If local school districts want to get serious about revamping teacher tenure policies, they may want to look at how tenure is granted at the university level.

That idea came from Paula Cordeiro, dean of the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education, at our Politifest panel on jobs, schools and housing.

Her reason was simple: Universities, like school districts, offer teachers tenure, which is a kind of permanent status for teachers.

The major difference is that it takes professors at USD seven years to be considered for tenure. It takes K-12 teachers in California only two years.

Tenure was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year, when a group of California students challenged teacher protections in Vergara v. California, arguing they protect bad teachers who disproportionately wind up in low-income schools.

Here’s how tenure works in San Diego Unified: New teachers have to make it through a two-year probationary period, during which they can be dismissed for pretty much any reason.

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

After the trial period, they’re eligible for tenure. That decision might be made based on classroom observations, or other things that are done as part of the standard teacher evaluations.

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

Cordeiro said teacher tenure is a valuable policy that should be protected. But she also said that for K-12 teachers, it’s a hurried decision that’s made in less than two years – before teachers have a chance to prove what they can do.

So what can school districts learn from universities, beyond just increasing the amount of time it takes to earn permanent status?

For one, Cordeiro said that school districts should be looking at a wide variety of factors when considering a teacher for tenure:

“In my school, anyway, the School of Leadership and Education, we have 14 different things that we look at. So we’re looking at teaching in many ways, not only the evaluations that students do, but also we’re looking at the syllabus itself.

People go in and visit your classrooms, that kind of stuff.  Then it’s your service to the community. Teachers do enormous service within their schools and in their communities. (School districts) don’t even factor that in, and that service plays a major role in what they bring into the classroom when they try to form partnerships. So, I could go on and on, but we have a lot to learn from good promotion tenure system in higher ed.”

These same markers could be used to evaluate teacher performance, said Cordeiro.

But in San Diego, the teachers union has historically resisted any changes to the evaluation system.

Here’s what happened in April, when San Diego Unified put forward its initial contract proposal:

The part that may have the biggest impact, however, might also be biggest sticking point: rebooting its system for evaluating teachers.

“That was the biggest disappointment for me,” said Freeman. “Any time you want to implement a system that’s top-down, that’s the quickest way to make something fail.”

Freeman said he was surprised by the sudden focus on teacher evaluations, and that the district has never indicated the current system was problematic.

But Lisa Berlanga, executive director of parent advocacy group UpforEd, said that changes are a long time coming. “I don’t think it’s changed in more than 20 years,” she said. “We’re very pleased to see this.”

In that case, the teachers union objected to the idea that student and parent feedback would be included as part of teacher evaluations.

The blowback would have been uglier had the district proposed to use student test scores as a part of teacher evaluations, as has been done elsewhere. The union said doing so is unfair, because factors like poverty impact learning but are out of teachers’ hands.

But Cordeiro laid out a whole catalog of things we might consider when we’re rating teachers – from visiting their classrooms, to looking at syllabi to weighing their volunteer work in the community. None of which, by the way, involve test scores.

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

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    There is simply no comparison between the  K-8 teaching/learning experience and the college experience.

    There are simply too many variables that need to be considered in order that any positive change occur to K-8 teacher tenure.  One thing is sure, whatever changes that do occur will affect classrooms over the long haul and not the near term. 

    Getting rid of teachers really should be very difficult, with the obvious exceptions of criminal behavior. What one school district may do and what one principal may do may not be what another school district or another principal may do. There is no consistency in the K-8 arena.  And, now, with the Common Core, even less consistency will be evident in the near term.   What were the California State Standards were adaptations of the previous standards. The Common Core is a paradigm shift. That's a really big deal.

    DDunn subscriber


    "After the trial period, they’re eligible for tenure..." Not quite true - generally is an automatic on the first day of the teacher's third year. Have never heard the term "eligible", which would indicate some sort of process.

