Taking Out Tenure

The cornerstone of teachers' unions.

As I’ve said in a previous post, teaching is one of the most important and undervalued jobs in America. And because of this, I think it’s extremely important that only the most qualified and talented people are given the opportunity to teach our students, and any teachers who don’t do a good job of educating their students shouldn’t be teaching any longer.

Here’s the problem: tenure. Most of you have probably heard of this. It’s a kind of “teaching insurance” which grants the teacher holding tenure increased protection from being fired. Now, it’s perfectly acceptable to me to afford teachers certain protections from being laid off, especially if the principal has no valid reason to do so. I completely support protection from unfair firing, but the issue with tenure is that it gives too many protections to these teachers, and it often gives extra security to inadequate teachers. To add to this, tenure was originally conceived (first passed in New Jersey in 1909) as a way of preventing firing based on race, sex, or political views.

You see, many teachers are granted tenure after a certain amount of time spent teaching, meaning that the longer the teacher stays employed at the school, the more guarantees he or she has of remaining employed there, regardless of teaching ability. This creates a “last in, first out” policy for lay-offs, in which the newest teachers are the first ones to go, even if they’re better teachers than some of the older veterans. Now, I can understand why seniority should give someone more right to stay with a company or business, but I don’t think this can be appropriately applied to public schools, at least not in this form.

While I haven’t been a public school teacher, with or without tenure, and (as I state in the About the Author section) I have few qualifications to speak about this with absolute authority. But it seems clear to me that with seniority-based tenure in place as a way of deciding which teachers stay and which go, the priority is placed on the teachers, rather than the taught, and I think this is a major issue. America has a duty to focus on getting and keeping the best and brightest teachers, so they can help create the best and brightest students. Especially considering the volatile state of the economy, where the focus is on jobs and who has them, we as a nation need to be willing to let go of ineffective teachers, even if it comes at a high personal cost to them (damn, that sounded a lot harsher than I intended!).

This is one of the (very) few areas I find myself agreeing with Republicans on. A number of GOP governors have begun to take steps to remove or heavily modify tenure in their states, which is something I think we need to see happening more often. This isn’t a partisan issue though; it’s an issue of our nation’s educational system. If we keep hanging on to this relic of teachers’ unions, then we can only expect our students to continue being taught by teachers who have been utterly safeguarded against scrutiny of job performance.

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