Coming Together for Progress in San Jose

by Students Matter

New York City Education Commissioner John King announced on Saturday that teachers in New York City public schools will adopt a new evaluation system based on 60% principal observation and 40% student performance measures. The new system came out of a lengthy standoff between the New York City Department of Education and the teachers union that cost the city’s students hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal and state funding and left both sides feeling bruised.

But on the other side of the country, administrators and teachers are coming together with understanding, open minds and one shared goal: progress for students.

Last week, San Jose Unified School District adopted a landmark teacher accountability system that reflects the growing desire among educators and administrators alike to put politics aside to simultaneously elevate the profession of teaching and improve student achievement.

The new system reflects the growing consensus among teachers around the state that skilled educators and leaders know when a teacher is struggling, that struggling teachers need opportunities to improve, and that great teachers deserve opportunities for advancement.

The three-year agreement between the San Jose Teachers Union and the District establishes new positions of “model” and “master” teachers who will take on additional responsibilities of evaluating their peers. The pay scale for San Jose teachers will now top out at $122,278 for a master teacher with 30 years of experience, reflecting the skill required to be a great teacher and offering pathways for advancement that keep teachers in the classroom. These opportunities come with additional accountability. Under the agreement, teachers who are rated as inadequate will lose their yearly raise, and if they fail to improve for multiple years they will be subject to dismissal.

The progress in San Jose shows that teachers can and should be can be brought to the table to develop an evaluation system based on shared values and goals. In an interview with KQED, President of the San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA) Jennifer Thomas acknowledges that nearly everyone agrees the current statewide standards for evaluating teachers in California are “fundamentally inadequate.”Thomas discusses how the union worked with its membership to develop a system built on trust and the shared goal of student achievement. San Jose was able to overcome the controversy surrounding evaluations by directly address their concerns. The agreement was approved by 72% of teachers who voted.

Watch Jennifer Thomas talk about the collaboration between the teachers union and the District.

The San Jose system shows what can happen when educators collaborate with districts to create an accountability system to benefit students.

However, California state law is holding back forward-thinking districts like San Jose.

California law currently requires administrators in every district in the state to grant or deny teachers permanent employment by March of a teacher’s second year. California is one of only a handful of states that forces administrators to the decision so quickly.

San Jose’s Teacher Quality Panel recommends a third probationary year before a teacher becomes eligible for permanent employment, but the District must apply for a waiver from the state Education Code to do so. And despite the evaluations conducted by the new Teacher Quality Panel, California’s statewide “last-in, first-out” law mandates that layoffs in San Jose Unified must still be based solely on seniority.

Students Matter is sponsoring the groundbreaking lawsuit Vergara v. California because we don’t believe that rigid state laws should outweigh the judgment of skilled educators. San Jose is just one district of thousands in California trying to do what’s best for its students. We believe all students deserve a great teacher in every classroom. Our lawsuit seeks to strike down the outdated and harmful state laws prohibiting California’s school districts, administrators and teachers from coming together to create progress in our public schools.

If you would like to help us promote equal access to quality public education, email us at

(Photo credit: John Fensterwald, EdSource,