State leaders vow to dump tenure

Teacher tenure is under attack from New Jersey to Idaho, reports Teacher Beat.

Tough-talking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has finally gone ahead and said that he wants to end teacher tenure in favor of five-year renewable teacher contracts, the Wall Street Journal reports. And In Idaho, state Superintendent Tom Luna has also advocated eliminating tenure and basing part of a teacher’s salary on performance, the Idaho Statesman reveals.

In doing so, both men join officials in Florida and Wyoming (along with former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee) who also want to do away with tenure as it’s currently conceived.

Following the lead of Colorado and Delaware, Illinois officials propose linking tenure to student achievement and Utah leaders “hope to make it easier to dismiss teachers with several years of poor student growth,” Teacher Beat adds.

Budget cuts are the key factor, I think. Schools are laying off lots of teachers with no regard for their skills. Two eager, young teachers may have to be cut to pay for Mrs. Burnout’s salary? In a time of austerity, we can’t afford to keep ineffective teachers on the payroll.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    I wonder how much difference this will actually make. Most grown-up jobs have a virtual tenure. As long as you’re doing a decent job, you don’t get fired.

    There are costs to the employer of finding and training a new employee. If the fired one wasn’t doing an obviously inferior job, there are morale problems with the people who remain. And, to the extent that there are gains to people working co-operatively, no employer wants her employees thinking that helping another employee hurts their own chances.

    Alas, this probably won’t stop my union from spending lots of time and money opposing any change–time and money that could better be spent arguing for what would do the most to help me in my job: making sure that no students are in my class who have not demonstrated that they can do the work.

    (And as a nice bonus, helping the students: students who can’t do the work are frustrated and bored and get little out of the class.)

  2. Roger,

    In my case, dumping tenure would mean that I would be more afraid to speak my mind to my malign and dim principal. I feel deliciously free right now. Isn’t America supposed to cherish freedom? Tenure restricts the freedom of administrators, but it enlarges the freedom of teachers.

  3. The consequences of speaking one’s mind to one’s boss is something everyone in the private sector deals with on a regular basis and this includes self-employed people like physicians, who must deal with hospital administrators.

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    If companies really value the voice of the associate they show it in more than comp…360 feedback is valued, associates are involved in material projects, surveys are listened too. Sadly…this does not happen in education…teachers have very little voice in many if not most cases. Just think…if they had a legit voice in the process the schools would, I believe, be multiples better than are now…very sad for the kids but great for the private schools

  5. bill eccleston says:

    I’m totally with you, Roger, on the union point: we teachers need a radically new and aggressive union leadership paradigm all across the country. If administration is going to judge our teaching by test results, we must demand, to point of going on strike, credible, experimentally well grounded curricula and instructional strategies that will give us a fair chance of achieving those results, not such dopey, patent medicine garbage as differentiated instruction based on such typical educational pseudo-science as “Learning Styles.” We need to end dopey teaching methodologies in all disciplines. We must relentless focus on what we can prove is effective so that we will, in fact, be effective and thereby achieve the only political alliance that will protect our income, our retirement, and the quality of the profession in the future—an alliance with the parents! If we are more effective, parents will beat a path to our door. They want what’s best for their kids and we, the teachers, can deliver it. Union leaders need to get this or we the rank and file need to get them out of office. The old union paradigm, “We don’t care how stupid this new curriculum is just so long as you pay us well to teach it,” has got to go! Everywhere you look we are being steamrollered by the same old dopey administration that has plagued us for a generations, but backed now by a powerful, national political movement that thirsts for our blood. The are killing us and killing any hope of really improving education while the parents and their kids are being played the suckers. We must fight back! You can’t allow someone to hand you a dull axe and then judge you by how many trees you cut, but that is exactly the deal being rammed down our throats. We must have new, much smarter leaders in our unions who understand that the times they are a changing!

  6. Bill,

    I wish I shared your optimism. I am an ardent partisan of E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge approach, and advocate his agenda at every chance in my school district. But we are fleas on a leviathan. The vast mass and inertia of the dopey ideas –not just in the heads of the union leaders, but in the head of every teacher, every ed school professor, every administrator, every ed consultant, every school board member –guarantees their perpetuation for a long time to come. It seems to me that teachers won’t demand better ideas or support union leaders with better ideas because they themselves are brainwashed with the bad ones.

    That said, I wonder if the AFT leadership is getting on board with Hirsch. The last issue of American Educator seemed heavily slanted in a heretical direction.

    If my constructivist principal could, he would fire me for my heresy. He feels very threatened by my challenges to his dogma.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Sometimes a mid-level ‘crat is pushing what’s been pushed on him. Not good leadership practice to say, “Yeah, we all know this is stupid, but we have to do it.”
    I am not a teacher but I’m related to about half a dozen. I get the impression from their griping that the ed schools deposit large amounts of negative IQ directly to the administrators, thus thwarting the teachers.
    Since you can’t teach without a teaching cert from an ed school, and since new curricula cost money, which means commissions to the sales department, which allows for freebies to the deciders, I think the public ed biz is hosed.
    More money for fewer kids with the better prospects for good education going to private, religious and home schooling.
    Some of my teaching relations are in Christian schools, getting less money but loving the difference in classroom control issues. Worth it to them.

