Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson joins Kojo to discuss her new memoir and explore how her experiences growing up in Chicago frame her perspectives about race and opportunity in the United States.
In a case likely to reverberate across the country, a California judge struck down the state’s teacher tenure laws last week on civil rights grounds, saying tenure protects educators at the expense of poor and minority students who are most likely to be stuck with weak teachers. Some advocates for education reform applaud the ruling, but teachers’ unions say tenure is important to recruiting and keeping good teachers and dispute the notion that tenure makes it harder to improve public school performance.
- Doug Prouty President, Montgomery County Education Association
- Lyndsey Layton National Education Reporter, The Washington Post
- John Deasy Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a century-old system designed to attract and keep good teachers, grant them tenure so they have some job security. But critics now say tenure is hurting poor and minority students, who sometimes get stuck with weak teachers that can't be removed. A California judge sided with the critics last week, ruling that the state's tenure system is unconstitutional because it violates some students' right to a good education.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe case is the latest volley in the ongoing national battle over teacher accountability. And even though it will likely be appealed, it's prompting new debate across the country about the merits of tenure for public school teachers. Here in the Washington region, we have both extremes. Former D.C. schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, weakened tenure in the District several years ago, while Montgomery County Public Schools continued to embrace it.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to explore teacher tenure and what it means for students is Lyndsey Layton, national education reporter with The Washington Post. Lyndsey, good to see you again.
MS. LYNDSEY LAYTONThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. Doug, thank you for joining us.
MR. DOUG PROUTYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Los Angeles is John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was superintendent of the Prince George's County Public Schools from 2006 to 2008. John Deasy, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN DEASYMy pleasure, Kojo. Good to speak to you again.
NNAMDINice talking to you, too. By the way, if you'd like to join this conversation, you can call 800-433-8850. How do you feel about giving public school teachers tenure? John Deasy, you testified at the trial that California's tenure laws are hurting students in the classroom. Describe the extent of the problem in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country. How many students are affected by weak teaching and how many teachers would you like to replace?
DEASYSure. Was on the stand for four days in this groundbreaking trial. And at the end of the day, the judge struck down five laws in California, one of which was the current tenure law. Another one had to do with the law governing last-in, first-out. And then three laws governing teacher dismissals. In the tenure law, it was germane to California. And the judge found that the period of time necessary to amass evidence to grant tenure was very, very short. It's about 15 months here in California before you have to make a decision.
DEASYAnd so the testimony was clear in that we do not have enough time to determine a teacher's ability to get better and to teach. Second, we don't have nearly enough time to provide the support we provide new teachers. A teacher's tenure decision is made in California before we even finish the beginning teacher support, which takes two years. And then, third, having to make decisions with so little time, certainly does not help teachers nor students. And teachers have gotten tenure over the course of the years and then have proven to be not able to teach. And then we ran into the dismissal laws, which it is extraordinary difficult to remove a teacher.
NNAMDIWhen you were a superintendent here in Prince George's County, you launched a voluntary pay-for-performance program developed with the teachers. Why do you think it's important to reward teachers for student achievement and what do you think is the best way to do it?
DEASYSo I think that a portion of that program was to reward teachers for growth in student achievement as well as for working in difficult schools, for working in schools that are tough to attract teachers, working in schools that have persistently struggled. So there was a whole host of opportunities to support teachers in that program. And I do think it's important that teachers who are doing a great job and willing to work in very difficult places get the support and the compensation necessary to recognize that.
DEASYAnd here in California, going back to the judge's ruling, I was very clear. My testimony is I absolutely support teachers having tenure and celebrating when they have tenure, providing we have a reasonable period of time upon which to make that decision.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty, you have said that this is the wrong battle to be fighting, because tenure does not protect bad teachers. It just ensures them due process. Montgomery Public -- County Public Schools have a strong tenure system. Explain how it works and what's involved in dismissing a teacher who is not performing well enough.
PROUTYWell, in Montgomery County, we have a system that has been in place for 14 years now, called peer assistance and review. And it's a system in which teachers receive meaningful feedback and support on a regular basis, if their either first-year teachers or identified as underperforming. And after that year of support, at the end of the year, a group of peers -- teachers and principals -- discusses the case and figures out whether the data supports a recommendation of dismissal or another year of support or a return to the classroom on a meets-standard basis.
PROUTYIf that recommendation is for dismissal, then the teacher has rights to appeal to the local board and to the State Board of Education. But the local board can take action on that dismissal and that teacher's no longer in the classroom while the appeal is happening. So the overall process takes a year of evaluation and a year of support. And that's all -- that's all it is.
