The Value of Teacher Tenure

If one reads some of the education reformers' reactions to the Vergara decision effectively eliminating teacher tenure in California, one would think that tenure is a way of protecting evil, incompetent teachers from perpetrating malpractice on loads of innocent, unsuspecting students.

The truth, however, is that tenure does not guarantee teachers their jobs. It is just a way of affording teachers due process rights so they are not disciplined in an unfair or prejudicial manner. Principals and other administrators have a clearly defined and not-that-difficult process to discipline and even fire teachers if they care to use it.

Many experienced teachers will tell you that the protection of tenure is what enables them to advocate strongly for the rights of their students.

Most of us have more than one story about trying to get services of some kind for a student and running up against  institutional or administrative apathy, intransigence, or outright resistance. Knowing we are protected by tenure rules give us the freedom to fight for the rights of our students in the way they deserve.  If teachers were constantly afraid of being written up and/or fired with out due process, they might hesitate to go to bat for their students.

What happens when the school district lets it be known they do not want to spend any more money on Special Education services for students, but a teacher has a student he/she just knows has a reading disability?  Bugging the principal, psychologist, and office of special education services enough times to get that student tested might actually get a teacher fired if there were no tenure protections.

What about the teacher who calls and reports the abuse of a student by a family member? If the family were angry and powerful enough, that could be a problem for a teacher without tenure. 

What about test cheating whistle-blowers? In the Philadelphia cheating scandal, some who did not participate in cheating were targeted by cheating principals, but tenure protections prevented these honest teachers from being fired.   

In all these instances, tenure protects both students and teachers—not the bogeyman of the incompetent teacher.

The “tenure is bad” straw man argument is simply a way to allow school districts and principals to fire experienced teachers and make sure that the teaching force becomes a bunch of fearful worker bees who dare not have an opinion or advocate for the rights of their students.


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