    I didn’t mind teaching, back in the day, when I had sergeants for classroom control. And the students were from the half of the age cohort who could get into the Army and had no doubt about the relevance of the subject matter.

    How much does this look like the classroom experience of the public school teacher?

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    Ben F,

    I’m sorry to hear about your principal. I am in the incredibly lucky position of having one who mostly protects us from dimness and malignancy.

    However, even though I have tenure, he could make life difficult for me if he wanted to. He could assign me courses and students that I would not do well with. He could discover that it would be better for one of the floating teachers to have my room and for me to become a floater. He could decide that the new course I had planned would not happen after all–or that it would be taught by another teacher. And so on.

  9. I’m in favor of destroying the big blue monster – creative destruction and all that.

    I’m glad I live in Jersey.

  10. Just wait until the kids hear about this……

    If we really want to reform education we need to come up with a solution for bad students, who are far more of a problem than bad teachers.

  11. A couple of thoughts –
    Does the state have the ability to truly eliminate tenure? As far as I know, the USSC ruling Perry v. Sindermann grants due process rights similar to tenure in the absence of a state tenure statute. Also, it seems that the unions would try to implement tenure-like policies in contract negotiations.

    How would districts with low turnover deal with the grandfathering of existing teachers according to step and paying new teachers according to ability, which would likely be well above standard new-teacher salary? Barring mass firings, no district will be able to get veteran teachers to abandon step-based salaries. This will create major financial problems for at least 10 years.

    There’s likely going to be many good teachers fired by bad administrators and school boards until the hirers and firers are held responsible for their decisions. That will take a while.

    Finally, elimination of tenure and performance pay will have little effect in dysfunctional districts. Ultimately, it is the school board’s (and therefore the public’s) responsibility and authority to ensure the district is educating students. The reason that these districts don’t do their job is that the truly concerned parents have left, leaving behind parents who don’t know enough or care enough to supervise their children’s education. The elected school boards reflect the corruption, ignorance, and disinterest found in the voting public.

  12. I agree with pretty much every one of SuperSub’s points.

    On a different note, the idea that principals will shoot for better teachers, rather than cheaper teachers, is a non-starter. Age discrimination lawsuits in our future.

  13. Something like tenure is needed to protect teachers from being fired for political reasons. If you don’t have a political hook, a powerful patron, they will be looking for a way to get rid of you to make a place for someone who does.

  14. Roger Sweeny says:

    Lou Gots,

    I take it then that you are a strong supporter of vouchers.

  15. You know, every time I hear people say that most employees don’t have the freedom that teachers do (thanks in great part to tenure), I cringe, because I never hear them follow it with “wouldn’t it be nice if more careers offered due process?” Instead it always seems to be “well, since not everyone has that opportunity, we should take it away from those who do!”

  16. Teachers would be let go when their salaries got too high and the district needed to free up some room. It’s done in the private sector, so it would be done in the schools as well.

    Teachers would basically become slaves to the administrators. Principals would keep those who are willing to volunteer their free time to work on committees, chaperon dances, tutor after school, advise clubs, class advisors, the list goes on and on. And who would have all of that free time to do those duties? Newer teachers without families. So it’s a win/win for the districts because they get cheaper employees and more free work from them.

  17. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mr. W,

    Alternatively, teachers could be paid less for seniority (is a 25 year teacher really twice as good as a 5 year teacher?), and actually paid for chaperoning, tutoring, advising, etc.

    I know, crazy, eh?

  18. Roger, dear boy?

    You’re a dreamer.

    Dumping tenure just means administrations will get to gobble up and wear out an endless supply of bright-eyed young things. The quality of teaching will drop significantly as most smart folks realize that there is even less of a reason to go into education as it becomes more of a “five years and you’re OUT!” job.

    Good grief, people. Are you really that delusional about the nature of administration in education?

    I’m with SuperSub and Cal on this one.

  19. I am not necessarily against ending tenure–in fact, I’m all for it. But not until lots of other changes are made as well. Teacher results should be a matter of public record, so that if (as I suspect will happen) principals dump good teachers because they need someone to coach volleyball, or because their friend’s daughter needs a job, or whatever.

    At the same time, teachers should not be paid based solely on seniority. They should have more mobility, more ability to go from school to school, test scores and track record in hand, and negotiate their starting salary at a new school. They should accept that many years they won’t get any raises at all (just like in the private sector) and that raises should be based on their boss’s opinion of them (just like in the private sector), fair or not.

    But until those changes are made, ending tenure is just going to result in lots of unfair terminations and all sorts of age discrimination.

  20. Around here, after you’re done with your step increases, there really are no more raises. One or two percent COLA. Nothing like the private sector during good economic times. Now there isn’t even COLA. I’ve noted that friends in the private sector are all getting raises this year, however.

    In any case, this is a red herring to distract from the real issues in education. It won’t make a bit of difference. Good admins will still manage their staffs well, and poor admins will still demoralize and undermine. Zero change in outcome.

  21. Roger Sweeny says:


    I do not understand your comment. You say that “dumping tenure” will result in lots of smart people not going into teaching because it will be such a crappy job. But you also say there will be an “endless supply” of new teachers.

    Making a job less pleasant–and less secure–hardly seems to be a way to get an endless supply of new applicants.