This article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 21, printed September 2005.
Prop 74 is an attack on teachers' job security. It claims to improve the quality of education in California by lengthening the time it takes for a teacher to get "tenure" (permanent job status) from the current two-year period to five years. Only two other states have such a long probationary period. This would be for a new teacher who has already been a student teacher in three different classrooms without pay, and studied at least a year after graduating from college to get a teaching credential. It would take a college graduate at least six years to get a permanent job.
Affects all teachers
But the initiative affects all teachers, not just new ones. Prop 74 makes it easier to fire long-term teachers. If any teacher gets two "unsatisfactory" evaluations in a row, he or she is out with no recourse. A principal can rate a teacher "unsatisfactory" because he or she doesn't like the organization of the classroom bulletin boards or the way the teacher handles non-teaching "extra duties." The teacher evaluation isn't just focused on teaching skills or student education.
In many ways, the teacher evaluations prevent good teaching. The principal has a checklist of all the components of the textbook manufacturer's program that the teacher must follow -- from "quoting verbatim from the teachers' guide" to displaying a required set of "high frequency" words arranged on a designated wall according to their sounds.
Teachers who are pressured to display every component of the textbook company's program have little time to pay attention to the individual needs of students. (And note that these programs are designed by business people with something to sell, not by teachers or experts in child development.)
No chance to improve
Teachers get no chance to improve under this proposition. Currently, districts wanting to fire teachers must first give them three months' warning that they need to improve. Prop 74 abolishes this and also does away with the process called "peer assistance and review." Under the current law, a permanent teacher who does not become "satisfactory" can be let go after two years of coaching.
When an administrator does not have to worry about due process rights, he or she can go after any teacher for any reason. Gay and lesbian teachers, union activists, or anyone who tries to exercise academic freedom will have no chance to prove discrimination. Since teacher pay increases with length of service, principals in schools with "site-based budgeting" will be motivated to fire long-term teachers just to save money. It will mean less experienced teachers in low-income schools.
The agenda here is not to improve education, because Prop 74 does not do that. It is part of a general attack on workers' job security.