Tenure Reformation

classEveryone has had a bad teacher. There are many types of bad teachers. There are the bullies, the unorganized, the ineffective, and those who just don’t care. So why don’t we just get rid of all the bad teachers? The answer is tenure. Teacher tenure is a form of job security, a policy that awards teachers with a permanent contract after a probationary period. Tenure essentially guarantees employment for life and is the Holy Grail for primary and secondary educators. Once tenure is granted it is nearly impossible to dismiss a teacher. Tenure was established in the early 20th century as a way of protecting teachers from being easily and wrongfully dismissed. Previously, a new political party or a racial/personal bias could threaten a teacher’s position and dismissal was an easy matter. Tenure also protects teachers who teach unpopular and sometimes controversial curriculum such as evolutionary biology and provocative literature. Tenure laws were created with good intentions and protect many great teachers. Unfortunately, tenure laws can also protect ineffective teachers. Tenure is one of the necessary evils of education, but with a little reform; in the form of lengthened probationary periods tenure laws can continue to work for the greater good of the educational system.  

Teacher tenure has been a controversy for some time now, but has recently been pushed back into the national spotlight after the case of Vergara v. California passes. In the case Vergara v. California, nine students decided to sue their state over substandard teaching at their public schools.  Los Angeles Superior Court judge Rolf Treu ruled that California statutes granting teachers tenure after two years violated Californian Constitutional right to equality of education and sticks impoverished and minority students with “grossly ineffective” teachers. Soon after the Vergara decision, lawsuits began to form all the way in New York on similar grounds. The lawsuits in New York are being advocated by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown who seeks to ensure that all public school students in New York have access to quality teachers. The suit focuses on three key concerns about tenure: school districts being forced to lay off the most senior teachers last, tenure eligibility after only three years and a system that makes firing a teacher nearly impossible.  

The nation is seeking to fix teacher tenure. In situations like these it is easy to point fingers, and in matters of education the finger is often pointed at teachers. Research shows that the single most influential in-school factor in a child’s academic success is a good teacher. There are many good teachers out there, and unfortunately there are also several ineffective teachers out there. Once a teacher gains tenure it is almost impossible to terminate their employment. It is this type of job security that potential teachers find attractive.  Unfortunately it is also this type of job security that allows bad teachers to retain employment while other potentially wonderful non-tenure teachers are being dismissed. Research shows that teacher quality has a lasting impact on students. Models show that replacing a teacher from the bottom 5% of the cohort with a mediocre teacher can increase the lifetime earnings of the individual single student by $50,000. Replacing a teacher from the bottom 5% of the cohort with an exceptional teacher can increase a child’s lifetime earning by $80,000, improve the likelihood of college attendance, and reduce the odds of teenage motherhood. It is clear that a quality teacher can make a significant difference.  Several critics believe the system needs to be removed entirely.   Tenure supporters say tenure is necessary protection for teachers.  So how do we attract and retain talented teachers?  How do we grant talented, passionate teachers with necessary job security while weeding out ineffective instructors? Tenure used to be the answer; perhaps a reformed version of tenure can be the answer again. 

Reforming two key areas of tenure could alleviate many problems facing our education system today.  First, the time period prior to tenure should be lengthened. Most states grant tenure after three years, in fact forty-two of fifty states grant tenure in three or less years. With only two to three years to prove themselves, teachers have not had the opportunity to “show their worth, or their ineptitude.” Paula Cordeiro, dean of the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education suggests that in order to fix tenure we should look to the Universities.  Cordeiro explains that the biggest difference between the tenure system of USD Professors and K-12 teachers in California is the length of time prior to tenure. It takes USD Professors seven years to be considered for tenure and it takes K-12 Californian teachers only two years to be considered for tenure.  This long tenure probationary period forces professors to consistently perform and prove their worth to their university.  It is reasonable to expect that it is easier to fake competency for two years than it is for seven years.  In this respect professors who cannot perform consistently will not be awarded tenure. Cordeiro is providing a very valid solution to the tenure problem. The second aspect of tenure that needs reform is the fact that tenure at the K-12 level is not truly earned, but given to nearly everyone. To receive tenure at the university level, professors must not only perform on a consistent basis for seven years but must also contribute to their fields by publishing research. At the K-12 level, teachers need only to stick around for a short period of time to be granted tenure. Cordeiro suggests that school districts should be looking at a wide variety of factors when considering a teacher for tenure, at USD administrators look at 14 different factors such as student evaluation, syllabi, in-class observations, and service to the community. All of these factors can be implemented into K-12 level tenure process alongside parent evaluation, which would ultimately provide a better rubric for what grants teachers tenure. Please note that test scores were not included in the list of possible factors.  

In 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that happens to be in accordance to Cordeiro’s suggestions. The legislation makes it more difficult for public school teachers to achieve tenure and easier to fire poor-performing educators. The new law essentially makes new teachers required to first work under a mentor for a year; then work for four years instead of three, to become eligible for tenure.  The teachers must also attain and get high evaluation marks for two consecutive years. Mark Weber, a member of the New Jersey Education Association and author of the New Jersey public school music teacher report states that the reform, “by all accounts, it’s working well” and gives “more than enough time for administrators to determine if a prospective educator has what it takes to lead a classroom.”  

Perhaps it is time the rest of the nation follow suit and reform tenure laws in the same ways that Cordeiro suggest and Gov. Christie have impelemented. Teacher tenure was created with good intentions after all and can be a successful due process system if managed correctly. If the time for tenure consideration were to be lengthened, then perhaps this could mitigate the concerns that tenure creates complacent teachers and protects bad teachers from dismissal.  We need this reform to provide every student the opportunity to receive quality education from a thoroughly screened, dedicated, and passionate teacher. 


2 Comments to “Tenure Reformation”

  1. I know how it’s bad to keep inefficient teachers in schools. I had a few myself, some of which who were asses and don’t care about their students and some who were really enthusiastic about their job but don’t seem to teach much. Teacher tenure reform can remove the bad teachers if done properly, but I’m afraid it may also affect those who like being teachers. If they want to be teachers, they should have a chance to learn how to be good ones.

  2. I think teacher tenure reformation is something that we need to take much more seriously. I too had bad teachers growing up. I have a reading disability and I was never given the appropriate care that I needed by any of my teachers. This lead to me finishing second grade still unknowing how to read. I eventually was sent to a reading specialist and brought up to grade level, but even then school was still very hard for me. I really think this is because my teachers never wanted to spend the extra five minutes it would take with me to confirm that I was understanding the material. Instead many of these teachers treated my like a complete imbecile. One teacher made me sit in the back of the class, and she wouldn’t allow me to ask questions in class, because she said that it slowed her down. There are certainly bad teachers with tenure, but obviously there are good ones too. I feel that the best way to solve this problem is to regulate the system and have teachers be periodically tested to prove that they are still bringing their best to school.

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