Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rethinking Tenure

Teacher tenure is the big bugaboo out there--and while I don't agree 100% that it's the major cause of our education troubles, I can understand why those who think it is, do. After all, unions are a major part of the problem, and tenure is a result of unions. Sometimes I think people who want to go after tenure really just want to punish unions. Sadly, that wouldn't be the case; it would punish teachers, not unions, and push teachers more strongly into the open, waiting arms of their union protectors. There are other ways to weaken unions--right-to-work laws come to mind :-)

But that's not the purpose of this post, which is about tenure. What's the issue?

In the current system, most public school teachers gain tenure, generally speaking a lifetime job, after just three years of teaching. In eight states, including California and Maryland, tenure is granted after two years. Hawaii and Mississippi offer tenure after just one year, and our nation's capital requires no set amount of teaching performance before granting tenure. In other words, many school administrators are forced to make this critical and lasting decision halfway through a teacher's first or second year in the classroom.

Clearly a problem, whether or not you think that teachers are the problem in education today (and I think culture is a bigger problem than teachers). So, how might we rectify this without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? The linked article concludes:

What's the right course of action? Get rid of tenure while maintaining due process protections? Make it more difficult to achieve? Or perhaps have term contracts for five or 10 years at a clip?

Considering how political education is, I'm all for keeping due process protections; I've said before that what we currently have isn't due process, it's undue process, as it takes forever and a day to get rid of bad teachers once they're tenured (here's an extreme example). Maintain due process, though, and I'm happy to engage in this discussion.


Rhymes With Right said...

Down here in Texas we've eliminated tenure, instead going to term contracts (usually 3 years in my district, but the state allows them up to 5). And we do have many of the due process protections found in a tenure system.

For that matter, as a right to work state there is no mandatory unionism, either. The result is a system in which multiple teacher organizations actually compete for members -- and get listened to by both districts and the state legislature.

mazenko said...

Clearly with you - but not completely the article - on this issue. Education problems are not about teachers, as much they are about larger issues. But teachers aren't always as much of the solution as they should be.

That said, the issue of due process is non-negotiable with me. And, in my opinion, due process is tenure. In fact, that's the legal case in Colorado where tenure was officially outlawed a decade ago - all that remains is due process. And, I would agree it can be "undue" but that is about inefficient and incompetent or understaffed administration - at least in Colorado. My fundamental reason for belief in due process is based on incompetent or disengaged administration, especially when it comes to students, parents, and what is really going on in the classroom.

Yet, the anti-union forces have so clouded the argument that you are right, and naive attempts to eliminate due process will only strengthen unions. In fact, I have not been in a union for eight years. But, Colorado's new law chipping away at due process almost forced me to join. And, if I join I will be a active and vocal member.