NNAMDILyndsey Layton, some people are saying this case is a proxy for the big national debate over holding teachers accountable for student achievement. Who's behind this lawsuit and why did they choose to go to court rather than trying to change state education laws?
LAYTONThat's an excellent question, Kojo. The group that is -- that funded this lawsuit, it's called Students Matter. And it was created by David Welch, who is a Silicon Valley mogul. He made a fortune in the fiber-optics field. And he decided a couple of years ago to create this group to go after the tenure laws through the courts, because for years critics of the tenure laws had been trying, through the state legislature in Sacramento. And the teachers' union was able to basically block many attempts through that process.
LAYTONSo this was sort of an end run around the legislature to take it to the courts, which is interesting because there are many conservatives who back this effort. And historically, they are resistant to the idea of judicial activism and using the courts to determine, you know, social policy or public policy. So it's an interesting turn of events. And now this group is looking nationally. They want to take up the same issue in a number of other states.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a conversation about the debate over tenure for teachers, with Lyndsey Layton, national education reporter with The Washington Post, Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, and John Deasy, president -- superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was superintendent of the Prince George's County Public Schools between 2006 and 2008.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation we are inviting you to join by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think that tenure makes it harder for principals to get rid of weak teachers or not? You can send email to email@example.com. Or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. John Deasy, you've been both a teacher and a principal. What's involved in deciding who gets tenure in the first place? And how long does it really take to know whether a new teacher is going to succeed in the long run?
DEASYSo in order to make a good decision about tenure, which is something that I advocate that we should celebrate when a teacher reaches that point, you need a period of time to do exactly what Doug was saying. One, is provide meaningful feedback to the teacher on their performance. Second, is provide support, particularly for a new teacher. I'm just talking about new teachers, not teachers who are experiencing difficulty once they have tenure. And in California, you know, 14 months is simply totally insufficient to be able to do that. It's not an individual decision in California. It's a state law for all districts.
DEASYAnd I would argue that a reasonable process is three years. That is a very reasonable process. During that period of time, you can be able to see if a teacher is getting better each year. You're not the teacher you are five years in as you are in your first year. You want to be able to see a teacher growing and improving. And you want to see basic levels of competence during that period of time. And as we know, most teachers don't teach the very same thing they teach every single year. So it gives the teacher and the school an opportunity over a few years -- not a long time.
DEASYYou don't want to stretch -- in my opinion, you do not want to stretch this out much longer. But a reasonable period of time, I think to do exactly what Doug was proposing, would be very welcomed here in California.
NNAMDIWell, you, the administrators are the ones who sign the contracts with the teachers union. Don't administrators bear some responsibility for granting tenure to low-performing teachers?
DEASYThat is exactly true. In California, administrators do the evaluations and they make the decision in terms of the recommendation for a continuing contract or not around that. However, if the answer is that they do not recommend it, it is actually the board who finally makes that decision, not the principal.
NNAMDIOn to Daniel in Great Falls, Va., who has a perspective -- a unique perspective on this, in a way. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. Hi, to the guests. How are you all this afternoon?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
DANIELSo, just to -- before the debate starts in earnest, I guess, I find very common in these conversations a sort of juxtaposed issue from three different sides. One, the side of the students, and then another from parents and people outside of the education system directly, and then the third is from the teachers. I've spent a little bit of time working as an adjutant professor -- so higher education -- but I do have a lot of friends in the educational industry and who work K-12.
DANIELNow, and they're younger, between, you know, the ages of mid-20s to early-30s. And their perspective on tenure has actually become rather negative. And they're of the opinion that it has kind of chocked-up the system in a way that is difficult for them to find more permanent jobs. A lot of them have to do work as substitute teachers. And they're having a really difficult time, despite their passion and despite their capability and positive peer reviews, to find a more entrenched, permanent position within the industry, let alone a higher paying one, instead of...
NNAMDIAnd how is -- how is tenure affecting their ability to do that?
DANIELKeeping positions that could be filled by better or more qualified candidates, held by those who are a little less capable because of administrative unwillingness or incapability...
PROUTYWell, I'd say that the key here is the real topic, which is what we should talk about, which is evaluation and support and observation. And if you have the mechanisms in place to be able to provide that to teachers, you're also able to identify those who either need support in one way or another or, at the end of the day, can't really do the job they need to do. So tenure doesn't prevent anyone from being observed or evaluated. Tenure just means you get due process once you achieve that status.
