GOP vs. Tenured Teachers

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. 

Related Stories: 

The Death of Tenure?

Four Reasons Finland’s Schools are Better Than Ours

School Sees Segregation as Key to Success


Photo credit: Marlith via flickr


Kristen S.
Kristen H6 years ago

I think tenure has been abused by almost all systems in which it has been implemented. When I was younger, my sister's teacher actually threw a kid up against a filing cabinet and "jacked up" another kid against a wall in their classroom, while physically "flirting" with little girls in his class. He was not fired and my sister was not allowed to transfer to a different class; my parents chose to take my sister out of that school and put her in a private school that year. That was in 1973.

Today, we still have problems with the tenure system - something I've seen more recently in the university system, where professors tend to coast along in their tenured positions, not worrying about keeping their lessons up-to-date and pertinent, teaching the same rote material year after year (I must add, this would be the humanities and social science fields, not fast-paced fields like engineering or computer science).

Tenure should NOT be a shelter or a refuge for bad teachers, and it should always be conditional to the teacher's continued dedication to turning out alumni who are prepared to take on the world's challenges and improve the quality of life of their communities.

Tenure, like priesthood, seems to have turned into a sort of protection for incompetence and abusive behavior.

leanne mcivor
leanne Torio6 years ago

Amen! Why should teachers not be held accountable for being ineffective - fire the works that don't make the grade - about time! Teachers should have performance assessment done to them at the end of each school year by the students - they are the ones who know instantly who the good teachers are and who the bad ones are - you can't fool kids or animals they see right through the transparency! Why do you think there are waiting lists for private and home schooling options - what does that tell you?

Lillian Martin
Lillian Martin6 years ago

No one should be guaranteed a job. There has to be some accountability.

lyn L.
l L6 years ago

The place I once worked had a seniority policy until younger greedy professionals came and wanted to bumped not screw their way up the ladder and protested till they got their way. Of course they didn't stay and no they were not loyal. Just rebel rousers and jealous of the gains a loyal faithful employee had gotten for their loyalty and faithfulness and effectiveness. Such is the youth of today. No respect and not having any respect for anybody especially tenured people. The insult to me was to teach these people or try to teach them all the knowlege I acquired over the years and myself then thrown under the bus. What the company gained in losing me was quality and effectiveness and a work ethnic that could be trusted for vs an embecile, politically motivated and hungry for a higher pay scale, A pay scale that took me a lifetime to get while thry get it coming thru the door and knowing less with me having to pass off knowledge of years of experience which had no meaning to them. Let alone did they fall short of practice and understanding. So with tenure and the teachers plight. It is not about tenure as they say but the power to impose an untrained will over the profession and pocket the pensions. A raid. The young are not going to stick around and be abused; period. This is why we need unions, when this type of unfairness is dominant.

Cathy D.
Cathy D6 years ago

Ad Du: yes, most secondary teachers know that kind of material. Students learn when they are forced to stretch out of their comfort zone and a rigorous curriculum brings that to the classroom. Lehmer's comments should cause reflection on the value of self-aggrandizement in a leader vs being proactive for the cause (in this case, the students).

Alan B.
Alan B6 years ago

It SHOULD be about competence! There are plenty of GREAT teachers over fifty years old!

Morgan Getham
Morgan Getham6 years ago

First, the age issue needs to be addresses, not just in education but in our society in general, amending all age discrimination laws to bring them into line with racial and gender discrimination laws to allow disparate impact to be used as evidence of discrimination. Today, if a company policy RESULTS in more blacks getting laid off than whites, it's illegal, even if nobody can prove it was intentional. But if it results in more workers over 55 being laid off, well, tough luck for you. You've got to prove that they intended to discriminate against you because of your age. That would adequately protect older teachers against discrimination and still allow school systems to replace bad teachers.

Second, the fact that schools are failing is only incidentally the fault of teachers. Quality experts have long known that at least 85%of all the failures in ANY production process (and really, education is a "process" that is supposed to produce well-educated students) is due to the SYSTEM, and the rest is due to faults of the individual workers IN the system. Schools are failing because our entire school paradigm of grade advancement by age is an outmoded product of the 19th century. Nobody actually learns all subjects at the same rate, and almost no two people learn any given subject at the same rate. Yet we assume that ALL 9-year olds should be learning the material we teach in 4th grade. Throw it out and go with something MODERN.

Janice L.
Janice Lawrence6 years ago

Monica R., you can take exception to my comments about students being animals. But allow me to clarify. I speak of the students in my little redneck Lil Abner and Daisy Mae high school in the seventies; they were vicious rednecks, entirely without redeeming value. That was my experience. One reason why I didn't have children was that I was afraid I'd spawn some more creeps like them (after all, I'm from a redneck family myself) The reason why I didn't have children is because I'd been around children from first to 12th grade and felt I'd done my time. So, no, I won't be volunteering at a tough school or any other school. I volunteered at a tough school in the seventies for four years. That was enough.

Parents trying to be buddies is just plain stupid. Parents have a job to do, and that's to raise their kids to be solid citizens; the kids' job is to listen to their parents, work hard in school, learn their history, geography and grammar and to grow up to be solid citizens. I don't see either party doing their jobs. Parents and children can get to be friends when the children are grown and have children of their own. Another reason I didn't have kids is that I'd have been a slacker mom. I don't need a crystal ball to tell you that.

R. Dianne  .
R. D. Bartlow6 years ago

One has to have a passion for teaching and I think most teachers do. Again, as posted so many times here, the only reason this issue has blown up is because the power elite have framed it in such a way as to have the general public blame teachers for ALL the ills of society. That way it keeps the heat off of them from NOT investing the tax dollars they should be investing in the country's well being. From reading so many comments here, that strategy seems to working well.

Michael Raney
Michael Raney6 years ago

I don't think TENURE should be the goal of a teacher but rather the success of his/her students. States should recognize teachers as state employees and offer better protection of these employees from local politics however. School districts and teacher's unions should invest their money locally by supporting municipal bonds and investing in the very school facilities that they are working in.