Teacher Tenure
Pros and Cons
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Should Teachers Get Tenure?
teacher tenure
Teacher tenure is the increasingly controversial form of job protection that public school teachers in all states receive after 1-7 years on the job. As of 2008, 2.3 million teachers have tenure.

Proponents of tenure argue that it protects teachers from being fired for personal or political reasons, and prevents the firing of experienced teachers to hire less expensive new teachers. They contend that since school administrators grant tenure, neither teachers nor teacher unions should be unfairly blamed for problems with the tenure system.

Opponents of tenure argue that this job protection makes the removal of poorly performing teachers so difficult and costly that most schools end up retaining their bad teachers. They contend that tenure encourages complacency among teachers who do not fear losing their jobs, and that tenure is no longer needed given current laws against job discrimination. Read more...
Did You Know?
Pro & Con Arguments
Top Pro & Con Quotes
Background
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Teacher Tenure ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not teachers should get tenure. This pro-con debate addresses the issue of tenure at the K-12 level and excludes discussion of tenure at the university level.
Did You Know?
  1. Before Massachusetts introduced teacher tenure in 1886, women were sometimes dismissed for getting married, becoming pregnant, wearing pants, or being out too late in the evenings. [1]

  2. In a June 1, 2009 study by the New Teacher Project, 86% of school administrators said "they do not always pursue dismissal" of poorly performing teachers because of the costly and time consuming process. [2]

  3. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election for Nov. 8, 2005 that included Proposition 74, which would have extended the time before a teacher becomes tenured from two to five years. [3] In response, the California Teachers Association increased member fees by $60, raising $50 million to fight Proposition 74. [4] The proposition failed, receiving 45% of the vote. [5]

  4. On June 28, 2010, New York City closed its "rubber rooms,” where approximately 600 tenured teachers "accused of incompetence and wrongdoing” received their full salaries to sit in a sparse room and do nothing. [6] [7]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Should Teachers Get Tenure?"
PRO Teacher Tenure

  1. Tenure protects teachers from being fired for personal, political, or other non-work related reasons. Before tenure, teachers could be dismissed when a new political party took power or a principal wanted to make room to hire his friends. Women were dismissed for getting married, becoming pregnant, wearing pants, or being out too late in the evenings. [1]


  2. Tenure prohibits school districts from firing experienced teachers to hire less experienced and less expensive teachers. The threat of firing has increased in recent years as many school districts face budget cuts. [8] Marcia Rothman, a teacher for 14 years, said at a Dec. 16, 2010 protest in New York, "They don’t want old experienced teachers who are too expensive. It’s a concerted effort to harass older teachers, so they can hire two young teachers." [9]


  3. Tenure protects teachers from being fired for teaching unpopular, controversial, or otherwise challenged cirricula such as evolutionary biology and controversial literature. [10] According to Edison State College teacher David McGrath, tenure "ensures academic freedom to teach important concepts such as evolution, and classic texts such as 'Huckleberry Finn,' 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'Catcher in the Rye,' all of which have been banned by some school districts, as recently as this year [2010], in America." [11]


  4. The promise of a secure and stable job attracts many teachers to the teaching profession, and eliminating teacher tenure would hamper teacher recruitment. Starting salaries for teachers are frequently lower than other occupations requiring similar levels of education and training. [12] A Mar. 2008 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that public school teachers received 15% lower weekly earnings than workers with comparable education and work experience. [13]


  5. Tenure helps guarantee innovation in teaching. Without the protection of tenure, teachers may feel pressured to use the same lesson plans and teach directly to standardized tests. [14] Former California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr said, "Teachers are afraid to try new, innovative things if they are afraid of losing their job.” [3]


  6. Teacher tenure is a justifiable reward for several years of positive evaluations by school administrators. Administrators are responsible for evaluating teachers before granting tenure and helping to develop struggling teachers. The existence of inadequate teachers should be blamed on the poor judgment of administrators, not teacher tenure. According to a 2008 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, not a single state has even "partly” developed a "meaningful” tenure-granting process. [15] [4]


  7. Tenure is a good system that has become a scapegoat for problems facing education. Eliminating tenure will not reduce class sizes or make schools cleaner and safer. [16] If tenure is abolished, problems of underfunding, overcrowding, and lack of control over students’ home lives will persist. [10]


  8. Tenure allows teachers to advocate on behalf of students and disagree openly with school and district administrators. [14] Award-winning history teacher Kerry Sylvia said that without tenure, she would be afraid of being fired because of her public opposition to initiatives by administrators. [17]


  9. Contrary to public perception, tenure does not guarantee a teacher a job for life. Each state's tenure laws establish strict requirements and processes for removing a tenured teacher. Tenure also guarantees teachers a termination hearing before the board of education or an impartial hearing panel. [18]


