Terrible tenure

Palo Alto High principal Phil Winston was being investigated for sexual harassing students and teachers when he stepped down nine months ago, parents learned last week.  He’s now co-teaching special education students at a middle school.

According to a notice of “unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance,” Human Resources Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers ordered Winston to refrain from “profanity, sexual comments and innuendo, and derogatory terms;” avoid physical contact with students and employees; and undergo sexual harassment prevention training. He was also encouraged to seek counseling to help him understand “appropriate behavior boundaries.”

It was too difficult to fire him, reports the Palo Alto Weekly. “In California, the law makes it so expensive and onerous to terminate a credentialed teacher that most districts decide not to even try.”

Ninety-eight percent of California teachers attain tenure, known as “permanence,” after two years, writes Larry Sand in Terrible Tenure in City Journal. Are 98 percent so good they should have jobs for life?

Beatriz Vergara

Beatriz Vergara

A group of nine students is challenging the state’s permanence, seniority, and dismissal statutes. They argue they’ve been denied equal access to good teachers. Superior Court judge Rolf Treu will issue a ruling in Vergara v. California by July 10.

“If the students prevail, several union-backed statutes will be eliminated from the education code and declared unconstitutional,” writes Sand. “It would then be up to each school district to come up with its own policies on tenure and seniority.”

Nationwide, low-income and minority students are less likely to be taught by highly effective teachers, concludes a Center for American Progress report.

In the last 10 years, 91 permanent teachers out of about 300,000 (.003 percent) were fired in the state. Only 19 (.0007 percent) were dismissed for poor performance.

Only 2 percent of Indiana teachers “need improvement” and less than on-half of one percent are “ineffective,” according to a new teacher evaluation system that’s raising eyebrows.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Okay, okay. The rules and regs mean there’s nothing they can do about it, so they have to let the guy keep victimizing kids. I got it. Not their fault.
    How does that comfort or convince the parent trying to decide about public vs. private vs. home schooling?
    How about, “I see there’s nothing you can do about it, so I’ll let you have my kid, too, seeing as it’s not your fault, and all.”
    That one doesn’t fly.

  2. SuperSub says:

    Argh… correct me if I’m wrong someone, but this has little to do with traditional tenure and more to do with union manipulation of laws and contracts regarding the firing process. My understanding of tenure is that it does not protect against criminal acts or inability to fulfill professional duties, so it would not apply in this case. Instead, it is the asinine legal process that has been negotiated by unions and employers that leads to these situations… a legal process that extends beyond the educational community and to other unionized industries that do not have tenure.

    We had a teacher in our district that was arrested for drug possession and use a few years back. In the end he resigned with two years paid leave and a small payoff by the district. Tenure didn’t do that, the union-and-administration negotiated contract did.

    Tenure has a purpose. It protects the science teacher in Kansas who discusses evolution. It protects the English teacher who uses Huckleberry Finn. It gets a horrible rap, though, every time it is linked to these criminal cases.

  3. Peggy Jacobs says:

    Whose idea was it to put the ex-principal in special ed? A guy with a record of abusing his authority is now overseeing the most vulnerable students in the district. It’s probably because that way he has a co-teacher, but I still don’t like it.

    • dangermom says:

      I think sometimes they do that to try to annoy the person into quitting–either that or they’re hoping the more vulnerable population won’t complain, I don’t know which, but it’s pretty dang evil.. My niece had a teacher who had gotten in trouble for anger management issues (that is, she was downright abusive and the school knew it). They couldn’t fire her very easily, so they pushed her down into *younger* classes. She was teaching 3rd grade. Apparently they hoped she would get tired of it and retire already, which she didn’t until the usual time. My niece homeschools now.