The toxic debate over hiring and firing teachers in San Diego Unified has reverberated for years.

Union-won teacher protections mean school districts that want to dismiss an ineffective or even dangerous educator face a dizzying legal web that can cost hundreds of thousands to navigate. Even then, efforts to send a teacher packing might not work.

For the most part, calls to reform the system have rung hollow. Any significant change would mean a change to state laws.

Vergara v. California, a case being deliberated in Los Angeles County Superior Court, would do just that. And if the plaintiffs succeed, the impact could set off a mushroom cloud that will envelop school districts across the state and beyond.

Driving the lawsuit is Students Matter, a group founded by Silicon Valley business mogul David F. Welch. The group recruited students from several California school districts to be the public face of its case.

A cast of heavy-hitting attorneys, which includes the lawyer who helped defeat the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, argue that current protections keep ineffective teachers in public schools and violate students’ constitutional rights to an education.


We Stand Up For You. Will You Stand Up For Us?

Plaintiffs say these policies have the most disparate impact on schools that serve black or Latino students, as bottom-rung teachers are more likely to end up at high-poverty schools.

Their objectives are straightforward, but ambitious: Increase the time it takes teachers to earn tenure, revamp dismissal policies so it’s easier to get rid of the lemons and strike last-in-first-out policies that favor seniority over quality.

Attorneys for the California Teachers Association joined the state in its defense, as the ruling will impact their members directly. They argue that teacher protections are a benefit – like health care – that helps attract and retain quality employees to a challenging and humbly paid profession.

Let’s take a look at each prong of the case within the context of San Diego Unified.

Tenure

Union leaders don’t like to call it tenure. That’s a word reserved for college professors who’ve got academic freedom – not those in the trenches of K-12 public schools, teachers union President Bill Freeman told VOSD in the past. Union leaders prefer “permanent status.”

Regardless of what we call it, here’s how it looks in San Diego Unified. Once they’re hired, rookie teachers have to make it through a two-year probationary period, during which they can be dismissed for pretty much any reason.

But because the district has to tell teachers by mid-March whether they’ll be invited back for the next school year, the trial period is actually shorter than two years. In the past, the district hasn’t been particularly aggressive in the number of probationary teachers it sends away – only about 1 percent wasn’t given tenure.

“With such little time, you don’t even have enough information to actually consider whether they’re an effective teacher,” said Nancy Waymack, a managing director for the reform-advocacy group National Council on Teacher Quality.

California requires one of the shortest probationary periods for teachers in the county, she said. Most states wait until teachers have been around three or more years until they’re offered permanent status.

Other states have upped the bar by requiring that measures like test scores or student surveys be included in teacher evaluations. And while some California districts like Los Angeles Unified embraced “value added metrics,” a way of gauging teacher effectiveness by measuring student improvement, San Diego Unified just uses principal observations.

“In general, California is a lot further behind in make changes to teacher policies,” said Waymack. “They’re way behind the curve in rating effectiveness.”

‘Who Are the “Grossly Ineffective” Teachers?’

Some of the most famous cases have come out of Los Angeles Unified: There was the teacher who mocked a boy after he tried to commit suicide, jibing him to cut deeper the next time. There was one who stashed porn and cocaine vials in his desk. Both contested their dismissals – and won.

Once a teacher is granted tenure, it’s very difficult to fire him or her.

Protections for tenured teachers extend beyond what’s given other public employees. For example, teachers get warnings and time to improve before being fired, and can take their case to a panel and appeal it if they disagree with a ruling.

Those protections can be clipped if a teacher is accused of something egregious or criminal – like coming to school drunk, or molesting a student. But the dismissal process can be so byzantine and costly that it’s impractical to try to fire a teacher for being “ineffective.”

In their closing brief, attorneys for the state and California Teachers Association wrote: “Who are the ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers? How is that term defined? … Plaintiffs have not answered any of these questions.”

Of course, that’s also a convenient point for the union to make: It hasn’t agreed to test scores or other measures as a factor in teacher evaluations.

Last in, First out

When layoffs happen, the youngest teachers are the first to go. This might mean that a more veteran teacher, even if he or she has accrued complaints from parents and doesn’t bolster student test scores, gets to keep the job while a younger teacher walks.

