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October 24, 2014

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Memo from Carson City:

Are teachers getting tenure too soon?

Debate arises as state officials try to improve education system

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

John Oceguera

John Oceguera

In the acrimony over how to improve education in Nevada comes this argument: Teachers win job security, called tenure, long before their mettle in the rough-and-tumble world of classroom instruction has been sufficiently tested.

The law allows tenure to be granted within two years of a teacher’s employment in Nevada. The Sun has found that, over the past five years, 95 percent of new teachers in Clark County were granted tenure after just their first year in the classroom.

The Washoe County School District wants to put the brakes on granting job security so quickly. The district, which serves Reno, is asking the 2011 Legislature to pass a bill to make new teachers wait at least three years before earning “post-probationary,” or tenure, status.

The bill would also make it easier to fire teachers and administrators during those three years.

Washoe County, over the past five years, has given tenure to 88 percent of its teachers after one year.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said only two other states offer tenure to teachers after one year — Hawaii and Mississippi.

The majority have a three-year system.

“A three-year period is the appropriate amount of time to make that tenure decision,” he said. A one-year decision forces “snap judgments” that he said are not fair for either teachers or students.

Bonnie Parnell, former chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee and former Nevada Teacher of the Year, had a visceral reaction to the numbers of teachers who get tenure after just one year on the job.

“Eww.”

“I don’t think any teacher is really able to show in the first year what they’re capable of,” she said. “Three years is a good time to observe whether they understand what’s expected of them, the demands of the job, whether they’re enjoying it.”

Nevada’s tenure law requires three evaluations in a teacher’s first year by an administrator. If the teacher is deemed “satisfactory” in all three, the administrator can recommend to the district that the teacher be granted tenure. If the teacher receives an “unsatisfactory” in one of the evaluations, or if the administrator wants to eyeball the teacher some more, the teacher is put on a second year of probation. At the end of that second year the administrator either recommends tenure or the teacher’s contract is not renewed.

Tenure has been the outgrowth of an idea that educators should be protected from arbitrary dismissal by changing school leadership or political trends.

Teachers and administrators say tenure at the K-12 level is different from that enjoyed in higher education, where it’s virtually impossible to fire tenured professors. Instead, defenders of the K-12 system say it’s about setting up due process rules to protect teachers’ rights.

The Clark County School District says it has fired 32 tenured teachers over the past five years for misconduct that includes theft, falsifying an application, falsifying student records and threatening a supervisor or co-worker.

It has not offered contracts to 171 probationary employees over the past five years because they came up short on their performance evaluations. The School District has had just over 18,000 licensed personnel each year for the past four years.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has called for an end to teacher tenure altogether, as has Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said one year was not sufficient to evaluate a teacher.

“For so many years, we had to hire virtually every teacher the district could sign on,” she said. “Now we need to fix the system.”

The discussion on tenure reflects a larger pushback from public officials against the perceived strength of teachers and their unions. President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” grant competition forced states, including Nevada, to change laws and allow test scores to be linked to teacher evaluations.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the system works and ineffective teachers can and should be removed if they can’t improve — even after they earn tenure. “We don’t protect bad teachers,” she said.

Warne blamed administrators for waiving the second year of probation too often.

“The process that is in place is a good one,” she said. “Unfortunately, administrators do not practice and apply those procedures correctly.”

The Clark County School Administrators Association executive director, Stephen Augspurger, sees this bill as part of the larger trend to blame teachers and administrators for poor student performance, even though there is no evidence to make that link.

“What we currently have in place works well,” he said. He challenged the significance of 95 percent of first-year teachers getting tenure.

“How often should it happen?” he asked. “If it was 80 or 70 percent, would that be better? I’m not sure that’s a legitimate way to judge the system.”

Firing ineffective teachers is considered such a cumbersome process that some administrators avoid it altogether, educators say.

Steve Hill, past chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce who serves on Sandoval’s transition team, said educators should be treated like other employers.

“Like any pool of people holding a job, some are great, some are adequate, and some shouldn’t be in that job, or not allowed to continue in the job without being retrained,” Hill said. “That’s what happens in every other occupation in the country.”

Hill said the chamber members “feel that tenure is something that should be earned after a longer period of time at a minimum and potentially be not used as a concept at all.”

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  1. What the Hell does Steve Hill know about education,teaching or anything else closely related to schools. He wants cheap, illegal alien labor in all occupations. Allow the illegals from south of the border to continue to invade Nevada, that is all the COC is really driving for.