    As for evaluation and tenure, collective bargaining validates the process - while the fault/blame of ineffective teachers continuing falls directly on school administrators. If followed correctly, the Stull process works - "key words" followed correctly - meaning timelines, observation feedback, and support systems. However and unfortunately, many teachers see it as a hoop to jump with little help to the profession. Basically, it's a dynamic co-op process but unless you have a good administrator, you go through the motions and get passed along. Done correctly, evaluations work extremely well.



    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    @DDunn I agree @DDunn - "Done correctly, evaluations work extremely well."  Unfortunately if a Principal DOES provide correct evaluations along with supports for improvement, they are still at risk of the SDUSD Superintendent and Board of Education stabbing them in the back by removal (See Field Elementary and SCPA).  So, given that lack of support and horrible governance at the top level of the SDUSD, why would a Principal take a risk on an accurate, albeit "not performing" evaluation on one of their direct reports?  

    They will, as one administrator told me remain "scared to death, I am keeping my head down and my mouth shut." as long as Marten and her cronies are delivering their form of substandard leadership in this District.

    francesca subscriber

    Evaluation and tenure...these are the political targets of right wing politics.. Everyone from Campbell Brown, trying to do away with tenure in NY to Lisa Berlanga advocating for children evaluating teachers, many more who stand to profit, have  given their carefully crafted opinions.  At the core, there is the "bad" teacher, "good" teacher myth.

    Here's what I would suggest...Keep tenure, it's just a right to due process.

    Evaluations? Make sure the principals are doing their job, vice-principals, too.  Get into the classrooms every week.  If you see something "bad", tell the teacher, suggest what he/she should do to improve, let the teachers know you are there to support them.  I've worked with administration like that.  Not a reign of terror, just some helpful suggestions...It works!

    Raise class size to 30, I've taught 37, 30 is just right and have money left over to have music, art, drama, the things that make children love school.

    I've seen teachers resist administrative suggestions and they were fired.  Not impossible as those who want to destroy tenure would have you think.

    I see a lot of the most recent appointees, principals, vp, coming from USD's School of Leadership and Education, Elaine Fink's old hangout.  Lots of bias and ideology involved.

    James Wilson
    James Wilson subscriber

    The commenters are as ignorant as the speaker. Tenure is not a major problem in education. The super majority of teachers are competent. This doesn't mean that you forego teacher evaluation. This is a part of any organization. If there is a problem with a small minority of teachers, the problem lies with the principal who isn't doing their job and their boss.

    There are far more serious issues in education such as the lack of preschool for all children. The research has been replicated that preschool has many long term advantages for poor children. No one is talking about class size. The class size problem in education is enormous. The discipline problems escalate in large classes that damage learning. My particular interest is career academies to help all students. This is another unappreciated area of need in education. So let's forget a non issue like tenure and focus on real educational issues.

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @James Wilson 

    "The commenters (sic) are as ignorant as the speaker." 

    James - really?? That's a bit harsh given that what you say here is echoed by several of those commentators. And, just because you don't believe tenure is a "real" issue, and you believe you have the solution (which I happen to disagree with), doesn't make it so to a plethora of others. That's why this section of VOSD exists and these articles and these comments are here. To try and cover what's important to everybody and provide people a voice to what's important to them and an outlet to provide constructive dialogue.

    If it's not important to you, it's easy to not comment rather than call those of us who do find it important "ignorant".

    Just saying.......

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    I am enjoying the comments by everyone on this topic.  Although I had a booth at Politifest, I was not able to listen to the suggestions made by Ms. Cordeiro (see pics of the District Deeds booth here:  http://districtdeeds.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/district-deeds-at-politifest/).  I did access her bio on the USD website: http://www.sandiego.edu/about/administration/biography.php?ID=325 and she obviously has a lot of Education industry experience both domestic and internationally.  My comments are based on what was written in this article by Mr. Koran.

    I used to feel a lot like @scrippsdad when it came to tenure for teachers…it seemed like an arbitrary protection of bad teachers at the expense of students (not saying that is what @scrippsdad meant…just my viewpoint of the situation).

