If only we could abolish teacher tenure, propose liberals and conservatives alike, surely we could improve our nation’s public schools. Right?
Wrong. Although hailed as a panacea, getting rid of teacher tenure will not solve the problem of incompetent teachers or noncompetitive student achievement in the global marketplace. Separate the lore from the law, and a clearer picture comes into focus for evaluating this prescription.
It is a myth that teacher tenure provides a guarantee of lifetime employment. Tenure is no more than a legal commitment (set by the state and negotiated union contracts) to procedural due process, ensuring notice and providing a hearing for generally accepted reasons for termination, such as incompetency, insubordination, and immorality.
Tenure’s primary purpose is economic job security, tied to the otherwise uncompetitive pay in comparison to other professions; however, tenure is not a lifetime guarantee.
Nor does tenure necessarily mean a costly and complicated process for terminating a poorly performing teacher. The balance between a teacher’s individual rights and the school board’s institutional responsibility can be a fairly efficient process. The extent of the procedural process that is “due” depends initially on the will of the public at the state legislative and local contractual level. It may be no more than reasonable written notice of the charges and a one- or two-night board hearing with prompt impartial review.
The prevailing belief is that the outcome of litigation is usually in favor of the plaintiff-teacher, not the defendant-district.
Quite the contrary. Schools districts consistently win the vast majority of the court decisions concerning the involuntary cessation of a teacher’s employment based on incompetency. In a comprehensive canvassing of court decisions based on teacher evaluation for compe tency, I found that the defendant districts prevailed in more than a 3-to-1 ratio, and that there was no significant difference between the outcomes for nontenured as compared to tenured teachers.
Indeed, in an often-touted table from the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2007-2008 School and Staffing Survey, the standardized percentage of teachers in the United States who lost their jobs due to poor performance via the non-renewal of nontenured teachers (.7%) was half of that for the termination of tenured teachers (1.4%).
Unless and until a multifaceted reform package, including the investment in compensation and professional development attracts and retains a competitive supply of excellent teachers, removing tenure will not change the termination rate, much less the student achievement gap...
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The myth of teacher tenure
This from Perry Zirkel in the WaPo Answer Sheet: