Thursday, October 27, 2005 | California’s children deserve the best education. Teachers are the key. Proposition 74 is the best way to provide every student with a great teacher. Titled “Put the Kids First,” 74 focuses on a simple question: Should school districts replace teachers who are letting students down?

Republicans and Democrats say yes. Both John Kerry and Al Gore called for reform of tenure systems that protect teachers at the students’ expense. Addressing the Michigan Teachers Association in 2000, Gore argued for higher standards for teacher tenure saying school districts should act quickly to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom within the context of due process protections.

Similarly, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports Proposition 74, which sets the same high standards for teachers that we expect of students. Today, teachers receive virtual lifetime employment after two years. Proposition 74 requires teachers prove themselves for five years and gives districts the ability to remove teachers with two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations based upon collectively bargained criteria.

California schools give teachers lifetime employment faster than 38 other states. Unions argue that such job protections without accountability for performance are necessary to address teacher shortages. Sadly, that presumes teachers enter the profession due to promises of easy job security.

That’s simply not true. Great teachers enter the profession because they care about kids. Any suggestion otherwise degrades the profession and attacks every teacher’s integrity!

The truth is two school years (which actually turns out to be less than 18 months) is not enough time to evaluate a beginning teacher. It puts union interests before student achievement. Proposition 74 puts kids first, requiring new teachers spend five successful years in the classroom before achieving tenure. That’s an approach rooted in academic research and worthy of public support.

According to a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, first-year teachers do not perform as well as their colleagues. With experience, teacher performance improves dramatically, peaking in their fourth year. Proposition 74’s five-year probationary period gives every teacher a fair chance to succeed.

Additionally, under Proposition 74, teachers would have input into their evaluation system and full due process protections – local teachers would actually help create the system. Teachers receiving two consecutive, unsatisfactory performance evaluations would be subject to removal at the district’s discretion.

Conversely, the current system is expensive and detrimental to students. School attorneys say it can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to document all the specific instances of poor behavior required to prove that a teacher should be replaced.

While Sacramento union leaders attack reform, their local counterparts know better. In 1998, former Glendale Teachers Association president Chuck Sambar wrote, “Good teachers do not need tenure. Poor or incompetent teachers use it to protect their jobs. Tenure also gives weak school administrators a ready excuse not to get rid of poor teachers.”

Proposition 74 does not abolish tenure, but asserts that the entire profession is tarnished when bad teachers are protected at the expense of students. If due process is the union’s concern, voters should know Proposition 74 wouldn’t prevent a teacher’s right to appeal their firing to an administrative hearing, the superior court and ultimately the court of appeal.

When the dust settles and political attacks stop, who really pays if Proposition 74 fails? Students who do not receive the education they need pay dearly. Teachers deserve honor which Proposition 74 delivers, but earning tenure should be based on excellence, dedication and consistent performance.

With Proposition 74, California’s great teachers will earn the respect they so richly deserve. More importantly, students will receive the education they need to become productive adults.

Margaret Fortune, a Democrat, is chair of the Yes on 74 Campaign and is on leave as the director of the Governor’s Initiative to Turn Around Failing Schools.

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