Recruitment & Retention

Tenure or Not

By Vaishali Honawar — November 24, 2008 1 min read

In this era of accountability, teacher tenure has been one of the most discussed topics. Schools chiefs like Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., are trying to limit it and last week the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said she was willing to discuss tenure reform.

Stories about how hard it is to fire bad teachers from their jobs because of tenure abound, and the latest one comes from the Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. A newspaper investigation found that 17 public school districts in the state ousted 29 teachers in the past four years through buyouts or other deals for behaviors including sexually harassing students, viewing pornography on school computers, failing to keep classrooms under control, and drinking on the job.

The deals made with these teachers included letters of recommendation that stretched the truth and ignored evidence of poor teaching. Even allegations of theft were routinely expunged in exchange for a teacher’s departure.

School officials in Michigan cried tenure, of course, to explain why it is so hard to fire teachers.

We can all agree that there is a problem, but where’s the solution? Does it lie in a tenureless/limited tenure system where teachers get paid lucrative salaries, like the one proposed by Rhee? It may sound great, but let’s not forget there’s no precedent for that kind of plan, so we really don’t know how it’ll work. Also, a performance-based evaluation process is not bereft of its own hassles and deficiencies.

As for peer review—the union’s solution—it has received good reviews from the teachers themselves and the AFT is really pushing it, but the fact that few unions have picked it up tells its own story.

Could the answer lie somewhere in the middle, or elsewhere? You tell us.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.