San Jose Teachers’ Contract Offers Leadership Pathways
Note: in November 2012, Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) released the policy report “Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways.” The following post is the second in a series of profiles showing how California teacher leaders are beginning to develop and follow diversified career pathways. California teachers, and our peers around the nation, are looking for opportunities to innovate and lead in our field, but without having to leave the classroom. Our argument is that educational leadership will improve the more its carried out by those still in the classroom, and that students will benefit from having more accomplished educators remaining the in classroom rather than taking on entirely non-teaching positions.
Breaking new ground in California, San Jose Unified has adopted an innovative teacher evaluation process that gives teachers a role in reviewing their peers and greatly revises the current – and some say outmoded – method of measuring teacher success.
The new system would deny automatic raises to unsatisfactory performers and give evaluators the option of adding another year to the probationary period for new teachers – a provision at odds with the state teachers union. Bucking a national trend, the new system will not use standardized test scores as a direct measure of performance.
The school board approved the contract, two years in the making, Thursday night. Seventy-two percent of San Jose teachers endorsed it, with three-quarters of teachers in the union voting, earlier this month.
The agreement offers a model of collaboration between teachers and a district at a time when unions, school reformers and district leaders in California remain sharply divided over how to change the state’s largely ineffective evaluation law, the Stull Act, and who – teachers or the school board – should have the authority to determine what an evaluation system should comprise.
“Teachers, in concert with the district, have created something that puts teachers in the center of what happens with student achievement. There is the recognition that professional development is important, and so is student growth. The teacher’s voice is heard once again,” said English teacher and San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas.
“To assist teachers to grow as professionals, it was important that management and the union work together,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We believe it will lead to greater student achievement.”
The new evaluation system won’t take effect for two years, and not all of the pieces are in place. A salary ladder that incorporates higher pay for model and master teachers will rely initially on outside funding that the district must now pursue.
This contract, and the manner in which it was crafted and negotiated, provides yet another example of how the teaching profession is changing for the better in some places. As in examples featured in prior blog posts – Algebra Success Academy and the peer evaluation work in San Juan Unified – San Jose is showing that good ideas and good labor-management relations can yield progressive and innovative reforms that don’t require strong mayors, misguided legislation, or federal coercion. While the dominant narrative in the country is about teachers being disprespected and disempowered, it is important to highlight the success stories. We need to complicate rather than oversimplify the story of teaching in America, and provide models and encouragement to all stakeholders looking to escape cycles of dysfunction and blame while building on shared interests in better teaching and meaningful, mutual accountability.
The San Jose contract was already in the works when Accomplished California Teachers published a policy report on teacher compensation and career pathways, but the description of their contract aligns quite closely to the policy recommendations in our report, Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways. We hope that teachers, adminstrators, unions and school boards around California will keep an eye on San Jose, and download our report. It’s likely that the San Jose contract will not work out perfectly, will not run as smoothly as hoped and will not solve every problem it seeks to remedy. But with patience and realistic expectations, the teachers and district have a strong likelihood of making progress in improving teaching and learning.