Teacher Tenure
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Last updated on: 7/27/2011 9:39:57 AM PST

Should Teachers Get Tenure?

PRO (yes) CON (no)
New York State United Teachers wrote in their Feb. 11, 2011 article "Mythbusters: The Truth About Tenure," available at www.nysut.org:
"Unions don't grant tenure - administrators do. Too many school boards and superintendents attack tenure rather than hold their own managers accountable for hiring and supervising teachers and, if necessary, removing those who don't make the grade. Tenure is granted by the board of education on recommendation of the superintendent -but many schools do a poor job of evaluating and supporting teachers…

Tenure's not about protecting ‘bad’ teachers; it's about protecting good teachers. What would happen to teachers without tenure? They could - and would - be fired for virtually any reason.

It's not hard to imagine teachers being dismissed because they failed the daughter of an influential businessman or because the school board president's nephew needed a job.

In these fiscally troubled times, what would stop a school board from replacing a veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale with a first-year teacher - simply to save money?Tenure is the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom. Teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so. Tenure prevents school boards from arbitrarily dismissing teachers for holding political, religious or social views with which they disagree.

It protects academic freedom the way the First Amendment protects freedom of the press.”

Feb. 18, 2011 - New York State United Teachers 

National Education Association General Counsel Alice O'Brien wrote the following in an email to ProCon.org on Feb. 2, 2011:
"NEA believes in a fair and efficient process for removing ineffective teachers from classrooms. NEA and its state affiliates will work to maintain state laws that provide experienced teachers with the right to a fair dismissal process - one that gives notice of the reason for the termination and the opportunity to a fair hearing to contest that reason - which is what tenure laws ensure.  Tenure, as defined by state laws, does not keep ineffective teachers in classrooms, it simply ensures a fair dismissal process."

Feb. 2, 2011 - National Education Association (NEA) 

Alan Singer, PhD, Professor of Social Studies at Hofstra University, wrote the following in the Feb. 24, 2010 article "Why Tenure for Teachers Is Important," available at www.huffingtonpost.com:
"Based on my own experience as a New York City public school teacher, I am a strong advocate of tenure. While it protects the less than satisfactory by requiring that due process be followed before they can be removed, it also protects exceptionally good teachers from being undermined and removed by administrators anxious to cover their own rear ends and blustering politicians…

I organized student clubs that testified at public hearings against budget cuts in education and in favor of condom availability in schools. Club members organized debates on reproductive freedom and informational meetings on the Sandinista in Nicaragua, the meaning of Islam, equal rights for gays, and the importance of the census. Sometimes my actions brought me into conflict with 'colleagues' and administrators...

What protected me was better than average scores on standardized tests by my students, the fact that I worked in very difficult schools by choice, the school and departmental administrators who respected what I did, and tenure, which made it virtually impossible to remove a teacher without documented evidence of malfeasance or incompetence."

Feb. 24, 2010 - Alan Singer, PhD 

Michael E. Kramer, JD, MBA, Outside Counsel to the Georgia Association of Educators, wrote the following in his Nov. 18, 2009 article "Good Reasons to Save Teacher Tenure," available at www.gae2.org:
"Of the 50 states in the United States, 49 have some form of teacher tenure, or ‘fair dismissal laws’ protecting teachers from arbitrary firings. Most of these states clearly outrank Georgia on student testing and achievement in multiple categories. These states have no problem outshining Georgia on educational measures while also requiring administrators to justify the firing of public schoolteachers. Clearly, tenure laws are not holding back other states from achieving education reform or student progress and achievement. (In fact, Mississippi is the only state that has no statutory protections providing a due process hearing for teachers. Mississippi ranks lowest in most educational measures).

How can anyone object to requiring an administrator ‘to have a good reason’ for firing a public schoolteacher? Isn't this simply holding the administrator responsible for sound educational judgment?...

While educational systems can and should be constantly improved, its disingenuous to suggest that tenure has held education back…"

Nov. 18, 2009 - Michael E. Kramer, JD, MBA 

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers wrote the following in its Mar. 5, 2009 position paper "Teacher Tenure Is Under Attack in Louisiana," available at la.aft.org:
"Teacher tenure exists for two essential reasons: to protect educators from political or personal retribution and to guarantee their academic freedom to teach according to the best practices in their fields of expertise. Tenure does not guarantee lifetime employment. It does not protect the unqualified or incompetent individual. The most important function of tenure is to provide a due process when questions arise about a teacher’s qualifications, ability or suitability to teach...

Evidence of effectiveness, demonstrated over a period of three years, lies at the heart of the tenure process. That process is sound, but it is only as good as the people charged with the responsibility of carrying it out. During the three year probationary period, administrators have ample opportunity to closely monitor and evaluate a teacher’s performance. Diligence is required on the part of principals and supervisors...

