Teacher Tenure Aces the Test

To attract the best educators, school systems are wise to continue awarding tenure. Pro or con?

Pro: Much-Needed Security

Tenure for teachers is a way to spare them the politics and injustice that capricious school boards would use to dismiss them. It wasn’t long ago that a teaching job depended on what political party you were affiliated with or who you were related to. Nontenured teachers could be summarily dismissed in order to create an opening for someone who was connected.

Critics of public education perpetuate the myth that tenure secures a job for life. Tenure simply provides the teacher with due process. Teachers can be dismissed for incompetence, misconduct, or insubordination, but only after having been given the right to defend themselves.

Another criticism leveled at tenure is that it protects mediocre teachers. Mediocre teachers could be eliminated at the very beginning of their careers, if principals and administrators would take the necessary steps of observing and counseling poor teachers prior to their gaining tenure.

Without tenure, we would not be able to attract the best and brightest to teach in our schools. Eliminating tenure could bring back past abuses by those in power who would replace older teachers with younger ones for less pay or fill teaching jobs through nepotism.

The greatest risk would be to academic freedom. It is imperative that teachers be allowed to practice their profession without undue interference from those whose interests lie only in the bottom line.

Con: A Tenuous Prospect

Teaching is the only profession that has anything like tenure. Often, once a teacher has been in a position three years, tenure is granted, and nothing short of a military junta can remove him or her from the position.

Tenure once made sense as a necessary protection from capricious administrators and trustees back in the days when contracts contained "morality clauses" that could be broadly interpreted. Dating, getting pregnant, or being seen drinking alcohol could serve as grounds for dismissal. Today, school board members are persons invested in the community who are elected in their districts. They can grant tenure because of political whims just as unfair as the old-fashioned ones that used to result in unearned dismissal.

Due to shortages, teachers sometimes have to fill spots in areas other than their usual subjects. For example, my son-in-law, a teacher whose specialties were life science and algebra, had to teach calculus for a term. He did not have tenure. Had he been strictly evaluated during that class—as a teacher up for tenure would be—there could have been major issues, since he admittedly stayed one chapter ahead of the students. Yet he was an excellent teacher in his comfort zone.

Teachers should be evaluated on an annual basis and observed regularly and judged accordingly. Tenure has become outdated in today’s academic environment.


Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or Bloomberg LP.


Reader Comments

Beverly

Teachers have always been evaluated on an annual basis. In fact, I just signed my annual evaluation today. Administrators observe teachers formally several times a year, and informally more frequently.

DAN1138

Tenure for teachers is a complete joke. It is a flimsy ruse intended to protect teachers from the normal market pressures that everyone else in the economy is subject to. What exactly makes teachers so special, to warrant tenure as an entitlement that nobody else has? Nothing, absolutely nothing!

Lakshmi B K

Humboldt's view of higher education was to create an environment that would be conducive to both teaching and research. The freedom of research, the close relationship between research and teaching, the integration of scholarship with practical application, and the pre-eminence of scholarship over specialized professional training are some of the principles of the Humboldtian tradition.

The concept of tenure has no relevance today. If you consider B-Schools as an example, tenure is often related to publishing in top-tier journals. How many managers read these journals and how many actually understand the terminologies used in them is anybody's guess. How often do we come across ground-breaking research? The answer is: not very often, not in the way we want it to, and not nearly to the extent that we want it to (Hartwig, 2007). Business practitioners argue that sometimes researchers get paid to state the obvious, and their studies do not really have any implications in the real world. Some of the most critical issues like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, high-profile bankruptcies, and pressing environmental issues have all been looked at from ivory towers rather than at the ground level.

Now the haloed accrediting body AACSB has recommended that business schools be required to demonstrate the impact of their faculties' research on real world problems and not just be restricted to achieve papers in "top" journals. If this is indeed implemented, how many accredited schools would be able to retain their accreditation? Not many I am afraid.

So much for the usefulness of the tenure system. The sooner we do away with it and have annual reviews as in any industry, the better it would be for everyone. Sure, some oversight would be necessary to check abuse. Let us not skirt a solution because the problem is too big. Or that too many vested interests are involved.

Al Aunchman

Teachers are not the only profession that enjoys tenure. Last time I checked judges are granted tenure, probably for many of the same reasons that teachers are.

Hindenburg

Last night, a local high school principal reported that it costs $100,000 or more to remove a lousy tenured teacher from the classroom.

In every case, the teacher goes to the union, which brings in the lawyers, and the meter starts running. The principal is forced to fund making the case.

Kids are the casualties--either because of the lousy teacher, or the diversion of so much money from other school needs.

Tenure for teachers should be ended.