PROUTYThe key here is providing resources to school systems and the resources to schools to make sure that the evaluation and observation process happens, and having the climate in place in buildings so that teachers feel supported. One of the other issues here that's going on nationwide is that teachers leave the profession, almost half of them the first five years. And that's a national statistic. So what we should be talking about is making sure we have the best people in the classroom and the support they need to get there.
NNAMDIJohn Deasy, this case argued that tenure violates some students' civil rights because it protects weak teachers who disproportionately land in low-income schools with large minority populations. How do weak teachers end up in those schools?
DEASYI think several reasons. One is that schools where -- those that have been historically struggling, have had a difficult time to attract high-performing teachers. I also see that in those schools you tend to have a sense of churn, so to speak, where teachers leave on a frequently high basis. And over time, which is something that we have ended the practice completely in Los Angeles when I got here, which was forced placement. And that is, teachers were just placed in those schools, because other schools wouldn't accept them. And so those schools became a place that had, unfortunately, a collection of the weaker and lowest performing.
DEASYYou know, your caller made a very interesting point in his argument about how these teachers were feeling was quite clear. But it was also the center of the evidence in the LIFO statute, which was struck down. And that if we are providing teachers meaningful feedback and we are doing a good job of evaluation and support, the failure to use any of that to make a decision about who to keep in when you have to lay a teach off, that was at the heart of what was struck down.
DEASYAnd teachers had very strong opinions about the fact that everything I do simply cannot be counted. The only thing that can be counted is my date and hour of hire. And that's how you have to determine when teachers have to go.
NNAMDIBut is replacing weak teachers in low-performing schools with low-income students and large minority populations, is that enough to turn around those classrooms?
DEASYNo. But it's certainly necessary. It's not decision but it's absolutely necessary. No child, yours, mine or anybody else should be year after year with a teacher who can't teach, period. What has to happen, and I would go back to Doug's point, is that not only do you have to provide the resources. You have to double down on the type of resources you provide in those schools, which is exactly what we've done in another set of lawsuits here in Los Angeles in terms of schools that historically have struggled. And that you provide much more support in those schools to create an environment that is one that is welcoming and supportive for students and adults.
NNAMDIWell, you said that eliminating tenure would give you the chance to, quoting you here, "rectify a catastrophe." Would it be hard to attract and keep good teachers without being able to offer them tenure?
DEASYSo my quote was in reference to the dismissal statutes and the LIFO statute. And I absolutely believe it's been a catastrophe. I believe that when it takes ten years to dismiss a teacher for gross negligence and gross misconduct, that is a catastrophe. And it happened year and year and year and year over year here in California. And that when I have to let teachers go who are doing an extraordinarily good job in favor of teachers who are doing less than extraordinarily good job simply because of seniority, that is a catastrophe.
DEASYAnd I do believe that if the laws were actually rewritten so that there was a reasonable balance between the necessary inappropriate rights of adults and the necessary inappropriate rights of youth, you will do and we will do a much better job serving students who historically had been disserved.
NNAMDILyndsey Layton and Doug Prouty, some people are saying this effort is really about busting teachers unions, which often wield quite a bit of political power in their local communities and in state legislatures. What would the end of tenure mean for teachers unions?
LAYTONWell, I think, you know, Dr. Deasy talks about reforming the laws and writing better balanced laws. But the folks who are funding this legal effort and who are now pushing it out in other states would be really happy without any tenure laws. And, you know, they've said that. So they envision a system without job protections for teachers, which is what we actually have here in the District of Columbia currently.
LAYTONSo, yes, the unions feel like that is an attack on their core mission, which is to protect jobs and to hearken for compensation. Those are, you know, the pillars of the union. And...
PROUTYWell, I'd say that our mission is well beyond that. You know, our job is not to protect individual jobs. It's to move the profession forward and to ensure high quality teachers for every student. So we focus on the bread and butter issues because that is one of our primary responsibilities but we don't end there. We need to, and have for years now, focused on making sure that teachers have the support that they need. And that every student has the best possible teacher in front of him or her in the classroom every day.
NNAMDIHere is Judith in Fairfax, Va. Judith, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDITHThank you. One of the things I wanted to raise is that tenure is one of the ways that we attract good teachers. And if we look at this as an overall picture rather than as the narrow issue of tenure, we should also be looking at teacher's salaries as a way to attract and keep good teachers. And nobody seems to be talking about that.
NNAMDIWell, unions are certainly talking about that, aren't they, Doug Prouty?
