On Education

On the Vergara Trial:

People across the country are upset, reasonably and unreasonably at times, about the fact that it is often nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.  And we do need to make it easier to fire bad teachers, I agree with this.

Unfortunately much of the rhetoric around failing schools and the shouts of CRISIS! come from a number of groups who are looking to capitalize off of the privatization of public education.  They talk about reform and firing bad teachers, but they mean to make money by dismantling public schools.  This is very dangerous for our country.

The Vergara trial,which was in the news this week, targeted what is often mislabeled as ‘tenure’ for public school teachers.

An important note – public school teachers in elementary, middle and high school positions don’t get tenure.  University professors get tenure.  Public school teachers achieve permanent status after a period dictated by contract.  I think that this is an important distinction to make because permanent status is something common in all public employment.  Attorneys working for the state and law enforcement officials have job protections under something much more similar to teachers than to college professors.  Calling this a discussion of ‘teacher tenure’ is inaccurate.

In terms of the trial: You can read about the trial itself here and here and the opinions of the group running the trial, Students Matter, here. The plaintiffs in the case argued that bad teachers not being fired violated student’s rights, while teacher advocacy groups argued that there is much more to the picture than just teacher job protections.  The judge ruled for the plaintiffs, saying that teacher protections are unconstitutional because they violate children’s rights to an adequate education.

However, just firing bad teachers is not going to change the face of education.  As the New York Times argued this week the biggest problem we have in the US is recruiting and retaining top tier candidates in teaching.  What people don’t seem to understand is this: There isn’t a line of highly qualified teachers standing outside in the hallway, just waiting to take over these tough jobs in LA Unified, or anywhere in the country.  Firing off the bad teachers doesn’t improve education.

If you want to look only at education and not the bigger picture (we have a problem with how our country treats poor people), then at the least what we need to do is make the profession of teaching as honorable and desirable as we like to say we think it is.  Raising salaries, recruiting top candidates, changing the way our society views teaching and making the job more attractive will improve education in a way that simply firing bad teachers can’t.