12/24/2010 11:37 am ET | Updated Sep 14, 2012

It's Time to Debate Teacher Tenure

"If I could change one thing, I would get rid of tenure." - Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High and winner of the 2010 McGraw Prize in Education, at a public forum, September 2010.

"So would I." - Stephen McMahon, President of San Jose (CA) Teachers Union, in response.

"I could care less about tenure." - Dal Lawrence, former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, in an interview, November 2010.

"I have started using the words 'due process' myself. I think 'tenure' is a loaded word." - Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, in an e-mail, November 2010.

What on earth is going on here? Is the question of tenure actually up for debate and discussion? If so, it's long overdue. And is it possible that teacher unions will take the initiative?

Teacher tenure is closely connected to the flawed evaluation process. After all, an evaluation system --like the current one -- that finds 97 percent of teachers to be "satisfactory" or better will have no trouble handing out lifetime jobs.

"Tenure should be a significant and consequential milestone in a teacher's career," notes the National Council on Teacher Quality. "Unfortunately, the awarding of tenure occurs virtually automatically in just about all states, with little deliberation or consideration of evidence of teacher performance. Teacher effectiveness in the classroom, rather than years of experience, should be the preponderant criterion in tenure decisions."

In the current system, most public school teachers gain tenure, generally speaking a lifetime job, after just three years of teaching. In eight states, including California and Maryland, tenure is granted after two years. Hawaii and Mississippi offer tenure after just one year, and our nation's capital requires no set amount of teaching performance before granting tenure. In other words, many school administrators are forced to make this critical and lasting decision halfway through a teacher's first or second year in the classroom.

That's changing. Several state legislatures may pass laws that eliminate teacher tenure. The New York City school administration has just acted to make attaining tenure more difficult, by requiring principals to do more than check off a box or two (the old way). New York has a problem; in the last school year, only 234 teachers out of the nearly 6,400 who were eligible for tenure were denied it. That's 3.7 percent. It was even easier four years earlier, when only 0.4 percent of those eligible were denied tenure. Under the new rules, principals must now consider a teacher's contributions in and out of the classroom and his students' performance on standardized tests.

What's the right course of action? Get rid of tenure while maintaining due process protections? Make it more difficult to achieve? Or perhaps have term contracts for five or 10 years at a clip?
I have an opinion on this but would like to hear yours first.