Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in
education policy and the author of several major PRI studies.
[go to Izumi index]
Drops a Nuke on Teacher Unions
Radical reforms for education...
[Lance T. Izumi] 1/7/05
Schwarzenegger is proving that he is truly the reformer that
Californians hoped he would be when
they elected him governor. While his rumored budget reforms got
the most buzz before his state of the state address, his proposal
to overturn teacher tenure and link teacher pay to merit and
performance epitomizes his willingness to take on the powerful
special interests that control Sacramento.
In California, after
completing a two-year probationary period, teachers receive “permanent status” or tenure. Once
tenured, it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher, regardless
of poor performance. According to a Pacific Research Institute
study of California’s teacher-tenure system, a tenured
teacher “cannot be dismissed solely for failing to improve
Worse, “if students consistently fail to advance under
one teacher, there is no explicit provision that allows districts
to commence the dismissal process.” Governor Schwarzenegger
correctly observes that “An educational system that rewards
and protects a bad teacher at the expense of a child is wrong.” The
tenure system has been shockingly effective in protecting bad
Worm in the Apple, an expose of teacher unions, former Forbes editor Peter
Brimelow quotes an attorney who says that
teacher termination hearings in California are “as detailed,
as voluminous and painstaking as the O.J. trial.” Take
the case of Juliet Ellery, a San Diego-area high school teacher.
Ms. Ellery refused to answer student questions, demeaned and
insulted students, and refused to adhere to lesson plans. Frustrated
students circulated a petition to have her dismissed. The district
then spent eight years and $300,000 trying to fire Ellery. Although
her teaching credential was eventually suspended for one year,
Ellery returned to teaching after the suspension. Unsurprisingly,
few districts try to fire bad teachers.
According to the state
Office of Administrative Hearings, in the Los Angeles Unified
School District from 1990 to 1999, only
13 dismissal panels were convened and just one tenured teacher’s
case went through the dismissal process from beginning to end.
In order to overhaul this dysfunctional system, Governor Schwarzenegger
wants “teacher employment to be tied to performance, not
to just showing up” and “teacher pay to be tied to
merit, not tenure.” Other influential bodies agree.
The Teaching Commission, chaired by former IBM head Louis Gerstner,
recently recommended that teacher pay be based on performance
as measured by frequent individual teacher evaluations that include
assessments of student achievement and other teacher skills.
The Commission recommended a value-added assessment system that
looks at annual improvements in student performance as measured
by state tests.
This system would
then estimate how much a teacher has contributed to a student’s gains, factoring in projections based on
past performance. A teacher who raised students’ scores
significantly would be deemed effective. In a recent paper, the
Pacific Research Institute proposes a value-added assessment
model for California that includes many of the elements recommended
by the Commission.
The state’s powerful teacher unions will fight the governor’s
proposals tooth and nail. Addressing legislators, Governor Schwarzenegger
put this battle into perspective: “This is a battle of
the special interests versus the children’s interests.
Which will you choose?” Hopefully, policymakers in Sacramento
will make the right choice. CRO
2005 Pacific Research Institute