Teacher tenure is a vital protection, and a key professional right. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers will vigorously fight any efforts to water down the state's tenure law. We will wage this battle in the context of our call for a bolder, broader approach to public education."

Mar. 5, 2009 - Louisiana Federation of Teachers 

Maurice R. Berube, PhD, Eminent scholar emeritus at Old Dominion University, wrote the following in a Mar. 3, 2011 letter to the editor, available at www.nytimes.com:
"One of the chief reasons for the teachers’ unions in the first place was to protect teachers from outside pressure through tenure. Tenure is not easily given; it is earned.

Moreover, critics of teachers’ unions do not take into account the fact that teaching is labor-intensive and teachers often burn out.

Teachers are not the problem of American education, as some charge; they are the solution."

Mar. 3, 2011 - Maurice R. Berube, PhD 

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, California Regional Teacher of the Year, wrote in the Dec. 21, 2009 article "The Truth About Teacher Tenure" available at www.edutopia.org:
"I'm grateful to tenure for protecting a very dedicated and self-sacrificing group of professionals...

Without tenure, a 30-year teacher who has proven himself able under six school administrations can be fired under the seventh simply due to a conflict in teaching styles. Without tenure, the most experienced and proven educator - someone who has put in years on a school district pay scale -- could be fired simply to cut costs in order to hire a newer, unproven teacher...

Without tenure, a teacher would be less likely to try a new book or lesson that strayed from the district vision even if that vision was flawed, or even if that supplemental material was exactly what that teacher needed to reach the kids in her classroom. Without tenure, we could not use criticism to improve our profession.

Without tenure, our vulnerability might influence our choices, allowing our fear of standardized test scores to drive our curriculum, rather then adding the critical-thinking skills into our lessons that we know our students truly need. Without tenure, a teacher could not fight for a student's rights, raising his voicing against his own school administration or district.

Tenure is not so much a perk as a shield that permits us to teach through the ebb and flow of trends and fads brought in ofttimes by nomadic administrators. It gives us the ability to have an unthreatened voice to stand up against the grain. It allows us to retain our positions through our pregnancies, illness, and mourning, to stand up against lawyers pitted against us by litigious-eyed parents, or by the occasional student with lying on her tongue."

Dec. 21, 2009 - Heather Wolpert-Gawron 

Matt Coleman, retired teacher at Trenton High School, wrote the following in his Apr. 7, 2011 Gainesville Sun opinion article "Why Teachers Need Tenure," available at www.gainesville.com:
"A professional services contract or tenure is needed for teachers in the public schools of Florida to prevent despotism, nepotism, and cronyism from denying good teachers the opportunity of making teaching a career. Without it, teaching becomes a job that only rewards teachers who teach the most able students instead of a profession where teachers help all students learn…

The school principal is the gatekeeper for excellence in teaching at their school. When the school principal acts responsibly, poor teachers are weeded out and let go, and good teachers are awarded tenure after three years of teaching. Tenure gives these teachers the sense that their job is secure and that it cannot be terminated by the whim of an administrator, complaining parent or other adult, or a disgruntled student. Tenure encourages teaching careers.

The last thing politicians should want is to turn Florida education into a spoils system where administrative patronage determines who gets hired and fired at the end of each school year. Tenure keeps that from happening to good teachers."

Apr. 7, 2011 - Matt Coleman 

Anita Gibson, President of the Alabama Education Association, wrote the following in the May 14, 2011 Montgomery Advertiser guest column "Alabama Voices: No Protection," available at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com:
"The job protections and due process of tenure were first put into place more than 70 years ago because teachers and school employees were routinely fired for personal and political reasons. The tenure law changed that, basing personnel decisions on educational factors and providing a strong system of review by a neutral third party.

The proposed bills would eliminate these basic principles and remove all checks and balances on school boards and administrators, making them wholly unaccountable for their actions.

Proponents of this radical legislation complain that the current system makes it too difficult to fire bad tenured teachers.

The fact is, bad tenured teachers get fired all the time, as well they should. Teachers are evaluated more than most professions, and the system provides ample opportunity to remove bad teachers…

When administrators do their job, follow the rules, and use common sense, the system works and bad teachers are dismissed."

May 14, 2011 - Anita Gibson 

Jim O'Neill, former Superintendent of Chathams School District, wrote the following in an Apr. 14, 2011 email to ProCon.org:
"I still believe that tenure is important and does protect academic freedom. It would not only be unfair and shortsighted if teachers could be dismissed because they were told not to teach about global warming or they must teach intellectual design; it would be criminal and fostering anti-intellectualism in an institution designed to foster investigation into and a healthy debate about emerging ideas. I believe there remains important controversial ideas that must not be ignored, overlooked, or banned when we are in institutions that should foster and nurture intellectual curiosity."

