Published Online: July 12, 1995
What To Do About Teacher Quality:
Don't Eliminate Tenure, There Is a Better Route To Improving the
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
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
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
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
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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