Reforming Tenure in Schools of Education

By Tierney, William G. | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2001 | Go to article overview
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Reforming Tenure in Schools of Education


Tierney, William G., Phi Delta Kappan


Mr. Tierney argues that, if the work of schools of education is ever to change, then the reward structure that exists for school of education faculty members must change. He offers five models of reform and suggests what needs to happen in order for change to take place

PERHAPS no professional school has had a more contentious and ill- defined history than the school of education. Whereas medical schools were held in low regard at the start of the 20th century, for the better part of that century the expectations of members of the medical faculty were relatively clear. Certain other professional schools, such as business and law, have had a variety of roles suggested for them, but in large measure their roles and functions have been defined and constrained by accrediting associations. Still other professional schools, such as public administration or urban planning, have been much more narrowly defined, and they are not found on nearly as many campuses as schools of education.

Schools of education, however, are ubiquitous. They are found in virtually all types of postsecondary institutions - research universities, liberal arts colleges, public state universities, and the like - and they have been called on to do a wide variety of tasks. Some proponents argue that schools of education should mirror their medical school counterparts and perform basic research that leads to consensual findings. Others opine that schools of education should train teachers and do little more. Still others suggest that schools of education must have a close, sustained working relationship with K-12 schools and teachers. Some believe that education should be a discipline-focused endeavor, and others assert that faculty members of schools of education must be responsive to teachers and other educators.

The problem of role definition is only exacerbated by the wide array of institutions in which schools of education exist. Medical schools, for example, are found almost exclusively at leading research universities. Law schools, although located on more campuses than medical schools, are also found primarily in institutions where research is a high priority. Many professions, such as nursing, are found at the opposite end of the spectrum, on campuses where outreach to a specific constituency is important and research is relatively unimportant. However, schools of education are found on the campuses of the nation's leading research universities, on campuses where research is a low priority, and at small liberal arts colleges that focus almost exclusively on teaching.

The inability to reach a consensus about what schools of education should be and do has multiple consequences for public policy makers and for faculty members in schools of education. Rather than seek a singular definition of what schools of education should do, a more practical and useful approach is to develop campus-based definitions of the role and function of education faculty members. Such a suggestion, of course, follows the work of Ernest Boyer, Eugene Rice, and Judith Gappa in calling for expanded notions of scholarship in the academy.1

However, rather than focus on decontextualized ideas about scholarship, I specifically want to consider the work of faculty members in education and how different frameworks for rewards might be reconfigured to honor various kinds of work. I argue that, if the work of schools of education is ever to change, then the reward structure that exists for school of education faculty members must change. It is not reasonable to expect faculty members to spend time in local schools if the reward structure favors basic research instead. And it is disingenuous to suggest that teaching is a fundamental activity for faculty members but to pay scant attention to the quality of teaching when tenure decisions are made.

Supporters and critics of the reform of schools of education throughout the 20th century have largely argued from a perspective that might best be described as "one size fits all.

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