Friday, October 31, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Frank Bruni: The trouble with tenure

FrankBruniW

By
From page A6 | August 21, 2014 |

DENVER — Mike Johnston’s mother was a public-school teacher. So were her mother and father. And his godfather taught in both public and private schools.

So when he expresses the concern that we’re not getting the best teachers into classrooms or weeding out the worst performers, it’s not as someone who sees the profession from a cold, cynical distance.

What I hear in his voice when he talks about teaching is reverence, along with something else that public education could use more of: optimism.

He rightly calls teachers “the single most transformative force in education.”

But the current system doesn’t enable as many of them as possible to rise to that role, he says. And a prime culprit is tenure, at least as it still exists in most states.

“It provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice,” he told me last week. “It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’

“It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.”

I sat down with Johnston, a Democrat who represents a racially diverse chunk of this city in the state Senate, because he was the leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado. To earn what is now called “non-probationary status,” a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

The law is still being disputed and has not been fully implemented. But since its enactment, a growing number of states have chipped away at traditional tenure or forged stronger links between student performance and teacher evaluations. And the challenges to tenure have gathered considerable force, with many Democrats defying teachers unions and joining the movement.

After a California judge’s recent ruling that the state’s tenure protections violated the civil rights of children by trapping them with ineffective educators in a manner that “shocks the conscience,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, praised the decision. Tenure even drew scrutiny from Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show “The View.” She repeatedly questioned the way it sometimes shielded bad teachers.

“Parents are not going to stand for it anymore,” she said. “And you teachers, in your union, you need to say, ‘These bad teachers are making us look bad.’ ”

Johnston spent two years with Teach for America in Mississippi in the late 1990s. Then, after getting a master’s in education from Harvard University, he worked for six years as a principal in public schools in the Denver area, including one whose success drew so much attention that President Barack Obama gave a major education speech there during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Johnston said that traditional tenure deprived principals of the team-building discretion they needed.

“Do you have people who all share the same vision and are willing to walk through the fire together?” he asked.

Principals with control over that coax better outcomes from students, he said, citing not only his own experience but also the test scores of kids in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City who attend the Success Academy Charter Schools.

“You saw that when you could hire for talent and release for talent, you could actually demonstrate amazing results in places where that was never thought possible,” he said. “Ah, so it’s not the kids who are the problem! It’s the system.”

When job protections are based disproportionately on time served, he said, they don’t adequately inspire and motivate. Referring to himself and other tenure critics, he said, “We want a tenure system that actually means something, that’s a badge of honor you wear as one of the best practitioners in the field and not just because you’re breathing.”

There are perils to the current tenure talk: that it fails to address the intense strains on many teachers; that it lays too much fault on their doorsteps, distracting people from other necessary reforms.

But the discussion is imperative, because there’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about.

We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.

Johnston frames it well.

“Our focus is not on teachers because they are the problem,” he said. “Our focus is on teachers because they are the solution.”

— The New York Times

Comments

comments

New York Times News Service

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Gardner guilty of murder, with special circumstances

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    State superintendent makes campaign stop in Davis

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Bob Dunning: Lawn display causes a theological crisis

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Couple killed in Yolo County crash

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Same-party races challenge incumbents

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    State races test one-party rule

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A2

     
    Meet Poppenga at Saturday reception

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Indians celebrate Diwali with gala on Sunday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Rairdan dinged for late report

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

     
    Veterans will tailgate at ‘Salute to Heroes’ game

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Wolk hailed for environmental votes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Yamada honored for leadership on aging issues

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Embroidery group meets at mall

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Local artisans featured at holiday craft fair

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Got bikes? Donate ‘em!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Kids walk for friends at Birch Lane

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Explorit: Creep out with some spooky science

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A4

     
    Shambhala offers Tai Chi class

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Bones for Life classes offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Bet Haverim will hear Israel update

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Enjoy wine, music and art at Sunday fundraiser for DHS choir

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Forum

    New-school cheating on the smartphone

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Garamendi, Dodd get my votes

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

     
    High hopes for Sunder

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Public service is in her heart

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    A calm, thoughtful voice

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Sunder is a perfect fit

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Best predictor is past behavior

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Vote for students, with Tuck

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    My choices on Tuesday

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Sports

    Blue Devil girls net an easy win at Grant

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie offense A-OK; now what about defense?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    In Davis, rugby is as American as apple pie

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    DHS plays undefeated Pacers Friday night

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
     
    Niemi’s 43 saves aren’t enough in loss to Wild

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    Calling all artists for upcoming show

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    ‘Birdman': A dark comedy that soars

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11

     
    DHS Madrigals host singing workshop

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

     
    Marcia Ball to play at The Palms

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big, capable luxury defines Yukon

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Joseph Francis Gray

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, October 31, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6

     
    .

    Real Estate Review

    Featured Listing

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER1

    Professional Services Directory

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER2

    Lyon Real Estate

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER3

    RE/Max Gold

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER4

    Kim Eichorn

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER5

    Susan von Geldern

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER6

    Team Traverso

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER6

    Yolo FCU

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER6

    Juan Ramirez

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER6

    Tracy Harris

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER7

    Susan von Geldern

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER7

    Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER8

    Julie Leonard

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER8

    Joe Kaplan

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER9

    Melrina A Maggiora

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER9

    Coldwell Banker

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER10

    Leslie Blevins

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER12

    Julie Partain

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER12

    Robin Garland

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER13

    Jamie Madison

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER13

    Diane Lardelli

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER13

    Karen Waggoner

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER14

    Jamie Madison & Associates

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER14

    Lisa Haass

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER14

    Ciana Wallace

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER15

    Travis Credit Union

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER16

    Malek Baroody

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER17

    Marcelo Campos

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER18

    F1rst Street Real Estate

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RER20