This week, the California Senate Education Committee will hear testimony to determine the fate of AB 1220, the Teacher and Student Success Act authored by Assemblywoman Shirley N. Weber. This bill is important for many reasons.
It ensures that every California student, including the many immigrant students whom I teach, has an effective teacher. And it sets up a system where public school teachers in our state have the time and support they need to earn the professional distinction of tenure.
As California scrambles to fill teacher vacancies, update classrooms to reflect 21st century skills, and ensure academic success for one of the most diverse student populations in the nation, now might seem like the absolute worst time to institute any changes that could possibly distract the public school system from such vital work. In fact, I argue there is no time like the present to implement systemic change that would benefit all students in California and especially students of color and from low-income communities.
I know firsthand that teacher quality and effectiveness are the most efficient way to close the achievement gap and ensure educational equity for our students.
Step one in guaranteeing that California students have the best teachers possible is addressing our state’s tenure practices. Current guidelines grant new teachers tenure, or “permanent status,” at the conclusion of their second year. More often than not, the March 15th “pink slip” deadline forces school administrators to make that determination after just 18 months of classroom instruction – a woefully short period of time to attain mastery.
California is one of only five states with such an abbreviated timeframe for a teacher to be granted tenure.
As a high school teacher with 14 years’ experience, an adjunct professor in the CSU Stanislaus teacher credential program, and a mother of two public school children, I think there is no time like the present to ensure we start taking steps to recruit, train and retain the highest quality teachers for our students. Extending the period for earning tenure makes sense for teachers, students and parents.
New teachers will have more time to develop their craft and benefit from the support of administrators and veteran teachers, administrators will be able to take more time in determining if a new teacher is worthy of the protections tenure and due process have to offer. Most importantly, our students will be taught by effective teachers.
AB 1220 accomplishes this, but we must ensure the bill includes a reasonable amount of time – three years – to earn tenure, and that tenure decisions are only made after a teacher has demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom. Instead of dwindling the pool of teaching candidates, this will help attract talented men and women into the profession who are committed to quality teaching and who view tenure as a truly earned professional milestone.
Every student in our state should have a teacher of the caliber we’d all want for our own children.
For my entire teaching career I have been a proud local, state, and national dues-paying union member. As a vocal advocate for immigrant students, I am confident that tenure and due process have protected my ability to stay active in advocating for educational equity.
While some have argued otherwise, rethinking California’s tenure rules is not an anti-union stance. AB 1220 is a commonsense measure that sets up our teachers and students up for success. We must continue the conversation about strengthening the teacher tenure process. I strongly support AB 1220 and urge the rest of the Senate Education Committee do to the same.
Lindsey Bird is a teacher at Grace Davis High School in Modesto and coordinator of the Language Institute, a specialized program serving immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking high school students in California’s Central Valley. She is a Teach Plus California Teaching Policy Fellow.