Apr. 14, 2011 - Jim O'Neill 

Michael Bloomberg, MBA, Mayor of New York City, was quoted in the Sep. 27, 2010 transcript "Remarks of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at NBC News' 'Education Nation' Summit," available at schools.nyc.gov:
"We’ll do more to support teachers and reward great teaching – and that includes ending tenure as we know it so that tenure is awarded for performance, not taken for granted.

Teachers and principals are professionals. They deserve to be paid like professionals, treated like professionals, and evaluated like professionals. But for too long, the tenure evaluation process for both principals and teachers has been a formality – a rubber stamp. It used to be that 99.1 percent of teachers received tenure. That’s right, 99.1 percent. But last year, we started using data to make tenure decisions, and the tenure number dropped to 89 percent. For the other 11 percent, they were just not ready to receive a lifetime job protection...

It’s time for us to end the ‘last-in, first out’ layoff policy that puts children at risk here in New York – and across our wonderful country. With more budget cuts looming, principals across the country will have no choice but to make layoffs based only on seniority – so their newest teachers would be the first ones to go, even if they happen to be the best teachers. That makes no sense. Remember our one and only question: is it good for children?"

Sep. 27, 2010 - Michael Bloomberg, MBA 

Rick Scott, JD, Governor of Florida, said the following in his Jan. 11, 2011 speech at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's South Florida Economic Summit, available at tampabay.com:
"Just like we hold government accountable, we should also hold teachers accountable, and this is one simple way to do that. We also need to eliminate teacher tenure so that we can replace bad teachers. Good teachers know they don’t need tenure. There is no reason to have it except to protect those that don’t perform as they should. If we do that, and we give parents more options for educating their kids, we’ll be well on our way to fixing Florida’s economy."

Jan. 11, 2011 - Rick Scott, JD 

Michelle Rhee, MPP, former DC Schools Chancellor, testified before Florida State's Senate Prekindergarten-12 Education Committee on Feb. 10, 2011, available at www.studentsfirst.org:
"I was encouraged to learn about Florida’s recent efforts to eliminate tenure. It just does not put students first, and with federal due process laws in place, tenure is no longer necessary to sufficiently protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal. Whether you are able to eliminate it or otherwise redefine it to separate tenure from personnel decisions, Florida can be one of the first to disempower this outdated practice that has no correlation to improved student achievement.

Of course, having tenure does not mean a teacher is ineffective. However, most teachers are granted tenure within just a few years. Once a teacher has tenure, in most states that teacher essentially has a job for life regardless of performance, making the practice of tenure a barrier to separating teachers who are ineffective and unable to improve...

As Stanford economist Eric Hanushek’s study (10.3 MB) on teacher quality indicates, even if we replace just the bottom six percent of teachers with average teachers, we will see dramatic results in student achievement. Tenure makes it very difficult to do even this."

Feb. 10, 2011 - Michelle Rhee, MPP 

The Idaho State Department of Education wrote the following in the Feb. 1, 2011 article "Tenure," available at www.sde.idaho.gov:
"Right now, the public education system makes it difficult to reward excellent teachers and to remove poor teachers.  If our goal is to make sure Idaho Students Come First, we must address both…

Currently, if a teacher has been teaching for longer than three years, they receive a continuing contract in the State of Idaho – a contract equivalent to tenure. If we truly want to focus on putting students first, we can no longer permit a forever contract in our schools. No credible research shows that tenure helps improve student achievement…

Phasing out tenure is not a new idea or something just happening in Idaho. States across the nation have passed or introduced legislation to eliminate tenure or tie it to a teacher’s performance. These states recognize that tenure may have been a rite of passage in the past, but it now serves as an obstacle to improving schools."

Feb. 1, 2011 - Idaho State Department of Education 

Timothy Knowles, PhD, Director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, wrote in his Wall Street Journal June 18, 2010 opinion piece "The Trouble with Teacher Tenure" at www.wsj.com:
"First, teachers have a greater impact on student learning than any other school-based factor. Second, we will not produce excellent schools without eliminating laws and practices that guarantee teachers - regardless of their performance - jobs for life.

Nearly everyone in public education has a story that illustrates the Kafkaesque process of trying to remove a tenured teacher. Mine involves a teacher in Boston who napped each day in the back of the room while students copied from the board. Despite repeated efforts, the district failed to fire him.

