White: High standards limit teacher tenure

John White
John White

Relatively few public school teachers will earn a form of job protection called tenure in the future because Louisiana’s new standards are “uncompromisingly high,” state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday.

“The law is set up such that only the best of the best get tenure,” White said.

The superintendent made his comments during a webinar to discuss teacher evaluation changes that he plans to recommend to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.

How roughly 55,000 teachers are reviewed annually is in the midst of sweeping changes as the result of a 2010 law.

In addition, annual job evaluations will be linked to tenure starting in the 2013-14 school year.

White said that, among other changes, he wants teachers that make up the bulk of those reviewed to get more detailed information on their performance from principals and others rather than a simple “effective” label.

Those at the bottom — they are called ineffective — will face dismissal proceedings if they get that label two years in a row.

Those at the top are called highly effective.

Under White’s proposed changes, teachers who finish in the 80th percentile — that means their students did better than 80 percent of their peers — would be rated as “highly effective” rather than the current requirement, which is the 90th percentile.

Backers say those in the 80th percentile are doing outstanding work.

The previous law allowed teachers to typically become tenured after three years if they got satisfactory job reviews.

White noted that more than 98 percent did so.

But a law enacted last year, and pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, requires future teachers to be rated as “highly effective” for five out of six years to earn tenure, which is supposed to protect educators against arbitrary dismissal.

“I would say that the bar for achieving highly effective makes tenure a reward for the ultimate high performer,” White said.

“It is for most teachers something that we hope that they achieve but a bar that is not often going to be achieved,” he said.

White noted that, in higher education, tenure “is perceived to be an extremely prestigious award” whereas such awards were “barely noticed” when public school teachers got the designation.

Opponents of the new tenure law have charged that the change was aimed at all but eliminating tenure for future public school teachers.

“It confirms exactly what we said, ” Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators and a stern critic of the new tenure and teacher evaluation methods, said.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the new teacher evaluation rules are “uncompromisingly incomprehensible” and that White’s latest round of recommended changes points up problems.

“I think we have a train wreck on our hands as far
as evaluations,” Monaghan said.

White said the changes, which BESE is expected to approve, are aimed at making teachers more effective, and will help students master the more rigorous classes set to begin next year here and in most other states to improve college and career readiness.

He said they are based on input from teachers, principals, town hall meetings and advisory panels.

The superintendent said he wants to:

The other half will be linked to the growth of student achievement for some teachers and slightly different methods for others.