Last-In-First-Out Teacher Tenure Rule is Under Attack

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Last-In-First-Out Teacher Tenure Rule is Under Attack
Teacher tenure continues to spark passionate debate, and many states are now considering striking down teacher tenure. Learn more about how this education mainstay may no longer dictate the teaching profession in the future.

Tenure has long rewarded experienced teachers and ensured their benefits, pay, and job security. However, many education experts today question whether tenure is the best way to keep the best teachers on the job, particularly in light of recent budget cuts that have led some states to resort to teacher layoffs to minimize costs.

The argument is that a teacher who has been on the job for two years may be able to make a greater impact on students than a teacher who has worked in schools for 22 years. By keeping teachers strictly according to longevity, school districts may lose some of their best and brightest faculty, which is not the best choice for students.

Teachers argue that tenure is necessary to allow teachers the freedom to exercise teaching methods that benefit students without as much concern over test results. Which side is right? We will explore arguments for and against teacher tenure and some potential changes in the air.

Layoffs Coming in New York: Who Will be the First to Go?

Like other states, New York faces some tough decisions when balancing the state budget. Mayor Michael L. Bloomberg has warned that layoffs are coming, and many of those who get pink slips will be public teachers in the heart of New York City. According to a recent report at the Wall Street Journal, the city's mayor predicts that more than 6,000 teachers will have to be laid off on his watch. Currently, state law requires the last teachers hired to be the first to get a pink slip.

However, not everyone in New York agrees with this law, and many worry that it will negatively impact the quality of education kids in New York receive. According to a report in the New York Times, Cathleen P. Black, the Chancellor of New York schools, went before the state legislature last week to discuss the impending layoffs. What is Black's solution?

"The answer is obvious," Black was reported as saying. "Keep the most effective teachers, whether they have been in the system for two years or 22 years." Black's anti-seniority philosophy is backed by an organization known as Education Reform Now, which has funded commercials in the New York area to support their movement. The organization is headed by Joel I. Klein, former school chancellor. The battle between these anti-seniority advocates and tenure supporters continues to rage in New York, and it is impossible to predict whether the issue will be resolved before the upcoming layoffs in this state.

Shaking Up the System in Los Angeles

California has one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country today. A report on NPR highlights an interview between Michel Martin and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Although Mayor Villaraigosa worked as an organizer for teacher unions for nearly 15 years, he is now a strong advocate for abolishing the current teacher tenure system. Villaraigosa believes there can be a middle ground between rewarding teachers for longevity and keeping the best teachers around for the most extended period.

Villaraigosa told NPR, "The issue of seniority and tenure – teachers and unions and principals are assigned, transferred and laid off strictly on seniority. There's something missing there. You got to have performance as a driver in the decisions we make about our children."

New Jersey to Revamp Tenure Programs

In New Jersey, a movement is underway to revamp a tenure system that has existed for some time. According to a report at NorthJersey.com, the new proposed guidelines in New Jersey would ensure that teachers who are judged effective for a minimum of three years would be eligible for tenure. However, teachers who received unsatisfactory performance reviews two years in a row would also be able to lose that tenure and be put on probationary status. Teacher performance would be evaluated using several criteria, including state test scores, observations of classroom work, student work, and other evaluative techniques.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the proposals made by State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would not "eliminate teacher tenure" but fundamentally redefine it. A task force appointed by the administration has determined precisely how teacher evaluations will be defined and structured. They are expected to make recommendations to the administration in a report due March 1.

Some of the proposals that will be considered for the report include limiting the time the tenure process can take, "effective" grading for teachers, and the ability of principals to refuse to hire teachers whose positions were eliminated from other parts of the district. In addition, teacher salary increases would be based on the years a teacher has been employed, the post-graduate degrees the teacher holds, and performance evaluations. Teachers with better ratings would be in line for more considerable pay increases.

Tenure has been a long tradition in public schools, but the system is now under fire in many school districts and cities nationwide. With these three states leading the way, it is possible that the definition of "teacher tenure" will dramatically evolve in the years ahead. Whether those changes will benefit the students in those schools as hoped will remain to be seen.

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