Doug

Our upper middle class high school was essentially run by a small group of parents who were able to dictate which administrators, teachers, and counselors had to leave.

Sandra Nelson

Whoever said that the age of "capricious administrators and trustees" was in the past? The current proposal to evaluate teachers based "partly" on student test scores is one example of why teachers need tenure. Administrators would have to track the scores of every student in a class (for 2-3 years) to see if a teacher was not adequately meeting the educational needs of the students. This is a time consuming and labor intensive job. Most administrators just compare this year's total class score with those of the previous year. Furthermore, any teacher can be terminated if the administrator is willing to document the teacher for a period of two years, something that I have never seen!

Ron

Tenure should only be applied to professors who are conducting front line research. They should be permitted to conduct basic, rather than applied, research. If forced to adhere to bottomline concerns, such researchers would focus on how to make the pill easier to swallow than investigating new avenues that may or may not lead to the next breakthrough. They should be permitted to investigate avenues of research that politicians or certain religions may find offensive, things like evolution or round earths.

oldalchemist

Just after WWII, the education 'industry' was in panic. Many returning vets were more qualified than old guys held over during the war, at least in chemistry, physics, and advanced math, we were more than a threat -- many of us demanded proper placement, but politics and a form of seniority doomed our careers. Fortunately, industries needed us, and most vets advanced rapidly. As a long-ago lab academic, I left teaching/mentoring, which i really enjoyed. I mentored several PhD candidates who followed me out the door to the surprise of cobwebbed dept. chairman, and university press. I have always felt tenure was a very questionable approach to maintaining a quality professional teacher corp. A comment on teacher who taught algebra, but was 'uncomfortable' teaching calculus. This indicates this teacher was underqualified to teach algebra as well. And these people cry for tenure, exactly my reason for my commentary. In public high school, i had a wonderful Latin teacher, who would every several years visit the Vatican to learn how ancient Latin was used in describing modern changes to life. ie, an automobile, airplane, a matchstick. WWII brought an end to her adventures. What a teacher! Now when I tell this story to prospective teachers I can usually tell by the reaction the individual who will be outstanding and exciting to their students. at least until the p.c. school systems destroy initiative. A teacher must always be learning, not stagnant. Yep, I am back to no on tenure

d.v.triolo

Tenure,originally, a supp to lower salaries than what most teachers could receive in the private sector, is long overdue for abolition. Along with merit pay, dismissal for poor performance,standards for promotion and graduation (of students) and vouchers as well as a charter school expansion are all needed to improve the education system. Simply throwing money at the problem will not solve it. Tenure in today's schools augurs for more of the same and does more for the teachers' unions than the teachers and certainly more for the teachers than the students.

AJ

Yes, it's possible for politics to affect decisions on hiring and firing teachers, but as in the business world, such decisions will eventually be overturned, while qualified teachers (like qualified employees) will always find work.

At the same time, unions have fought for rules so stringent that a tenured teacher is virtually impossible to remove. To say one can fire a tenured teacher is a fallacy. They've simply been protected from poor performance by their powerful and politically astute unions.

Ian

If you think the days of teachers needing protection from unfair firings from the administration are over, you may be in for a shock. I got to watch a teacher a few years ago lose his position after his third year. He was a young teacher, did a pretty good job, and was working his butt off all the time to get better. His evaluations were good and really there was no reason to fire him. At the end of the third year the superintendent released the teacher and brought in a new teacher to replace him. An old buddy of his. This guy was terrible. The kids hated him. He did an awful job and did not care about teaching at all. Guess what, he's still there. Oh, and he now has tenure. This crap would happen all the time if teachers aren't protected. People get fired from their "industry" jobs and jump into teaching until they're ready to retire, and do a terrible job the whole time. It pays to know a guy.

While the town could obviously just vote out the superintendent, they don't. They have no idea this crap is going on, so why would they vote him out?

samz

Indeed there are tenured teachers enjoying their stay in public schools despite of their being incompetent. Administrators must make an effort in ensuring that teachers must be screened well; observation must be done before they gain the tenurity in this field. Principals must review the records of the tenured teachers in all public schools to make sure that they are still performing well. Seminars, trainings, and counselings must be given to nonperformer teachers and must be under a personal improvement program and will be evaluated again and will be judged accordingly.

Arnold J. Harriett

Having been a pupil with tenured teachers, I think the students at the end of the year should have to evaluate all of their teachers. Many should not be near children as they are a bad influence. Tenure should go the way of the Dodo bird.

