10/31/2014 08:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The War on Teacher Tenure


Time Magazine's recent cover on teacher tenure has set up a furious debate nationwide about teachers and even a petition from the American Federation of Teachers for an apology from Time. The article itself is reasonable and focuses on the recent California decision in Vergara vs. CA that struck down the five-decade-old California law on tenure.

As a long time teacher, I see tenure as a problem, but also as a necessity. Teachers need some protection from arbitrary firing, but on the other hand, the school district and the community needs a way to get rid of poorly performing teachers. One solution would be be to keep tenure but make it much easier to eliminate a tenured teacher. There are too many laws protecting teacher tenure; we need to eliminate many of these protections.

Another measure that would help the situation would be for states to give tenure after a longer time period. Too many states grant tenure after two years including California. How about tenure after three years? Perhaps there could be steps ... limited tenure after three years, tenure after five years.

Here is another controversial idea: Tenure should be renewable after a fixed period, say ten years. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) teachers, who are considered top in their field, are required to renew their certification every ten years. Wouldn't it be a good idea to have all teachers re-qualify for tenure every ten years? That would give districts an opportunity to remove poorly performing teachers at least every ten years. Now it is almost impossible to remove a tenured teacher.

Also, importantly, we need to eliminate the high stakes testing that is tying testing to teacher evaluation and salary. It is counter-productive to have this kind of testing and teacher evaluation. Why? Because teachers focus on the testing and education loses all its creativity and sense of wonder. Parents and student complain the classes are dull, boring and routine. It is okay to test -- actually it is necessary to test -- but the tests should not be used to punish teachers or school districts. They should be tools to guide teachers and administrators. Teachers should focus on learning not on the outcome of tests. Teachers in the highest performing country in the world, Finland, do not focus on testing. We should take some suggestions from Finland and improve our teachers' status and pay. Check out this teacher status index.

Many other ideas/suggestions are raging out there, some pretty drastic, but if we could just make one or two reasonable policy changes, it could significantly impact our schools and our attitude toward teachers. We need to make teachers feel respected and trusted. Articles like the Time Magazine article do just the opposite. It is an attack on the profession as a whole and thus makes all teachers defensive which does not lead to the kind of education we want in our schools.