    In a perfect world, where evaluations were actually given to help improve performance and sometimes rid the organization of those who either chose to not change/improve or were unable to do so, tenure would become unnecessary because the process would be transparent and fair.  This fair process would imply that the evaluators were only motivated and driven by the ultimate good of the stakeholders of the organization…in this case-Students primarily, but also all those that contributed to the common good-Teachers, Parents, Administrators,  Staff, Community.

    We all know that currently in the San Diego Unified School District, based on numerous political/career self serving actions by Marten and the BOE, fairness and transparency have become nonexistent.

    So we now have an academic from a private Roman Catholic University with a long list of donors that support the voucher/privatization of public education (A Catholic Schools dream-something I heard for the first time as a 1st grade student in a Catholic school over 50 years ago and most recently as last week) suggesting tougher tenure guidelines for K-12 based on a private University model.

    WOW-is that a news flash?

    What would we expect her to say…totally removed in her ivory tower from the realities of Teacher/Principal/Counselor/Staff “reassignment fear” in the current SDUSD work environment.

    My current opinion is that ALL teachers AND Principals AND Counselors need tenure in this hunkered down, fearful work environment that has been created by this oppressive current SDUSD Superintendent and BOE.  I agree with @scrippsdad that many, many other things should be incorporated into the labor agreement to improve it but the beginnings of the labor movement is rooted in oppressive labor practices by the industrial barons who thought of themselves as royalty and the rights of the worker to defend themselves from it…unfortunately we have that same environment now in the SDUSD.  

    francesca subscriber

    My understanding of what tenure is at college level, is the protection of academic freedom.  It allows professors to dissent from popular/media opinion and openly disagree with their peers.

    I'm reading about a professor who was fired from the University of Illinois, for explaining the Middle East strife from the Palestinians point of view.  

    For K-12, tenure requires a "just cause" for firing.  Also a right to have a hearing and respond to charges. 

    K-12 curriculum is adopted by the school board and teachers do not write their own syllabus, at least not in elementary. K-12 teachers don't have the free time that college professors have, to volunteer in the community, if they are preparing lessons properly.  

    I think Mrs. Cordeiro should have prepared and tightened her message a bit more, so it made sense.  Also realized that you can't take something from a private college, and apply it to public education.

    Fourteen different ways to evaluate teachers...What are the other thirteen?

    When my grandmother taught school, they included what time teachers had to be home, how long their skirts were, where they could go after work, church attendance, ...

    What are the fourteen that you use, Paula C.  

    Mike subscriber

    Reforming tenure rules is fine, but reform should come from both sides. Let's raise teachers' salaries too...to the same level as a professor. For every nonsense teacher perk we eliminate thru reform, and for every new performance evaluation we add, we should add something to their salaries. Reform is great, and we should all support it. But it should be balanced by a reasonable pay structure on the other end. How will we attract smart, driven students in this field if all we do is scrutinize their performance, make their jobs less stable, and pay next to nothing? Smart and driven students can make 3-4x a teacher's salary on Wall Street.

    francesca subscriber

    Let me make sure I  understand this, Mrs. Cordeiro, "14 different ways, many ways, looking at the syllabus itself"
    .."visit your classroom, that kind of stuff"," "so I could go on and on, but we have a lot to learn from good promotion tenure system in higher ed."

    Did I miss the 14 things you were looking at?  Did I miss the meaning in your incoherent message.?

    Then you give some unclear reference about community service for teachers, after a long day of teaching, counted as part of their evaluation?  Let's see, shall I do that before or after I take my own children to piano lessons, shop for groceries, cook dinner, supervise their homework, do the laundry, what I call not community but my home service?

    Oh, wait, you're with the "School of Leadership and Education" that right wing think tank, that wanted to plant four members on the school board.

