Today, Coombs, Shaffer and Snell debate teacher tenure. Previously, they discussed the school board election and the merits of mayoral takeover via the charter-school movement. Future installments will focus on the Locke High School cock-up and possible education reform.

Stop fighting sovietization of schools

One of the "innovations" of charter schools gives principals and governing boards the power to fire teachers without the complicated procedures that come with "tenure." That innovation will take us back to the days when nepotism ruled.

Before tenure, a common problem was hiring of a relative, friend or crony of a board member to replace a good teacher. That was especially true after election of new members to a school board. Charters and nepotism go together.

Charter advocates would make it easier to fire a teacher considered a threat to their concept of education. In fact, they've already done it.

The recent dismissal of two teachers at Celerity Nascent charter in Los Angeles because they protested the deletion of a civil rights performance is a warning of things to come.

Tenure protects good teachers from the wrath of vocal elements in the community who would impose their ideology, religion, politics or other claptrap on the public schools.

The record of school boards and administrators in this state before tenure is an indication of what will happen under charters.

One of the earliest indications that we needed tenure occurred in Los Angeles city schools in the mid-1890s. Two school board members demanded a month's pay to guarantee a teacher's reappointment for the coming year.

San Francisco educator Kate Kennedy was dismissed by the local board primarily for her association with Henry George and the single tax movement.

The Red scare following World war I shows what can happen without tenure. The Los Angeles superintendent imposed a loyalty oath on the city's teachers with the intent to fire any who professed support for the I.W.W., a radical but legal labor union.

The state superintendent investigated radical literature in the state's public schools. His targets: The New Republic, The Nation and those teachers who referred to them. Pasadena's superintendent boasted that he would recommend dismissal of teachers with radical tendencies.

A Los Angeles board member, in the 1920s, condemned the "sovietization" of the schools. His concern was that proposed teachers' councils would gain for the instructors a voice in the administration of the city's public schools. (Gee, isn't that what those charter "innovators" claim they want to do?) He also condemned the role of teachers' organizations in pressing for school bonds, tax overrides and other pro-education activities that he considered improper for teachers to engage in.

When the present tenure law was adopted recalcitrant school boards simply decided to dismiss all teachers at the end of their probationary period rather than give them permanent status. That policy was recommended to local districts by the Los Angeles county superintendent.

On his death bed in 1928 Los Angeles educator Mark Keppel, a superintendent for nearly three decades, whispered in a failing voice, as his breath came in gasps: "Don't let them repeal the tenure law. The teachers and the children need it."

Wouldn't that have made a great movie scene for "The Gipper," who, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, tried to abolish tenure while governor in the 1970s?

Walter P. Coombs is professor emeritus of social sciences at Cal Poly Pomona, and Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona.