‘Good apples’ need tenure

Teacher tenure is for good apples too, writes Arthur Goldstein in the New York Daily News.

A career-switching friend lost his teaching job after asking why his special-ed students weren’t getting the help they’d been promised, writes Goldstein. He didn’t have tenure.

Without tenure, I’d probably be in Harry’s place. I teach English as a second language, usually to beginners, at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

One year, I had two students who spoke English but couldn’t read or write. One had been kicking around city schools for years.

He had a strategy for pushy teachers like me. He listened intently and participated orally as much as possible. But when I sat him down and wrote words like “mother” and “house,” he could not decode them at all. I contacted his mother, who knew of his problem. I sought help in the building.

Around this time, I read an article in the paper about ESL. I called the writer to comment. The story of my illiterate students came up, and he asked me if he could write about it. I wasn’t sure. He asked me whether I had tenure. I told him I did; he said it shouldn’t be a problem.

After the writer asked the city Education Department about my two students, I was immediately summoned into the principal’s office. He heartily condemned my ingratitude.

He was “scrutinized constantly,” but couldn’t be fired, writes Goldstein, a union chapter leader.

Teaching “entails advocating for our students, your kids, whether or not the administration is comfortable with it,” he writes. Without tenure, teachers who stand up for their students will take a huge risk.

Only the bad apples need tenure, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.  “It’s admirable that Goldstein looks out for the kids in his care,” but “he is already covered under New York State’s civil service law, which provides rather reasonable protections against unfair dismissals.”

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    No doubt this is an unfair summary of Goldstein’s argument:

    Principals suck.
    The system sucks.
    Teachers with tenure can counteract some of the suckage.
    Teachers without tenure can’t.

    Therefore, teachers should have tenure.

    I can think of some other things to put after the “therefore.”

  2. People who think removing tenure will improve schools tend to have an unwarranted faith in school administrators.

  3. Roger’s argument makes more sense. The system is the problem. Every step in the direction of parent control and, later, student control, is a step in the right direction. Small school districts, higher age (start) of compulsory attendance, lower age (end) of compulsory attendance, repeal of public-sector collective bargaining or separate locals (and contract negotiations) at each school, relaxed restrictions on homeschooling, etc. Read Chubb and Moe, Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools: The more people above the level of principal telling the principal how to do her job, the worse a school performs.

    As Milton Friedman observed, the best protection a good worker has is a competitive market for his skills.

    • Obi-Wandreas says:

      Once again, Friedman shows his wisdom.

      Nearly half of the student body in my school is ‘displaced’ (not living with either parent). A large number have no parental or familial involvement in their lives. The local charters and private schools compete for students whose parents are trying to get them in somewhere. The students who are my toughest cases often have little to no parental involvement, and thus are left out in the cold.

      To set up a system such as you describe is going to require a lot of people to start taking some responsibility for themselves and their families, often for the first time ever. I would love to see that happen. My kids, especially the ones who are a constant pain in the rear, would benefit immensely from it.

      Unfortunately, nobody who requires votes for their job is going to start talking like this any time soon. It’s much easier to demagogue a smaller group (especially one that often doesn’t live in your election district).

      The dirty secret is that even if you took more steps to get rid of bad teachers in urban schools, you still need to find someone to fill the slot. With the conditions at many urban schools, you’re most likely looking at months of subs before you find someone desperate. We lucked out last year, that our 6th science teacher was a great one. It usually doesn’t work out that way.