Teacher Tenure Elimination Efforts Spread to Missouri

Anti-tenure lobbying, which has spread from state to state, has now arrived in Missouri. A broad coalition of stakeholders — from politicians to parents — is pressuring reforms for collective bargaining and teacher tenure, leaving many teachers in the state questioning their job security.

National education policy experts recognize 2011 as a big year for legislative efforts to rewrite teacher tenure laws. Kathy Christie, vice president for knowledge and information management with the Education Commission of the States, said:

“Last year was a sea change.”

In the year that saw districts further pinning back their budgets, 18 state legislatures had modified some element of their teacher tenure or continuing contract policies, with Idaho completely banning tenure for new teachers.

And now, Marc Ellinger, a Jefferson City attorney, revived a key focus of a previously failed bill by filing an initiative petition aimed at eliminating tenure for new teachers through a constitutional amendment, writes Elizabethe Holland at STL Today.

Ellinger said:

“Across the country, people recognize that the current education structure is not working and that having the sole basis for retaining teachers being that they’ve been there the longest is probably not a way to make sure we have the best teachers in the classroom.”

Critics claim the move is an unnecessary slam on teachers. Chris Guinther, president of the Missouri National Education Association, said:

“There is a national effort right now to bash the teaching profession,” she said.

“We’ve got thousands and thousands of teachers in our classrooms every day who are doing exactly what they need to do for our students, and for these efforts to eliminate teacher tenure to be so prevalent is really distressing.”

Christie believes the anti-tenure sentiment could partially be attributed to Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, whereby states compete for grants to support reform and development. This ethos of competition may have created an aggressive scrutiny on teachers and a push for greater accountability in the classroom.

“People were challenged to really push the envelope and address the quality of teaching overall.”

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said that chasing teacher tenure will not solve districts’ problems.

“It distorts a discussion that is so needed today,” Van Roekel said.

“We as educators do not want ineffective people in the classroom. If they cannot or will not improve, they need to be gone. On the other hand, we do not want good teachers removed for arbitrary reasons.”

Van Roekel and his organization are calling for a more solid assessment of teachers’ professional practice.

“Until we start dealing with quality at the front door, instead of saying we want to be able to hire anybody, make a lot of mistakes and then make it easy to get rid of them, we are going the wrong way.

“No business in the world could survive with a 50 percent turnover every five years because it costs too much money to train and hire people.

“Why in the world would we define success as having to fire a lot of people? That just means you do a lousy job of training and hiring.”

Kate Casas, a former Teach for America instructor and state director of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, backs the idea of restructuring tenure.

“There aren’t other jobs where people have indefinite contracts.

“I see teacher-tenure reform as a way that teachers can … get the respect that they need and deserve because it will allow them to be held accountable, like everybody else.”