    Last year, Cindy Marten fired 100 vice principals and principals, without any reason, just to show those who didn't bow down to her "magic wand" cult, that she was boss...No cause, no hearing, like a good dictator.

    Now this article suggests teachers should give up their tenure?

    Tenure means an employee gets a right to a hearing, a right to know why they are being fired, fired for cause..Fairness, that's all tenure is, not a guarantee of employment.  Protection against an arbitrary, insecure, power play, similar to what the principals are enduring at the hands of Ms. Marten & Co..

    Whatever happened to all those principals, not protected by tenure, their whole lives upended, careers destroyed by Cindy and her best friends, Staci and Jennifer and the other heartless Bersinites..?

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @francesca  I always  am surprised when people equate Tenure with due process. Regardless of tenure, please note below the grievance procedure required under the current CBA. This URL is straight out of the CBA with the SDEA. Does this look like due process is being sacrificed? To me, it actually looks like protectionism favoring adults vice children. Heck, we are now trying to legislate a streamlined due process for heinous crimes committed against children. Does anybody find it crazy that we have to do that to protect our children?!

    In addition, if you read the MOU which followed as part of renewal negotiations, modifications were made to what constituted a grievous act which took authority directly away from Principals in the local schools and required these extenaive procedures to be followed thereby continuing with an expensive, cumbersome, long and drawn out due process effectively eliminating the desire to pursue by local administrators for minor infractions.

    GRIEVENCE PROCEDURES (or in my humble opinion - due process)

    Starting on Page 61 Section 15:


    And finally - my personal pet peeve; when people chose to go off on other peoples ideas and argue against those ideas and suggestions without offering up their own potential solutions. So, what do you think teacher evaluations should look like and what would suffice as due process?

    Please note that there is nothing in this or other definitions of TENURE that preclude due process. And yes, Tenure does provide a job guarantee for as long as the recipient wants it - see second definition. It is an employment guarantee. Otherwise, given the Grievance process outlined in the CBA as negotiated by the SDEA, which is extensive due process, why is the union against it?


    : the right to keep a job (especially the job of being a professor at a college or university) for as long as you want to have it

    :  the act, right, manner, or term of holding something (as a landed property, a position, or an office); especially :  a status granted after a trial period to a teacher that gives protection from summary dismissal

    CCR subscriber

    @ScrippsDad @francesca  One thing that was not mentioned by Ms. Cordeiro is the difference between the beginning years for a professor and that of a new K12 teacher. I am about to begin my 11th year of teaching ( and I love it, BTW). However, this is the 1st year I have not been laid off, pink-slipped, excessed, or threatened by those actions, without the 11th hour reprieve. My first year was as a leave replacement teacher ( hired the day before school started). I had 4 preps that year, and even the principal agreed it was the worst schedule at the school. I was always the first to arrive, and often the last to leave. What criteria would you have used to judge me? At the end of the year, the contract was over. Good-bye. The next year, I secured several long term substitute positions ( severe special ed, 8th grade English & drama, 3rd grade). Neither of these 2 years counted towards my "permanent" status. I took the following year off from teaching, since it was one of those huge layoff years and I was told there was no chance of getting hired, since there were too many teachers without a job. The next year, I got hired for a 1 year position at a middle school ( English & social studies for EL students, where my class had 9 different languages spoken). End of year, no job. Next year, 1 year position at 2nd grade in an impoverished school. End of year, excessed. I have been blessed to be at an incredible middle school for the past 6 years, but every year ( except this one), I have been called to the principal's office to be told my job is on the line.

    I cannot accurately describe the stress and psychological damage of always fearing for your job.

    As you can see, I have had a diverse teaching history. On what specifically would you have judged me? Ont he thousands of dollars I spent, buying books and supplies for my various classes? On the 12-16 hour days I put in, along with weekends, trying to provide a quality education for my students? On getting my masters while during the first 2 years of teaching?

    On maintaining a positive attitude and volunteering for everything I could?

