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Don't Eliminate Tenure, There Is a Better Route To Improving the Corps

Legislators in several states are considering proposals to eliminate teacher tenure. They argue that eliminating tenure will improve the quality of the teacher workforce by making it easier to dismiss incompetent teachers. (See Education Week, 3/1/95.)

The problems inherent in dismissing incompetent teachers have been amply documented. The educational researcher E.M. Bridges has noted, for example, that in a two-year period fewer than 0.6 percent of the teachers in California were dismissed for incompetence and that the cost of dismissing one teacher may run as high as $167,000.

But in addition to these problems, eliminating the safeguards provided by tenure would not deal with the root causes of poor teaching. Our experience and our reviews of the research suggest three root causes: inadequate teacher education programs; faulty induction and supervision programs; and administrators and supervisors who are reluctant to render unsatisfactory ratings.

Instead of focusing on the elimination of tenure, educational leaders should use scarce resources to implement the following constructive approaches:

Improve teacher education programs. The profession now has sufficient knowledge about what works in pre-service education: active recruiting and careful selection of applicants; rigorous and coherent academic programs; close collaboration between schools and universities; extended field experiences and practice; professional supervision by classroom teachers who have been trained for that function; reflective seminars that enable the student-teachers to reflect about and make sense of their experiences. Moreover, the experience of faculty members in our school of education, who designed and implemented an award-winning model clinical teacher education program, indicates that high-quality programs featuring these elements can be implemented without the need for extra resources.
Use external evaluators who can be tough and objective. Rigorous evaluation of pre-service and probationary teachers must occur at two crucial junctures to determine whether a student-teacher should be recommended for certification and whether a probationary teacher should be recommended for tenure. At the present time, at both of these decision points, the evaluation is typically performed by someone with a vested interest in the success of the candidate: in the case of the student-teacher, the university supervisor who has trained the candidate; in the case of the probationary teacher, the principal who has worked with the candidate for three years. Instead of using these biased evaluators, organizations should employ the services of rigorously trained external evaluators who can evaluate with greater objectivity.

If rigorous evaluations are performed at those two critical junctures, then the present emphasis on the evaluation of tenured competent teachers can be minimized. Such evaluations serve no useful purpose, the presence or absence of tenure laws notwithstanding.

Improve programs for the induction and development of teachers. The research on induction programs suggests clearly that such programs can succeed in making the induction process more effective if certain guidelines are observed: Use mentors to develop the skills and knowledge of novice teachers, instead of evaluating novices; provide training for the mentors; provide time for the mentors; develop flexible programs that respond to the novice's changing strengths and needs.

Clinical supervision, as it is presently practiced, should be abandoned as a means of fostering teachers' growth. Two or three perfunctory observations followed by "good news/bad news" conferences are a waste of everyone's time. Better answers are available. First, the school should provide staff-development programs for all teachers, programs that are linked with school-improvement plans.

Second, differentiated programs of supervision should be implemented. Such programs provide intensive training to those needing it and offer options for all the rest.

Tenure is needed to protect teachers from vindictive and capricious boards and administrators. We have better answers and more important needs than eliminating tenure.

Allan A. Glatthorn is a professor of education andCharles R. Coble is the dean of education at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

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