Striking that protection, plaintiffs argue, would mean that the district hangs onto which teachers it sees fit, instead of reducing employees to faceless numbers.

They say these rules disproportionately impact black and Latino students, because less experienced teachers are more likely to end up in schools with higher rates of student poverty and are the first to go when teachers are laid-off.

But lawyers from the California Teachers Association argue that “well-run” districts like San Diego Unified have been able to sidestep the worst impacts of layoffs by using discretion. For example, if a younger teacher is credentialed in special education, that teacher might bump out a longer-tenured teacher without the extra certificate.

And the spirit of collaboration that San Diego Unified teachers showed when they agreed to extra furlough days and delayed paid raises, they argue, would be undercut by removing teacher protections that promote teamwork and sacrifice.

What’s Next

Lawyers from both sides handed in their post-trial briefs on April 10, and the judge has until July to make a decision. An appeal is likely either way.

In the meantime, the teachers union and San Diego Unified are sidling up to the bargaining table.

The district hasn’t given exact details about what they’ll be seeking, but if you look closely at the contract proposal it recently sent the union, you’ll see hints of some of the same reforms Vergara plaintiffs are calling for.

In addition to revamping teacher evaluations to include student and parent feedback, San Diego Unified wants more wiggle room for where it decides to place teachers.

    This article relates to: Education, News, School Leadership, Share, Teacher Tenure

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario asks questions and writes stories about San Diego schools. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    39 comments
    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    We cannot be talking about "fresh". Really? Yes, we all know the young are innately greater in physical energy. We also know that energy can be quickly extinguished. New teachers think they see why kids are not learning. It takes them a little time to really know why some kids are not learning. And, the reality is very complicated. "Seasoned" teachers of the "tenured" type have long accepted what new teachers object to. ....no excuses....bureaucracy. The days of simply correcting papers and children's work is of the past. There is a very long list of what responsibilities a teacher actually has vs what is actually written and what a teacher can express to parents and what is not allowed.

    That process is extraordinarily frustrating. Why, then, do teachers "stick around"? They do because of the eternal optimism that actually purvades what teachers do. They think they can actually make a difference in the face of utter difficulty with an administrator, class size ratio, and supplies, including the shortchanging of materials in a curriculum.

    I, as a "seasoned teacher" can speak volumnes about my " twenty point complaint list" that has not been reduced in 26 years. But, you don't want to hear that. You want to hear that Mrs. J who is 5 years from retirement, is a battle ax, and should no longer be teaching. What you don't want to hear is that Mrs. J has a vast track record of former students that have achieved more than they dreamed and can trace the reason to "that battle ax" in room 12. Yes, I know, no organization is without its difficult "employees", but teachers are really like monks or nuns, they only see the potential of who they are dealing with. Business people are really left brained. Yes. "These people are either producing or they are not", so....yes..."can them". That is not a really great solution. It is a solution. But, it doesn't solve the problem. What is the problem? Well, we can turn to a plethora of social ills that have been around since the dawn of time. But, as with parents that pay attention to their children, teachers pay attention to their students. They actually want them to succeed. Teachers actually know what it takes to succeed in whatever. The best surgeons and scientists in the world started in kindergarten and 1st grade, believe it or not. They were effectively "launched". We all need to celebrate that. And , when we begin to do that, we will see that "tenure" is not the problem. The problem is patience. Americans do not have patience. We all need patience. Children are not a commodity.

    DDunn
    DDunn subscriber

    District Tenure:

    In reading the San Diego board meeting agenda item re: Central Office Reorganization. This is when and how the district moves and shuffles worn out people and positions to create the illusion that something is improving. However some of the names and faces have been around and moved around for years. Not much will change, except the job titles and pay grade - look a bit deeper.

    As for teacher evaluations - what is in place via State Assembly Stull Bill is quite adequate. It's the follow through by administrators that fails. Specifically, if an administrator finds a teacher as "needs improvement" or "not satisfactory", that administrator is required by contract to develop a plan (with a stringent timeline)  to bring the teacher up to satisfactory - and this can take up to 2 years, and few administrators actually know how or what to do. (see SDEA contract Performance Evaluations). Also, by contract, an administrator can opt for a Special Evaluation at any time - but the plan, timeline, and work involved is heavy.