    The next time a college administrator thinks the process of beginning years of teaching for K12 and the university have something in common- think again!

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Cheryl Converse-Rath @ScrippsDad @francesca 

    Cheryl - I'm not sure I understand your post here. It seems to me, these same issues are at play for teachers/instructors/professors beginning their higher education teaching careers as well. I know the stresses my dad had pursing his higher education academic teaching career raising a family, wife in school, three kids, etc... It also seems no different from my early jobs in the private sector and jobs and job security I see now for college and grad school graduates in all sectors.

    In addition, I'm not sure how you avoid the budget side of compensation associated with employees in any public or private organization. Bottom line - in a public organization, as in SDUSD, you have a finite amount of money that comes through a variety of sources primarily from taxpayers. The District, through staff and Board are responsible for an approved budget which dictates the available pot of money for compensation. If the revenues decrease, or, the District misjudges the revenue, there isn't enough money to fund operations inclusive of compensation. So regardless of performance, as we have seen at SDUSD, layoffs can happen because of poor strategic and/or fiduciary planning. Unfortunately, with LIFO, regardless of your evaluations, your passion, your performance, you abilities, etc... you went on to the chopping block.

    SDUSD already spends over 95% of the General Fund on compensation so any deviations in revenue, even small ones, can have a serious impact on overall payroll.

    Add this to unfavorable benefits decisions (costing huge chunks of that finite pot of money) and it further constrains the available money for teacher payroll making jobs less secure. Bottom line - you paid in stress and unsecure employment  for the seniority of your peers and adult orientated overly expensive benefits, etc... This has nothing to do with performance.

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    @ScrippsDad @Cheryl Converse-Rath @francesca I used to feel a lot like @ScrippsDad and still agree completely on the way he characterizes the financial details in the SDUSD.

    Where I have now diverged from his view is that, in this toxic, "every person for themselves" hunkered down SDUSD environment where there is  NO protection for doing a great job (i.e: achieving Principals and ELSTs) and decisions to eliminate or "reassign" are not transparent and collaborative as required by law, WHAT DO WE EXPECT TEACHERS and the TEACHERS UNION TO DO?  

    Many teachers I have spoken to agree that there are certain colleagues that should not still be teaching but are they supposed to give up ANY protections when their future could be  determined in a secretive process at the whim of a substandard, unqualified Board Member or Superintendent?

    I never thought I would say it but we now have much bigger problems in the SDUSD than certain sub-standard teachers and the labor contract...since June, 2013 we have substandard leadership at the top that hurts ALL of our children much, much more.  

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @DistrictDeeds wordpress com @ScrippsDad @Cheryl Converse-Rath @francesca 

    Guys - don't get me wrong - I feel that employment protection is very important and not left for anybody to make a unilateral decision over a subordinate just because they felt like it.

    What I advocate is working to find a balance between anarchy and over protection. How do you weed out the bad teachers (or any other bad employees covered under a CBA) that everybody talks about that everybody knows exist but nobody can seem to quantify to terminate.

    So, I believe that objective and constructive performance evaluations and performance accountability is critical for job reviews at all levels. I believe that no single criteria should be used (such as test scores) but instead, a comprehensive process that involves input from all stakeholders as well as other  quantifiable measures.  I have posed a variety of solutions over past posts.

    Also, I believe there should be a due process / grievance procedure to protect employees from personal unilateral terminations. but, it needs to be much more realistic than Page 61 through 65 and not overly burdensome and expensive and protectionist especially concerning minor issues and infractions.

    CCR subscriber

    My points were that beginning teachers can work multiple years before receiving a permanent status ( due to long-term sub jobs, 1 year contracts, leave replacements, etc) and that since beginning teachers have little stability in their assignments, a true evaluation may be difficult. I, too, believe there should be fair evaluations of teachers  so that we have only the best for our children. I also believe in due process. I just don't think that applying blanket university standards

    ( whatever they may be) to public education K12 teachers is not the answer.