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Vergara Part 3: Reimagining Tenure

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. 

In my 20-plus years of teaching one thing I have learned is teachers need the protection of tenure to effectively advocate for their students.  If you've ever sat across from a principal at a budget meeting and respectfully disagreed with their funding plans, you can understand what I am talking about.  If you've ever told your local school superintendent or school board member that you disagree with a policy they are implementing, you know why I say teachers need tenure.  I joined the most recent Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles (E4E-Los Angeles) policy team out of a strong desire to preserve tenure, along with collective bargaining rights and our unions.

Let me start by saying that E4E-Los Angeles polled over 500 teachers on issues they were facing in their classrooms or in their careers. Sixty-four percent of teachers polled responded that tenure was the single biggest issue that needed to be addressed.  Throughout the process of developing the paper E4E also surveyed over 300 teachers, over 80 administrators, over 80 parents, and over 200 middle school and high school students.  One key finding that drove our recommendations is that the current 18 months for permanent status is too short an amount of time to make such an important determination in our teachers' careers. Ninety-six percent of administrators said tenure decisions come too early in the profession.  Eighty-two percent of teachers said the timeline for tenure decisions inhibit tenure from serving as a meaningful milestone and 70 percent of students responded that teachers need more than two years to demonstrate proficiency in teaching. The verdict was clear, two years for tenure was not enough. 

While our full recommendations are spelled out in our policy paper in full detail (see pg, 15), let me share with you the big takeaways people are most curious about.  First of all, we propose phasing in a new process, meaning teachers who currently have permanent status would not be impacted. A new process would apply only to new hires, but teachers currently holding permanent status could choose to apply for tenure. For new hires, tenure would happen through a three-stage process aligned with teacher evaluations (a multiple measure indicator) and induction programs that already exist. Tenure could happen after teaching three years but could take as long five years.  Tenured teachers would participate in a regular renewal process to maintain their status. The renewal process would also serve as the entry point for permanent status teachers who want to pursue a tenure designation.  On a regular basis, a school- or district-based tenure review board would examine the growth portfolio and classroom evaluations of tenured teacher in an effort to recognize a teacher's continued development and visit tenure designations. Tenure reimagined by teachers themselves would not serve as a checked box, achieved after a matter of time, but a dynamic indicator of growth achieved by teachers who choose to remain in the classroom for the duration of their career.

There are also many ways the state and districts could make tenure a true professional milestone.  For example, tenure could act as a pre-requisite for teachers to pursue extra leadership responsibilities: grade-level or department chairs, instructional coaches, or special assignments.  With the added work of these positions we also advocate for added pay. Tenure designations could be honored as an achievement through recognition on school accountability report cards along with a searchable, public database for parents to learn whether or not their teacher is tenured or if s/he is going through the stages to acquire tenure.

While our policy team clearly tackled many tough topics, we chose not to propose changes to due process for dismissals or "last in, first out" (LIFO).  Though our team felt these issues need to be addressed, we decided that getting a true tenure process up and running is the first hurdle to clear. Reimaging tenure is just the beginning but will serve as a big step forward. I recognize that our recommendations involve greater engagement from our state and district leaders, which prompts the possibility for added bureaucracy, but the potential payoff of recognizing our long-term, effective teachers is worth it in my opinion. 

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