Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why Teachers Need Due Process

Why Teachers Need Due Process

Why Teachers Need Due Process

Yesterday, in a great diary, Zenbassoon discussed an opening round loss in a court case based on due process in California.   While many of the comments grasped the issue, as the night wore on, more commentary boiled down into a seeming dance over: "I don't get tenure at my job" "I don't know if K-12 needs tenure".

There are several issues at play here, but I think one of the biggest is that we don't quite grasp why Due Process is incredibly important to keeping effective teachers.  So, I wanted to take a second to issue a rebuttal of those 'we don't need tenure or due process' arguments.

I want to say up front I am NOT a teacher, but I would encourage you to read through numerous diaries I've written over the last six months as I've devoted serious time to understanding this issue and working with some of the advocates behind the teaching debate.   I've taken time to listen to the other side, but for this diary, I want a rebuttal of some of the problematic talking points.

The example provided here asks: if other jobs can be fired, why not teachers even without cause?

There are numerous issues at play here - some I want to get to later.   But in this instance, the commenter highlights the idea that lawyers and others specifically can be fired, and they move on.  

What is missing from this equation is that a lawyer can quit a law firm, walk across the street, and go work for another law firm at higher pay tomorrow.   A lawyer can listen to head hunters and has free agency to decide where they work.

If you are a teacher, you make a commitment to a school district for a period of a year (for the most part) a semester (far less likely).   Other public schools cannot 'poach' you for higher pay, and if you walk out or quit, other public schools are fairly barred from hiring you back within that school year without VERY special circumstances.

This also gets to a second problem:  What constitutes cause for a teacher?

In this case, a teacher was terminated for failure to give a passing grade to a student who didn't earn it - simply because he was a star athlete.

What constitutes cause or lack of cause?  And what implications are there for students?

So, you fire at will.. how does that work out...

First, I want to say openly I'm not mocking any commenter.  I think this is a good time to have this discussion.   The question being made here is one of optics.   Through years of PR work, you'd believe that most teachers are ineffectual poor teachers and that is the cause of the system issue.

As Dizzydean points out in the diary, numerous studies have shown something quite different:

The average turnover rate for elementary schools in this district was 19 percent, although the majority of schools had averages under 19 percent. At least eight schools had an average teacher turnover rate of more than 40 percent over the five years analyzed, and one school had an average rate of approximately 70 percent. As with previous research, both low student achievement and a large percentage of minority students were moderately correlated with high teacher turnover. The correlation1  between teacher turnover and student achievement in reading was -.306 and in mathematics was -.282. The correlation between teacher turnover and minority enrollment was .293.
The greatest issue facing schools with large minority populations or inner city schools isn't even close to due process.  The prime issue is teacher turnover; the rate of teachers who do not stay for various reasons and the lack of incentives to do so.   Ending Due Process doesn't help this at all, in fact, it greatly increases turnover and provides teachers with a lesser track record and no continuity for parents to have to measure against.

Again, do not take what I'm saying as an attack on Anime.  I think he represents the real issue teachers unions face.  There has been so much misinformation and lack of understanding that we aren't making the next steps.

Tenure/Due Process doesn't apply to many jobs because in those occupations not only do you have free agency (he can easily quit and go be a janitor somewhere else), but also because the basic product you are dealing with is different.

When I used to work in an office (thank goodness no longer) I could leave work at 5pm, go home and know that when I arrived in the morning my work would be in the same place.   Teachers have no such expectations.  You may deal with students who had a good night, bad night, struggled with homework, raced through it or any other unknown factors.    And unlike other employment, while a teacher is often portrayed as the 'boss' of their classroom, a teacher cannot fire students and they can't fire parents.  

Teachers simply aren't turning out widgets.   They are trying to produce the next generation of critical thinkers.

This point, however, is where we go off the rails.

Unfortunately when we talk about due process, this is the way that communities have been trained to look at the issue.   Teachers should do what their boss says.  In the mind of the people who oppose due process, that 'boss' is a principle or school board.  Just do what they say.

This, however, conflicts with reality.   Teachers are often demanded to work against the wishes of their principle or school board because their actual boss is the student, who will repay the community through taxes when they grow up.  A teacher's employer isn't the current tax payer - it is the future one.

Why is this important?   Because teachers are often tasked with dealing with very difficult subjects.  

Think about this:

A teacher sometimes needs to give a grade that doesn't make parents (the current taxpayer) happy.   This is part of their job.

Is it ever your job in any other industry to give the 'customer' something they don't want?   No.

But it is an important part of the academic reality of a teacher.  A teacher can make a C+ feel to a child as though they worked very hard, or they can tell a student with an A- they didn't work hard enough.  That is the nature of education.  (Thanks to Zen, this came from Taylor Mali)

Teachers must advocate to school budgets and boards that a student needs more funding for special needs services (IEP), or that students shouldn't receive social promotion.  Students who need extra help with food services or hygiene.

These things don't happen in jobs where you output widgets or work product.   It simply doesn't work that way.

A teacher who is asked to do 'just what the current taxpayer says' creates a future of children who are less informed and have fewer chances.. meanwhile, a teacher who respects the fact that their boss is actually the child in front of them, 20 years from now - they get it.  That child will pay back his cost of education later when he contributes to society.  

Finally, I want to touch on an argument that comes up repeatedly:

Bad teachers can't be fired because of tenure.
In fact, this is not at all true.  While made fun of in film and elsewhere, the reality is, having reviewed contracts in 10 states and spoken to numerous attorneys on the matter, in most states teachers can be dismissed almost immediately with CAUSE.   I had no problems finding cases of teachers who were fired in even tenure states for: mocking students, insulting a gay student, etc.

The difference is that there is a specific process to go through.   In speaking to superintendents and members in four states, I found that those who actually do their job and understand how to handle the paperwork get through it just fine:

"It's not that much different from the process I had in HR when I worked for major companies.  Verbal Warning, Written Warning, Termination and establish cause."
Is the exact quote I have from superintendents who have dealt with this issue.   In some states, there is work to do about making the process easier to understand and to provide a better wording of the law - and if you want those kind of reforms, we can work on those things.  

But we move into unsupported hyperbole when we decide to blame educational failures on teacher tenure.

If this was the case, the  highest performing schools would be somewhere like Louisiana, compared to the highest performing schools being in Massachusetts, where they have some of the strongest teacher union rules.

This is the reality, taken from a diary I did a few months ago talking about the ALEC plan for education:

  Dr. Heilig: It's really win-win for them here.   If the state scores go down, they can throw up their hands and say they provided more money, despite the fact that many of their proposals are likely to harm the system.  If the scores go up, they take credit.

    Looking at Kansas, your NAEP scores are top-20.   So there are grounds for improvement, but the state isn't in trouble.  People are proposing policy solutions for non-problems.  No matter how the results turn up, they get to look as though they have the solution and the opposition is the problem.

While I interviewed him discussing Kansas, it really applies everywhere.   When we move to teachers who can be quickly fired and hired, without free agency we create a marketplace of low cost teachers who are at the mercy of a school district.   As quality goes down and you decrease costs, politicians simply say "see, we told you the schools were the problem.." and then the cut more funding or move to privatize more schools.

It becomes a death spiral.

I realize not everyone here will agree with me on this issue, but we need to step back and realize that teaching isn't the same as being in another profession.  You are literally producing the future of our society, not producing a widget or a car.

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