Poor student performance in our nation’s public schools is a large and growing problem. While educators experiment with ways to improve test scores, politicians are becoming increasingly involved in the issue.
About a year ago, President Obama challenged schools to measure and reward effective teaching. He repeated this call to action in his recent State of the Union address. Perhaps as a result, several Republican governors have taken on a battle against the age-old protections of teacher tenure.
According to the New York Times, governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey have concluded that the solution to removing ineffective teachers (which will in turn improve student performance) is to pass anti-tenure bills. These governors are using their huge state budget deficits as their reason to put teachers’ unions on the defensive. While the deficits may be a political excuse, tenure reform is certainly a topic that deserves some consideration.
Administrators have struggled for years to get rid of bad teachers. Current tenure policies call for appeal processes, which typically go on for years and leave districts to find other ways to handle ineffective teachers.
For example, in New York, the school districts used to have rubber rooms for teachers who were deemed unsafe to be with the kids. These teachers got paid up to $83,000 a year plus benefits to sit in a room and do nothing, because the current tenure policy made it cheaper to just pay them rather than fire them.
This is not just an issue in New York. “It’s practically impossible to remove an underperforming teacher under the system we have now,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, the state with the lowest high school graduation rate in the nation. Mr. Sandoval said that eliminating tenure would allow school districts to dismiss teachers based on competence, not seniority, in the event of layoffs.
Tenure laws, which originated in 1909 to protect teachers from being fired because of race, gender, political views or cronyism, have enabled ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom, often at the expense of their students. Now, the policy of tenure is under enormous pressure from the GOP. If we want student performance to measure teacher effectiveness, and in turn teachers to owe their jobs to their students’ performance, than tenure effectively becomes obsolete.
While it may be true that teachers deserve to be protected from arbitrary dismissals, what makes them deserve such absolute job protection more than anyone else? Why should teachers not be held accountable for their job performance?
Pressured teachers’ unions are arguing that by focusing on bad teachers, governors are distorting the issue. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association asked, “Why aren’t governors standing up and saying, ‘In our state, we’ll devise a system where nobody will ever get into a classroom who isn’t competent?’”
Ultimately, Mr. Van Roekel is right. The reforms we need are at least two-fold. Tenure protections need to be reformed, as do the qualifications and training required before entering the classroom.
Politicians and administrators need to join forces and devise multi-faceted solutions that can support both brand new and senior teachers in conquering the challenge of poor student performance.
Still, there are many other issues at hand. For example, the Department of Education has not established a meaningful system to evaluate teacher performance, nor have they considered pushing states to reform their liscensing programs.
Getting rid of or reforming tenure policies may be necessary, but it certainly will not singlehandedly solve our problems with teachers and students under-performing.
Photo credit: Marlith via flickr