At itsÂ heart, the landmark June 11 Vergara ruling in California superior court was a decision in support of the notion that every child has a constitutional right to an excellent teacher.
In finding California’s teacher tenure laws and “last in/first out”Â seniority rules unconstitutional, the judgeÂ found that such provisions create inequities in our schools that often leave our most vulnerable students with the leastÂ effective teachers.
But these are alsoÂ policies thatÂ don’t serve the modern teaching profession very well. A system thatÂ gives advantagesÂ to educators basedÂ solely on the time they’ve put in and not on their performance leaves little room, or incentive, for teachers to grow in their classrooms.
That’s whyÂ California educators and others across the country shouldÂ seize thisÂ momentÂ as the blank slate opportunity it is — a chance to recreate policies that support students in their learningÂ and teachers in their own professional growth.
On the one hand, this means rethinking how we make tenure a meaningful milestone and how we instituteÂ fair,Â effective evaluation policies so that schools can objectively make personnel decisions based onÂ effectiveness.
But another key piece of this conversation should focus onÂ the roles we think teachers can and should play in their schools in leading their peers to better student outcomes. For too long, teaching has been a solo sport, conducted behind closed classroom doors where some naturally excel but where most work day in and day out with untapped potential. InÂ order to realize the more equitable school systemÂ called forÂ inÂ the Vergara ruling, we need schools where great teachers are given the incentive to stayÂ and where their talents can be replicated across many more classrooms.Â After all, high poverty schools aren’t just losingÂ great teachers to “last in/first out” policies. They’re losing them to frustration and more attractive opportunities.
Creating new avenues for advancement, along with additional training in the management skills required of effective leadership, can help reverse this trend.
Districts shouldÂ commit to creating leadership paths for teachers that keep them in their classrooms but provide them additional responsibilities and compensation that serve their schools at large.Â Studies have shown that many teachers who left the profession early in their careers would have stayed had they seen some upward mobility. There is no better way to ensure a more equitable distribution of talent than to retain our best teachers and help support others in the realization of their potential.
RightÂ now, theÂ only professional milestone for most teachers, particularly thoseÂ who want to stay in the classroom,Â is tenure.Â Teachers should have the opportunitiesÂ to embark on careers whereÂ they are recognizedÂ for and able to leverage their impact. Their success in these roles, ensured by strategic investment in their skill-development, willÂ shift the focus fromÂ whether or not we’re ableÂ to fire ineffective teachers toÂ whether we’re doing everything we can to keep our best.Â The courts have given us a chance to do better and we should take full advantage.
Jonas Chartock is the chief executive officer of Leading Educators, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that works with districts and schools to train classroom teachers in leadership and management skills.
[Cross-posted at Hechinger Report]