PROUTYAbsolutely. And, you know, one of the unfortunate things that happened during the recession is all public services were cut back, including education. And as the recession and revenues are coming back we've been able to negotiate some modest salary increases for our folks. But there's no doubt that the difficulty of the job, the complexity of the job merits better compensation than we have right now. And the compensation's not just in terms of money. It's also in terms of support, the ability to collaborate with your colleagues, the ability to collaborate with administration as well. All of that goes together to make a more positive work environment.
NNAMDIWell, Lyndsey Layton, everything I've read seems to suggest that the public generally support paying teachers more because they're very important. But if one listens to people like Judith, why doesn't it happen?
LAYTONHum, that's an excellent question, Kojo. Um...
NNAMDIWhy is the profession still so -- as in the eyes of so many people still so unrewarding?
LAYTONWell, you know, there's a lot of rhetoric out there about the need to increase pay and, you know, elevate the teaching profession. And from Ernie Duncan on down people talk about this all the time. But when it comes to contract negotiations and municipal budgets, which are always under stress and pressure, we never seem to make a lot of progress. I don't know, does Doug have any thoughts about that?
PROUTYWell, one of the reasons I think education is traditionally underpaid is it's traditionally a female occupation. And unfortunately our country, women have traditionally been paid less than me for the same work or even for different work. So that's one of the reasons why. It's also because we're public employees. And the profits that we generate are not something you can identify on a balance sheet. It's investing in our kids. And it's a long term proposition.
PROUTYAnd there are times when decisions are made that are short term in thinking. And that's one of the reasons why we haven't been compensated perhaps as well as we could've been.
DEASYSo I think actually Doug is spot on in terms of the -- his comments on the broader mission, and that I want to compliment that and add to that. I think one of the dilemma that occurs is that when we talk about increasing compensation, which we should be doing quite frankly vastly more than we're doing now in this profession, it should be the iconic profession of this country. There's no question about that. And we don't have to go through the long list of other countries where that is the place.
DEASYBut one of the things that we're going to have to face is do we just simply give everybody a little bit more or do we provide cost of living increases and invest in teaching in places that has historically been more challenging, teaching teachers who are providing greater services to community schools at home, teachers who are helping other teachers get better? And then differentiating compensation based upon those contributions and those results. And I think that if we were able to strike a balance between reasonably good and balanced laws and compensation, I think you do what Doug is advocating, which is you could substantially and dramatically elevate the profession.
NNAMDIHere is Mateas in Rockville, Md. who wants to talk about his own experience. Mateas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATEASHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me on. Yeah, I just wanted to say, I'm trying to get the masters program they have here at the University of Maryland in the hopes of returning back to my dream school in Walter Johnson. And I'm trying to see how this impact of me having -- being forced to join a union has on my sort of job security. Because I'm new so people who are in unions usually have benefit, only those who are inside. And I don't know how it goes into those who are trying to seek out for the first time to become a teacher. So I was wondering if any of your guests would have any opinion on that matter.
NNAMDIYou seem to think the union might be an obstruction? How do you feel about that?
PROUTYI don't know why you would think so. In terms of the hiring process we're not the ones who do the recruiting and hiring. That's the school system itself, although we try to help them to make sure that we have the best candidates and most diverse pool of folks. But once you are hired then you are part of the union. And we advocate for you in the same way we do for everyone else. And we advocate for probationary and tenured teachers.
NNAMDIAre you reluctant to join a union, Mateas?
MATEASYeah, I am. I'm kind of -- you know, I -- just the fact that I'm forced to do so, I mean, I don't feel like any job should have security behind it because, you know, it kind of does away with, you know, you having to put out a good quality...
NNAMDIWell, let me answer for Doug Prouty, because Doug Prouty would say, but you will happily accept the job protections and the benefits that the union bargained for, won't you?
MATEASNo. I mean, I'm trying -- but if it's a means if I can't get hired in the first place, you know, like because my capital or my income would have to be so high because of the negotiated union then I can't even get the job in the first place because I haven't even started working yet, you know?
NNAMDII'm not sure that we understand the nature of your particular problem, Mateas. But what I am sure of is that we can't solve it for you right now. We've got to take a short break. And John Deasy has to go. John Deasy, thank you for joining us.
DEASYAlways a pleasure. Thank you, sir.
NNAMDIJohn Deasy's superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District. He was superintendent of the Prince George's County public schools in 2006 to 2008. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about tenure for teachers with Doug Prouty and Lyndsey Layton, and you. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Would public schools have a hard time recruiting talented new teachers without the possibility of granting them tenure? What do you think, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're continuing the conversation over the debate over tenure for teachers with Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association and Lyndsey Layton, the national education reporter for the Washington Post. Doug, some people complain that tenure gives teachers a job security that few other workers have. What's the rationale for tenure?
