In Public Schools

from the "outside" looking "in"

Teacher Tenure

Posted by Admin On April - 9 - 2010

TTapril01Teacher tenure is one of the most debated issues of schools boards across the nation. While there are good reasons to continue tenure, there are equally good reasons to discontinue it. Unions often go head to head with the school boards because of this issue.

Before delving into the pros and cons of teacher tenure, it is imperative that the definition of tenure be discussed. Tenure varies from state to state and Wisconsin has no tenure for teachers.  Teacher tenure occurs after a number of years of closely examined performance. Attaining tenure simply makes it more difficult, but not impossible for schools to dismiss teachers. 
While state laws vary as to the number of years, most of the laws created by the state legislators include specific rights for tenured teachers.

The tenured teacher can only be dismissed for specific reasons named in the state statutes. The tenure laws give the teachers with tenure the right to bump non-tenured teachers if their position is eliminated and they are qualified for the non-tenured teacher’s position. It also requires written notice given to the tenured teacher with reasons for terminating them. Tenured teachers can receive a hearing before the board of education in most states and can then take the matter to the Supreme Court for a hearing if they choose.
As early as the 1990s, states began to look more closely at the tenure laws. Schools were failing students and status quo no longer could be endured. However, the teachers hold a strong front and their union has adequate funds to maintain a fight for the teacher tenure.
There are good reasons to maintain that status quo. Tenure insures the teacher the right to speak out on political issues that directly affect the schools.  Since teachers are closest to the front lines, they often have informed opinions on legislation and changes that benefit the schools. Without tenure, the school board could easily dismiss the most vocal of teachers.
However, political issues do not constitute the most dangerous part of eliminating tenure. Financial issues are the key reason tenure continues. It simply makes sense for a financially strapped school corporation to release the more expensive teachers in favor of less seasoned but far more inexpensive new ones. Without a requirement for justification of dismissal, this is one potential.
On the other side of the issue is the negative effect that tenure has to maintain inadequate teachers and those whose behavior is uncomely in the school situation. It costs money to dismiss a teacher that chooses to fight back. Thousands of dollars are wasted each year when the school board dismisses tenured teachers that wish to fight their decision. Even if the evidence is overwhelming, the legal expense to support that decision is still a drain on the school corporation.
Because of this, often corporations choose to overlook failing teachers that have received tenure.  This often favors those that do inadequate jobs in the classroom and the real losers are the students. There are however, solutions to the problem.

Extending the tenure probationary period is one solution. Some states, such as California, have extremely short probationary periods. These shorter periods often do not give the schools an opportunity to review the performance of the teacher adequately before they grant tenure. By extending the period of probation, it would allow the schools to more easily weed out those teachers performing poorly.
Superintendent Frances Gall fired the entire staff of the Central Falls High School because the union failed to work with her on implementing changes to the contract. Central Falls High School was labeled the worst performing school in the state. Gallo intended to change this and identified areas that needed work. She wanted to include extra duties for the teachers without additional pay. While the changes were minimal, the union representative declined them and Gallo fired everyone.
While the actions of the Rhode Island superintendent were dramatic, to say the least, they reflect the urgency the administration felt in improving the education of the students in that district. Perhaps status quo is no longer a choice in the educational world where America is falling behind other nations in providing a sound educational foundation for tomorrow citizens.

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