Positives, negatives, problems and some suggestions for tenure
The term tenure describes the employment status of a permanent teacher in most public school systems. Tenure provides permanent teachers a “property right” to employment and provides significant guarantees of due process for a teacher facing dismissal charges.
Much has been written recently regarding tenure for public school teachers. Tenure is often misunderstood and politicized. Here are some positives, negatives, problems, and suggestions.
Positives of tenure
Tenure was instituted years ago to protect good teachers from angry parents, micromanaging school board members, and/or incompetent administrators. Teachers, like judges, must make decisions that not everyone agrees with. It is not uncommon for a parent who is displeased with his or her child’s grade to call for the teacher’s dismissal. Some school board members cannot refrain from micromanagement. It is not uncommon for a board member to call for a teacher’s dismissal. Not all administrators are competent in the task of properly evaluating teachers. It is not uncommon for a poor administrator to call for the dismissal of a teacher who is capable. Tenure protects teachers who speak up. Tenure protects teachers from age discrimination and other forms of prejudice. Tenure protects good teachers in these and other situations.
Negatives of tenure
Students suffer as a result of poor teachers and administrators. Tenure protects ineffective teachers. The process of removing a teacher is not simple or swift. However, effective districts and administrators can and do remove teachers who are not effective. In contrast, ineffective districts and administrators often cannot correctly determine and/or follow the process in order to dismiss an ineffective teacher. These administrators often complain the process is too complicated and expensive. Excuses do not solve problems. Most ineffective teachers were granted tenure by an ineffective administrator.
Problems with tenure
In California, a teacher normally begins working for a district in a “probationary” status and is granted tenure after two years or is fired. (Education uses the term “non-reelected” instead of “fired.”) Previously, the decision was made after three years. Most teachers need more time to learn the craft, and administration needs more time to properly assess a teacher’s skills and ability. Presently, a probationary teacher can be “non-reelected” without cause. This means the teacher is fired without being told why. The law only requires a “non-reelected” teacher to be informed of the dismissal by March 15 of the current school year. Fired teachers are expected to teach for the remaining three months of the school year. These changes were part of a “reform” package in the early 1980s. They were not wise.
Teacher training needs to be improved. Apprenticeship programs that require new teachers to work with a quality, experienced teacher should replace the inadequate student teacher system. Tenure should be attained after three or four years. Evaluations should not be conducted solely by one principal. Specially trained evaluators should also be involved in this important decision. All administrators should be properly trained in the lawful process of evaluating, assisting, and/or removing teachers who legitimately need to improve or leave. Administrators need adequate time to learn and perform these tasks. Proven assistance programs for teachers requiring support should be consistently maintained.
Federal and state politicians who simply seek to make points by commenting on “all those bad teachers” are not helpful. Reforms can and should be formulated. In order for this to occur, all of the stakeholders must work together for the common good, not political or monetary gain, with the best interest of children as the guiding light.
Stephen P. Blum is the president of the Ventura Unified Education Association and a member of the Ventura County Community College Board of Trustees. He served as a high school teacher for 25 years and as the cross-country and track coach at Buena High School for 22 years. He has a Juris Doctorate degree, a Master’s degree in education, and a Bachelor’s degree in history. His wife has been a teacher for 30-plus years. Their daughter is a student at California State University at Channel Islands.
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