  10. Tenure protects teachers from being prematurely fired after a student makes a false accusation or a parent threatens expensive legal action against the district. After an accusation, districts might find it expedient to quickly remove a teacher instead of investigating the matter and incurring potentially expensive legal costs. The thorough removal process mandated by tenure rules ensures that teachers are not removed without a fair hearing. [14]


  11. Tenure encourages the careful selection of qualified and effective teachers. Since it is difficult to remove tenured teachers, tenure encourages school administrators to take more care when making hiring decisions. Additionally, tenure prompts administrators to dismiss underperforming teachers before they achieve tenure and cannot be removed as easily. [19]


  12. The formal dismissal process guaranteed by tenure protects teachers from punitive evaluation systems and premature dismissal. It allows under-performing teachers a chance to improve their skills rather than be hastily fired. [4]


  13. Tenure allows teachers to work more effectively since they do not need to be in constant fear of losing their jobs. [19] Without the anxiety and fear of losing employment, teachers can focus their efforts on providing the best education for students.
CON Teacher Tenure

  1. Teacher tenure creates complacency because teachers know they are unlikely to lose their jobs. Tenure removes incentives for teachers to put in more than the minimum effort and to focus on improving their teaching. [8]


  2. Tenure makes it difficult to remove underperforming teachers because the process involves months of legal wrangling by the principal, the school board, the union, and the courts. A June 1, 2009 study by the New Teacher Project found that 81% of school administrators knew a poorly performing tenured teacher at their school; however, 86% of administrators said they do not always pursue dismissal of teachers because of the costly and time consuming process. It can take up to 335 days to remove a tenured teacher in Michigan before the courts get involved. [2] [4]


  3. Tenure makes seniority the main factor in dismissal decisions instead of teacher performance and quality. [21] Tenure laws maintain the "last-hired, first-fired" policy. On Feb. 24, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District, claiming that basing layoffs on seniority harms younger teachers as well as "low-income students and persons of color." [22] On Oct. 6, 2010, both sides settled to cap or end layoffs at schools. [23]


  4. Tenure is not needed to recruit teachers. Sacramento Charter High School, which does not offer tenure, had 900 teachers apply for 80 job openings. [3]


  5. With job protections granted through court rulings, collective bargaining, and state and federal laws, teachers today no longer need tenure to protect them from dismissal. [24] For this reason, few other professions offer tenure because employees are adequately protected with existing laws. [25]


  6. Tenure makes it costly for schools to remove a teacher with poor performance or who is guilty of wrongdoing. It costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher in New York City. [27] New York spent an estimated $30 million a year paying tenured teachers accused of incompetence and wrongdoing to report to reassisgnment centers (sometimes called "rubber rooms”) where they were paid to sit idly.Those rooms were shut down on June 28, 2010. [6]


  7. With most states granting tenure after three years, teachers have not had the opportunity to "show their worth, or their ineptitude.” [28] A Nov. 21, 2008 study by the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education found that the first two to three years of teaching do not predict post-tenure performance. [29]


  8. Tenure does not grant academic freedom. No Child Left Behind in 2001 took away much academic freedom when it placed so much emphasis on standardized testing. [10] According to an Oct. 1, 2006 survey published in Planning and Changing, 56% of school board presidents disagreed with the statement that teacher tenure ensures academic freedom. [18]


  9. Tenure at the K-12 level is not earned, but given to nearly everyone. To receive tenure at the university level, professors must show contributions to their fields by publishing research. At the K-12 level, teachers only need to "stick around” for a short period of time to receive tenure. [30] A June 1, 2009 study by the New Teacher Project found that less than 1% of evaluated teachers were rated unsatisfactory. [2]


  10. Tenure is unpopular among educators and the public. An Apr.-May 2011 survey of 2,600 Americans found that 49% oppose teacher tenure while 20% support it. Among teachers, 53% support tenure while 32% oppose it. According to a Sep. 2010 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 86% of education professors favor "making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers - even if they are tenured.” [31] [32]


  11. Teacher tenure does nothing to promote the education of children. Former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said in 2008, "Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but it has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults.” [27]


  12. Teacher tenure requires schools to make long-term spending commitments and prevents districts from being fiscally flexible. Teacher employment contracts generally lack provisions for declining enrollment and economic turmoil. [33]


  13. Tenure lets experienced teachers pick easier assignments and leaves difficult assignments to the least experienced teachers. Senior teachers choose to teach more resource-rich and less challenging populations instead of the classrooms that would benefit the most from experienced teachers. [34] Public Agenda President Deborah Wadsworth argues that teacher tenure leads to "a distribution of talent that is flawed and inequitable.” [34]


  14. Most school board presidents criticize teacher tenure. In an Oct. 1, 2006 survey, 91% of school board presidents either agreed or strongly agreed that tenure impedes the dismissal of underperforming teachers. 60% also believed that tenure does not promote fair evaluations. [18]
Comment Comment
Background: "Should Teachers Get Tenure?"

