Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

We Have to Do Better: Attacking Teacher Tenure Is Not the Way to Solve Education Inequity

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

We Have to Do Better: Attacking Teacher Tenure Is Not the Way to Solve Education Inequity

Article excerpt


"[I]t is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." (1) In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down public school segregation laws and declared that equal access to education was a right that must be afforded to every student. (2) Sixty years after this landmark decision, significant education equity issues continue to plague the country's schools, which are still "disturbingly racially segregated." (3) Students who attend mostly white or low-poverty schools are much more likely to receive a quality education (4) than their peers who attend high-minority or high-poverty schools. (5) Today, Missouri students are left to wonder why, if education is a right that "must be made available to all on equal terms," such inequalities are so prevalent amongst their schools. (6)

Missouri's leaders have been unable to create an effective solution to remedy these problems, though they have tried. Most recently, Missouri politicians and lobbyists have shifted their focus to the removal of teacher tenure laws. (7) The basis for these attacks is as follows: because teacher tenure laws presumably provide job security to inadequate teachers, and because inadequate teachers are more prevalent at high-poverty and high-minority schools, teacher tenure laws disproportionately affect poor and minority students. (8) This argument, which may be logical and well intentioned, is incredibly difficult to meaningfully analyze due to a lack of available data that suggests what, if any, causal effect tenure laws have on education inequity.

Efforts to eliminate teacher tenure in the name of improving education equity neglect the fact that these education deficiencies exist for political and societal reasons. The efforts to sweepingly remove tenure in order to somehow fix education inequity are "based on the faulty assumption that if you treat everyone equally, then everyone is equal." (9) Importantly, little to no data exists that offers a tangible assessment regarding whether these tenure laws do indeed unfairly affect poor and minority students. (10) Rather, the act of removing tenure itself may disproportionately harm these students, as high-poverty schools already struggle to attract the best teachers and removing tenure may take away one of the profession's most attractive aspects. (11) This Note attempts to analyze whether the elimination of Missouri tenure laws is truly the key to promoting education equity, or whether there are other solutions more likely to produce real, tangible results that may improve equity in Missouri schools.


Teacher tenure was first established in 1909. (12) New Jersey lawmakers were the first to institute teacher tenure laws, putting them in place to protect teachers against politically influenced appointments. (13) The laws additionally safeguarded teachers from being fired for activities they chose to participate in outside of work and from termination based on race or sex. (14) Tenure protections also allowed teachers academic freedom within the classroom (15) and provided an extra incentive to join the typically low-paying profession. (16) By the 1940s, approximately seventy percent of the nation's public school teachers had some tenure protections; by the 1950s, the numbers had risen to over eighty percent. (17) Despite the country's growing prevalence of tenure protections for teachers, it took sixty years from tenure's inception for the movement to make its way to Missouri. It was not until 1970 that Missouri teachers were afforded the tenure protections enjoyed by their out-of-state peers. (18) The Teacher Tenure Act, an extensive bundle of statutes aimed at protecting Missouri teachers, is still the law of the land today. …

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