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CA Court Case Misguided: Why We Need to Keep Teacher Tenure

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Teacher tenure is a touchy subject. Many critics of teacher tenure view it as an outdated institution that unfairly insulates K-12 public school teachers from performance responsibilities, allowing them to keep their jobs regardless of how lazy or incompetent. In today's high-stakes education world of intense standardized testing and outrageous college costs we want to guarantee that our youth are being taught by the best and brightest. We want our kids to score the highest and be eligible for the most scholarships.

In California a group called Students Matter is suing on behalf of public school students and parents to declare teacher tenure unconstitutional, reports Fox News. The plaintiffs allege that teacher tenure violate equal protection laws and result in a "gross disparity" in the quality of education received by different groups of students. Basically, they're saying that K-12 teacher tenure hurts many public school students by saddling them with bad, lazy teachers.

The plaintiffs are wrong, as are the states that have begun heading down the path of eliminating teacher tenure.

First of all, teacher tenure is important in protecting experienced educators in the midst of struggling school district budgets. As municipalities suffer in the aftermath of the Great Recession, with government funding declining even though citizens' tax revenue has hardly returned to normal, administrators are often under the gun to reduce costs. Why not lay off older teachers, whose salaries are higher, and continuously replace experienced teachers with new teachers fresh out of college?

K-12 teacher tenure prevents experienced educators from being laid off as pawns, to be continually replaced by young teachers who, hungry for any opportunity, are willing to exhaust themselves to meet ever-tightening standards. Allowing such a cycle would set a terrible precedent by instilling in youth the acceptability of worker mistreatment.

Secondly, teacher tenure is important to insulate teachers from politics. Few sectors of employees are as highly scrutinized or targeted by angry citizens as teachers. When a student gets a bad grade or is the recipient of any sort of discipline the teacher is often scrutinized by the student's parents. The parents complain to the principal. In many communities there are parents who have considerable resources and wield considerable influence, placing the teacher at a tremendous disadvantage.

Teachers, frankly, need job protection to insulate themselves from angry parents. In today's "gotcha" world a parent has many opportunities during the course of a school year to target an educator. Administrators, eager to avoid bad press or running crosswise of a school board that is sympathetic to well-connected parents, may be too quick to give the heave-ho to tough teachers who hold students accountable for grades and behavior.

Third, teaching is tough and involves lots of variables. Many things are out of teachers' control, especially macro-level conditions like the economy and state laws regarding testing and school funding. Students can be poor, come from broken homes, live among friends and family who are unsupportive of education and schooling, or have mental and physical health problems. The students may be apathetic about learning or scoring highly...or may even actively dislike school.

Rarely are other professionals evaluated according to the whims of clients who actively do not want to receive the offered services! How would salesmen fare if being evaluated on their ability to sell to clients who are only in the store to avoid a charge of truancy? K-12 teacher tenure is justified based on the fact that the "clients" whose "satisfaction" is measured are often disgruntled to begin with.

Finally, when experience counts, we need to encourage more teachers to remain in the profession. True, some teachers may grow lazy and apathetic over time, but most mature and age like a fine wine. They learn tricks of the trade. Unfortunately, many teachers leave their careers early due to stress and dissatisfaction. Erasing K-12 teacher tenure will only increase the premature departure of educators from the profession, preventing the buildup of a "critical mass" of experienced teachers.

Young teachers who lack the protections of tenure may be more focused on getting those high standardized test scores but will lack the classroom management skills, and overall wisdom, of experienced instructors. They will be gun-shy and fail to assert themselves against aggressive students and parents. In exchange for slightly higher test scores we will see a wave of entitled, poorly-behaved students who run roughshod over their young, desperate teachers.

Summarily, we need to retain the practice of teacher tenure. Though some bad teachers will benefit, the primary beneficiaries will be good, hardworking teachers who want time and freedom to hone their craft. These teachers will more closely resemble the supervisors and bosses today's students will have someday, making it advantageous for these students to learn how to get along with them. Students will learn more, especially about life itself, and will find school far more rewarding.

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