Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Tenure Should Benefit Students

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Tenure Should Benefit Students

Article excerpt

Tenure started for good reasons but has morphed into a system that is more focused on job protection than student learning. Tenure is worthwhile when teachers earn it in return for demonstrating and maintaining quality teaching practices.

Tenure is exactly the kind of education issue that I most dislike. Tenure is all about what adults get out of the system rather than how students learn. Defenders and detractors pretend students are their main concern, but mentions of students are tossed in as afterthoughts no matter who's doing the arguing.

Tenure started for a legitimate reason: Too many public sector jobs were going to political cronies, and public school teachers were at risk of losing their jobs for all the wrong reasons. That is not a strategy for getting high-quality teachers into classrooms.

Early reformers wanted to ensure that teachers could be dismissed only for cause, which, roughly translated, means a teacher could be discharged only if she wasn't doing a good job.

But, over the decades, tenure morphed into lifetime job assurance no matter what. For too many years, what passed for observations and evaluations was a joke. A generation or more of teachers expected to become tenured after they had punched the clock and had the barest of reviews. We should never have allowed that to happen.

Then unions, drunk with their own power for several decades, went too far in supporting teachers who did not deserve their support. Instead of reining in their enthusiasm for challenging the system, overeager state and local unions waged war on school districts that tried to discharge ineffective and unscrupulous teachers. They drove up the costs and the time involved in such cases and inspired public ire as a result. Worse, their actions too often allowed some bad actors to join the dance of the lemons and skip off to jobs in unsuspecting districts.

Reformers get an opening

That overzealousness gave so-called reformers a perfect opening during their general attack on public education. …

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