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California bill would give teachers more time to earn tenure

File: Teacher Cherie Wood leads her kindergarten students through an alphabet song at Willard Elementary School in Pasadena, two weeks into the school year, on Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, 2016. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A California lawmaker who says schools do not have enough time to make teacher tenure decisions announced a bill on Tuesday that would give teachers additional years to prove they deserve permanent status.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber's proposed legislation would give public school teachers up to five years to earn tenure, a permanent status designation granted after a probationary employment period. The current two-year process is too short and not flexible enough, said Weber, a Democrat from San Diego. If a school district doesn't grant a teacher tenure within two years, the teacher typically cannot get a second chance in the district.

Weber's bill would make teachers eligible for tenure after three years, and school districts would have the option to give them another year or two. Districts would have to provide additional mentoring and support to fourth- and fifth-year teachers not granted tenure.

Most states have a longer, more substantial process to determine whether a teacher should be given tenure, Weber said.

In California, the tenure process is essentially automatic for most teachers, said Bootsie Battle Holt, a math teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District.

"Extending the timeframe for tenure gives educators an opportunity to show that they are proficient in their craft, rather than showing that they have just lasted in the classroom for a short period of time," Battle Holt said at a news conference Tuesday, flanked by more than a dozen other teachers supporting the bill. "Tenure should be an earned benchmark granted after an adequate amount of time for a teacher to demonstrate effectiveness."

Weber said she doesn't know if the bill, AB1220, will affect how many teachers are tenured, but she said it will make the tenure process more meaningful.

"One of the things that it will affect is the confidence that we have made a good decision in the end," she said after the Tuesday news conference. "It will be a process rather than just simply, you've survived."

The California Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers unions in the state, has not yet taken a position on the bill. But the organization's president, Joshua Pechthalt, said the union will likely oppose it.

The legislation could be detrimental by keeping bad teachers in schools longer, he said.

"If a teacher is not capable, you don't want that person in the classroom," Pechthalt said, adding that the bill "doesn't really get at the issue at hand, which is ensuring that (a new teacher) has constant feedback, and that can happen in two years."