In 2011, twelve Connecticut teachers facilitated a large-scale test tampering scandal, jeopardizing 160 students and causing them all to retake exams. These teachers were “welcomed back” to work after losing only 20 days worth of pay and doing 25 hours of “community service.” A jaded Advanced Placement English teacher elected to reduce her students’ educations to entire class periods of movies or free time while she read tabloids and in no way prepared them for the AP test. She kept her job. An educator in Florida consistently engaged in harmful book-throwing altercations with her students and mandated that they referred to her as “Ms. God.” She continued these habits for three years, terrifying and endangering her students. All three of these situations jeopardized the educations of our nation’s youth, and all of these educators were permitted to maintain their positions as teachers once their atrocities were brought to light. Why weren’t they fired, you may ask? The answer lies in tenure.
Teacher tenure is a policy that limits the ability of school administrations to fire teachers once said teachers have been employed at the school for a number of years, which, depending on state’s laws, can range from one to five, with most states at three or less. It was enacted as a practice in the late 1800’s in correspondence with the formation of teachers’ unions in an attempt to protect educators from being fired for teaching with controversial texts or ideas. For this purpose, it was well-intended, but the way it has continued into the 21st century is simply archaic and unnecessary. Particularly after the rigorous standardized testing requirements instituted by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, the instructional liberty that tenure meant to grant to educators was significantly diminished, making teacher tenure (for its original purpose) far less effectual.
Not only is the practice outdated, but it augments the already unjust nature of the American education system. The idea of public education is that students nationwide have the right to fair and effective schooling. However, with teachers being nearly impossible to fire after only two or three years to establish themselves, adolescents are far too often stuck under the jurisdiction of an educator who will not necessarily give students the educational experience that they deserve.
As exemplified by the aforementioned circumstances, teachers can commit acts outrageously detrimental to their students’ development and education and still continue to instruct without ramifications. In what world is this just? One student may be deprived of an entire year of effective instruction because tenure makes it exceedingly difficult for his or her school’s administration to fire the student’s incompetent teacher, while another student simultaneously flourishes in the class of an excellent educator. While it is difficult to grant all students truly amazing teachers, we can at the very least stop protecting certain instructors who have a history of incompetence, and encourage that they are replaced by new and productive staff members.
Yet another issue stemming from the continuation of teacher tenure is the needless financial drain faced by school administrations upon attempting to fire inadequate teachers. More often than not, schools expend thousands of dollars in legal fees in the process of firing instructors who put students’ educations in jeopardy. In fact, dismissing tenured educators requires the involvement of the school board, the principal, the union, and a copious amount of attorneys and other facets of the judicial system – and tenure laws grant this extreme protection to teachers after only two or three years working at any given school.
Additionally, schools lose money in trying to fire teachers as they find that it is more efficient to pay the instructors to leave than wasting time in organizing inane legal processes. I reiterate: the procedure of firing a teacher is so gridlocked and skewed in favor of said teacher that administrations concede to paying that teacher enough for them to quit willingly. Schools should not be punished for trying to fire an incompetent educator by losing their already less-than-sufficient funds from these bribes that should not be necessary. But the reality stands that schools often face no other choice apart from an arduous and expensive legal process.
An opposing argument to tenure is that without protection, teachers will be less demanding and controversial with their students for fear of being dismissed based on complaints. However, it has been over a century since teacher tenure was initially justified in this way, and in this day and age, rigorous and diverse classroom environments are encouraged and desired by the general public. Thus, said fear of dismissal is rooted in circumstances that are largely no longer applicable. Conversely, tenured teaches will not necessarily feel the need to push students to be their best, because their pupils’ test results and future successes/failures will not impact their jobs.
Teacher tenure is well-meaning; nevertheless, it has become far outdated and extremely detrimental to the education of America’s youth as they are continually subjected to incompetent educators that cannot be fired. It has become a financial disaster for administrations that try to do right by their students. And lastly, it has become unjust towards the exceptional teachers who are not permitted to replace the old, inept, tenured members of a school’s staff.
As we debate this topic, students everywhere are suffering and being deprived of their right to an effective education while their inadequate instructors enjoy the protection of tenure. As declared by Michelle Rhee, superintendent of Washington D.C. schools, “Students cannot wait for accountable teachers while adults argue.” Our country’s education system desperately needs reform for the sake of the generation on the rise.
(Sources: US Legal, TIME, New York Times, Forbes, Huffington Post, ProCon)