According to Webster's Dictionary, the term tenure is defined as:
The act, right, manner, or term of holding something (as a landed property, a position, or an office); especially: a status granted after a trial period to a teacher that gives protection from summary dismissal.
The history of teacher tenure began with the demand from teachers for protection from administrators and parents who would try to exclude controversial resources or dictate lesson plans. While teacher tenure means different things to different states due largely because of the differences in how each state governs tenure, generally it is meant to serve as a reward for successfully completing a probationary period, usually a period of three years.
Since the early 20th century, our nation has always had teacher tenure for teachers in K-12 and higher education and for the most part, no one disagreed with it -- at least out aloud.
Well, as of last week, someone decided to speak up; the infamous governor of the great state of New Jersey, Chris Christie. Ironically, in the state that was the first in the country to pass legislation to establish teacher tenure in 1909, Governor Christie emphatically said during his state of the state address "the time to eliminate teacher tenure is now."
In his speech, Christie spoke about opening more charter schools, closing low performing public schools and pay-for-performance measures; all reforms that have been mentioned and championed by many, including Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and President Obama. Christie isn't the first state official to call for tenure reform. A number of proposals to reform teacher tenure at the state level have emerged during the past 20 years. These proposals have generally sought to do more of the following: lengthen the probationary period for new teachers, strengthen the teacher evaluation process, streamline the teacher dismissal process, a href="http://(http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/02/pdf/teacher_tenure.pdf)" target="_hplink">or "end tenure" by moving to renewable teacher contracts. Christie is calling for the latter; a complete eradication of tenure. Christie wants to change the salary guidelines in the state to reward good teachers and rid schools of piss poor teachers -- ridding the state of teacher tenure, for Christie, allows for those goals to be achieved. Next to come is a contentious fight in the New Jersey legislature amidst a wide range of opinions statewide and nationally. Regardless of whether or not such an idea can take shape in New Jersey, Chris Christie is not one to leave the citizen of our state without something to talk about -- whether it is ending teacher tenure or reforming pension payouts to retirees.
So is there a better way to rid schools of bad teachers? Many of our schools around the nation are plagued with horrible teachers who remain in the classroom despite their lack of passion and poor performance due to their protections under the rules of teacher tenure and administrators are not ridding their schools of these teachers.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's 2007-2008 School and Staffing Survey, on average, school districts dismiss or decline to renew only 2.1 percent of teachers for poor performance. The way things are now, unless you commit a crime, you can keep your job even if you are a piss poor teacher. That is a problem, particularly if you believe, like me, that the impact of poor teaching performance is a crime.
I caution our good Governor to put his foot on the breaks before running over tenure. Renewing or dismissing a teacher contract is very much dependent on the teacher evaluation tool that was used in assessing that teacher and in many cases, both teacher evaluation tools are flawed and so too is the implementation of those tools. While I agree that some teacher need to be removed, and there are some teachers that I would like to see removed, teachers can only be removed if there is a strong teacher evaluation tool used to assess teachers that is consistent with the expectations of the standards-based curriculum and it must be done effectively.
Just because a school or district says they have a strong evaluation tool doesn't mean that they actually have one and just because they have one doesn't mean that it is administered correctly or even administered at all. If the governor wants to eliminate tenure so that districts can remove bad teachers, he better be ready to improve the current system of teacher evaluation or create a new system of evaluating teachers: one that is designed to mentor in addition to assessing teachers. I am of the opinion that if public and state educational officials believe that no child is worth giving-up on, neither should any teacher be worth giving-up on.
So if a teacher must be removed, every opportunity for mentoring and professional development must be afforded to them. It is very easy to cast blame on teachers when our students fail to achieve. Eliminating teacher tenure is another way of punishing good teachers for the failures of the poorly performing ones. Success and failure are reflective of their leadership and if poorly performing districts are victims of poor leadership from administration, those administrators are equally culpable for any lack of student achievement.
If public officials believe that student performance or lack thereof is attributed to teacher instruction, then they should agree that teacher performance is too attributed to both that teacher's ability as well as the ability of the school district to put its teachers in the position to be successful.
I can understand both sides of the argument; there are poorly performing teachers that need to be removed. However, districts, state education and political officials need to be better at creating and implementing policies that allow for the instructional success of all teachers. At the end of the day Governor Christie, there is enough blame to go around for poorly performing districts; the solution of ending tenure is too simplistic a solution to solve the systemic problems many of our school districts face.