  2. Nevada does not produce college graduates, let alone teaching candidates.

    You cannot attack the profession (taking away security and compensation) and expect outsiders to want to relocate.

    To do so is to make sure Nevadans remain a permanent underclass.

  3. When a popular Governor and a Speaker of the Assembly with support from both parities want the same thing expect it to happen.

  4. "Firing ineffective teachers is considered such a cumbersome process that some administrators avoid it altogether, educators say."

    Spot on.

    The vast majority of teachers in Clark County love the kids they teach and are good at what they do.

    So why do we waste so much time and money protecting people who are not cut out for one of the most important professions?

    The 'straw man' argument, that somehow every teacher would be fired if not for the current onerous process of protecting those who should not be teachers is pure sophistry.

    If a teacher can't teach, or won't do their job, they need to move on. Putting up hurdles, like TWO YEARS of 'probation', is insane!

  5. "The Clark County School Administrators Association executive director, Stephen Augspurger, sees this bill as part of the larger trend to blame teachers and administrators for poor student performance, even though there is no evidence to make that link."

    Is this quote right?

    Did a union boss just say there is no correlation between how good the teachers and/or principals are and whether or not the kids learn?

    And you wonder why we have a problem.

  6. I see NO PROBLEM with 3 years to tenure.

    That said, the BLAME GAME is indeed being played at a very high level here.

  7. Ideally there should be no tenure. But to compromise 3 years to earn tenure is a start (college professors take 5-6 years and even then only about 1/3rd earn tenure).

    After that tenure status should be awarded on a 3 year contract basis based on the rolling average of value added student achievement (3 years helps smooth out bumps in case of a single bad year behind the teacher's control).

    Yes administrators should also be held accountable.

  8. Clark and Washoe can probably recruit any teacher they want, provided that they pay market rates. But the rural counties have problems getting teachers. How many people are going to relocate at their own expense to the middle of nowhere, where the prices for almost everything are higher, and where you have to drive for hours to get to a city large enough for you to buy what you want? And then, be faced with the cost and expense of looking for a new job elsewhere just in case you might not get tenure?

    The big point is that Tenure/no tenure/when tenure should not be a matter of State law. It should be decided by the local school districts who know what they need and can act more quickly and sustain their efforts longer than a Legislature that meets for 120 days every two years.

  9. I wonder if they thought about the rough neighborhoods, where surviving is more important than learning. A good example is in the movie The Substitute. I haven't heard of how they expect a child to learn especially if they just don't want to.

  10. Understanding The Problems Our Schools Face
    http://cc-nsc.com/?page_id=569

    This squabbling between the reps of different entities with absolutely no willingness to understand or compromise is exactly why the system doesn't work and won't work. This is not a new problem. This is a problem spanning back 3 decades in Nevada.

  11. Do away with Tenure all together. There are thousands of qualified teachers that would love a job in any area of the CCSD.

  12. "Do away with Tenure all together. There are thousands of qualified teachers that would love a job in any area of the CCSD."

    People don't want to live in Vegas. I'm younger and single so I would, but people who are not from Vegas do not want to raise a family in "Sin City."

    I have applied to teach Chemistry next year and CCSD informed me that for the entire county I am in a hiring pool of 12 yes TWELVE qualified people. So you are 988 short of just ONE thousand.

    Do away with tenure and keep attacking the profession and you think you have bad teachers and low performance now????????????

    The idea of those who can't... teach.... or anyone can teach.... well with the way the government is attacking teachers soon you all will see how untrue those statements are.

  13. As a person who had a rigorous elementary and secondary school education at "Union Free School District No. 1" in New York, and as a person who benefited from an excellent public and private education through the doctoral level, I must reiterate my view. The Clark County School District is the second-worst public school district I have ever encountered. I believe that teacher and professional administrator tenure is a significant contributor to CCSD's abject failures.

    I have watched as two young women who are family members, one very bright and one a special education student, have battled their way through CCSD's uncaring bureaucracy. Both of them have encountered teachers who are illiterate, venal, demeaning, racist, incompetent or who simply didn't give a darn about discharging their duty to teach these kids. The number of bad teachers they have encountered is far greater than they number of good, caring teachers. UNIFORMLY, ALL OF THE ILLITERATE, VENAL, DEMEANING, RACIST AND/OR INCOMPETENT OR INDIFFERENT TEACHERS WERE TENURED TEACHERS.