PROUTYWell, tenure is a way of doing two things. It's a way of supporting academic freedom. That's probably more pertinent in terms of the post secondary world, but still pertinent in K-12 as well. It's a way of making sure that you can work with your students in the way that you need to without fear of arbitrary and capricious retribution from an administrator or through a parent.
PROUTYBut it's also a way of attracting people to the profession in the first place. Most college graduates can go into other professions which are higher paying and, you know, quite honestly sometimes not as complex in terms of the work or demanding in terms of the work. So knowing that after a period of time you have the right to due process makes a difference in terms of attracting good people in education.
NNAMDILyndsey, in the last few years, a number of states have weakened their tenure laws. Is that the trend nationwide? Are there any studies that show improved student performance, especially among poor and minority students once tenure has been removed?
LAYTONYou know, I haven't seen any, Kojo. And so it's really -- it doesn't seem like there is a connection at this point that you can make. And it's true, there has -- this has been the trend now for several years in terms of loosening up the tenure requirements, loosening up last in first out rules and also dismissal procedures. Tightening those up to make it faster and make it easier for school districts to get rid of bad teachers.
LAYTONSo really now California is an outlier and there are only five states that have this two-year period where administrators have to make a decision about tenure.
NNAMDIIt's usually a little longer.
LAYTONMost -- the majority of -- 30 something are in this three-year period. But you can't really -- you can't point to results to show that states that went through tenure reform have stronger results for their low-income and minority students.
NNAMDIDouglas in McLean, Va. Douglas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGLASGood afternoon. I taught chess in the district in quite a few schools for 13 years. And quite a few of those years were when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. And I agree with her because I remember teaching in one class with a teacher who was new and could not control the class. And I could not believe that any of those kids were learning very much. And she was fired after just a couple of years at most. And that was a good thing. You have to do that.
NNAMDIWell, I think if you're talking about a teacher that you described as new, unless that teacher happened to be in one of a few states, that teacher, two years on, would probably not be protected by tenure. Right, Lyndsey? Right?
LAYTONWell, Michelle Rhee famously got -- basically got rid of tenure in D.C. and with this impact system that evaluates teachers. So the deal was basically the union signed a contract that accepted the evaluation system and merit pay for strong performers and eliminated tenure.
NNAMDIIt cost one union head his job here in Washington, D.C. Doug, here in this region we've got both extremes. As Lyndsey just described, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee basically got rid of tenure in the district several years ago, while Montgomery County has a strong tenure system. What are the trends you're seeing in our region in terms of either adapting or eliminating tenure?
PROUTYWell, the State of Maryland did extend the term of probation a few years ago to three years. So that was done in order to be able to have a more extended period under which a teacher can be dismissed for any reason. When you're in probation you have no rights to a continuing contract. And at the end of the year the system can say, sorry but we're not bringing you back without any appeal rights really.
PROUTYI think around the region folks are beginning to realize that more and more what we do to support teachers, especially in the first few years, is the most important aspect in terms of developing their craft and making sure that they get up to speed as quickly as possible.
PROUTYSo a number of districts in the State of Maryland are looking at peer assistance review programs. They're trying to put more time and more resources into mentoring to be sure that a situation like was just described -- if someone's struggling with class management, that's something that can be improved. But you have to have people helping you with it. And you have to get meaningful feedback about what's happening in your classroom. Because you can't always see it best yourself.
NNAMDIOn to Brian in Washington, D.C. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANHey, good afternoon. I usually call for the food shows, but this one is near and dear to me.
NNAMDIFood for thought, Brian.
BRIANThank you. (unintelligible) that. Both my wife and I are teachers here in the district. The one thing that I do have to -- we have a school going up here in Brookland. And no matter how beautiful you make a school, there's another component that people are not really talking about, parent involvement and the community involvement. It takes those three, the teacher, the parent and the community to have a successful student and you're not really discussing that.
BRIANThe other one was as far as academic freedom with the no child left behind -- and I know common core is coming in and some of that's changing, but academic freedom was gone and it's hard to get back. My other experience with tenure was, this was in upstate New York a few years ago. I was dating a young lady who got hired at a high school as an English teacher.
BRIANSo in the first three years she volunteered for everything, because I went with her. She was chaperoning dances and field trips and showing up at every kind of football, basketball, soccer game. The minute she got tenure she didn't do a darn thing after that. And her co-teacher -- or her colleague in the room next door had been there for 17 years and he just gave away eight. So I understand that there's certain -- you know, that there's safety in tenure and I agree with safety in tenure, but also, you know, this merit pay and paying for the success of a student cannot fall solely on the teacher, him or herself.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Doug Prouty?
