Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some of My Thoughts on "Tenure" in K-12

From posts at the closed Facebook group Badass Teachers Association:

The 14th amendment I believe has to do with the right of due process. If teachers as a group don't wake up and understand that ALL qualified public employees have the right to an administrative hearing--covered by administrative law--and that signaling out teachers is actually illegal and disparate treatment from other public employees, they are going to lose the battle. You would think lawyers like David Boies would have some understanding of what administrative law is in part FOR. I suspect Gates or some other billionaire has bought him off.

Understand you DON'T have "tenure" no matter what your unions or your state call the right to an administrative hearing, which is NOT required if you are terminated since you can opt for a severance package. You have NOTHING in common with college and university faculty. The right to a hearing has NOTHING to do with the fact teachers give grades or have to deal with parents. You DO have everything in common with public employees like police and fire personnel, who also have the right to an administrative hearing if they so choose it. It's an outgrowth of civil service protections that have been around for over a century. It's designed to prevent favoritism by supervisors like principals.

You have to make this argument because it is FACT. You have to seize the framing of the issue. Private employees don't have the same right because they don't work for the government. That has to be clear. It also has to be clear that all teachers and other public employees actually have is an extra step in the termination process. However, it is easily gamed by school districts, which is a national scandal, since they often operate above the law (note the situation with Superintendent Pedro Martinez of Washoe County School District in Nevada as a reference despite the fact he isn't covered by "tenure").

In many if not most school districts in the United States, principals are allowed collective bargaining rights and have union representation which should be ILLEGAL. Taft-Hartley was not designed to make supervisors more entrenched, more powerful, than they are by virtue of being supervisors. Allowing principals collective bargaining and unions makes a mockery of what collective bargaining and unions are all about. Now to respond to somebody who makes the argument that principals don't actually "hire" and "fire" teachers and other employees because a superintendent or board actually "signs off on it," that is just smoke and mirrors. A superintendent and board do not evaluate the teachers, they do not "investigate" the teachers, they do not write "recommendation for dismissal" letters, they do not conduct interviews, they do not actually hire personnel. Many upper-level managers and even executives sign off on personnel matters. However, that doesn't mean they are directly involved in them. Principals are managers or administrators, to use the public sector term for managers. They should not have special protections like unions and collective bargaining. Those are only for the rank and file, the people on the lower end of an organization, in order to level the playing field in labor-management relations. If principals were not allowed the right to collectively bargain or form unions or have "tenure" rights, the abuse of teachers would be far more rare.

Because the reformers don't understand the outrageous power imbalance between teachers and principals and frankly don't care, the real issue gets buried. Teachers have few or no protections from principals regardless of your state outside of a few urban districts like NYC, and even there, principals still have unchecked power and almost ironclad job security.

The situation of teachers forced out is made even more secret when teachers MUST sign gag orders in exchange for a severance agreement pre-hearing, or, if they sue in civil court and settle there pre-trial. This is why the public hears very little about teachers forced out of the system although it is commonplace. Only teachers or former teachers like me who didn't know of our legal rights or "lost" our cases and haven't signed off on gag orders are free to talk about it. Since we are relatively few in number, the public thinks we are just a bunch of bitter people who don't know what we are talking about. We do.

The teachers who really DO deserve termination for serious misconduct or criminal acts are a minority of those terminated. Most of us were kicked to the curb to protect higher-up administrators who screw up or just don't want us around or want to save money on salaries and pensions.

Finally, principal/administrator power is further entrenched in order to make sure the terminated teacher never again works in education thanks to teacher job application questions which force teachers to blackball themselves under threat of license sanctions if they lie. It is an uphill battle for any teacher who tells the truth on an application and checks off "yes" to the "have you ever been dismissed, forced to resign, resigned in lieu of dismissal, non-renewed" to make the cut for an interview. I believe those questions should be regarded as illegal blackballing of former employees in order to deny them teaching jobs in the same or other states. Ditto for "do not rehire" designations for any teacher who has not committed any kind of offense deserving criminal or license sanctions.

ALL of these facts need to be out there for public consumption. I don't see any of the real issues being talked about in this "debate" over something teachers don't have and never have had.

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