Educators Debate Length of Teacher Probationary Period
La Cañada Unified passes resolution in support of increasing teacher probationary period from two years to three Several other local districts are considering similar action.
How long does it take to recognize whether a newly hired teacher is a long-term asset?
That is the debate currently moving through five local school districts where board members are considering resolutions in support of increasing the teacher probationary period from two years to three, angering unions who contend the move would unfairly keep new-hires in a state of flux.
The discussion started within the Five Star Coalition — a consortium of neighboring school districts, including Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, South Pasadena and La Cañada — and has since moved on to individual districts. In May, the La Cañada Unified school board passed a resolution in support of the change. The remaining districts are slated to reach a decision in the coming weeks.
At the heart of the debate is how much time, and what types of support, newly-hired teachers need to develop and demonstrate their abilities in the classroom. It also reflects a larger, national dialogue about education reform that includes funding, seniority, teacher evaluations and dismissals.
New teachers in California work under probationary status for two years, after which time a district can either fire them or make them a permanent employee, a position that is far more difficult for administrators to cut.
Some argue that the existing timeframe is not enough to make a decision that will impact a generation of students. Lay-off notices must go out by March 15, leaving administrators just 18 months to give a new teacher the green light or the boot, they say.
Last year, state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) authored legislation that would have expanded the probationary period. Both bills eventually stalled, but the call for change has not.
While there is a small percentage of hires on either end of the spectrum — instant standouts or obvious flops — most need additional time and support to show what they can really do in the classroom, said Glendale High School Principal Deb Rinder.
“I think the most important [decision] a principal will make is who they decide to keep on their team,” Rinder said. “The research will tell you that the biggest impact on student achievement is a good teacher. And as a principal, I take that challenge very seriously. That teacher will affect 150 kids a day for the next 30 years, so I don’t enter into that decision lightly.”
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