PROUTYWell, I'd say that there is a place for teachers obviously doing things beyond the classroom, and most teachers do. It's part of our contract that you do at least two activities in the evening to chaperone. But I'd say, you know, looking at it in a more complex way, we just started a program called the Career Lattice. It's in effect for next year and it's a way of identifying our best teachers and then rewarding them for taking on additional responsibilities.
PROUTYAnd that's what we should be thinking about in terms of salary, is when folks go above and beyond their normal classroom activities, there's a way to help them do that. Usually it's in terms of projects that help the school and community that are crafted by the principle leadership team and that teacher him or herself. So there's a means of rewarding folks when they get tenure but it has to be done in a way that really is focused on the school and the community itself.
BRIANI just want to speak real quick.
BRIANTeacher training comes into effect as well. I'm finishing up a special ed. certifications here at the University of the District of Columbia. I am given sensitivity training, introduction to urban use. My wife had a masters in special ed. from AU. She had none of that, not a single class about any kind of teaching in an urban setting, nothing.
BRIANSo I mean, teacher training is another thing that has to come into this. And I think that comes down to the evaluation of an administrator who is a hiring a teacher for -- like we keep saying -- a particularly difficult area to teach in.
NNAMDIBrian, was among the things that your date stopped doing when she acquired tenure stopping seeing you?
BRIANNo. I actually I saw…
NNAMDIOkay. Just wanted to make sure.
BRIANOnce I realized that she was a bit more shallow than I cared for…
BRIAN…and I saw her true colors as a teacher -- because I am myself…
NNAMDISo it was a factor in the breakup.
BRIANIt was, it was, it was.
BRIANOnce I saw her shut down for her students, I went, "Wow," yeah, not so much. I was out.
NNAMDIWell, Brian, that's one of the strangest relationship stories I have ever heard. We're going to take a short break. Who knew that would come up in a discussion on debate over tenure for teachers? When we come back, if you'd like to join the conversation, you can still call us at 800-433-8850. Is eliminating tenure the best way to boost public school performance in your view? You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about tenure for teachers and the ongoing debate over that issue with Lyndsey Layton, national Education reporter with the Washington Post, and Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. Doug, the case in California argued that minority students at struggling schools often end up with the weakest teachers. How would you describe the situation here in our region and what's the process for choosing which teachers are assigned to which schools?
PROUTYSo teacher assignments are made by principals hiring them. Teachers are offered jobs by the school system, but then they go around to a number of different places with interviews and it's ultimately the principal's choice. We found in Montgomery County that when teachers leave high-need schools they tend to transfer to other high-need schools. So folks tend to want to work with that certain population.
PROUTYThere are obviously folks who, you know, move to other places in the county. There are the W schools, which we refer to as the, you know, in the wealthier parts of the county. But we have not found a higher concentration of folks who are less experienced necessarily in high-needs schools. It's a matter, more than anything else, of the climate in the school. Teachers want to teach where they feel supported. And that's especially in terms of -- true in terms of how the administration runs the school.
PROUTYIf the administration is collaborative in decision-making, if the support of the teachers, then teachers feel good there and they love working with the kids. Because working with the kids is working with the kids wherever you work.
NNAMDITalk a little bit more about the race and equity issues that this case raises.
PROUTYSure. So part of what's happening here, I think, is the teachers need to be supported in terms of understanding their students. And that's becoming more difficult in some places. Montgomery County, we are now a majority minority county. An increasingly diverse population and a student population. And so we recognize that teachers need cultural competency, they need equitable classroom practices. And so there's a number of different ways in which both the union and the school system are working on these.
PROUTYWe started a graduate certificate program a few years ago with McDaniel College. And it's graduated to cohorts now. And these are folks who are studying equity and race issues in the classroom and then spreading that knowledge to their colleagues. The first cohort that graduated dubbed themselves the equity warriors because they wanted to be the folks in the schools spreading their knowledge and getting other people talking about this and making sure that they can work with their kids in a more competent way.
NNAMDII want to go to Judy, in Washington, D.C., who wants to raise another issue. Judy, your turn.
JUDYYeah, you talked before about supporting new teachers or tenured teachers with observations. And I was -- just wanted to know how, you know, if new teachers are leaving at a great rate, when does observation turn into harassment?
NNAMDIYou know, Lyndsey, how is the growing pressure to hold teachers accountable for student test scores affecting job satisfaction for teachers today? Judy raises the issue of when does observation turn into harassment. Obviously, people have to be feeling some stress, some pressures as a result of this.
