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Vergara Part 2: Tenure Is a Misnomer

Last week, on February 17, 2015, Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles published a policy paper on teacher tenure titled, Reimagining Tenure Protecting Our Students and Our Future.  I was one of nine members on the team that researched, surveyed, and discussed the issue of tenure at length to craft this paper.  This entry is part 2 of 3 on my opinion on why tenure in the state of California needs to be reimagined. 

Permanent status, that's what I have earned as a second grade teacher in the state of California. According to the California Education Code 44929.21(b), it was awarded to me after teaching for two consecutive years, on the first day of my third year of employment with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  Most people, including teachers in the state of California, don't know how or why permanent status, or "tenure" as it is more commonly known, is awarded. I didn't even notice that my pay-stub had changed from the words "Probationary" to "Permanent."  I didn't get a letter of congratulations from the superintendent, nor from my principal. It was just another ordinary day.  

The term tenure in California is used strictly with higher education faculty members and it comes with much more prestige than permanent status, because it is more difficult to achieve.  First, tenure is a much longer process: seven years on average at four-year colleges and universities.  Tenure has more requirements. A professor eligible for tenure must teach, do research, and publish work along with being observed by other experienced faculty members. Once you've earned the status of tenure, you are expected to continue achieving accomplishments in all of the above areas, not just teaching. You are also expected to serve on committees, and to contribute to the academic life of the institution that granted you tenure status for the rest of your academic career. You could say that being granted tenure is a significant milestone in the life of a professor. Permanent status has none of these extra requirements, no extra pay awarded for tenure, nor the extra honors.  

Permanent status was one of five statutes of the California education code cited by the plaintiffs in Vergara v. State of California.  Number one is about permanent status basically giving teachers "tenure". Numbers two, three, and four are about how hard it is to fire ineffective teachers (Judge Treu actually called it, "uber-due process"). Lastly, number five deals with "Last In, First Out" (LIFO).  The ruling basically said that students were being denied their constitutional right to an equitable education because of these five statues in the education code. I believe that if we were to enact a real tenure process for PreK-12 teachers we could ensure no student in a public school in the state of California was ever denied access to an equitable education.  

Enacting a true tenure model for teachers in the state of California would be no small accomplishment because it involves having a state-wide dialogue with all stakeholders about changing a long established practice.  But aren't the stakes - our students, public confidence in education, attracting and retaining teachers, protecting collective bargaining rights, and unionism - high enough for us to get everyone to the table to work on the next generation of teacher tenure?  I believe they are.

Please come back next week for my final installment of this series on Vergara. Hear how we can protect students and teachers in the classrooms right now, and how we can build a future that honors, celebrates, and creates a meaningful milestone for teachers in the future.   

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