Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting Rid Of Tenure

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the DC Public Schools, claims tenure only helps adults but doesn't do anything positive for students. Given that view, it's no surprise that she's out to get rid of ineffective teachers, tenured or not (why should that even be controversial?), and has plans to offer teachers higher pay if they voluntarily give up tenure.

It'll be interesting to see how this experiment goes.


mazenko said...

I applaud Rhee for her work, and I understand her intentions, but tenure has very little to do with it. To conclude that tenure breeds incompetence is truly pathetic.

I'll give up my tenure when she guarantees she'll eliminate incompetent or biased administrators. Since that's never going to happen, I'll trust that tenure simply prevents me (a highly qualified teacher whose classes have a 93% pass rating on the AP Lang exam) from losing my job because I challenge the insubordination of a school board member's child, or that it allows me to tell a superintendent in charge of curriculum that she knows squat about AP English precisely because she was a fifth grade math teacher for two years before getting her admin license and moving out of the classroom where she was incompetent.

There are veteran, unionized tenured teachers at all the best high schools in the country, and while tenure certainly hasn't caused them to become corrupt and sacrifice their academic integrity for a cush "job for life," it has certainly prevented many from losing their job over ideological reasons and "flavor-of-the-month" academic trends that some rookie administrator heard about at a conference from another group of people who hadn't been in the classroom for a decade or more.

But I don't really have any strong feelings about this. :-)

Check out my blog posting for more thoughts on this.

Darren said...

I don't think the argument is that tenure breeds incompetence, it's that it shields the incompetent.

mazenko said...

Valid point, or so goes the argument. But how did the incompetent teacher get tenure in the first place? Probationary periods for private sector jobs generally run thirty/sixty/ninety days. For education it's three or four years. If you can't determine competence and a commitment to excellence in that time, then the incompetence is clearly, as I noted, at the administrative level.

Darren said...

I don't argue that point at all.

Treehopper said...

Tenure and seniority are structurally unfair and anti-capitalistic. Good teachers will always have the backing of the other teachers and parents.

Hard work and productivity is the surest safe gaurd. Besides, waiving tenure doesn't mean waving the legal services of the union.

At our school we have a teacher who is destroying her students' education and the administration is in the process of an epic long process to rid the campus of her.

The only losers are the students and tax payers.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anna said...

I've been following this on line, and at the moment it is unclear about whether the extra money to pay those who choose the higher pay/ no tenure track is coming from.

From a non-teacher viewpoint, I find it scary because it gives the teachers no protection from bad administrators. Not to mention, how do you determine fairly if a teacher is competent.

I've seen a number of newspaper stories about good schools with good competent teachers being considered at risk, because they are unable to increase the scores at the desired levels. (Sorry, no references)

Darren said...

I deleted the comment above because it specifically attacked, by name, a teacher at my school. I cannot in good conscience post that here. Absent that attack, it was a good comment--and Anonymous, I welcome you to post it again without that attack.

Anonymous said...

This is Brilliant!
I would give up my tenure in a heartbeat, because I would much rather prove my competence year to year, just as any professional would.
Darren is right when he responds that tenure shields incompetence.
And what's with all this fear and trembling in regards to administrators? Most of them are trying to prove their competence, as well. Have you noticed how much they get moved around, even winding up back in the classroom (a horrible fate, right?)
This is just another trick the Unions have played on teachers, causing divisions between admin and staff, in order to keep those dues coming in. Reminds me of how gangs or bullies shake down kids on their way to school. Unions shake down teachers on their way to the classroom. We must pay for protection, right???
I ain't scared of no administrators! They ought to be scared of me!
I belong to the AAE, and if I have to fight an administrator (which I've never had to do in over 25 years and three tenures, simply because I know how to defend myself in any situation)...I have a first rate professional organization in my corner to defend me (if I need it).
Just like most insurances we pay for, the chances of having to use the union to insure me against an admin... are very small.
Tenure protects incompetent teachers...only! Competent teachers are paid the same as incompetent teachers, so why should teachers try to be more competent? Tenure zaps the incentive for excellence or competence. It cuts it down a notch...teachers figure, 'why bother?' What difference will it make?
Take my tenure, and I guarantee that I will be rehired year to year, because I am an experienced, creative, and excellent teacher who puts the kids first.
I look forward to proving that to any administrator or district!~
And with the present teacher shortage...why should I worry?
Here! Take my tenure, please!
And show me the money!

allen (in Michigan) said...

So Anna, do you believe that teachers, and administrators, shouldn't have any professional responsibility to raise test scores or that the levels are unattainable?

As for Rhee, I wish her well but I believe success, if her administration is ultimately judged a success, will be measured by the curbing of the worst excesses that bedevil urban school districts rather then by scaling heights of academic excellence generally reserved for those suburban school districts that are, supposedly, where educational excellence is to be found.

The district system is, I believe, inherently resistant to the pursuit of educational excellence and where it's found occurs in spite of the district system rather then as a result of the district.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't realize that would ruin the whole comment, just was providing an example :)

Basically, my point was that tenure keeps bad teachers in schools. It's as simple as that.

Anna said...

Allen in MI,

I do believe that scores should be raised, but more importantly that the students are encouraged to learn, etc.

The cases that I am think of specifically, are schools that are considered good, by teachers, administrators and parents, but due to statistics, or other issues are considered failing.

Just that it is easier for a class to go from 75 to 85%, but much harder for them to go from 85 to 95%.

(and I'm beating my head against the keyboard because I don't remember and therefore cannot double check my information about that.) ;)

mazenko said...


I'm sure you'll disagree, but tenure doesn't do that - ineffective administration that either is unmotivated or allowed itself to become handicapped by a ridiculous contract keeps bad teachers in jobs. I know of many teachers in many school districts who have been dismissed for poor performance. That's been my experience. It's too bad some communities and administrations have so poorly managed their children's education that such a thing could be allowed to happen.

Anonymous said...

Mazenko...teachers may very well be dismissed for poor performance, but I bet they're in some child's classroom somewhere.
They call it The Dance of the Lemons. And sooner or later, those teachers WILL get tenure.
After only takes 18 months to get it!

allen (in Michigan) said...

> I do believe that scores should be raised, but more importantly that the students are encouraged to learn, etc.

That's a prettily worded evasion but the question wasn't whether scores should be raised in the abstract but whether education professionals have some responsibility in the raising of scores, i.e. are some teachers better at teaching then other teachers?

Since it's obviously true that some teachers are better at teaching then other teachers why do teachers as a group need tenure to protect them from bad administrators? Tenure doesn't differentiate between teachers of unequal skill so the bad teachers receive just as much protection from tenure as the good teachers.

It would seem to me that if one were interested in raising the level of educational attainments in any school one obvious action would be chuck lousy teacher out and retain good teachers. Of course, that's just one action and, by itself, inadequate. If the administration doesn't have to perform to the same standards as the teachers, and live under the same threat, then they're commitment to education can only be guessed at there being no measures by which to determine their competence.

So, if Michelle Rhee wants teachers to forgo tenure then she'd better institute some means of measuring the competence of those teachers that takes into account the competence of the local administrators as well. If the administrators aren't living under the same sword of Damocles as the teachers there's no reason for those administrators to retain good teachers over bad.

rightwingprof said...

"Tenure and seniority are structurally unfair and anti-capitalistic"

I might point out that seniority is not if teachers are re-hired based on results and competence.

And from where I sit, it's quite apparent that not nearly enough teachers are being dismissed for incompetence. I have to deal with the mess they've made.