    Now for student/parent evaluation input. Professionals need to be evaluated by professionals. So, next time you're out for diner with the family and get a "How'd we do" card from your server, hand it to your 10 year old to fill out. And for parents - your child is not the same child in class as she/he is at home...Sorry!

    DDunn

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I agree with you that administrators tend to be very neglectful when it comes to working with weak teachers.  But another problem is the principal's original evaluation of a teacher.  Principals are in a difficult situation: they are vastly outnumbered by the people they're evaluating.  They can be bullied by teacher cliques.  As a result of this, and as a result of simply being fallible human beings, many principals give good evaluations to teachers who are their friends or allies, and bad evaluations to teachers who disagree with them.  It would make more sense to have evaluations done by unbiased individuals, and let the principals do the follow-up.  Also, it would be easier for principals to help teachers improve if they weren't the ones who gave the bad evaluation in the first place.  The teachers couldn't tell themselves that the evaluation was biased, and they'd trust the principal more.


    NorthParkian
    NorthParkian subscriber

    But how many new teachers are hired on the probationary basis?  Last time layoff notices went out, the "last in" teacher at my school had been there 8 years!  All the newer teachers had been hired on temporary, 1-year contracts.  We had a newer teacher who was ready to quit the profession because she didn't want the instability of year-to-year contracts.  I don't know if she did or not, but she was extremely frustrated.  

    Ideally, tenure enables quality teachers to dig in deep with the subject matter, as opposed to stressing over test scores and keeping a principal happy.  Also, the popular teachers are not always the most competent ones.  Just saying.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    In my first job as a burger-slinger at Micky-D's, I was given a preliminary review after 90 days.  I was "excellent" at several procedures, "very good" at others, and "needed improvement" at a few more.  I was then given a mentor to work with in order to increase my skills and my proficiency.  90 days later, all of my tasks were rated "excellent."  

    A similar process took place during my decade in the accounting department of Great American Bank.  In each case where my ratings were less than excellent, I was given the opportunity to continue working - with a mentor - in order to improve my skills.  

    In SDUSD, we have a process called the Peer Assistance and Review program (PAR), which is part of the state's School Accountability Act of 2000.  Teachers who, after being observed and reviewed by their principal, have received ratings of "unsatisfactory" or "less than effective" on their bi-annual review, are assigned a mentor teacher.  This teacher is brought in to work with the unsatisfactory teacher over a period of time, in order for the regular teacher to improve their skills and become more effective at their job.  


    If I'm not mistaken, many professions use this same procedure in order to retain employees who show they have the ability to improve and impress.  Why is this such a problem in our profession? 


    The notion of tenure - or due process - was created in order for teachers to have protection from punitive punishment, either from a member of the school administration, the district, or both.  (Having been at the receiving end of a supervisor's vendetta, I am quite thankful for having due process). It in no way guarantees us permanent employment - it only gives us a chance to improve before being terminated for being an ineffective teacher. Becoming a teacher is an expensive process.  I'd hate to throw a fellow teacher out on the street because they may have had a bad day - and that day happened to coincide with an evaluation day.  


    It can be said that the system of due process has created a situation where teachers appear to be untouchable, especially when you look at some of the horrific stories coming from around the state.  Teachers, however, are citizens of the state and - as such - are governed by the same laws as non-teachers.  If we break the law, the punishments are severe, including - but not limited to - losing our job, our credentials, and our freedom.  However, those same laws promise that one is Innocent until Proven Guilty.  If others have access to this due process, then it should be accessible to all.  

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Dennis, you must have better access to numbers that I don't have, so please disabuse me of the notion I hold that, on average, only two of the approximately 300,000 teachers are annually discharged for incompetence.

    If that is true, that is outrageous! That is not "due process" that is obstructionism!

    In ANY population of 300,000 -- ANY -- more than two people are incompetent. Pick your population, from Rhodes Scholars to Priests. I served on Submarines with highly tested crews, and there were two or more incompetents in each crew of 100 -- and some previously competent individuals became incompetent over time.

