Tenure Needs to Be Reformed

There are good teachers and bad teachers. K-12 administrators as well as parents want to keep the good ones and fire the bad ones. What gets in the way of this? Quite often, it is tenure which stops teachers from being fired without just cause after a probationary period. This sounds fair, doesn’t it? Yes, but the process can take up to 5 years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is why school districts only try to fire teachers guilty of the most outrageous misconduct. For example, in New Jersey, there are typically fewer than 40 tenure cases in a year. Surely, there are more teachers than this who should not be in the classroom in that state.

One of the big negatives of teacher tenure is that it hurts children who can suffer several years in classrooms with incompetent teachers who cannot easily be fired. Plus, tenured teachers can become very complacent about the quality of their work. Tenure also hurts good, new teachers who are furloughed before tenured teachers (good and bad) when times are tough.

What is good about tenure? It gives teachers job security by protecting them from arbitrary dismissal for frivolous reasons as well as administrators trying to save money by hiring cheaper, less-experienced teachers. These are important protections. Of course, not many other jobs offer this protection!

Here’s what is happening now. State legislatures are weighing in on the issue of tenure. Actions range from abolishing tenure entirely to reforming it. Reforms seem to center around lengthening the time it takes for teachers to get tenure and basing tenure decisions on the effectiveness of teachers based on student scores.