LAYTONI think there's great pressure on teachers today. And there's an annual survey that's done. And I'm blanking on the numbers. But it was clear, this year's release, that teachers are feeling a great amount of stress because of this whole accountability rubric that we're living under and the way it's manifesting itself. You know, Montgomery County's peer review system is unusual. Many states are grappling with this problem of how do you identify an effective teacher? How do you fairly evaluate a good teacher?
LAYTONThere are many states that are really having a tough time with that. And that really wasn't addressed in this lawsuit in California. That issue sort of was not discussed. So I think there are a lot of pressures on teachers.
NNAMDISo, Doug, how do you entice teachers to spend their careers at high-poverty schools where there's a constant pressure to raise test scores?
PROUTYWell, there's a constant pressure to raise test scores everywhere. But, I think the way you do it is to give them support in their first few years so that they feel confident, they know they have people they can talk to, to create a community within the school itself, where first grade teachers are working with other first grade teachers to share best practices, where they're meeting to talk about their students, you know, and maybe one teacher has a perspective on a student that the other teacher hasn't thought of.
PROUTYAnd it's helpful in terms of how you teach that particular student. And it's also to make sure that teachers feel, in terms of the community, respected and supported as well. And part of that it making sure that there's mechanisms to do outreach. One of the things that's true in some, you know, communities around high-need schools, is that the parents are working two to three jobs just to be able to maintain their residency there. And so they don't necessarily have the time. But the school can reach out to them.
PROUTYAnd this is one of the things that we're hoping this career lattice will start doing, is getting teachers more involved in the community themselves, which tends to get the community involved in the school.
NNAMDIAnd here are two sides of the argument. I'll start with the first from Katie, who has been a D.C. Public Schools teacher in a high-needs school for five years, says Katie. She says, "As a teacher in DCPS I'm very happy that I work in a district that does not have teacher tenure. It can be demoralizing for effective teachers to work in an environment where ineffective teachers, protected by tenure, are allowed to continue to work year after year.
NNAMDI"Not only does the work of ineffective teachers lower student achievement, their presence can create toxic, nonproductive work environments for other teachers." And then there's this from Dan, in Centerville, Va. Dan, your turn.
DANYeah, the biggest problem with all this discussion that you're having today is that there are zero studies that prove there's a need for any of this, but that the achievement gap is 100 percent socioeconomic. So what we're doing here is we are, little by little, monetizing the public Education system so we can sell new products to ineffective teachers and ineffective schools, tablets and teaching programs and textbooks and other things.
DANWhen the reality is almost 100 percent of the studies on the achievement gap say that it's socioeconomic. And I think earlier they indicated that there's no proof that this teacher tenure attack has made any results. And I'm guessing that over the long term it won't make any results because the achievement gap is the income gap.
NNAMDIAnd so, as we pointed out earlier, as Lyndsey pointed out, we know of no studies so far. Presumably, there will be studies forthcoming that look in more detail on this issue. But, Lyndsey, I wanted to get back to an issue we were discussing earlier. People complaining that this lawsuit challenging tenure was funded by a Silicon Valley mogul, who hired super star lawyers and then found willing plaintiffs on both the right and the left. Who supports the abolition of tenure and what's their future game plan?
LAYTONWell, I know that Students Matters is…
NNAMDIThat's Michelle Rhee's organization.
LAYTONNo. Actually that -- this is the one that brought the lawsuit.
NNAMDIOh, yeah, what's…
LAYTONStudents First is Michelle's.
NNAMDIStudents First. I know both had Students in their names, right.
LAYTONI know. We need a variation on these names. But Students Matter is the group that funded this challenge. And they got support from the Walton Foundation, you know, the family that controls Wal-Mart. And also the Broad Foundation. Eli Broad is a big Education reformer in California and nationally. So, you know, these are groups with interest to -- they're pushing a lot of the same Education reform agenda that we see -- that we've seen come up in the Obama administration.
LAYTONThe idea of expanding school choice and promoting charter schools and, you know, weakening tenure laws. It's all sort of part of the same agenda. So that's -- those are the actors that are behind this effort. And you're right, they hired a fantastic legal team, Ted Boutrous and Ted Olson. They were the legal team behind the U.S. Supreme Court victory that allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California. So they're very prominent.
LAYTONAnd they also have a fantastic media relations firm that was promoting their efforts. So a lot of money and a lot of people who are really muscular in the Education debates behind this effort.
NNAMDIOn to Mark, in Washington, D.C. Mark, your turn.