    At West Point and Annapolis, where competition for entry is hard for many to comprehend, 20% fail to graduate.

    Please tell me that hundreds of teachers are found to be incompetent and discharged each year.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Allen Hemphill Sorry, Allen.  I don't have access to any magic set of numbers.  But, reading your comments, I would gather that you don't either, since you base your comment on a 'notion.'  I only comment to inform the public as to the due process procedures.  You are certainly entitled to your opnion. 

    Regarding your continuing reference to your military career and it's supposed connection to education: seeing as I've never been asked to drop and give anyone 20, nor have I been asked to scale a rope wall or crawl under barbed wire in order to prove my teaching competency...I'm still not sure why you continue to equate military institutions to the teaching profession...

    Although on second thought, there may be a true connection.  As a proud Navy Brat, I can remember my father discussing his fellow sailors and their varying levels of competency. Those found to be less than effective at their jobs were assigned mentors to help them improve before their next round of evaluations.  That certainly has a connection to our PAR program..and certainly sounds like due process to me.  

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    @Dennis Schamp @Allen Hemphill  Dennis, I have had several careers, entrepreneur, University professor, Corporate CEO, columnist, but the military had the best evaluation system, so I use it.


    For officers, it is "up or out." If one fails to progress on a certain track -- you lose your career, and if that happens before retirement -- too bad.


    Actually the evaluations at Annapolis were even stricter...you were rated on a ladder, by your officers, upperclassmen, AND peers. No two names could be on the same rung of the ladder so there was someone at the top -- and bottom. The number of rankings precluded either spite or favoritism. Finish in the bottom 5% too mny times, and you went home.


    From that, and grease, we lost 20%.


    I actually have researched the teacher "fail" rate previously...I will again.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Kathy S  As you say, it's quite anonymous.  I wonder if there wasn't some ulterior motive in filing this report now, when our contracts are up for renegotiation with the district.  And there is no indication as to who was interviewed, and where these 'facts' came from.  Reading them through, I find that several are not actually true.  

    Allen P Hemphill
    Allen P Hemphill

    Just for giggles, would you like your brain surgery performed by a Surgeon who gained "tenure" after two years in a hospital where no one is EVER fired for poor performance, or one whose statistical survival percentage is known, public and extremely high? Which non-profit would you send your money to -- an organization that simply announces that they hire 99% of applicants that apply and no one is ever fired for poor performance, or one that tells you exactly where their money goes, what their staff turnover is annually, and how much is overhead? Not putting you on the spot -- I don't expect a reply. I actually know the answers. (Teachers all work in Lake Woebegone, where all teachers are above average!)

    DDunn
    DDunn subscriber

    Debatable: Careful with broad statements

     "They say these rules disproportionately impact black and Latino students, because less experienced teachers are more likely to end up in schools with higher rates of student poverty and are the first to go..."

    However, many of those teachers who "end up..." are also the extremely competent, professional, and dedicated teachers who chose to work (and stay) in an environment that does impact all students.

    There is also a significant number of less experienced teachers placed in a "disproportionate setting" that bolt with the first opportunity to get out because they just can't handle it - and north of 8 schools are "easier". Sorry!!

    DDunn

    SherryS
    SherryS subscriber

    We can and should debate about how best to evaluate teachers.  But the idea that teachers should not be evaluated at all seems patently ridiculous.  Professionals in ALL fields are evaluated by their supervisors (lawyers, scientists, etc).  The evaluations are not perfect and they may not always be fair.  But evaluations and consequences based on the evaluations is one of the best ways we've found to improve job performance.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Mario, you study healthcare and non-profits.

    Just for giggles, would you like your brain surgery performed by a Surgeon who gained "tenure" after two years in a hospital where no one is EVER fired for poor performance, or one whose statistical survival percentage is known, public and extremely high?

    Which non-profit would you send your money to -- an organization that simply announces that they hire 99% of applicants that apply and no one is ever fired for poor performance, or one that tells you exactly where their money goes, what their staff turnover is annually, and how much is overhead?

    Not putting you on the spot -- I don't expect a reply.

    I actually know the answers.

