Naturally enough, teachers' unions are opposed to Proposition 74, which would extend the probationary period for new teachers from two to five years.
We were surprised to learn, however, that school administrators are also divided - some supportive, some opposed to the measure. They have a range of reasons.
Some administrators, such as Nichols School principal Gloria Evosevich, think there's no need to extend the waiting period before granting tenure for new teachers.
She believes the existing law gives alert principals all the leeway they need to urge a weak novice to consider another profession.
At a glance
The intent of Proposition 74 is to extend the time school districts and principals have to evaluate new teachers before they must lock them in to tenure. Although the tenure system could be improved, flaws in this proposition might make it harder to dismiss a teacher on probation. This measure misses the mark.
Other administrators complain that 18 months is too soon to make a judgment about a teachers' career. And once a poor teacher is granted tenure, taking action is very difficult.
However, flaws in the wording of Proposition 74 leave these administrators worried that the proposed "solution" might tie their hands when trying to dismiss new teachers before their probation ends.
We think children would be helped by the right reform. Firing a tenured teacher in California is too time-consuming and too expensive. But we should be careful to find the right way to reform tenure. It plays an important role in allowing teachers to set high standards in the classroom and resist meddling by over-protective parents who know how to pull strings.
The Association of California School Administrators executive director Bob Wells reports his group is split and will remain neutral. That should worry voters.
Wells sees 74 as a distraction in the fight to improve California schools.
"Firing a few ineffective teachers will only help a little," he said. Bad teachers, he thinks, make up less than 1 percent of the total. In the next five years, 20 percent of California's public school teachers are retiring and they will have to be replaced.
The bigger problem, in his estimation, is money.
Association of California School Administrators
New testing programs like STARS and API give California one of the best programs in the nation for creating accountability and setting uniformly high academic standards.
"There's a disconnect," he says, because California still spends 20 percent less than average on each student, creating crowded classes and shortages of teaching material and buildings.
Distraction or not, each of us will have to make a decision on Proposition 74.
Right now, California law gives administrators a free hand, during the first 18 months, to get rid of a new teacher who isn't shaping up. The amateurs who drafted Proposition 74 failed to consult those in the trenches, such as Wells and Evosevich, and what they drafted may well tie administrators' hands even if it gives them more time to look at a probationary teacher.
We think a "no" on Proposition 74 is the wisest vote.
- Lodi News-Sentinel