Instant Tenure for Teachers

Here's a really bad idea: Make it even harder to weed out ineffective teachers.

California teachers unions are pushing a bill, SB 1968, that would give tenure to new teachers after two years — and it's really more like 18 months — unless the district can show cause to dismiss the novice.

A two-person panel, one from the school board and one from the union, would hear appeals. In other words, new teachers who aren't very good but aren't outrageously bad will get tenure because it would be too complicated to get rid of them.

And they'll be there forever with no incentive to improve.

The Sept. 11 Excuse

In possibly the stupidest exploitation of the Sept. 11 attack, New York politicians and unions are trying to block the opening of new charter schools. John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal:

"Democratic legislators and state teacher unions are pushing the argument that the attack's aftershocks on the state budget should block the opening of any new charter schools — independent public schools that operate with more flexibility and freedom — for two years. 'Charter schools drain precious resources from public schools,' says Assemblyman Paul Tonko, an upstate Democrat."

New York charters get 70 percent of normal school funding.

Learning English

News flash: Immigrant students taught in English learn English a lot faster than students taught mostly in their native language. Results are in from California's new statewide English Language Development Test:

"Twenty-five percent of English learners in specialized immersion programs statewide scored high enough to be considered fluent. Nine percent of students in bilingual programs, receiving some instruction in their native language, scored at the same level."

Students waived into bilingual classes tend to speak less English and come from poorer families than those in English immersion, say bilingual ed defenders. That accounts for some of the difference in results. But not all.

The test also shows that districts are slow to reclassify students as fluent: While 24 percent of "English Learners" tested as proficient in English, only nine percent were moved out of the program.

California Gets Wimpy on Failing Schools

Three years ago, 430 low-performing schools in California were given more state money to fund improvement. The schools were supposed to show progress or face a state takeover. Now the state is wimping out, reports the Sacramento Bee:

"The state quietly has lowered its performance demands and expanded its penalty options for the 122 campuses that declined in student achievement last year and are subject to seizure if they repeat that dismal showing this year.

"Put simply, a school could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money, see its test scores fall each of the past two years and still not be taken over by the state or see a single teacher or administrator transferred."

Lowering the improvement criteria should drop the number of sanctioned schools to three dozen this year. That's still more than the state education department is prepared to handle. Most failing schools will face a "soft sanction." A team of education consultants will write an improvement plan and advise on implementation. Soft, yes. But where's the sanction? Where's the accountability?

Bush's "No Child Left Behind'' law demands that high-poverty schools show improvement or lose Title I federal aid. The feds will have to hang tough on accountability. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Inner-City Churches Become Schools

With the help of vouchers, tax credits or privately funded scholarships, inner-city churches are preparing to educate poor children, according to Tamara Henry of USA Today.

"Inner-city Christian churches across the nation are quietly opening their own schools and making other preparations for an expected flood of neighborhood children who may soon have government dollars to pay for their special brand of private education.

"The churches are taking charge in some neighborhoods because congregations and ministers are convinced that public schools neglect local children and because they believe students are more likely to succeed academically if they receive religious training."

Henry cites a security guard who sells his blood four times a month to pay the difference between full tuition and his son's privately funded scholarship to Christian Academy of San Antonio.

Junking Science

When scientists try to debate pseudoscientists, they tend to get slimed by little green men from UFOs, writes Lawrence Krauss in the New York Times:

"Although it is probably true that there is far more that we do not know about nature than that we do know, we do know something! We know that balls, when dropped, fall down. We do know that the earth is round and not flat. We do know how electromagnetism works, and we do know that the earth is billions of years old, not thousands ..."

Only some of us don't know. Scientific literacy remains low. According to a National Science Foundation report, 70 percent of American adults do not understand the scientific process. The NSF survey found that 60 percent believe in psychic powers and 30 percent think UFOs are space visitors. Half think early humans co-existed with dinosaurs.

Oh, and we're importing increasing numbers of foreign-born scientists and engineers.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer.  Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school.  She's never gotten a dime from Enron.