    (Teachers all work in Lake Woebegone, where all teachers are above average!)

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    The State of Washington just lost their exemption for No Child Left Behind, because the teacher union pressured the legislature to avoid using student scores in evaluating teachers.

    This was memorialized by the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn:

    "...Student progress should be one of multiple elements in a teachers evaluation. Unfortunately, the teachers union felt it was more important to protect their members than agree to that change and pressured the Legislature not to act.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2014/04/washington-state-nclb-waiver-arne-duncan-105997.html#ixzz2zrn5oeOt

    This is germane to the subject of tenure, because once teacher evaluations are numerically determined, it will be difficult to retain poor performing teachers -- and the protection of tenure will disappear.

    Lifetime jobs, regardless of performance, are an anachronism that society cannot sustain. At one time, when most people stayed in one job throughout their lives, tenure didn’t stand out so much as today when that is NOT the norm.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    “....only about 1 percent wasn’t given tenure...”  What else do you need to know about SDUSD?  Keeping 99 out of 100 new hires is simply absurd, regardless of how good you are at screening applicants.  If you ever doubted that SDUSD is run by and for the benefit of the teachers union, this confirms your worst suspicions.  

    The excuse that almost two full school years isn’t enough time to weed out the losers rings hollow to this observer.  Do principals have any more important task than to determine whether their new employees will be given what amounts to lifetime tenure?  Sure, more time would be great, but if you are only dismissing one in a hundred new hires, you simply don’t care about the quality of your staff.

    Much as I’d like to think this suit has a chance for success, I‘ll be flabbergasted if it succeeds.  The teacher‘s union simply has too much clout, and until that changes, the system will not improve. 

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    Jim Dodd's comment is a beautiful illustration of my point about school politics.  He states:

    "The teachers know who should not be there, an initial step would be for the school staff to have a retention secret vote conducted by the principal for those in their probationary period. Those folks not making the cut are invited to leave."

    In my experience, the teachers do NOT know how other teachers teach.  They believe that their friends are good teachers and that their targets are bad teachers.  I think it would be nice if teachers spent time in each others' classrooms so that teachers would know the truth.  

    It's hilarious that teacher union officials are very tuned in to gossip, but they don't want test scores to be considered.  Test scores would be much more reliable than "secret votes" by teachers.  Teacher cliques would have an enormous impact on such voting.  All members of the clique would know ahead of time exactly how they should vote.  

    Using my own experience as a guide, here is what would happen: the probationary teachers who are good politicians would become part of the ruling teachers clique, and would be supported no matter how poor their teaching skills might be.  If a probationary teacher exhibited independence from the clique, which, by the way, would likely consist of mostly mediocre teachers, he or she would be targeted for elimination.


    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Maura Larkins Standardized test scores are not reliable as a method of teacher evaluation.  The tests are unfair, put pressure on students to do well, and do not take into effect any outside influences that may skew the test.  Stories abound of students who do poorly on purpose, or who choose "B" for every answer as a joke, or...you name it. This is not fair to anyone.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I agree that a single year's results would not be a reliable indicator of a teacher's performance.  But the influences that skew the test, such as student saboteurs, tend to average out over a period of a few years.

    JLDodd
    JLDodd subscriber

    The teachers know who should not be there, an initial step would be for the school staff to have a retention secret vote conducted by the principal for those in their probationary period. Those folks not making the cut are invited to leave.


    The reason for doing this is pretty obvious…


    jim dodd

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    Bill Freeman and his breakfast club cronies (although for politics, this relationship could make a cool sitcom) have continually made this "permanent status" argument over the years. Several things I gotta say about that:

    1. Read SDUSD internal documents and note the term TENURE (you can also search the Ed Code and find similar references):

    http://www.sandi.net/cms/lib/CA01001235/Centricity/Domain/34/procedures/pp7212.pdf

    http://www.sandi.net/cms/lib/CA01001235/Centricity/Domain/34/procedures/pp7153.pdf

    http://www.sandi.net/site/default.aspx?PageID=32656

    2. If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck, quacks like a duck - it's a duck. This union position is just more ridiculous union rhetoric to try and assuage public opinion.

