A bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, that would eliminate tenure for Missouri teachers, is expected to come up for a committee vote Wednesday.
NEA has issued an action alert to members to contact their representatives about the bill which, ironically, is sponsored by a man who spent four years as a classroom teacher.
The following is taken from an NEA legislative update mailed Monday night:
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee is expected to vote on the latest proposed HCS for HB 628 (Scott Dieckhaus) on March 16. The draft HCS would still eliminate teacher tenure and place all currently tenured teachers on three year contracts and all other teachers on one to three year contracts at the district's discretion. Teachers would have still have a right to a hearing before the board if the district seeks to terminate the contract early, but teachers would have no expectation or right to renewal once the one to three year contract has expired.
The Association strongly opposes the latest HCS version of the bill. Teacher tenure is not a guarantee of a job, just a process to address issues of concern and ensure teachers are not fired arbitrarily. Where districts face challenges with under-performing teachers, the real issue to address is establishing a quality evaluation system that provides teachers with feedback and support in improving performance and addressing concerns.
Proponents of the bill have made it sound as if there have been hundreds or thousands of cases in which poor teachers have remained employed, year after year, because anguished officials cannot remove them due to tenure.
And while it is always easy to come up with an isolated incident in which a poor teacher has remained in the classroom, almost always due to lack of action by an administrator rather than the tenure system, no one has been able to point out any systemic failure.
Tenure in Missouri is also much different than it is in other states. In this state, it is not a matter of teach two years and you receive tenure. In Missouri, teachers have to be in the classroom for five years and then are awarded tenure on the first day of their sixth year. Certainly five years is long enough for any competent administrator to determine if a teacher belongs in the classroom.
And those five years have to be with one school district. After I began my teaching career with four years at Diamond Middle School, I went to work at Joplin South Middle School and had to begin the countdown for tenure all over again. I received tenure on the first day of my 10th year as a teacher.
Even that does not guarantee lifetime employment. If a school district wants or needs to remove a teacher, it can be done. All tenure guarantees is due process and unlike the horror stories that those attacking public schools have continued to cite over and over, this is not a process that takes years and is not worth the hassle. It generally takes one hearing and if the administrator is able to document the problems with the teacher, that teacher is gone.
Critics of tenure and pay scales that favor experience and advanced degrees, which would be allowed under Dieckhaus' bill, cite sob stories of gifted young teachers who are shown the door because school districts cannot get rid of older teachers. When cutbacks are made, the last teachers hired are generally the first to be let go, and it is true that some good teachers lose their jobs. That point cannot be argued. The idea that these teachers are losing their jobs so incompetent teachers can remain in the classroom is a myth.
Since when has experience been a liability? Only, it appears in the minds of Missouri legislators. What we will see if Dieckhaus' stab in the back for his former teaching fraternity becomes law is a Wild West attitude where cash-strapped school boards will avoid making the hard decisions that need to be made by taking the easy way out and removing the teachers who have given the most years of their lives to educating children.
Dieckhaus' pay scale, which seems to come from a cross of Dickensian and American Legislative Exchange Council beliefs, would divide teaching staffs and create the kind of school atmosphere that would be least conducive to learning. As I wrote in the March 8 Turner Report:
The four-tier system proposed in the Dieckhaus and Cunningham bills would be a nightmare. Under this plan, every school district in Missouri would have to divide its teachers into four tiers. The teachers whose students score the lowest would receive the lowest pay, with the second tier receiving more, the third tier an even greater total, and then the fourth tier receiving 60 percent more than those in the third tier.
Even if all of the teachers are capable, the tiers would be required, and the bill even offers an elaborate tiebreaking system to determine who goes in what tier.
This system does not take into consideration many things.
First, the cost. Right now, our students are only being tested in a few areas, math, reading, and some science. We would have to come up with costly tests for the other disciplines.
Second, the students themselves. In my first year at South Middle School, I was lucky enough to get nearly every well behaved eighth grader in my English classes, while the other teacher received the nightmare. It wasn’t anything that happened on purpose, but under the kind of system that is being proposed, I would have been rewarded, unfairly, for dealing with ideal students, while my fellow English teacher would have been relegated to a lower tier.
Teachers should be responsible for students’ scores and a continuing pattern of poor scores obviously needs to be addressed, but the teachers are only one of the factors, albeit an important one, that goes into the success of students.
If the students do not receive proper reinforcement at home or do not have the proper attitude when they go into the schools, the teachers already have two strikes against them. As much as the current crop of so-called educational reformers like to blame everything on what goes on inside the classroom, the learning experience is not limited to the school.
Having teacher pay decisions based almost entirely on standardized test scores is also guaranteed to continue the transformation of our schools from places of learning, which they have continued to be despite the recent wave of negative publicity, to test preparation factories.
Dieckhaus' bill is one more step in the drive to destroy public education and to punish teachers in successful school systems across the state for the years of administrative incompetence in the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts. The cost of this bill, a carbon copy of which is sponsored by public education enemy Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, in the Senate, is far more than any perceived value presented by Dieckhaus or the bill's other proponents, including Speaker of the House Steve Tilley.
The steps taken by legislators to portray Missouri teachers as incompetent, overpaid failures has been a disgrace. To see a former schoolteacher leading the charge to cripple those in public education is particularly hurtful.
Scott Dieckhaus should be ashamed of himself.