Teacher tenure a huge obstacle to meaningful education reform
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 16:11
The recent strike by the Chicago Teachers Union sparked renewed interest in the education reform debate, but no reform would be meaningful without putting an end to teacher tenure.
Teacher tenure, both in universities and public schools, largely removes any sense of accountability for the teachers. Tenure is received far too quickly, and very often does not provide a long enough amount of time for an in depth evaluation of the professor’s relationship with students or skill at teaching.
Once a teacher gets tenure, they have job security for life. Firing them for egregious abuses of the system, of their power or of students becomes much more difficult than it should be.
The 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman shows that 1 in 57 doctors have their medical licenses revoked and 1 in 97 attorneys lose their license, but only 1 in 2500 teachers lose their jobs.
Surely this isn’t because teachers are generally better humans than are doctors or lawyers. It also doesn’t mean that the people who become teachers are predisposed to being better at their jobs than doctors or lawyers, but is much more likely purely the result of tenure.
Teachers and professors sometimes feel they can get away with quite a bit because of this lack of accountability, and the inevitable sense of complacency isn’t conducive to a continued effort at being good at their job.
Tenure leads to ludicrously inefficient systems of discipline for teachers, such as the infamous rubber rooms of New York City, where, before they were abolished two years ago, teachers accused of wrongdoing would be sent and get paid a full salary while waiting for a conduct hearing.
Some teachers would end up waiting years for a hearing, just going to these rooms and sit all day, getting paid to do nothing.
It’s hard to imagine a less cost-effective system, but some other states have done just that. As was shown in Waiting for Superman, some states allow teachers to be terminated from their job at one school, but are then sent to teach at another school instead of being fired.
This has come be known, in different regions, as the “Turkey Trot,” “Pass the Trash” and “Lemon Dance.”
It should be a no-brainer that if a teacher isn’t good at their job, they should be terminated, not sent to a different school to wreak havoc on more impressionable students.
One of the main arguments in favor of tenure is that it prevents teachers being fired for frivolous reasons, but this seems like a weak argument.
There are other protections against wrongful termination, notably the threat of lawsuits alleging wrongful termination. Other professions do just fine without total job security, and theoretically teachers should as well.
The teachers unions seem to be one of the major forces behind securing tenure, and value it over virtually everything else. In 2008, Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee offered D.C. teachers performance-based salaries of up to $140,000, nearly doubling salaries in some cases, in exchange for giving up tenure.
It threatened the teachers unions so much that they refused to even let it come to a vote.
Much of the talk about the need for tenure discusses protection for teachers from being fired for political reasons, but it is unfortunately the current laws on education that will not be changed for political reasons.
Teachers unions are the largest political contributor of any special interest group, bigger than the Teamsters, the National Rifle Association or any other group.
To some extent tenure does have a place, but only in universities. It does give professors a degree of freedom, which can be helpful in conducting research and in teaching their students in their own unique style. But it should not be handed out very easily, and still doesn’t have a place in public elementary, middle or high school systems.
Educating young students is one of the most important jobs out there, one with long-term implications for the future workforce and the strength of our economy.
Children who are educated by second-rate teachers lose interest in school and aren’t as likely to succeed both in school or when they get out of it.
Their value to the economy is therefore much lower, and this can’t easily be reversed.
With such long running and permanent consequences to poor teaching, shouldn’t this be a job with as much accountability and efficiency as is possible?