States Follow Trend of Weakening Teacher Tenure Rights

Public school teachers across the nation are seeing their tenure protections weakened as states seek the legislative flexibility to fire teachers who are deemed to be not performing, according to new analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

A few states have even gone as far as to essentially nullify tenure protection altogether, writes Jessie L. Bonner at the Associated Press.

Across the nation, lawmakers are looking to amend or rewrite teacher evaluation policy, with many reformers wanting to see more emphasis on teacher performance — basing teacher layoffs, and in some instances pay, on performance instead of seniority.

At the end of last year, the Idaho legislature ended their equivalent of tenure — which they call “continuing contracts” — for new teachers and reiterated popular consensus saying that performance, not seniority, would determine layoffs.

State superintendent Tom Luna said that good teachers will still be protected:

“We had a system where it was almost impossible to financially reward great teachers and very difficult to deal with ineffective teachers. If you want an education system that truly puts students first, you have to have both.”

Alongside the scrapping of continuing contracts, the state have added a $8,000 increase in annual bonuses available to teachers who are recognized for good performance, and parent input on evaluations.

Tenure protections are there to shield teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory firings based on their gender, nationality or political beliefs. But critics say that this is now outdated and unnecessary, claiming that some teachers too often get tenure by just showing up for work.

Obama’s implementation of the Race to the Top competition, where states were asked to compete for billions of education dollars, and the invitation for states to request waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements, all indicate that the administration is looking at reforming the current model of evaluating quality in instruction.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said:

“There’s a real shift to saying all kids, especially our most disadvantaged kids, have access to really high quality and effective teachers. And, that’s it’s not OK for kids to have … an ineffective teacher year after year.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that school officials have been using teacher tenure laws as an excuse to mismanage.

“They want teachers to basically do exactly what they say, give them no resources and then blame them if they don’t in a time of tremendous fiscal instability and fiscal pressures.”

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, believes teachers in the state are scared to speak out.

“Teachers see positions not being filled, class sizes increasing, more demands, more testing, and you add all that together with their economic uncertainty about continued employment and it certainly doesn’t allow you to go out and plan for long term investments like a home,” Ford said.

However, Kathy Hebda, the deputy chancellor for education quality in Florida, said that the state’s contract-related changes are part of broader changes that improve accountability and provide teachers feedback, chiming in tune with other states who are reassessing the way they evaluate their instructors.

Missouri legislators are soon set to tackle teacher tenure laws. Louisiana under Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey under Gov. Chris Christie are also addressing tenure reform.

Marjorie Murphy, a professor of history at Swarthmore College, said:

“Tenure laws will be under assault for many years to come.

Murphy believes ending tenure protections will “take over any sense of fair play between employer and employee. All of that will be gone.”