The Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled that tenure for teachers is unconstitutional (in the State of California), reasoning that California’s constitution guarantees “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.” The judge states that poor teachers end up teaching in schools in low-income neighborhoods.
Before speaking about tenure, I would like to make one thing abundantly clear: the problem of low-performing teachers concentrating into poorer schools is real (to a certain extent), is very unfortunate, and has little to do with tenure. It has everything to do with the following facts: (a.) teaching in a low-performing school makes for a much more difficult life than teaching in a higher-performing school, and (b.) “good” teachers are more in-demand, and better able to dictate and settle into the more desirable positions at higher-performing schools. I think it’s obvious eliminating tenure will do nothing to fix this problem, so it’s a bit frightening to see that an individual capable of applying so little logic (a.k.a. “judgment”) to such an important issue is able to become a judge. Not to mention how demeaning this judge’s decision is to the great teachers who made a conscious choice to teach at low-performing schools because they want to help those kids.
And when it comes to those who actually are in the business of delivering Public Education, make no mistake: very few decision-makers outside of a school building care the first iota about the quality of Education. Most only care about providing Education at the lowest possible cost, and with the least amount of work possible. Most will make small exceptions to that rule-of-thumb to avoid either (a.) losing their jobs, or (b.) a public outcry so strong that they lose their jobs.
This is not because teachers are morally superior, nor is it because administrators are evil and lazy (neither are true). It’s simply because teachers have the intrinsic motivation of actually looking these children in the eye every day.
With that in mind, yes, people say eliminating tenure is about firing bad teachers. This is a lie. Eliminating tenure for teachers is about nothing more than firing experienced teachers at the top of the pay scale. This means if you don’t allow tenure, experienced teachers will be fired at will without regard to their quality because inexperienced teachers are cheaper. Mark my words.
It bears repeating: when it comes to delivery of Education, most school districts and states are worried about cost, not about quality. Never forget this when trying to determine why politicians, DOEs and Districts make certain decisions.
A lot of quality people, especially quality STEM people, already avoid K-12 education, because the salary is so much lower than is available elsewhere — again, especially in STEM. Tenure is truly the only thing teaching has going for it monetarily compared to other professional careers. It’s a promise that even though you’re making $30,000/year with a Master’s degree right now, if you stick to it long enough, you’ll eventually make a decent salary with good job security. This Los Angeles ruling, SB736 in Florida, and the tide of political opinion is taking that away (I seriously blame Waiting for Superman, one of the worst influences on Education in the past quarter-century).
We have been told to be extraordinarily worried about bad teachers. Of course, bad teachers exist, and we should try to minimize their impact. But I must ask: why are we so worried about bad teachers when bad administrators, bad superintendents, bad politicians, and bad judges are doing far more damage via sweeping, large-scale, and horrible Education policy decisions they (obviously upon analysis) know nothing about?
Teachers often are literally the only ones in the system fighting for your kids, and the only way we as teachers can fight against and shield your kids from bad policy (which I unashamedly have done this year), without fearing for our jobs, is tenure. (Let’s be clear: I don’t have tenure. What I do have is a second career waiting for me that would double/triple my salary if my resistance to misguided District initiatives gets me fired. Conversely, 20/30-year teachers do not generally have alternate careers to fall back on).
In short: Tenure protects teachers’ livelihoods when we stand up to corrupt or incompetent administration. Some of you hate the new standards? An experienced teacher with tenure can shield your kids from bad standards by doing what they know is best without fear of losing their jobs. Without teacher tenure, most of us can’t afford risking our jobs, thus your kids have little-to-no protection from the whims of politicians who have no training or experience in Education. You take away tenure, you take away our ability to stand up to corruption and incompetence. Teachers have always been Education’s last line of defense from politicians harming children; many have a vested interest in taking that power away.
I love teaching, but if I leave it, a large part of it will be because brain-dead rulings like this ensure I will not be allowed to make a living as a teacher when I am old. I’m sure I’m not the only one.