    3. If Tenure is like health care, then, like health care, the TERMS OF THE TENURE can be negotiated. So, SDUSD should take a hard look at the terms of "tenure" and negotiate in the best interest of children and their best interest and not the best interest of the union. Heck, keep tenure, just make it something real and a true goal and recognized achievement for certificated to attain and not just a default for every teacher with a pulse to achieve. Look at what it takes to get tenure in Academia. you're not just a professor for less than two years!

    4. LIFO - there are very real unintended consequences that transcend this concept. Be aware that in a layoff situation (regardless of the very few "bumps" that might/can occur) the highest tenured are compensated much more than newbies. This means that just using seniority as the measure and not performance, many more teachers have to be laid off to make the layoff financial goals. By example, if you have to cut 1M dollars, you have to layoff more lower end pay scale teachers to reach that goal than higher earners. This immediately creates less teachers and all the subsequent issues that teachers actually don't like (such as class size, post and bid assignments to less optimal schools,, etc... ).

    Now, before you go an rant, I believe that performance should be the judge and not pay grade.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @ScrippsDad just to clarify your first sentence, Bill Freeman is in no way, shape, or form a member of the Breakfast Club.  They are a small, subversive group within SDEA working against a unified membership.  Bill has always promoted a united membership. The Club takes a very different, entitled approach,.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    The main problem with the current system is that principal evaluations are a joke.  Principals rarely observe teachers, perhaps because school politics is so influential that principals are not likely to criticize a powerful teacher or defend a politically-unconnected teacher.  Observations should be done by outsiders.   

    Get rid of tenure or keep it--but if you want good teachers you need to evaluate them in a meaningful way.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Maura Larkins Maura - what outsiders would you choose? Parents?  While I support parents working with us and supporting their students, I personally would not want one conducting my evaluation, unless they can prove to me they have some sort of teaching background.  Without that, they really don't have the background to tell me how to do my job better.  I would not presume to evaluate my doctor, or my neighborhood police officer for the same reason. Plus, what's to keep them from tanking an evaluation because their student is not doing well in my class - and they choose to blame me rather than look at their own child's performance. 

    Ditto with the district's other thought on having students contribute to teacher evaluations. 


    I would be very open to having a more realistic evaluation system.  But there isn't one.  Yet.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Dennis Schamp @Maura Larkins @Dennis Schamp@Maura LarkinsI agree that parents from the same school could not be relied upon to be unbiased.  And I agree that you can't just send a parent into a classroom to do an evaluation.  But you might have them check for certain specific things, such as interactions with students, ability to engage students, and simply record what's going on.  I think all evaluators should come from a different district.  I would expect that most evaluators would be teachers.   Young teachers could learn a lot at the same time that they'd be recording their observations.  Experienced teachers could give more nuanced feedback.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Dennis Schamp @Maura LarkinsMay I explain further before you put a period at the end of your rejection of my idea?  I think I failed to explain that I would NOT want parents to EVALUATE, but merely track simple facts such as HOW OFTEN a teacher interacted with students (as opposed to sitting at his or her desk correcting papers).  I should also clarify that I was thinking of academic interactions, not discipline.  Teachers and students should be speaking, writing on white boards (or laptops), drawing charts.  Teachers should be moving around the classroom (and students should be allowed to move once in a while, too!)  One of the problems in education is that some students are ignored.  Simple, factual observations by unbiased individuals could track this.  The observers might be parents, but parenthood wouldn't be a requirement. 

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Maura Larkins Maura - I must still disagree with this plan.  How often I interact with my students during a lesson or class project depends upon the level of interaction they need from me.  The push from Common Core is to provide the students with instruction, then leave them to their own designs, with guidance and direction from me, rather than 2 hours of lecture and note-taking.  Even before CC, our district curriculum was moving towards less-structured instructional environment.  If I choose to sit for a moment and review notes/papers/lessons/etc, am I suddenly going to be seen as ineffective by this parental observer?  The notion that I walk the floor for the full 115 minutes of my class is absurd.  There are times when the students are working on group or individual projects in the class...after they have received explicit and direct instruction, front loading, scaffolding, and then given time for a Q&A session.  I may not check in again with them for (horrors) 15 minutes or so.  Would the parent observer then determine that I am not engaging my students and decide I am not an effective teacher?  Or would they understand that students also need to be responsible for their own education? 

