This month, two of the nation’s Republican governors — who have both received lavish praise for beating up on their state’s teachers — announced their intent to completely eliminate tenure for K-12 teachers. Govs. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Rick Scott (R-FL) promoted their ideas as part of broad education reform packages that they plan to propose, with Christie revealing his in yesterday’s State of the State address:
CHRISTIE: 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. Let New Jersey lead the way again. The time to eliminate teacher tenure is now.
SCOTT: We’re going to focus on the things that I campaigned on in the election and those that put students first. We’re going to eliminate tenure.
Watch a compilation:
There are certainly problems with K-12 tenure in this country, and it is often far too costly and difficult for schools to remove chronically ineffective teachers. But the Christie/Scott approach of simply throwing tenure out the window — and the benefits it provides — is a blunt solution that may play well on Youtube, but isn’t realistic.
For one thing, tenure is a protection against arbitrary layoffs and forces principals to justify that their firings are due to academic concerns. Second, tenure ensures that teachers can approach principals and alert them to real problems without fearing reprisal. As Joan Baratz-Snowden wrote, “teacher tenure in elementary and secondary school has been part of the educational landscape since 1909, when New Jersey passed a law to protect teachers from the whims of autocratic principals and patronage allocating administrators. Until then, teachers could be fired for speaking up, questioning educational practices, or merely because an administrator wished to give the job to someone else for political reasons or nepotism.”
In a profession that is subject to significant controversy — and is so vital to the economic future of both students and the country — these protections are still necessary. But that doesn’t mean the tenure process can’t be fixed or that tenure should remain essentially automatic after just a couple of years, as it is in many school districts. As Robin Chait wrote:
State law should require that the tenure decision is based upon meaningful evidence of performance and should therefore increase the probationary period to somewhere between three and seven years. Evidence should include teacher evaluations, student growth on standardized tests, and other measures of student learning. State law should tie the evaluation process to the dismissal process. Dismissal should really be the end result of ongoing, poor performance according to a high-quality evaluation system.
Instead, Christie and Scott are ready to heave the entire concept overboard, as part of the right’s concerted campaign to turn teachers into scapegoats for all of the education system’s failings.