The recent ruling by Judge Rolf M. Treu, Los Angeles Superior Court, striking down elementary and high school teacher tenure, addresses the issue of firing bad teachers while sidelining the dilemma of hiring good teachers and teacher retention.
Historian Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, commenting on Judge Treu’s ruling, in an interview with Michael Krasny, stressed that doing away with tenure is a “horrible prospect.” If tenure is attacked “you don’t increase quality of teaching or up performance and … you make it easier to exploit the teachers and usually exploiting people does not get better performance.”
The argument for tenure is that it is a process that safeguards against teachers being indiscriminately fired by administrators. And the problem with tenure is that it makes firing of bad teachers virtually impossible.
The issue of ineffective teachers is closely related to how the teaching profession has changed over the years. One study found that the number of highest-achieving women who became teachers fell by 80% between 1964 to 2000.
The challenge lies in attracting more high-quality applicants to the teaching profession.
Teachers have very stressful jobs; they are grossly underpaid, have to handle crisis situations frequently, and are subject to critical scrutiny from students, parents as well as school administrators. Good teachers are those that come equipped with the resources to deal with all this and still remain inspired and passionate in the classroom.
One reason we have ineffective teachers is because we don’t have enough incentives to attract high-achievers into the profession. Job security is one such incentive.
Lee Iacocca once said: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”
If teacher tenure is struck off the list, we are increasing the likelihood of a shrinking pool of talented educators. Let’s not make tenure the scapegoat of what’s essentially wrong with our education system.