    And no - I would not have time to stop and explain all of my plans/reasons/methods/etc. to this parent observer.  That would take away from the educational time. 

    I have no problem with a parent or guardian coming in as a guest to informally observe and watch the class work.  But I draw the line at having that parent tell me if I'm effective.  

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I appreciate that you are being specific about the types of behaviors teachers should engage in.  This is the type of discussion that is needed to create a template for what observers should be looking for.  I agree that the notion that you walk the floor for the full 115 minutes of your class is absurd.  Surely you did not understand me to say that?  Also, I tried to make clear that I would want non-professional observers to make simple factual observations, NOT value judgments.  I would not expect you to explain ANYTHING to a non-professional observer, but I think that teacher interviews by professionals would make sense as part of the evaluation process.  If your experience is like mine, you never had a principal ask you what you had learned from your years of experience and what you were doing in your classroom. 

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I'm curious about a couple of things.  

    1. If you were the evaluator, what would you expect a teacher to be doing during the time that the students were left "to their own designs"-- if that teacher wanted to be rated as highly effective rather than average or below average?   

    2. Are you saying that Common Core expects teachers to have NO interactions at all with any students during the time that students are left "to their own designs"? 


    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    You make an excellent point, Scripps Dad, in noting that we can observe the effects of a teacher's long-term involvement with students by looking at how engaged the students seem to be from the moment they walk into the classroom.  And of course, there are still more things to observe that we haven't mentioned here.  

    The evaluation system your school is using sounds wonderful.  Are you talking about SDUSD?  Are you able to tell us the name of this evaluation process?  

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Dennis Schamp @Maura Larkins


    Hey Guys - I think a major component of an evaluation is being lost here. You want to focus on the teachers interactions with students, and, when they do and how much they do for all the reasons is good to evaluate and understand.


    BUT - please note that an evaluator can also look at how engaged students are regardless of what they are doing and what the teacher is doing. If the teacher is not directly working with students and students are doing projects, reading, etc... it can certainly be noted about how involved they are or engaged in that activity. So, an observer is not just observing the teacher, but, students and a classroom. If students are not engaged in these group or individual projects, I would say that that is a criteria for effective teaching.


    I have been involved in an evaluation process and the criteria for evaluation are many and comprehensive and based on a scale system for statistical review. The viewing is done multiple times over various times so not a once only effort to avoid "bad days", etc... The evaluation criteria cover a broad spectrum of topics, instruction, engagement, etc... AND, both admin and teachers vetted this out and agreed to implement it. The observer is noted so it can be looked at and reviewed from the perspective of the observer which could be (will be) a parent, peer, or Principal or more.


    I think it very important to understand how and what criteria is used to evaluate to avoid these one stop one time evaluations on "teachers". Evaluating teachers is not just how they interact with students, but, how they engage and manage students, run their classrooms, etc... and this can be evaluated regardless of the teachers disposition at any one time or specifically any individual or class engagement of a teacher directly to students.


    when you go back over a years worth of this type of evaluation, it is clearly shown areas of success, areas that need improvement, etc... and provides a quality feedback mechanism to help teachers better perform.


    It's tool to improve, not a vehicle for determination of continued employment.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    To Scripps dad: 

    I also agree with you on some more points: 

    1) An extended period of time with lots of observations is needed to make an evaluation legitimate;

    2) Evaluations should be a "tool to improve, not a vehicle for determination of continued employment."  

    And I'd like to add another use for evaluations.  

    We know that some teachers are educational geniuses, truly gifted.  And others are more restricted in their pedagogical repertoires.  

    Also, there are differences in emotional intelligence.  Some teachers might be great at making most students buckle down,  but at the same time they might actually be setting other students back quite a bit because of extreme rigidity and cruelty.  Some teachers help students simply by being kind and respectful, even if those teachers aren't particularly brilliant.  

