April 9, 2012

“Teacher tenure is one of those ideas” [that] “do real damage to the public education system”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

If I told you that an article in support of ending tenure for public school teachers appeared in The New Republic, would you believe it? I wouldn’t have done, until today:

Like the abortion measures, this bill was also pushed by Republicans — but here’s the strange part: It was actually a halfway decent idea. The subject of the bill was an important one: tenure for public school teachers. And, while the proposal wasn’t perfect, it was at least an attempt to rectify what is perhaps the least sane element of our country’s approach to education.

The vast majority of states have long granted public school teachers tenure. The way it works is simple: After a certain number of years, teachers qualify — “virtually automatically” in most states, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality — for a form of job protection that makes it extremely difficult to fire them for the rest of their careers.

[. . .]

So what is the case for K–12 teacher tenure? The truth is, there isn’t a good one. One argument typically offered by tenure defenders is that teaching is a notoriously difficult profession in which to measure success. But this is true for lots of jobs — yet, in all other professions, efforts are still made, however imperfect, to evaluate whether an employee is succeeding and to remove those who are not. Why should teaching be different? In fact, given that teaching is arguably the most important job in our society, it would be difficult to name a profession, save maybe the military, for which these sorts of heightened job protections would be less logical. If a job is truly important to the nation’s future, then you want to make sure that the most able, talented people are doing it — and doing their best work at all times.

That goal is simply incompatible with tenure. Indeed, tenure is so illogical that it’s impossible to see why it shouldn’t be abolished. And that is exactly what the Virginia bill sought to do. Predictably, however, Democrats — who remain far too beholden to teachers’ unions — scuttled the measure. As a result, tenure lives on in Virginia for now.

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