MARKHi. I just wanted to bring in the international perspective because you asked a very important question about whether these attacks on teacher tenure, whether there's any evidence that it improves the quality of Education. And in fact there's evidence to the contrary. The countries that do better than the United States in all of the international standings, Finland, Canada, Singapore, they have much stronger tenure and job protection laws than the United States.
MARKSo I think that when you scratch the surface it seems like the proposal to change these laws is primarily political. And is not about improving the quality of Education. Doug has listed a lot of things that actually improve the quality of Education that the union is championing. Tenure is not the problem.
NNAMDIDoug, care to add to that?
PROUTYWell, I think that's exactly right. You know, it's a matter of the status of the profession itself. And the countries that Mark cited, teachers are held in a different regard than they have in traditionally in United States. And part of being able to attract the best people is to have a profession that's, you know, looks attractive to the best and brightest coming out of colleges.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. On to Fred, in Falls Church, Va. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDThank you, Kojo. Just shortly on the other question that was asked, in Finland, you have to be in the top third of your high school class to go into Education. But I what wanted to talk to was costs and teachers' salaries. And the reason the teachers' salaries are low -- at least in large part -- is that the money for schools and teachers' salaries comes from taxing the property taxes.
FREDAnd so the politicians, to get elected, want to keep the taxes low, whereas at a -- like a meeting we had Sunday at our church afterwards, was on incarceration of students. And students that get incarcerated and put in jail, it costs a lot more money to do that. So if we put more money into Education, and keep kids out of incarceration, it would actually be cheaper.
NNAMDIWell, that's been another ongoing national debate for a long time. And the side you're on seems slowly to making some advancement, in fact. But I want to go to an email from David. "Why do teachers, who seem to constantly complain of their lack of respect in our society and who mostly have a two-month vacation every summer, need tenure? No one else uses this. Why should they?"
PROUTYI think that, you know, we've talked about the reasons why tenure is important to the profession overall already. You know, there is a perception out there that teachers leave school at 2:30, 3:00 o'clock and have two months in the summer. The fact of the matter is teachers are working very hard every day with their students. And it is, by study, shown to be the profession that has the highest number of most complex decisions, aside from that of air traffic control, in the country.
PROUTYSo we're expected to do a lot. We're expected to instruct. We're expected to -- and most importantly, have high, you know, positive relationships with our students. It's a difficult stressful job, but it's also rewarding because you get to work with great kids every day.
NNAMDILyndsey, please go ahead.
LAYTONI think, though, that in this economy that sentiment really does resonate with a lot of people. You know, when everybody out there is hustling and there's not a lot of job certainty. They look at teachers and they wonder why do you have, you know, a permanent job status when we're just trying to get by and trying to survive. So I do think there's a lot of public sentiment that supports that question.
NNAMDIThe California judge says the state's tenure laws will stay in place while the California teachers' unions appeal his decision to the state Supreme Court. But this case has clearly reverberated across the country. Are other states likely to review their own tenure laws now, in light of this ruling, Lyndsey?
LAYTONWell, I don't know that they're going to review them. I know that there's a short list that the folks who are promoting this effort in California, they've identified several other states. Maryland is one of them. Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Minnesota, those are states that they've identified as ripe for a similar legal challenge. And there was even a lawmaker in New Jersey last week who invited this law firm, Boutrous and Olson, to come out to his state and get to work right away.
NNAMDIIf Maryland is one of the states that's likely looking at this, then it looks like you may have a fight on your hands.
PROUTYWe've already been in lots of fights recently about lots of different things. Most importantly about evaluation and what it means for teachers and how you best evaluate folks in the classroom. And we've always contended that you have to base it on direct observation, as well as multiple measures of student achievement. And that's what we do.
NNAMDIPerry, in Reston, Va. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYAll right. Thank you, Kojo. I've actually changed my question a bit. What I called for originally was answered almost. The question now is that are we putting the cart before the horse, in the sense that we got the top down, coming from the government, of what the core teaching (unintelligible) and all of that.
PERRYAre we in a situation where because we're so competitive globally now that we're teaching information that may be factually correct, maybe not relevant 20 years from now? So should we be maybe trying to Educate kids how to think critically and creatively instead of just getting the right answer to a…
NNAMDIThat's a whole other curriculum question that is a topic for another broadcast, which I don't think we have the time to get to -- into on this one, but we'll certainly keep that in mind. Doug Prouty, thank you for joining us.
PROUTYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIDoug is president of the Montgomery County Education Association. Lyndsey Layton, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDILyndsey Layton is national Education reporter with the Washington Post. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. Our engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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