Open Letter to Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent

Mr. Torlakson,

Good morning, you’ve no doubt heard that the existing tenure situation was ruled unconstitutional yesterday.

I myself was tearing up as I read the brief. For my entire career, I’ve felt what the court realized yesterday, and my relief and joy nearly made me weep during my meeting.

Mr. Torlakson, you’re currently “farther up” in the education chain of command than I–a lowly teacher–so it’s been a while since you’ve sat in a staff meeting or observed stinky teaching by a tenured “permanent” teacher.

It’s probably been even longer since you watched a stinky teacher make more money than you. For me, that memory is fresh.

Anyway, let’s talk about education.

In the court briefing:

“… teachers themselves do not want grossly ineffective colleagues in the classroom.” (page 13, line 1)

If I were in your position, posed for reelection, I would be tempted to please the California Teacher’s Association (one of my biggest supporters) in order to secure my seat in November.

I’m asking that you focus on the students instead. Our students deserve great teachers, and as State Superintendent, you’ll have the proper pull to drive the design of a system where great teaching is rewarded. This would help flush out the dummies and keep the hard-working professionals.

I hope you see that, by encouraging teachers to be our best, we place the students first.

In short, I’m a teacher, and my right to a job matters less than my students’ right to a quality education.

Mr. Torlakson, please support this court ruling in the next few months and continue to reform teacher tenure after your (probable) reelection in November.

~Matt Vaudrey

UPDATE June 25, 2014:

P.S. No doubt that by now, you’ve read the highly polarized brief from the CTA website, you’ve heard complaints that the “1-3% of teachers are grossly ineffective” statistic is unfounded on any data or studies, and you’ve seen that Students First is hailing the decision as an important step, with many more to address going forward.

Two things:

  1. As a classroom teacher, the “guesstimate” of 1-3% of all teachers are grossly ineffective is not only statistically likely, but it sounds pretty generous based on my anecdotal experience.
  2. The CTA press releases are full of negative language and the Students First releases are full of optimism and urgency. Why do you think that is?

2 thoughts on “Open Letter to Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent”

  1. I will continue to follow you for your math ideas, but this post makes me terribly sad. Check out Finland, where the teachers are great. They have a tenure system to protect them.

    I agree that it would be great to be able to lose the worst teachers. I don’t think taking away teachers’ rights will achieve that, though.

    1. Re-read the post. The term I use is “reform” not “take away teacher’s rights”. Charter schools with no union [generally] aren’t any better than those with strong ones.

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