Teacher tenure bill brings out old rivals

Teacher tenure bill brings out old rivals

(Calif.) In what might be the first salvo in the race for state school superintendent, legislation that would extend the period new teachers have to achieve tenure has been challenged by an activist education group as “protections for the lowest performing teachers.”

AB 1164 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, and a candidate for state schools chief, would increase the probationary period from two years to three with some conditions.

EdVoice, an influential and politically active non-profit closely allied with the charter movement, issued two member alerts on the bill—one last week, and the other on Monday.

“In a last-minute move before summer recess, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond gutted a bill, AB 1164, that was previously intended to provide childcare for foster youth,” EdVoice president Bill Lucia said in the alert.

He noted that the new language would “increase protections for the lowest performing teachers by giving them an easier path to lifetime employment.”

Not so, said Thurmond. In explaining the need for the bill, he pointed out that California has one of the shortest probationary periods of any state in the union—two complete, consecutive school years. But that time line is typically much shorter given the fact that school administrators have to decide in spring if a teacher will be coming back in the fall.

“If an additional three months are deducted for summer break where most teachers are out of the classroom, the total time a teacher has to develop and demonstrate their classroom effectiveness–and for administrators to evaluate –it–is only around fifteen months,” Thurmond said in a bill analysis.

He said his legislation would allow the probationary period to run three years and put new conditions on district administrators on how new teacher evaluations are conducted.

EdVoice, along with other education groups that are opposing the bill, say that California should indeed lengthen the probationary period—but not in the manner that AB 1164 does.

The additional year of probation that the bill would provide is conditioned on a variety of employer mandates including the right of a new teacher rejected for tenure to seek an administrative hearing.

“While AB 1164 provides for an optional third year of probation, as it is written currently, LEAs will not use the extra time if the hearing and teacher support requirements are prescriptive, costly and cumbersome,” the California School Boards Association said in a letter last month to lawmakers.

Thurmond’s bill would increase how much schools could hold in reserve from current levels—but not enough to satisfy school managers. The less schools are required to keep in reserve increases how much can be spent on wages and benefits.

Critics of the cap element said the Thurmond bill would force districts to keep less than a prudent amount in reserve and potentially hurt schools’ ability to borrow capital funds.

Thurmond, who is the likely favorite of the teachers’ union in the race for school chief, withdrew AB 1164 before the Senate Education Committee considered it last month—typically a sign that an author realizes he lacks the support for passage. But Lucia said he believes supporters of the bill will try again in the closing weeks of session.

Opposing Thurmond in the race for schools chief is Marshall Tuck, a charter school administrator from Los Angeles who lost a competitive race in 2014 to Tom Torlakson, the two-time incumbent, and also an ally of CTA.