Just this week, state officials in New Jersey, Florida, and Idaho
have called for the elimination of teacher tenure, and more states
plan to join the debate.
In their bids to reform K-12 education, state leaders in New
Jersey, Florida, and Idaho have all called this week for eliminating
If the legislatures go forward with such proposals, they'll join
more than a dozen states that have recently changed their teacher
evaluation and dismissal systems or are considering such moves.
The momentum sprang in part from incentives in the Obama
administration's recent Race to the Top competition for stimulus
Ending tenure is also being championed prominently by former
Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Ms. Rhee's new
Students First education-reform group called for that this week when
it released its detailed policy agenda.
Contrary to what the word conjures up, tenure doesn't mean a
lifetime job guarantee for teachers. Laws establishing hearings or
other protections against arbitrary firing sprang up state by state
in response to problems such as discrimination against women or
politically motivated firings.
"Tenure is really about due-process protections," says Patrick
McGuinn, a political science professor at Drew University in New
Jersey who has studied tenure policies, "but over time it's become
so lengthy, complicated, and costly to go through those due-process
protections ... that virtually no teachers are fired on the basis of
But while tenure reform enjoys support from both Democrats and
Republicans, some observers see such calls as polarizing rhetoric
that could ultimately harm efforts to improve education.
It's "demonizing teachers," says Thomas Hatch, a professor at
Columbia University's Teachers College in New York. "Just
eliminating teacher tenure is not suddenly going to improve the
performance of teachers... Part of what people forget is we're also
trying to support good teachers" when crafting evaluation and
professional development policies.
Every time a story comes out about the years and the dollars it
can take for administrators to get rid of incompetent or even
abusive teachers, teacher tenure becomes an easy target for
politicians and pundits.
In Ohio, calls for reform were stoked most recently by a case in
Mount Vernon, where the school board had to spend about two years
and $900,000 to fire a teacher who had burned the image of a cross
into students' arms, the Associated Press reports. The state has
already extended the amount of time people have to teach before
earning tenure to seven years, but further changes may be considered
this year. …