Teacher Effectiveness

California and Tennessee teacher tenure laws are nothing alike, TEA attorney says

The tenure laws in Tennessee are much different than the ones that were struck down in California Tuesday, a lawyer with the Tennessee Education Assocation said.

After reviewing a California judge’s ruling against the state’s teacher tenure laws, Tennessee Education Association’s general counsel Rick Colbert said the two states have little in common when it comes to granting and maintaining tenure status and that a similar ruling in Tennessee is unlikely.

“In California, I can understand why the plaintiffs found the tenure law was an impediment to receiving a quality teacher in the classroom,” Colbert said. “California’s process for granting tenure takes place after less than two years and the process of dismissing a teacher is entirely different from Tennessee’s.”

The preliminary ruling in the lawsuit Vergara v. California strikes down a slate of that state’s laws around teacher tenure and firing. The judge in the case, Rolf Treu, said data showing that poor and non-white students in California are more often taught by low-performing teachers convinced him that the laws violate the state’s constitution. The distribution of teacher quality “shocks the conscience,” Treu said in his ruling.

Colbert said the California tenure law requires that a teacher facing dismissal receives a “trial-like hearing” that involves a discovery period, more than one hearing officer and depositions. If a teacher prevails in the hearing, the school district must pay the teacher’s attorney’s fees.

In 2011, Tennessee legislators changed the state’s tenure law extending the probationary period from three to five years.  In order to receive tenure, a teacher in the last two years of the probationary period must receive evaluation scores in the highest two categories.  A teacher can also lose tenure status if he or she receives an evaluation score in the lowest two categories for two consecutive years.

The California lawsuit was brought by nine families with the support of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who began supporting education issues after he was unsettled by how difficult it was for his own children’s schools to fire teachers. Its backers include national critics of teachers unions, including Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst, a non-profit working to motivate teachers, parents, students and citizens to advocate for positive changes in education.

 Critics of the court’s ruling say that tenure protects teachers from capricious administrators and helps make teaching an attractive profession. “Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching,” said Dennis van Roekel, president of the nation’s largest teachers union, said in response to the ruling.

The state of California and its teachers unions are gearing up to appeal, guaranteeing a long legal fight before the issue of teacher tenure in California is resolved. Still, their first-round success has Vergara supporters weighing whether to take on teacher tenure laws in other states.

“We monitor what happens in other states,” said Carolyn Crowder, executive director for Tennessee Education Association.  “There’s a misconception that K-12 tenure is the same as on the college level.  K-12 tenure provides due process for a teacher, they need due process.  If people need to improve there needs to be a process in place to show they’ve had that opportunity. In tenure for a teacher in Tennessee means they aren’t on probation anymore.  Every state is different and there have been a lot of changes across the country.  We’re interested in making sure tenure policies are implemented fairly.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013. Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: TDOE
Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.