(click to enlarge image)
Kindergarten Teacher Wendy Wadsworth protests against Florida Bill SB6, which aimed to eliminate teacher tenure.
Source: Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, www.brandenton.com, Apr. 15, 2010
Teacher tenure is the increasingly controversial form of job protection that public school teachers in all states receive after 1-7 years on the job. As of 2008, 2.3 million teachers have tenure. [10]

Proponents of tenure argue that it protects teachers from being fired for personal or political reasons, and prevents the firing of experienced teachers to hire less expensive new teachers. They contend that since school administrators grant tenure, neither teachers nor teacher unions should be unfairly blamed for problems with the tenure system.

Opponents of tenure argue that this job protection makes the removal of poorly performing teachers so difficult and costly that most schools end up retaining their bad teachers. They contend that tenure encourages complacency among teachers who do not fear losing their jobs, and that tenure is no longer needed given current laws against job discrimination.

Prior to the introduction of teacher tenure, teachers were often fired for non-work related reasons. Teachers could be dismissed if a new political party took power or if a principal wanted to give jobs to his friends. Calls for special protections for teachers coincided with the women’s suffrage movement and labor struggles during the late 19th century. The National Education Association issued a report in 1885 advocating for public school teachers to receive tenure to protect against political favoritism and discrimination based on gender and race. In 1886, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a pre-college tenure law. [1] When nearly 10,000 teachers arrived in Chicago for the 1887 NEA conference, teacher tenure was one of the main discussion topics. In 1909, New Jersey passed the first comprehensive K-12 tenure law in the US. Proponents of the teacher tenure law in New Jersey argued that it would attract more qualified teachers and eliminate political favoritism, while opponents warned that tenure would make it more difficult to remove ineffective teachers. [18]

After the Great Depression, teachers began to organize politically in order to receive funding and job protections. [35] Teachers unions negotiated for tenure clauses in their contracts with state and individual school districts. By 1940, 70% of K-12 public school teachers had job protections. [4] In the mid-1950s, the number grew to over 80%. [4]

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Cover of the Mar. 15, 2010 issue of Newsweek Magazine
Source: Eric Tipler, "Fire Teachers and Replace Jefferson with Aquinas? A Bizarre Week in Education," www.huffingtonpost.com, Mar. 16, 2010


Education and tenure reform became a national issue following the release of A Nation at Risk, a 1983 report of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education that found "the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." [36] The report prompted states to look at reforming tenure, strengthening educational standards, and increasing the use of standardized tests.

Following the release of a 1985 report by the Illinois State Board of Education showing that only three tenured teachers were dismissed on average per year, the Illinois legislature changed their tenure laws to make it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers. [18] In the 18 years following these changes, only 39 tenured teachers were dismissed. [18]

In 2000, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, successfully pushed a law through the legislature eliminating tenure for new teachers. Barnes told a joint session of the General Assembly, "Most of the time, tenure means a principal doesn't even try to dismiss a bad teacher because, even if the principal bucks the odds and succeeds, the cost in time and money is staggering.” [37] When Barnes was up for reelection in 2002, teachers refused to support him, helping Sonny Perdue to become the first Republican Governor of Georgia since 1872.


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Length of tenure, state by state
Source: Stephen Sawchuk, "States Strive to Overhaul Teacher Tenure," www.edweek.org, Apr. 7, 2010
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the issue of teacher tenure directly to the voters in a Nov. 8, 2005 special election. Proposition 74 called for the period of time before a teacher becomes tenured to be extended from two years to five years. In response, the California Teachers Association increased member fees by $60, raising $50 million to fight Proposition 74. [4] The proposition failed, receiving 45% of the vote. [5]

On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top program which made available $4.35 billion in grants to "encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform.” [38] Requirements for states to receive funding from the new federal program include adopting policies that take into account student achievement when evaluating teachers and having plans to remove "ineffective tenured and untenured teachers.”


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Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York Public Schools from Aug. 19, 2002 to Jan. 1 2011, discusses teacher tenure and school reform on ABC's The View
Source: "Klein: Time for the Reformation," www.nypost.com, Sep. 28, 2010
After failing to win Race from the Top funding, Colorado passed legislation in May of 2009 making it possible for teachers to lose their tenure status. Also in 2009, Ohio extended the period before a teacher becomes tenured from three years to seven.

