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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at [go to Liebau index]

Let’s “Put the Kids First”
On Behalf of Some (Very) Modest Education Reforms...

[Carol Platt Liebau] 6/27/05

Not long ago, the California Teachers’ Association took a bold step. Its leaders voted to raise dues by $60 for each of its members over the next three years, in order to raise $50 million to oppose Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reforms proposed for the November special election.

From the vehemence with which the teachers’ union bosses are opposing the governor, it might be reasonable to assume that the proposed reforms are a knife to the heart of the California educational system. But such an assumption would be wildly mistaken.

Particular wrath is directed toward the “Put the Kids First Act” – which are actually a series of quite modest proposals. The initiative would merely increase the length of time until a teacher can gain tenure from two to five years, and authorize a school board to dismiss a tenured teacher who received two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. Hardly radical stuff.

The reforms are sorely needed. Once teachers gain tenure in California, they generally can be replaced – even by more qualified applicants – only after a lengthy appeals process costing about $150,000. Granted, the current system is a boon to teachers – in what other field can one obtain a lifetime sinecure, with little chance of demotion or dismissal, after only two years? But the benefit to teachers can be a disaster both for the children who are saddled with lazy or incompetent instructors and for the concerned parents (and school boards) who are powerless to fix the problem.

Nor, by rights, should any teacher be complaining about the provision that permits dismissal after two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. In fact, what’s amazing is that – even under the “Put the Kids First Act” – a teacher can receive numerous “unsatisfactory” reviews and remain in the classroom, so long as the unsatisfactory reviews are not consecutive. And under the current system, an instructor can receive as many as five or six consecutive “unsatisfactory” reviews without any ramifications. Is there any other field where long term, sub par work is nonetheless rewarded by regular pay increases and the other perquisites of tenure?

Teachers rightly enjoy a high degree of respect and appreciation in the United States, particularly in California, where their pay/benefits packages are the most generous in the country. The “Put the Kids First Act” does nothing to threaten the many capable, dedicated, hard-working teachers who are making a daily difference in the lives of millions of children. And teachers themselves are aware of this – which is why many support the “Put Kids First” initiative, although they are regularly intimidated by their union from publicly supporting the governor.

The teachers’ unions need to understand that, even as California’s citizens stand ready to support our schools, they are likewise entitled to be sure that only high-performing, deserving teachers are being offered the benefits (including tenure) that they so generously provide through their state, city and local taxes. Union opposition to the modest proposals in the “Put the Kids First Act” reveals an unsavory agenda that’s less about educating children than it is about securing benefits even for those who haven’t earned them. And that’s why the teachers’ union bosses would be well advised to use their $50 million to help the state’s best teachers, rather than to protect its worst. tOR

Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and theOneRepublic / editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at

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