    We need to utilize teachers effectively.  Evaluations could help determine which teachers could be given more responsibility by being assigned as master teachers. Master teachers could come in and give a few lessons each week to supplement the work of regular teachers who might be terrific at classroom management and follow-through on lessons, but don't have the necessary spark to get students deeply engaged.  


    I think we could attract super teachers with extra pay, but the regular teachers are perfectly capable of doing most required tasks for less pay.  



    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Maura Larkins And if the way I interact with my students is not what a parent expects, then...what?  I'm ineffective?  No - I would push against any parent evaluation of teachers, no matter if a casual observation or a formal one.  Without full knowledge of what goes on in a classroom, parents are not qualified to tell me if I'm a good teacher or not.  I would not appreciate having an outsider taking notes on everything I do, then using those notes to report back to my administrators.  If that observer does not have educational training, credentials, or the like, then they are not qualified to evaluate my performance.  Period.  

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    @Maura Larkins  1) It would depend on what the lesson was at the time, and how much guidance would be needed.  That also depends on an individual student's needs.  We're trained to observe and identify various levels of ability across the classroom.  I know there are certain students I can give just a few words to, some that need a little more than that, and others who need me to stand by them and restate directions/give direct guidance.  Whether or not I'm highly effective as a teacher should not depend on how much time I give each student.  Rather, I would look at the output to determine the level of understanding based on completed work.  People keep saying we need standardized testing in order to know how our students are progressing.  I say we already know - through direct observation and ongoing assessments. 


    2) No - CC expects us to give the students their lessons with no pre-work, no scaffolding, no front loading.  CC assumes that all students are 'common' and come from common backgrounds, cognitive levels, and abilities.  We are to assume that all students will be able to understand the assignments, whether or not they have any prior knowledge of the information being presented.  Again - based on ongoing assessment and observation, we know who will and who won't be able to survive in that type of educational environment.  

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    Hi Dennis,

    I agree with your first paragraph.   I especially agree that teachers who don't know their students' abilities until standardized test results come back aren't doing a good job.  But those tests are useful; they provide supplemental feedback to teachers and data for administrators and others to work with.


    Your second paragraph is startling.  You claim that Common Core directs teachers to NOT give lessons???  Where does it say that?  

    I've seen the standards: CC tells teachers which basic concepts they are supposed to teach.  Teachers are expected to know how to teach those concepts.  And that means that teachers need to teach students by starting at the appropriate level.  

    That's the beauty of basic concepts.  They are meaningful to both the advanced students and the students who are behind.  Obviously, teachers need to give different types of follow-up to different levels of students.

    Paul M Bowers
    Paul M Bowers subscribermember

    "They argue that teacher protections are a benefit – like health care – "


    I wonder what that benefit should be called? 


    Employment guarantee?

    Low-performance protection?

    Merit isolation?

    Merit-free employment?

    Performance-independence?

    Performance-independent evaluations?

    Termination firewall?

    Dynamic standards?



    Come on..I'm a big fan of teachers, but placing any employees in any occupation in any vital position without the option to transfer/retrain/terminate those for whom the job is not a match is simply bad management. 


    Paul M Bowers
    Paul M Bowers subscribermember

    Ah. Thank nonspecifichigherpower I have ET- like reading skilz.

    Yeah. Lots of crappy management concepts in there, last-in-first out being a big one.

    Think I'll watch Netflix for a while.

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Paul M Bowers


    Hey Paul - I took a gander rather than Netflix (I don't have a subscription) - here's a highlight


    44932.  (a) No permanent employee shall be dismissed except for one
    or more of the following causes:


    (4)  Unsatisfactory performance.


    (10) Knowing membership by the employee in the Communist Party.


    Now I know why the SDEA doesn't want evaluations and everybody gets a satisfactory on their evaluations (can you imagine the fallout of unsatisfactory performance....), and why no one is knowingly a member of the Communist Party- is that a C vice a D, R, L, or I? I guess it's ok if you are unknowingly a member??

    Paul M Bowers
    Paul M Bowers subscribermember

    @ScrippsDad @Paul M Bowers  


    Very odd. 


    But I'd happily give a pass to a Communist if they'd drop LIFO. Many of my friends are commies- at least they're a thoughtful bunch and noted for their political and cultural enthusiasm.