    The number of helpful, responsive, accountable "professional" school administrators in the CCSD who our family and our students encountered can be counted on one hand. ALL OF THE UNHELPFUL, UNRESPONSIVE, UNACCOUNTABLE PROFESSIONAL ADMINISTRATIONS WERE TENURED.

    In contrast, Union Free School District No. 1's students were the children of factory workers and tradesmen. So good was the school system, in each graduating class of 1200, at least 10% went on to Ivy League or equivalent colleges. Bad teachers did not receive tenure. Tenured teachers were still under the thumb of very stern, demanding principals who could fire them with little cause. The teachers produced excellent results "or else". I will never forget the leader of our high school's math department who was tenured. She came to school hung over on a Monday. She was terminated by Wednesday of the same week.

    Since CCSD is a profoundly failing school system, and since the vast majority of Nevadans who are employed are at will employees, I see no reason why teacher tenure should not be abolished entirely. Each tier of the education hierarchy should be free to terminate his/her subordinates without cause, i.e. at will employment of administrators and teachers.

    Nevada's teachers and administrators will never be meaningfully accountable for their actions and inaction unless tenure is abolished and until each parent is entitled to take 100% of his child's pro-rata share of state funds for primary and secondary education in the form of a voucher, and spend the voucher at a school of his or her choice. As "customers" and "voters" all of us know that we are free to take our patronage and our votes elsewhere if we are displeased. Nevada's parents must be given that same opportunity to punish bad teachers, bad administrators and bad schools by taking away pupil driven revenue.

  14. After I read all of the education-jibberish and excuse-filled comments" from teachers, I re-focused on the following story content:

    "The Clark County School District says it has fired 32 tenured teachers over the past five years for misconduct that includes theft, falsifying an application, falsifying student records and threatening a supervisor or co-worker.
    It has not offered contracts to 171 probationary employees over the past five years because they came up short on their performance evaluations. The School District has had just over 18,000 licensed personnel each year for the past four years."

    Obviously, neither the story's author nor any of the commenters realized what CCSD has admitted. In the last 4 years, NOT ONE TENURED TEACHER WAS FIRED FOR INCOMPETENCE, LAZINESS OR ANYTHING ELSE SHORT OF CRIMINAL CONDUCT. Not even 1 out of 18,000. That should have been the headline of the story.

    Lazy, burned out, and incompetent teachers, who may have been "just swell" when granted tenure while young, ARE just kept in their jobs or shuttled from one campus to another.

    Governor Sandoval is right. Abolish tenure.

  15. Cynical moron: There are 18,000 employees. In the last 4 years, how many of those 18,000 were up for tenure? A great majority of employees are already tenured. I'm sure with this budget issue and dropping population there has been some level of hiring slowing or hiring freeze. That means even LESS are up for tenure finishing up their 1st or 2nd year.

    It does not mean 18,000 people are granted tenure every year. Whatever system you came out of obviously did not teach you reading comprehension very well.

    When you were making 6 figures during the boom you laughed at the teachers for making a pittance. Now those 6 figure jobs have dried up, you bought a 300K house you had no business buying, and you are unemployed, defaulted, and angry the teachers still have jobs.

    Sounds like sour grapes to me.

    -JD

  16. I also do not understand how Nevadans attack the teachers so easily when the parents are uneducated and do not care about school. They don't force the kids to show up, study, or expect them to go to college. From what I've read in this paper, 80% of Nevada is not college educated. The high school attempts to prepare a student for college, not for work.

    Our schools are not geared toward vocational training. Kids who are 17 and not going to college simply do not care about Economics, Chemistry, Literature, or Calculus. So how will those kids behave in those classes?

    If you're going to attack the teachers, you need to start fining and imprisoning the parents.

    If the student has poor attendance, discipline issues, and under 2.0 GPA, you get a ticket similar to a traffic violation every semester. If there is a 3rd offense, how does 15 days in jail sound?

    "Shared sacrifice!"

    But no I do not expect the public to go for that! That's too close to home! Should I blame myself??? It cant be ME?!?!?! But who to blame??? Easier to blame.... SOMEONE ELSE! It can't be MY fault??? Yea that's much better! I need someone faceless and easy to blame... hmmm..... Something everyone can go along with and agree with......

    It's the SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!