What arguably rankles reformers most about teacher tenure is the last-in-first-out rule because they claim it protects weak, veteran teachers from layoffs at the expense of newer, better teachers (“Opponents of Teacher-Seniority Rules Vow to Forge Ahead Despite Dismissal of Lawsuit,” The Wall Street Journal, May 5). The latest example is the dismissal of a suit brought by Newark, N.J. families who argued that their 12 children had suffered by the practice.
I don’t think critics of LIFO rules understand what is at stake. Yes, there are certainly some veteran teachers who are burned out and shouldn’t be teaching. But to assume that all veteran teachers fall into that category is absurd. Moreover, if LIFO were abolished, older teachers would be the first to be considered in layoffs when budgets were tight because they are at the top of the salary table. Principals would find some pretext to get rid of them.
Tenure is not an anachronism. In fact, I submit that it is needed now more than ever. Veteran teachers tend to be more outspoken than new hires about issues in their schools. Principals would love to replace them with new college graduates who lack tenure, since they are more subservient. I expect to see further legal challenges on the basis that tenure exists to serve teachers, rather than students. But I don’t buy that argument.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.