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Editorial: Turmoil over tenure for teachers

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Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014 10:24 pm

A California judge this week issued a ruling striking down tenure and several related provisions. In the meantime, the debate over tenure is intense — and the stakes are enormous. Here are a variety of insights, opinions and facts regarding tenure and this week’s decision.

Ruling is anti-teacher

“What this continues to do is promote an anti-teacher narrative.”

— Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers

Current system complex, expensive

“(The current system is) so complex, so time-consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

— From the decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu

Tenure doesn’t block achievement

“If tenure prevented achievement, Mississippi (no teacher tenure) would have stellar schools and Massachusetts (teacher tenure) would have failing ones. The opposite is true.”

— Brian Jones, former New York City public school teacher and the Green Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor of New York

Small minority of poor teachers costly

“A small percentage of teachers inflicts disproportionate harm on children. Each year a grossly ineffective teacher continues in the classroom reduces the future earnings of the class by thousands of dollars by dramatically lowering the college chances and employment opportunities of students. There is also a national impact. The future economic well being of the United States is entirely dependent on the skills of our population. Replacing the poorest performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher would, by my calculations, yield improved productivity and growth that amounts to trillions of dollars.”

— Eric Hanushek, economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who testified for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case

Without tenure, poor schools suffer

“Schools in poor communities typically experience high teacher turnover because of lack of resources, large classes, and the challenge of teaching the neediest children while being held accountable for their test scores. The loss of tenure will make it even more difficult to staff schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Abolishing tenure solves no problems for students and creates massive demoralization among teachers, who understand that their job depends now on compliance to administrators, at whose whim they serve. We expect teachers to teach children to think critically, but how can they do this if they are not allowed to think critically and to teach without fear?”

— Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, is the author of several books, including “The Great School Wars,” a history of the New York City public schools

Tenure’s benefit tiny compared to costs

“Any benefit that tenure provides to teachers is far outweighed by its costs to children and society by keeping grossly ineffective instructors in the classroom. Defenders often say that tenure is all that limits principals and school boards from terminating teachers for innumerable bogus motives. Yet in the decades since legislatures put tenure laws on the books, legal protections for all employees have grown dramatically, particularly in the public sector. Dismissal under tenure requires a far more onerous due process procedure. But even without it, anyone who believes that he or she has been discriminated against or fired for “arbitrary and capricious” reasons can sue, and will often win. That goes for teachers, too.”

— Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Tenure helps attract new teachers

“Significant layoffs during the last recession, which refilled the pool of job seekers, temporarily alleviated the problem (of teacher shortages). But those will be absorbed quickly as education budgets recover. The challenge, then, is to increase the number of high-quality applicants. One of the few things that helps to recruit good people into teaching is job security. That is not to say teachers should never be dismissed — but when and how to do that requires careful balancing.”

— Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley

Teacher dismissals are rare now

“The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. Out of 275,000 teachers statewide, 2.2 teachers are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance per year on average, which amounts to 0.0008 percent.”

— Students Matter, the group that filed suit in the Vergara case Tenure protects against arbitrary firing

Tenure protects against arbitrary firing

“To fire a tenured employee, except in rare cases of genuine financial exigency or program elimination, the employer must demonstrate inadequate job performance. This entails a decision-making process that respects the right of the employee to respond.

“Untenured employees, in contrast, can be fired at will or simply not rehired at the end of the current contract. There is no need to tell an untenured teacher she lost her job for teaching politically or religiously objectionable ideas about, say, history or biology. She can simply be informed of the nonrenewal of her contract without being given any reason at all.”

— David Moshman, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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