provisions or local collective bargaining agreements, but lack of funding.
No, the problem is who is getting laid off; we are losing some of the best and the brightest, including teachers-of-the-year due to ridiculous seniority laws.
The lawsuit ignores all research that shows teaching experience contributes to student learning.
Not true. Studies have shown that after 3-5 years, the majority of teachers don’t improve over time.
The backers of this lawsuit include a “who’s who” of the billionaire boys club and their front groups whose real agendas have nothing to do with protecting students, but are really about privatizing public schools.
Oh please – the evil rich and the privatization bogeyman! Really! Zzzzz.
Then we have cartoonist Ted Rall who penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week, which is mostly concerned with “tenure tyranny.” This wretched piece is maudlin sophistry at its gooiest.
First, Rall needs to get his verbiage straight. K-12 teachers do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is “permanent status.” Permanent status! What other job on the planet affords workers something called “permanence,” and getting rid of an inept teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that, “Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)”
The 2 percent figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe two percent of newbies don’t cut it. But what Rall and his teacher union buddies don’t tell you is that, in California, for example, about ten teachers a year out of nearly 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained “permanence” lose their jobs. Of those, a whopping two teachers (.0007 percent) get canned for poor performance.
This is a disgrace, and most teachers know it. In fact, according to a recent survey of teachers working in Los Angeles conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, 68 percent reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.”
Then Rall goes off the rails on tenure, saying that what’s wrong with tenure is that “only teachers can get it.” (When you go to a doctor for a serious medical condition, Mr. Rall, do you want to see the best one or any old quack who still has an MD after his name?)
Rall then ventures into other areas. He whines twice about his mother’s (a retired public school teacher) “crummy salary.” He apparently hasn’t read much on the subject. In fact, the most recent study on teacher pay shows that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, today’s teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs explain,
Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.
When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.
Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.
Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)
Then Rall gets political. He writes,
During the last few decades, particularly since the Reagan administration, the right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core curriculum, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.
Reagan? What did his administration do?
The sneakily anti-union, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America
Do you mean the very successful organization that identifies young teacher-leaders and trains them for service, founded and run by social justice advocates who have made (some) peace with the National Education Association? That TFA?
Sorry, but it is a bipartisan issue. In fact, your beloved teachers unions, including NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, support it.
…conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance.
Horrors! Holding teachers accountable for their work! If not them whom? The school bus driver? And for crying out loud, it’s not just conservatives who are demanding teacher accountability. StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Children’s Kevin Chavous, Democrats for Education Reform’s Joe Williams and former CA state senator Gloria Romero, all want more accountability and none of them qualify as right wingers.
Rall’s piece ends with an editor’s note:
If the editors think that this is the only errata, they most definitely need to review this bilge and reexamine every word, including “and” and “the.”
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.