Despite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg favoring "ending tenure as we know it,” the United Federation of Teachers, with the largest political-action fund in New York City, has so far been able to protect tenure for teachers. New York is currently ineligible to receive Race to the Top funding because of an April 2008 law passed by the state legislature banning the use of student test data when making tenure decisions. [40]

Some changes to tenure have been made under the leadership of Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City Public Schools. From 2002 when Klein was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, until 2009, the percentage of third-year teachers not receiving tenure has risen from three percent to six, and the percentage of tenured teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings increased from 1% to 1.8%. On June 28, 2010, the city’s "rubber rooms,” where approximately 600 tenured teachers "accused of incompetence and wrongdoing” received a full salary to sit in a sparse room every day, were closed. [6] [7]

A Feb. 11, 2010 LA Weekly investigation found that the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire seven underperforming teachers. On average, legal struggles to remove each teacher took five years and ended with four of the teachers being fired. Thirty-two other underperforming teachers were given an average of $50,000 by the district to quit. [41]

In 2008, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed giving teachers the option of linking pay to performance in exchange for teachers giving up tenure. Union leadership refused to allow their membership to vote for the proposal that would allow teachers to earn up to $130,000 a year. When the DC teachers union allowed their membership to vote on the proposal in June of 2010, 80% of teachers voted in favor of it. The following month, Ms. Rhee fired 241 teachers and placed 737 teachers on notice for being "minimally effective.”

On Sep, 24, 2010, the documentary Waiting for "Superman" brought the debate over teacher tenure and New York City's "rubber rooms" to the big screen. The documentary by the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth took a negative view of teacher tenure and teachers unions, prompting American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to call the film "unfair," "misleading," and potentially "dangerous." [42]

The New Jersey School Boards Association issued a white paper on Sep. 30, 2010 calling for an overhaul of the tenure process. [43] In his State of the State address on Jan. 11, 2011, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said "the time to eliminate teacher tenure is now." [44] The New Jersey Education Association has proposed changes to teacher tenure such as using arbitrators instead of judges to hear dismissal cases, but it plans to fight the Governor over the elimination of tenure. [44]

Between Jan. and Aug. of 2011, 18 state legislatures modified their teacher tenure laws. [45] Many states chose to include teacher performance evaluations in their revised tenure legislation, and the Idaho legislature passed SB 1108 which phased out tenure for new teachers.

On June 10, 2014 Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled California's teacher tenure laws unconstitutional (Vergara v. California). (598KB) The ruling targets the laws about how teachers are hired and fired, specifically the "last in, first out" rules that allegedly protect "grossly ineffective teachers," therefore preventing students, especially minority and low-income students, from an equal and quality education. Appeals to the Vergara ruling were filed by California Governor Jerry  Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the California Teachers Association, and the California Federation of Teachers. [46]
Video Gallery

not clearly pro or conNBC political correspondent Norah O'Donnell moderates a teacher tenure debate between Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association, Davis Guggenheim, the director of the film Waiting For 'Superman,' and Jon Schnur, CEO of New Leaders for New Schools.
Source: CTFORUM, "Lily Eskelsen, Davis Guggenheim, Jon Schnur and Norah O'Donnell Debate Teacher Tenure,” www.youtube.com, Nov. 16, 2010  
not clearly pro or conThe legal battle over teacher tenure in Missouri.
Source: rans202k, "Attorney Aspires to Eliminate Teacher Tenure Missouri," www.youtube.com, Jul. 31, 2013
proAmerican Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten discusses teacher tenure on "CBS Sunday Morning."
Source: AFTHQ, "Randi Weingarten on Tenure,” www.youtube.com, Nov. 17, 2010
conTeacher tenure is discussed as it relates to the case Vergara v. California.
Source: Choice Media, "Tenure on Trial in California," www.youtube.com, Mar. 26, 2014

Notices for Teacher Tenure and Other ProCon.org Information (archived after 30 days)

10/8/2014 – NEW ProCon.org Website! – Local Elections – Since our presidential election websites helped millions of people decide whom to vote for, many readers have asked ProCon.org to cover local elections. For the first time ever, and in a more limited capacity, we have brought our unique brand of election coverage to local elections starting with Santa Monica, California where we are based. Our 52nd website gathers views from the Santa Monica city council, school board, and college board candidates on important community issues. Click on a candidate, click on an issue, or take the quiz to see which candidate best matches your views. More than 600,000 people took a similar version of our quiz for the 2012 presidential election.

9/23/2014 - Should Teachers Get Tenure? - Read new responses from Diane Ravitch, PhD, Research Professor of Education at New York University (pro), Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., JD, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California (con), Brian Jones, MEd, Green Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York and former New York City public school teacher (pro), and Michelle Rhee, MPP, former Chancellor of Washington, DC public schools (con).

Archived Notices (archived after 30 days)


Last updated on 9/29/2014 7:35:58 AM PST

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