Former California Superintendent Responds to TIME’s Cover

3 minute read

This is one part of a series of readers’ responses to this week’s cover.

Everyone on every side of Vergara agrees that nothing is more important to K-12 education than effective teachers. And most teachers and every teacher union leader I have ever spoken with about the topic agree that California’s teacher tenure laws are highly flawed. Unfortunately and despite these agreements, there has not been the political will to reform these dysfunctional laws and we are left to litigation as a means to correct a system doesn’t serve students or teachers well.

Virtually every year in my thirty-four years of service as a school leader in California, I was faced with the requirement to decide if a teacher was to receive “permanent” status after only fifteen months of work as a novice. This decision had to be made with the knowledge that once “permanent” it was virtually impossible to remove an ineffective teacher unless he or she engaged in truly egregious behaviors. Sometimes, we released promising teachers who had not quite met our standards but might have if given a longer probationary period and additional support. Sometimes, particularly in specialty areas where there is a shortage of teacher candidates, we allowed teachers to be granted permanent status even though we hesitated more than a little when we asked ourselves the question “Would you want your own child in this teacher’s classroom?”

In tough economic times, when California schools were forced to layoff teachers, teachers and administrators agonized as some of our most hardworking and enthusiastic teachers received “pink slips”. Weak teachers, even teachers on remedial “improvement plans” remained in their classrooms. And schools in low income, challenging environments experienced damaging high turnover as young teachers were “pink slipped” year after year.

Most school administrators, most teachers, and many union leaders agree that these problems need to be corrected. It is unfortunate that the politics of the California legislature, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have made it impossible to reform California’s tenure laws. It is too bad that it has taken a court challenge to shake this tree, but I am thankful that the tree has been shaken.

In search of more perspectives on TIME’s cover?

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, responds here.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, responds here.

Christopher Ciampa, a teacher from Los Angeles, responds here.

Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association, responds here.

Courtney Brousseau, a high school senior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., responds here.

Billy Easton, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, responds here.

Educators from the Badass Teachers Association respond here.

Stuart Chaifetz, a New Jersey parent, responds here.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at