Archive for July, 2014

Why Struggle With Teacher Tenure?

Friday, July 4th, 2014

A month has passed since the decision in Vergara vs. California that decided teacher tenure was the culprit for poor student outcomes in failing schools. We’ve heard from judges, foundation leaders, school of education “experts,” teachers, and parents, all claiming to have student success at heart.

If only the dropout rate could improve; if only graduation from high school improves; if only Common Core State Standards are given enough time to be incorporated in the curriculum; if only suitable testing strategies are field-tested before testing and analysis begins. Oh yes, and if only teacher retention rules are abandoned that lead to bad teacher hold outs and weak education for students. Will all of these problems disappear by eliminating tenure?

Teacher tenure has long been a goal of teachers unions. One hundred years ago teachers could be terminated for getting married, for venturing into a social setting, for teaching an undesirable subject, to let a school board pal obtain a position, and a myriad of other minor and not so minor infractions. Union bargaining negotiated tenure to abolish those hateful customs. In California, public school teachers are granted tenure, employment for life, after 18 months with good evaluation reports. Every state has their own education regulations regarding tenure for public school employees. Unintended consequences loom, all blamed on tenure practices set forth under collective bargaining.

Conservative state and local legislative groups go straight for tenure abolishment without thinking about the known consequences. Evaluation based on insubstantial standardized test models defines weak teachers. Biased personal judgments by administers, unable or unwilling to define worth from incompetence given all the factors going on in a school, lead to bungled teacher evaluations. Rulings to jettison teacher tenure make student teachers, who have examined the poor salaries and now realize they will have no security while learning to perform in a school, think twice. How are any of these outcomes going to improve student success?

Think! Avoid unintended consequences: Try paying a stipend and allowing student teachers to gain more experience before they enter the profession (see post 6/9/14). Revise collective bargaining to establish a 5 year renewable contract, providing some stability for new teachers but also giving time for administration to rate teachers. (See Elliot Seif’s “Letter to the Editor”, New York Times, June 17, 2014).

Advocate for the following to keep good teachers: support Congress persons and local legislators who are not afraid to vote for legislation that affects students in public schools; revise collective bargaining rules about seniority so the good but newest teachers are not dropped because of budget cuts and experienced teachers are urged to take on a position in a poor-performing school.

Do not depend on the court (local, district, appellate, or supreme) to get rid of tenure, a controversial education policy. The court may identify the issue, as in Vergara vs. California, but the legislature, local school districts, and teachers unions must be involved to establish change. (See Michael A. Rebell from Teacher’s College, Columbia University.)