Michelle Rhee Announces Her Next Target: Teacher Tenure

In an interview with TakePart.com, Michelle Rhee, the former head of the Washington D.C. school system and the current CEO of StudentsFirst, a group focused on reforming America’s education system, makes it clear what will be the next goal for the woman who has already made an impact on the school reform movement. In the next several years she hopes to continue the effort to overhaul the system of teacher tenure, something she attempted and failed to do during her time as the head of schools in DC.

Although her ultimate goal is for states to drop all tenure provisions, Rhee isn’t opposed to extensive tenure reform. The key, she points out, is not to take away job security for the nation’s teachers — which would open them up to being “capriciously” fired — but to make sure that the instructors who are retained year-to-year get to keep their jobs because they are effective educators and not because they’ve managed to survive a certain magic number of years to guarantee themselves what constitutes a lifetime appointment.

StudentsFirst supports tenure reform, including eliminating seniority-based tenure. The bottom line is that we have to move to a system that focuses on job performance in the classroom instead of rewarding educators for factors that aren’t tied to student achievement, such as time served. Ultimately, under tenure, a teacher’s right to retain his or her job becomes the highest priority rather than the effect a teacher’s instruction is having on kids.

According to Rhee, the tenure systems currently used place the emphasis on the wrong thing. Instead of looking how well students are learning, as judged by their standardized exam scores or other objective achievement metrics, tenure protects those who have been in the classroom the longest at the expense of those who have made the most positive impact in student achievement.

Some states are already giving their tenure systems a second look, yet they are still slow to adopt an alternative approach to assessing and retaining teachers. On the forefront of tenure reform is Florida, which recently largely did away with teacher tenure in favor of a system that has teachers working year-to-year with contract renewals for those who perform well.

States like Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan have also taken steps in the a similar direction by either considering alternative systems or adopting longer evaluation windows before teachers are granted tenure.

Reforming tenure nationally will be a challenge. However, in the past few years, we have seen a handful of states take bold steps to positively change their tenure systems. And as we witness communities and states across the country demand that our education systems value effective teaching, we will see an environment in which student outcomes become the higher priority.