The following is an article written by Ms.Brianna Meiers. Comments, criticism or just observations can be posted here at Patriot Dreams, or you may contact Ms. Meiers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Patriot Dreams has reported on the changing face of teacher tenure before, particularly as it relates to academic freedom. Today’s article builds on these ideas by looking at the financial and societal ramifications of some of the tenure reform initiatives recently enacted across the country. Author Brianna Meiers has previously compiled a database of schools on the Internet, and is well regarded as an expert on modern education policy.
Getting a Handle on Rising Costs in Schools
The educational system in the United States is in trouble. High school graduates rank lower in terms of overall knowledge and exam performance than those from most other economically advanced countries, and student benchmarks in reading, math, and technology are far from where most educators hoped they would be. At the same time, student enrollment is at a historic high, with more students needing special services like language help than ever before. States facing budget crunches are often looking to strip services and cut programs as a way to manage costs. Though this may start as a simple elimination of after-school sports or foreign language classes, it often morphs into major staff cuts. To many legislators, eliminating or drastically reducing teacher tenure is one of the best ways to improve the educational experience while curtailing costs. Though this may seem like something of a win-win from the surface, the deeper issues at stake warrant a closer look.
At the elementary and secondary school level, “teacher tenure” is a long-standing system of job security. In most cases, teachers can earn tenure simply by putting in a certain number of years—usually three—and earning satisfactory reviews during that time. Tenure is not usually an iron-clad lifetime job guarantee, though it often works as such; removing teachers with tenure is notoriously difficult, and is often judged simply too expensive to bother with by school boards. Many simply come to the conclusion that it is better to shift “bad” teachers to more administrative functions than it is to actually start the process of terminating them. The problem then becomes that these educators are being paid often hefty salaries essentially just for clocking in each day.
Tenure has noble origins. In the early part of the 20th century, teachers often faced harsh discrimination for things like gender—the profession was once heavily male-oriented—or curriculum choices. Awarding tenure was a way to attract talent while protecting intellectual freedom and classroom autonomy.
Most of the states that are taking a critical look at teacher tenure today are looking to preserve the good parts of the system while cutting away the bad. “We had a system where it was almost impossible to financially reward great teachers and very difficult to deal with ineffective teachers. If you want an education system that truly puts students first, you have to have both,” Tom Luna, Idaho Schools superintendent, told USA Today in 2012. Idaho in 2011 ended its system of “enduring contracts,” which essentially amounts to an outright abolishment of tenure—at least for new hires. Older teachers who have already earned tenure can keep it, but the system is no longer in effect for those just joining the profession.
Changes are afoot elsewhere, too. Nearby Washington state, for instance, recently lengthened the number of years it will take teachers to get tenure, and will subject those who have earned the coveted award to periodic performance reviews and audits. New Jersey’s new system is similar. Over the summer of 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law requiring four years of satisfactory teaching in order for tenure, up from the current three; it also imposes looser removal policies so that ineffective educators can be more expeditiously removed without huge financial burden or costly administrative procedure.
There is no easy way to improve education in this country, but taking a hard look at teacher motivation and effectiveness is a good place to start. Simply abolishing the tenure system is too harsh, but allowing it to remain unchecked seems like something of an abdication of responsibility. Rather than looking at tenure as strictly a financial matter, regarding it more as a means for enhancing and improving student learning is probably the most effective way forward.