Doug

Teachers are a joke. Their salaries are too high for having 3 months a year off, plus all the holiday vacations during the year students get. Their pension is too much of a cake walk for people who have no stress in their lives and don't have a clue what a real days work is. I think Christie in NJ is doing a great job trying to get them to pay into their benefits as well, why shouldn't they? Only jobs where you are safe no matter how you perform, have the best benefits, and you can retire after 25 years with 80% of what you made in your final year. Joke! I think all teachers should have to spend a year getting chewed out in Corporate America because they definitely would not be able to handle it. I'm not saying there aren't good teachers and bad teachers, but the benefits used to be so extraordianary because their salaries were low. Now that they have climbed the ladder and reached median level income, their benefits should be truncated.

BTH

The school as a community is built on consistency. Keeping teachers from year to year enhances consistency and strengthens community. Threatening teachers with their jobs and firing teachers disturbs the consistency and hurts student well being and performance. I have noticed that the teachers who do not like teaching or are not good at it usually leave anyway.

sam

If tenure attracts the best and brightest, why is our system failing?

Why should government employees whose earnings and benefits come from tax dollars be so well protected? When tax payers can be dismissed from their jobs or career so easily simply because of the economy. Secured jobs should be based on their performance and effective.

Up to high school I can count only 4 teachers that I thought were effective in my education. There were even fewer in college.

The sense of entitlement from many teachers is outrageous to me.

RT

Tenure is a socialist entitlement that none of us in the private sector have or should have. If we do not produce and do not meet the needs of customers, then we are dismissed from our job and it impacts our carrier. Not so with tenure, which is why you have terrible teachers in classrooms that get moved from class to class and in some cases school to school. Schools continue to put out students that are not prepared to make it in this new competitive business environment.
The free market system is self-correcting in that those that provide good customer service at a good value succeed; those that do not add value and serve customers will fail. Failure is good for those that do not give their best or help others succeed, and drain finances because they have been around for a long time.

The truth is that our public school and university system is a joke in comparison with developing nations, because of the most powerful unions are the teacher unions and their tenure policy. We have Marxist professor after professor that is more interested in keeping their jobs and indoctrinating our children than helping build balanced, honest young people that want to make this country a better place than their parents left it to them.This is why private schools and home schooling are exploding in growth, because people realize the terrible education their children receive from the most expensive education system in the world. My wife is a teacher and we are both against tenure.

Al

Why are the only options here (A) removing tenure completely, or (B) keeping it unchanged? I'm going with (C): Fix the system to make it easier to fire incompetent teachers while keeping the protections from nepotism/ageism/ideological prejudice/etc intact. In fact, there's a proposal in California right now suggesting just that!

RJ, private school teachers can also attain tenure. Thus, your argument that it's an entitlement "none of us in the private sector have" is incorrect.

Joe

Nothing like a 5-cent cigar after getting an ass chewing from an Incompetent manager. Being fired so the manager's son-in-law can keep his job is the norm.

Tom

The tenure thing, I think, is overstated, and places blame where it shouldn't go. I work as a teacher in a school of 109 teachers. I can't think of any that are bad, or any that are not dedicated. I can however, aim a finger squarely at some bad parents and students if I wanted. Bad teachers are revealed in my district before they get tenure, and are quickly released. I live in a state, New York, where the list of corrupt politicians from top bottom is extravagant. And yet all of societies ills are blamed on teachers, often by these very same. Kids get us for 6 hours a day, and for the remaining 18, they are exposed to a dumbed down, media driven pop culture, that doesn't value education to begin with, and then I am asked to fix it all the following day. I know this makes little sense to you unless you yourself are a teacher.

motuorg

Up to high school I can count only 4 teachers that I thought were effective in my education. There were even fewer in college.

The sense of entitlement from many teachers is outrageous to me.

motuorg

Sam says:

"Up to high school I can count only 4 teachers that I thought were effective in my education. There were even fewer in college.

The sense of entitlement from many teachers is outrageous to me."

Sam, what do you think the top 20 students in your graduation class would say?

They probably would say. "the responsibility was mine" Think about it, Sam.

Peter

Tenure must go, period.

motuorg

Actually, "RT," our public education system may be "a joke," but the university system is the best by far. Check out the number of foreign students at UCLA or anywhere. The problem is, foreign students now go back to their home countries after they get their degree, because--you guessed it--no jobs here. Do your homework, RT.

