Teacher Tenure

There was a recent lower court ruling against so-called “Teacher Tenure” here in California. I am really not sure about the extent of the ruling, but the general verdict was that “tenure” was unfair to providing an equal education for all students as called for by the State Constitution.

I believe the reading was faulty for a broad range of reasons. First of all, teachers in California do not actually have tenure, at least not in the sense that professors get tenure.

When a professor has tenure they can be fired only for some gross negligence or breaking of the law. Poor teaching, doing a shoddy job, or poor research cannot lead to loss of position under most university tenure rules. Of course, it takes much longer (typically 7 years) and a much more difficult process for professors to get that protection than for k-12 teachers to get their “tenure.”

americas-corporate-headquarters-comicAs for k-12 teachers in California, my understanding is that what we received was “Permanent Status.” In a teacher’s first two years (or more if they do not have a permanent position contract) there is no due process—we can be rehired or not for the following year completely at the will and whim of the district. No reason need be given, and typically no reason is given. After the probationary period, we receive “Permanent Status” within that district. If you move to a new district the process starts all over. But, by law, all teachers are evaluated by their principal or supervisor at least every 2 years. The law does not prevent teachers from being evaluated more frequently (though occasionally local contracts my stipulate limits). If a teacher receives an unsatisfactory rating—a rating that is up to the principal or supervisor—then that automatically means they are in danger of losing their job. They are given the opportunity to show improvement, so there is a process. However, that improvement is evaluated by the same principal or supervisor as gave the original evaluation. If ther supervisor deems they did not show imporvement, then the district can fire the teacher. “Tenure,” for k-12 teachers in California, does not in any way shape or form mean they cannot be fired for poor teaching. The fact that poor teachers are not let go is completely a lack of principals and supervisors doing their job. Often the reason they don’t is their own lack of training and support and that they are often feeling overwhelmed themselves by an impossible job. In this area some principals work in elementary schools of up to 900 students with no assistant principal due to cutbacks.

Many states do not allow teachers to have the protection of due process (e.g. “tenure”). Charter schools, for the most part, do not give teachers such protections. Yet, there is no evidence that they get better outcomes for students. Charter schools do not outperform schools serving like students here in California or anywhere else. Nor do states without tenure outperform states that have tenure. Without even a correlation, much less cause-effect relationship shown between teachers with or without  “tenure” or and student outcomes, to take away such protections claiming it is for the sake of student equity makes no sense at all.

What “tenure” protects is teachers being arbitrarily fired, or as is more often the case, fired for their views or for being outspoken. “Tenure” is a form of due process. It just says the district must show cause in order to fire someone. I lost my first teaching job, for instance, while still in the probationary period, even though I had all excellent teaching evaluations. What I did that was not so smart was openly express disagreement with some of the district policies. As I was still probationary all they had to do was say, we are not asking you back for next year. Even with the protection of due process, I have much more often seen principals and districts go after teachers for being “trouble makers” (i.e. expressing dissent as to school or district policies) than for poor teaching.

The solution to poor teachers is really four fold (at least). One is to attract better teachers. That means making the field more attractive not less. Lack of job security does not help attract people to the profession. Another is to continue to support teachers once in the field, something we do a poor job of. No teacher wants to be a bad teacher. And good teaching can be learned. Also many teachers teach under horrendous conditions. With proper support both in terms of teaching conditions and ongoing professional development, there would be very little poor teaching. We also need to support principals more in the process of both helping weak teachers, and helping them get rid of the bad ones. Lastly, and I do mean lastly, there probably does need to be a better system for figuring out what to do with those very few teachers who either are not cut out for teaching but somehow did get “tenure” or who have burned out and are no longer up to it, but cannot leave teaching because there are no other options for them economically.

The real agenda of the attack on teacher job security is really to reduce the power of teacher unions and an attack on public school teachers in general. Teacher unions are seen as a threat to the almost unrivaled power of the multibillionaires and corporate money in the American political arena. As it is they easily outspend unions 10-1, and seem to control the public discourse about most political issues are framed. Can you imagine their power once they completely decimate what little there is left of the unionized base in this country?

4 thoughts on “Teacher Tenure

  1. Pingback: Educational Policy Information

  2. Pingback: The Tenuous Tenure of Teacher Tenure | subsisting on peanut butter

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