Teacher Tenure: a Detriment or Benefit?

Teacher tenure is a highly controversial topic and despite cost-benefit analysis, has proven to still incite much debate. The tradeoff between protecting teachers from “arbitrary firings” but also enabling teachers to become lackadaisical has continually stifled new policy on tenure. Teachers possess the power to transform the minds of students; a responsibility so great shouldn’t be guaranteed. Mike Johnston, a Colorado Senator, has been working arduously to diminish some of the strength of teacher tenure. Johnston has asserted that tenure has, “a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.” He furthers his argument by claiming that many teachers become too comfortable in the cushions of tenure and that they lack the accountability necessary to broaden their educational horizons.

Johnston’s most recent policy in regards to tenure is almost as controversial as the topic itself. Although I admire his goal of erecting a set of standards for all teachers, his approach might appear extremely abrasive and unrealistic to many. Essentially, the Colorado proposal makes it so teachers must achieve continual improvement in order to maintain tenure. Teachers start out with a three year probationary period, if a teacher has “ineffective ratings” they lose their tenure. The ambiguity of “ineffective ratings” creates a problem for understanding what the definitive terms of losing tenure actually are. In addition, 50% of the “rating” is contingent on standardized testing. This weighty proportion is extremely concerning. It is glaringly obvious that there are many intricacies that impact how students perform, many of which are not directly related to teacher performance. A single set of less than desired test cores shouldn’t impact a teachers salary or job security by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s evident that Johnston’s policy initiative has admirable intentions; however there is definitely room for improvement. Some states, such as Maine, still take into account standardized testing for teacher evaluation (approximately 20% of “scoring”) however the state of Maine also weighs factors such as positive teaching environment, student engagement, etc. Striking a balance within the teacher evaluation is crucial. In addition, the terms for losing tenure or failing the evaluation should be explicitly clear for all teachers.

The “tenure debate,” is especially personal to me for a couple of reasons. The first being is that my dad was let go from his teaching position due to the “last one hired first one fired” policy in his school department. Despite his ambition, care for students, wealth of knowledge, and commitment, my father was removed from his position due to budget cuts in the school department. In his place, a less qualified teacher who had managed to somehow stay in the system. Yes, I might sound bitter, however the reality is that the quality of the teacher doesn’t always matter. Institutions are in place to protect teachers who have managed to slip through the cracks during evaluations. Many teachers lost their job that year simply because they signed their new-hire contract after someone else.

The primary reason as to why I’m uncomfortable with the current tenure norm is that a group of teachers consistently perform at bare minimum, depriving students of quality and innovative teaching. I’m not asserting that every tenured teacher loses accountability and drive; I’m simply stating that we shouldn’t have a system in place that facilitates or allows for that loss to happen. I’ve witnessed teachers in my old schools that became complacent and no longer strive to instill ambition in students. This is a travesty, every student deserves a teacher who wants to learn alongside his or her students and see growth in the classroom. A New York Times article highlights the fact that on average a student who is taught by ineffective tenured teachers will lose approximately $1.4 million in their lifetime. Ineffective teachers have detrimental effects on students that are both long and short term. Equitable schooling is not just about resources and an unbiased curriculum, students must have access to effective and engaging teachers.




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