Doc

Why should teachers be exempt from what other workers are? If they don't produce, get rid of them. I fail to see why teaching is sacrosanct.

tom

Doc,

You haven't a clue I'm afraid. As a teacher, I can tell you, student cheating is at an all time high; kids just don't want to learn or do the work. I work in an affluent district, where if you set the educational bar really high, you get parents angry: "My child used to get A's and now gets B's." You get blamed for their lack of work. So then if you lighten up a bit...yep, you guessed it, you get blamed for that too: "Why are my kids so dumb?" If they take away tenure, you know what will happen regarding student achievement....absolutely nothing? If you don't understand that, it's okay, you're not a teacher. The problems with education run far deeper than you can imagine. The question of tenure is just a superficial, inconsequential red herring that in the big picture will be shown to mean nothing. The issue just gives individuals like you, who haven't studied the deeper issues, a chance to rant on. Oh yeah...teaching is sacrosanct.

Robert Laughing

That's right, sacrifice the kid's, after dumping on many of the best teachers, so some unionized geriatric incompetents, can hang on forever, at maximum pay. Merit, above all, should be the norm, along with empowering teachers in their classrooms = too many bureaucrats, smart-assed, lazy, incompetent breeders, with 'their' attorneys, make teaching a sick mockery of our ethical values.

Tom

Do you teach Robert?, I do. In a district of some 750 teachers there is maybe one geriatric incompetent I know. I am sure eliminating him will fix the problems of education--an overstated argument spoken by someone "on the outside" that doesn't have a clue about teaching in today's world. I am evaluated four times a year by my superiors, am watched closely by parents, am rated by students, have to take a mandatory 22 credit hours of in service courses every year till I retire, have to partake in mandatory collaborations with other teachers, have mounds of grading and paper work that would eat your weekends, have students giving me the finger for asking them to turn off their cell phones, experience rampant cheating, laziness, family problems, etc. I might agree that tenure should be eliminated out of a sense of fairness, but it won't fix the problem. The problems in education are far deeper, more convoluted, societal. I only work with highly skilled dedicated teachers. More now than ever, sorry, but you're blaming the wrong entities.

Tom

Another thing Robert, your condescending, prejudiced statement about geriatric incompetents is again misinformed. Some of the best teachers I know are old, some of the lesser teachers are younger, and most students would agree with that. That is the way of the world. Incompetence has little to do with age. Experience is often the greatest gift of a good teacher--how did your miss that? Sounds like you have a problem with old folk.

David

Everywhere I have worked, evaluators (principals) have been coaches with too many losing seasons. Consider the possibility that many of these administrators will be more interested in teachers who kowtow to the sports machine than to academic standards. Consider, too, that objective measures are hard to come by, even for well-meaning principals, many of whom torture the English language and many of whom do not comprehend math and many of the other learning disciplines from which they weed the "ineffective" teachers. Evaluation of teachers does not equate to the evaluation of job performance in business. Sorry, but if you have spent little time in a school, truly, you truly have no idea.

In the few places that have tried it, teacher evaluation of their peers within their own teaching discipline has proven far more effective in supporting struggling teachers, and then, in removing them if they continue to underperform.

Unfortunately, few districts have allowed this type of reform. Why, because it costs money to take teachers out of the classroom to do this type of work. As usual, it comes down to doing education on the cheap, which, along with politics and crumbling families, has school reform stuck. Removing tenure and doing nothing else would cause far more damage than doing nothing.

anonymous

I'm amazed at how many arm chair teachers we have here with almost no concept of what modern teaching really entails. The reality is that teachers face constant pressure from parents and administrators to change grades and compromise their standards simply because a parent is unhappy with their student's poor grade and wants the teacher to change it. As a teacher, without tenure I would not feel safe to hold my ground when approached to change grades for arbitrary and political reasons. That alone is a good enough reason to keep tenure... and that is just the tip of the iceberg of what teachers face.

Robert Laughing

Tom,
Gee, with omnipotent teachers like you, how could we have any problems? All Einsteins in your classes too, no doubt.....perhaps, you are the exception, but most school admin, parents, their kids (the finger!), and their lawyers, treat teachers like something one 'steps in' unavoidably. Glad you love that system.

Robert Laughing

Anonymous,
My entire post is fully in support of your position....teachers must be highly qualified, skilled, dedicated, and like gods, in their classroom. Sadly, we all know and/or experienced the other kind of tenured nothing. The entire system cries out for reform--a lump of coal, can only become a diamond, through intense heat and pressure. It seems to me our nation is in dire need of intense heat and pressure, as our last 20 years of stupidity is untenable and unsustainable, starting with the US Congress, the corporate super-citizens and the once proud unions.

Kristina

Tenure should go. I have had some terrible teachers and some great ones but I do agree that some teachers seem to reach a level of complacency at certain points. Tenure for teachers makes no sense to me. I feel that if a teacher is excellent it will be noted by his/her students and their parents alike and they should feel secure in their jobs.