The time has come to eliminate tenure. We are facing monumental challenges in our quest to provide all students with an education that will prepare them to compete in a globalized economy. By removing one of the main sources of friction between labor and management, we can focus on the substantive issues: training, evaluating and rewarding teachers to make teaching a true profession."

June 18, 2010 - Timothy Knowles, PhD 

Chris Christie, JD, Governor of New Jersey, was quoted in the Jan. 11, 2011 transcript "Gov. Chris Christie 2011 State of the State Address," available at www.newjerseynewsroom.com:
"The time for real reform is now… I propose that we reward the best teachers, based on merit, at the individual teacher level. demand that layoffs, when they occur, be based on a merit system and not merely on seniority…

And perhaps the most important step in that process is to give schools more power to remove underperforming teachers. The time for a national conversation on tenure is long past due.

Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform. Let New Jersey lead the way again. The time to eliminate teacher tenure is now."

Jan. 11, 2011 - Chris Christie, JD 

The New Jersey School Boards Association wrote in its Sep. 30, 2010 press release "Tenure Reform" available at www.njsba.org:
"School boards operate in a completely different environment today than they did when tenure was established in 1909. Over a century of statutes, regulations and court decisions protect employees from arbitrary dismissal and discrimination. More recently, the School Ethics Act and the School District Accountability Act and regulations added to safeguards against patronage hiring and nepotism.

New Jersey’s tenure system has devolved into a lifetime job protection for teachers, regardless of how well they perform in the classroom.

The New Jersey School Boards Association believes that our state’s children deserve a public school system that places educational quality above employee job security. Therefore, reforming the current system of lifetime tenure should be at the heart of educational improvement and reform. NJSBA supports replacement of lifetime tenure for school employees with a system of renewable employment contracts."

Sep. 30, 2010 - New Jersey School Boards Association 

StudentsFirst, an advocacy organization, wrote the following in its article "Eliminate Teacher Tenure," available at www.studentsfirst.org (accessed May 16, 2011):
"Tenure in K-12 education today means that teachers (and, in many cases, principals) are granted a ‘job for life’ after a relatively short time in the classroom - usually without any serious attempt to evaluate the teacher's effectiveness. In most states, tenure is essentially automatic after two or three years, barring criminal or extreme misconduct. Once granted, the rules and regulations accompanying tenure or permanent contracts make removing even the most unmotivated and ineffective teachers nearly impossible. These policies do nothing to advance the interests of students, but instead serve only to protect adult jobs.

If tenure merely protected teachers from being fired for arbitrary or capricious reasons, StudentsFirst would support it. Professionals should never be concerned they might lose their jobs because of their age, sex, religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Similarly, we support professionals' rights to fight back if they are wrongfully terminated. Fortunately, well-established federal and state policies allow teachers to challenge wrongful actions and prevent discriminatory firing in public education. Tenure is simply not needed to protect such rights.

To serve the interest of students, tenure must be eliminated so that teachers feel best protected by the quality of their work and the role they play on the teaching team."

May 16, 2011 - StudentsFirst 

Joel Klein, JD, former New York city chancellor, was quoted in the Mar. 2, 2009 article "Michelle Rhee Threatens End-Run Around Teachers' Union," available at www.huffingtonpost.com:
"Once teachers get tenure - which typically happens at the end of three years - they basically have their jobs for life. Last year, only 10 in 55,000 tenured New York City teachers were fired for poor performance. Protecting grownups rather than making sure students can read and do math is how our country has gotten into the educational mess it's in today. It's the reason we have shameful racial achievement gaps separating our white and Asian students from our African-American and Latino students. It's the reason too many of our kids are dropping out of school. It's the reason our kids are lagging further and further behind their international peers."

Mar. 2, 2009 - Joel Klein, JD 

Hank Coe, State Senator (R-WY), was quoted in the Dec. 27, 2010 Jackson Hole Daily article "Senate Bill Would End Tenure for Teachers," available at www.jhnewsandguide.com:
"Tenure is something that doesn’t exist in the real world. When we’re talking about better student achievement, more accountability in our education system for what we’re spending, I don’t think teacher tenure fits with that…

When a teacher gets tenure, it’s awful difficult to get rid of them... We want to treat all teachers the same. They got to get evaluated.”

Dec. 27, 2010 - Hank Coe 

The New Teacher Project wrote in its Dec. 7, 2010 policy brief, "Analysis of Race to the Top Outcomes Applauds Contest Design, Urges Scoring Improvements," available at www.tntp.org:
"A 7-year-old girl won't make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master's degree - she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success. By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career. Each day that we ignore this reality is precious time lost for children preparing for the challenges of adulthood.

The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher - and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession - has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.

There isn't a business in America that would survive if it couldn't make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement."

Dec. 7, 2010 - The New Teacher Project 

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