Is Traditional Teacher Tenure On Its Way Out?

UpdatedJune 15, 2016 |
Is Traditional Teacher Tenure On Its Way Out?
States across the country are revising teacher evaluation standards in hopes of finding more effective ways to reward outstanding teachers and deal with those who don’t make the grade.
Teacher tenure has been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century, as a way to protect teachers from discrimination or arbitrary firing. However, many argue today that the very system designed to protect teachers is now hurting students, due to its inability to reward exceptional instructors or get rid of those who are consistently shown to be ineffective in the classroom. As states across the country struggle to find methods of evaluating teachers, powerful unions are fighting them every step of the way. However, in a few cases, the battle is resulting in a reasonable compromise that ultimately ensures students receive the highest possible quality of education by those at the front of the classroom every day.
 
Analysis Shows Teacher Tenure Weakening Nationwide
 
According to the Washington Post, a recent analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows that support for traditional tenure rules weakening across the country. Some states have already done away with tenure rules altogether, while others are looking into revamping the guidelines to link evaluations to teacher performance rather than just seniority. Those in favor of the process believe performance-based evaluations will help reward good teachers and get rid of ineffective instructors. Those opposed, including many teachers’ unions, say the new rules may hurt morale and deny teachers due process.
 
The recent data from the National Council on Teacher Quality shows the tide may be turning. In 2009, no state regarded student performance as a part of teacher evaluations. Today, eight states use that criterion in their assessment process. Four states are now also requesting that schools look at evidence that students are actually learning before awarding teacher tenure. However, the change is accompanied by highly charged emotions in some areas, making it challenging for school administrators to implement new policies.
 
Not Going Down without a Fight
 
In Idaho, State Superintendent Tom Luna has felt the heat from the proposals he has made to change traditional teacher tenure. Since the Idaho legislature ended “continuing contracts” last year, Luna had his truck vandalized and has been interrupted during a live television interview. Opponents of the new guidelines, which include bonuses for exceptional teachers and parent input on evaluations, have collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot to overturn the decision by lawmakers. However, Luna told the Washington Post that good teachers in his state have no reason to worry.
 
“We had a system where it was almost impossible to financially reward great teachers and very difficult to deal with ineffective teachers,” Luna explained. “If you want an education system that truly puts students first, you have to have both.”
 
Idaho is not the only state dealing with the controversy over teacher tenure by any means. As the school of thought shifts over to the best way to educate students, efforts to change the status quo by lawmakers across the country are getting met with resistance.
 
New York’s Stand-Off
 
According to a report at the New York Times, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both said they can no longer support a school system that does not benefit the students of New York. However, fixing what they consider a broken teacher tenure system in New York has proven easier said than done. Both the governor and the mayor have proposed a variety of solutions, but most have either gotten stuck in the bureaucracy of the decision-making process or been directly rejected by teachers’ unions and democratic lawmakers.
 
Governor Cuomo has unveiled a plan to revamp New York’s public schools, through a statewide evaluation system that will be required as a condition of receiving state funding. The new system will make teacher standards uniform across the state and provide appropriate consequences for teachers who consistently fail to perform at an effective level. Past efforts to implement a similar system have been hung up on sticky issues like teacher appeals process and the role student test scores would play in evaluations. However, Cuomo does have the support of some of the teachers’ unions in the state, which have also expressed a need for a standardized evaluation process.
 
A stalemate over teacher evaluations is threatening federal funding to the public schools of New York. Because the state applied for funding through the federal Race to the Top program, they are required to come up with a standardized evaluation system or risk losing the $700 million for which they asked. Governor Cuomo is now prepared to force the issue through the state legislature if necessary to get the job done within the proper time frame.
 
Connecticut and Rhode Island Moving Ahead
 
While New York continues to battle through the issues surrounding education reform, Connecticut and Rhode Island are both moving forward with policies regarding teacher quality. According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent Connecticut proposal on evaluating teacher performance has found favor with educators, union leaders and lawmakers alike. The plan would use a combination of student performance, teacher observation, peer and parent feedback, and overall school performance. The plan is expected to be presented to the state board of education next month.
 
Rhode Island may be one of the most advanced states in terms of developing an effective system for evaluating teachers. According to Boston.com, a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked this state fifth in the country for policies regarding teacher tenure and evaluations, among other issues. State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist told Boston.com that her state has focused on ramping up teacher quality over the past two years, through revising regulations governing teacher evaluations and other efforts.

With more states getting on board, the tide of education reform continues to turn - all in efforts of putting the best educators in front of our nation's future.

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