George

I have three children in public schools, supposedly one of the best districts in California. I have repeatedly seen the armor of tenure shielding teacher actions that are incompetent, venal, untruthful, contradictory, unfair, and especially uneducated. One teacher justified downgrading my child's work with an explanation that I showed the superintendent had 1 chance in 10 to the 45th power of being true. The super backed the teacher. The Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles on the LA schools wherein it was reported that it costs $250,000 and three years of effort to remove a teacher, so administrators don't even try.
Why anyone would defend this ridiculous, destructive spoils system is beyond me. Of course there is the amount of money the NEA gives to Democratic presidential candidates, along with the trial lawyers. Licenses to screw the public have a price.

anonymous

Kristina,
"if a teacher is excellent it will be noted by his/her students and their parents alike and they should feel secure in their jobs"? Are you serious? Most students don't like teachers that make them work or, heaven forbid, learn. And most parents don't like teachers that make them face the reality that their little johnny isn't always the most obedient, driven, or polite child in the class. There are some good students and parents that buck this trend, but if you think that teachers would be secure in their jobs just because they're good at it, you're dreaming. Add to that the fact that schools are rife with politics at all levels and every teacher, whether good or not, constantly has to fear a stream of interference and pressure from students, parents, and even their own principals, superintendents, parent groups and school boards. Most of these groups have no idea what the classroom is really like and are all too happy to believe a disgruntled student over a teacher even if that teacher has a proven track record.

tom

George,
You might see that every day in LA. But where I work things are different. Since I have been working as a teacher, in my district, I have seen a great many teachers let go before attaining tenure, because they were under par. The ones that are retained are truly born to teach. It takes 3 years to get tenure. That's enough time for a wary administration to weed out the bad ones.

In my school there are a few I would consider "not as good' but for the most part my colleagues work hard and are good teachers. Dissolving tenure may weed out a few more, and I would be willing to do away with it. But those who think that offering teachers less money, increasing public scrutiny, and then think you'll get 100% top of the line performers, in a society that devalues education to begin with have another thing coming. I know bad cops, parents, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and priests. The tenure thing is admittedly unfair, but will be deemed, in the final analysis, a red herring for those that think eliminating it will lead us to educational salvation.

Tom

So right, "anonymous." I see new teachers often--fresh, young, energetic. Within 4-5 years however the "blues" set in. I see teachers get beat up for a failed system--by those who haven't a clue about how f'ing difficult it is to teach in a society where where people like Howard Stern and Michael Vick are the heroes and we discuss Charlie Sheen 24/7. Where the so called "History Channel" airs "Ancient Aliens" repeatedly with claims that aliens built the pyramids. That's the History channel? Have you seen the intelligence quotient of the top 5 movies?

Dumbing down has become the norm.

How do I know that? I teach against that current every day. There are those posting above, who cite how scads of bad teachers wronged them, and everyone else. You should talk to the top 20 students in my school; they'll teach you about personal responsibility--something sorely lacking in American culture.

Tom

Mayor Bloomberg is a very wealthy. "Hmmm let's see my term is nearing the end. I know, we'll extend the term limit, yeah. I get to somehow persuasively influence my own tenure, and be a hypocritical putz a year later"

"Teachers--those free loaders. Let's scrutinize them, reduce their pay, remove tenure, and expect them all to be 100% excellent, save our cutlure and set it on its merry way. And do it all right here in one of the most expensive places to live, with some of the hardest kids to teach, in some of the most difficult neighborhoods to teach."

"Wow, all this and a masters degree for $51,000."

"Sounds like a deal to me. Bedford Sty--AP Chem here I come."

"Or maybe, hmmm, air traffic control, prison guard..."

Aj

I'd love to see education reform. First by eliminating teacher tenure as it creates inefficiencies within the education system. Now, how do we go about getting Congress to act upon this?

P.S. Anyone know of any support groups or organizations in support of this view? Please let me know as i would love to join one.

Jae

It's clear that American culture is not entirely ready for a system such as teacher tenure. If America first had a culture that really valued truth and knowledge (and not entirely positivist truths/knowledge) - not just knowledge that enhances a bottom-line - there would be much more interest in learning/knowledge; respect for teachers; a change in the American educational system; and thus more reason to grant teacher tenure.

Instead, American culture, and public education, has focused upon a 'one-size-fits-all', overly positivist, 'education machine'. The machine benefits the machine ... not entirely knowledge, the student, or the teacher.

Join the Debate

 

Participate More!

Please send us your ideas for new Debate Room topics. If you're an academic, association officer, or other industry expert and would like to write a Debate Room essay, send us a query. Questions? See the

BW Mall - Sponsored Links

Buy a link now!