Friday, July 13, 2012

The Controversy Behind Teachers Unions & Tenure

The Controversy Behind Teachers Unions & Tenure
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Teacher tenure is the increasingly controversial form of job protection that public school teachers in all states receive after 1-7 years on the job. As of 2008, 2.3 million teachers have tenure. 

Proponents of tenure argue that it protects teachers from being fired for personal or political reasons, and prevents the firing of experienced teachers to hire less expensive new teachers. They contend that since school administrators grant tenure, neither teachers nor teacher unions should be unfairly blamed for problems with the tenure system.

Opponents of tenure argue that this job protection makes the removal of poorly performing teachers so difficult and costly that most schools end up retaining their bad teachers. They contend that tenure encourages complacency among teachers who do not fear losing their jobs, and that tenure is no longer needed given current laws against job discrimination.


Teacher tenure is the increasingly controversial form of job protection that public school teachers in all states receive after 1-7 years on the job. As of 2008, 2.3 million teachers have tenure. [10]
Proponents of tenure argue that it protects teachers from being fired for personal or political reasons, and prevents the firing of experienced teachers to hire less expensive new teachers. They contend that since school administrators grant tenure, neither teachers nor teacher unions should be unfairly blamed for problems with the tenure system.
Opponents of tenure argue that this job protection makes the removal of poorly performing teachers so difficult and costly that most schools end up retaining their bad teachers. They contend that tenure encourages complacency among teachers who do not fear losing their jobs, and that tenure is no longer needed given current laws against job discrimination.
Prior to the introduction of teacher tenure, teachers were often fired for non-work related reasons. Teachers could be dismissed if a new political party took power or if a principal wanted to give jobs to his friends. Calls for special protections for teachers coincided with the women’s suffrage movement and labor struggles during the late 19th century. The National Education Association issued a report in 1885 advocating for public school teachers to receive tenure to protect against political favoritism and discrimination based on gender and race. In 1886, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a pre-college tenure law. [1]When nearly 10,000 teachers arrived in Chicago for the 1887 NEA conference, teacher tenure was one of the main discussion topics. In 1909, New Jersey passed the first comprehensive K-12 tenure law (90 KB)  in the US. Proponents of the teacher tenure law in New Jersey argued that it would attract more qualified teachers and eliminate political favoritism, while opponents warned that tenure would make it more difficult to remove ineffective teachers. [18]


After the Great Depression, teachers began to organize politically in order to receive funding and job protections. [35] Teachers unions negotiated for tenure clauses in their contracts with state and individual school districts. By 1940, 70% of K-12 public school teachers had job protections. [4] In the mid-1950s, the number grew to over 80%. [4] 


Education and tenure reform became a national issue following the release of A Nation at Risk (131 KB) , a 1983 report of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education that found "the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." [36] The report prompted states to look at reforming tenure, strengthening educational standards, and increasing the use of standardized tests.

Following the release of a 1985 report by the Illinois State Board of Education showing that only three tenured teachers were dismissed on average per year, the Illinois legislature changed their tenure laws to make it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers. [18] In the 18 years following these changes, only 39 tenured teachers were dismissed. [18]
In 2000, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, successfully pushed a law through the legislature eliminating tenure for new teachers. Barnes told a joint session of the General Assembly, "Most of the time, tenure means a principal doesn't even try to dismiss a bad teacher because, even if the principal bucks the odds and succeeds, the cost in time and money is staggering.” [37] When Barnes was up for reelection in 2002, teachers refused to support him, helping Sonny Perdue to become the first Republican Governor of Georgia since 1872.







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