Schools Debate Teacher Tenure and Quality

Evelyn Alper, Staff Writer

Tenure was originally created to protect teachers’ rights and give teachers extra job security. However, this has resulted in a decrease in a teacher’s incentive to teach well and an increase in poor teaching quality. The tenure system should be eliminated, starting right here at Miramonte.

Tenure was created in the early 1900’s to give teachers more academic freedom to bring controversial content and innovative techniques into their classrooms.

According to Principal Adam Clark, about 97% of the teachers at Miramonte have tenure. In order to achieve this, they go through a rigorous two year evaluation process as probationary teachers. During this time, teachers are assessed for their classroom management, subject knowledge, curriculum, clerical procedures such as taking attendance, and communication with students and colleagues. We are fortunate to have excellent teachers at Miramonte, but it seems as if this component of the educational system is broken. If 97% of the staff at Miramonte has passed this “rigorous” test, you have to question how hard it is to actually achieve tenure.

Once a teacher receives tenure, they receive the benefit of a “job for life” in that particular district. The procedure of firing a teacher who has tenure is a lengthy process that no principal wants to pursue. So unless a teacher commits a crime (and this does not include poor teaching skills), it is practically impossible for them to be let go.

In the Washington Heights Neighborhood in New York City, the TEP charter school has brought in teachers from around the nation based on their teaching ability. According to TEP’s website, TEP “aims to put into practice the central conclusion of a large body of research related to student achievement: teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in the academic success of students.”

I think TEP has finally got it right. Although these teachers are paid $125,000 per year, more than twice what teachers are paid at Miramonte, there is no tenure system in place. The teachers are hired on a one year contract and, if they have met the high standards of founder and Principal Zeke Vanderhoek, they are offered the job again the following year. The focus is on consistent teacher quality in order to give students the best education possible. Teachers in their probationary years at Miramonte are evaluated about three times per year while teachers who have tenure are evaluated less frequently—every two to five years depending on how long they have been teaching. Having less job security can actually be beneficial to teachers. This provides more incentive for them to improve their teaching techniques resulting in better-educated students.

If a tenured teacher does get a negative evaluation, it is part of a contract for the administration to provide opportunities for improvement such as model teachers, peer teachers, seminars, conferences and workshops.

“We always want to help,” said Clark. But what if a teacher just isn’t meant to teach or gets burnt out? In this case, you can send them to as many seminars as you want but they still will struggle to obtain the expertise needed that should have come naturally before they entered the field. Especially in less affluent communities that don’t have dedicated teachers and driven principals, the tenure system creates the possibility of retaining a pool of unskilled teachers.

Yes, teachers do deserve some level of protection, but the tenure system that is in place now is taking it too far. To protect teachers, unions could provide the right for a teacher to have a fair hearing if they were to be let go. It seems unnecessary and impractical for teachers to be guaranteed a job for life.