Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: Nobody deserves tenure
E. Finn, Jr.
Nobody deserves tenure, with the possible exception of
federal judges. University professors don’t deserve tenure; civil servants
don’t deserve tenure; police and firefighters don’t deserve tenure; school
teachers don’t deserve tenure. With the solitary exception noted above—and you
might be able to talk me out of that one, too—nobody has a right to lifetime
employment unrelated either to their on-the-job performance or to their
employer’s continuing need for the skills and attributes of that particular
Tenure didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai or over on the
Mayflower. Though people occasionally refer to its origins in medieval
universities, on these shores, at least, it’s a twentieth-century creation. The
American Association of University Professors (AAUP) began pushing for it
around 1915, but tenuring professors didn’t become the norm on U.S. campuses
until after World War II (when the presumption of a 7-year decision timeframe
also gained traction) and it wasn’t truly formalized until the 1970’s when a
couple of Supreme Court decisions made formalization unavoidable.
In some states, public-school teachers began to gain forms
of job protection that resembled tenure as early as the 1920s, but these
largely went into abeyance during the Great Depression and were not formally
reinstated until states—pressed hard by teacher unions—enacted “tenure laws”
between World War II and about 1980.
The original rationale for tenure at the university-level,
articulately set forth by the AAUP, was to safeguard academic freedom by ensuring
that professors wouldn’t lose their jobs because they wrote or said something
that somebody didn’t like—including, on occasion, donors who paid for their
endowed chairs. This justification gained plausibility during the post-war “Red
Scare” and McCarthy era.
Tenure didn't come down from Mt. Sinai or over on the Mayflower...it's a twentieth-century creation.
The corresponding rationale for school teachers was that
they might lose their jobs for arbitrary and capricious reasons, such as not
doing personal favors for the principals or irking some influential parents or
board members. The civil-service version of tenure had more to do with
establishing a “merit” system and keeping politics and patronage at bay in
government employment. As for federal judges, lifetime tenure is enshrined in
Article III of the Constitution. Hamilton termed it “an excellent barrier to
the despotism of the prince.”
Speaking of the Constitution, however, various job
protections for all manner of public employees, including most teachers and
professors, can also be found in that document. Check out the clauses
protecting individuals from actions by government (at first federal, then also
state) that would “deprive any
person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to
any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The “due process”
concept has authentically ancient roots—a version of it appears in Magna
Carta—and has developed dozens of statutory and courtroom precedents,
protections, and procedures to safeguard individuals from arbitrary dismissal
from their jobs.
on top of that is a bit like wearing both a belt and suspenders.
As for the
alleged kinship between K-12 and higher-ed tenure, two points are noteworthy.
First, on college campuses, it typically takes about seven years to “win”
tenure—and by no means does everyone get it then. University faculties and
administrators go through elaborate procedures to determine which instructors
will be “awarded” tenure. It is in no sense a right. In public education,
however, it’s pretty nearly automatic and usually comes after just two or three
years of employment.
proportion of “tenure track” positions in higher education has been steadily declining. NCES data show that, across a
post-secondary teaching-faculty universe of 1.3 million individuals in 2009,
fewer than one in four were tenured and about two-thirds weren’t even employed
in tenure-track positions.
education, on the other hand, essentially everyone with a teaching certificate
is automatically a candidate for tenure as soon as he or she is hired by a
school system. (Only if these instructors are really dreadful in the classroom
or change their minds as to their career do they—maybe—not make it to the second-
or third-consecutive contract that typically yields tenure.)
Federal judges aside,
public-school teachers now appear to be the most heavily tenured segment of the
Which gives rise
to all manner of problems, of which the most conspicuous and offensive, though
maybe not the gravest, is the difficulty of dismissing that relatively tiny
fraction of classroom instructors who are truly incompetent—and the cost, both
in dollars and in pupil achievement, of keeping them on the payroll. (If
they’re in class, the kids suffer. If they’re in “rubber
rooms” or other non-teaching duties, the taxpayers suffer, along with the
reputation of the teaching profession.)
other troubles, too. Because it is nested within a set of HR practices and
protections that include seniority-based job placements and reductions in
force, tenure contributes to principals’ inability to determine who teaches in
their schools and superintendents’ inability to let the least qualified or
least needed (or most expensive) teachers go during a time of cutbacks. Because
tenure—job security in general—is a valuable employment benefit that
substitutes in part for salary, it tends to hold down teacher pay, which in
turn affects who does and doesn’t seek to enter this line of work and who does
and doesn’t stay there. Because tenure pretty much guarantees one a job
regardless of performance, it reduces teachers’ incentive to see that their
pupils really learn—and their incentive to cooperate in sundry reforms that might
be good for their schools and their students.
No wonder a bunch
of folks, including
the new crop of GOP governors, want to eliminate or radically overhaul
And so they should. To repeat, it didn’t come
down from Mount Sinai—and there are plenty
of other ways to safeguard public employees from wrongful dismissal besides
guaranteeing them lifetime jobs.
News Analysis: Online learning, meet your mentor: charter schooling
Photo by Webhampster
Twenty years ago, the notion of charter schools was
the new kid on the education-reform block. Advocates saw it as a remedy, even a
cure-all, for the ails of public schools, one that would both provide
competition and allow underserved students to escape abysmal district schools.
Flash forward twenty years and we see that this boundless faith in growing the charter movement has sometimes
come at the expense of school
quality—which has left a stale taste in the mouths of many, friend and foe
alike. In 2011, the new kid on the education-reform block is digital learning.
And its proponents would be wise to study the pitfalls—as well as the
successes—of the charter movement. There are myriad examples to offer—and
authors Erin Dillon and Bill Tucker do well outlining them in the most recent
issue of Education Next—but some truly
stand out: Investing in good data and research, avoiding bad bargains, and
giving students choices while not relying on markets alone to monitor quality
are all take-home messages distilled from the charter movement. So, to virtual-education
proponents, Gadfly reminds: Those who don’t heed the past are bound to relive
News Analysis: Adding to value-added
For all its appeal, value-added measurement
(VAM) of teacher quality cannot become our sole teacher-evaluation tool, not
least because VAM-based evaluations are only possible today for about 30
percent of the teaching force (basically reading and math teachers of third through
eighth graders). So what to do about the rest? As detailed by ace Ed Week
reporter Stephen Sawchuck, content-area experts, administrators, and even some
teacher unions have begun to structure robust alternative measures of
assessment, using classroom observations, portfolios, and teacher-created
assessment frameworks. Rhode Island will be among the first states to adopt
student learning objectives as part of its teacher-evaluation system; districts
in New York have worked with their AFT-affiliated union members to shape
teacher-evaluation frameworks. And there is talk in other states of using data like
AP assessments to gauge student progress, and thus teacher effectiveness. This
wonky work is exactly what’s needed if we want to transform teacher evaluation
from a pro forma activity to something of a science. Still, it remains to be
seen whether these new assessment mechanisms will provide valuable information,
or simply produce another “widget effect.”
News Analysis: Witnessing the last breaths of the public-union leviathan?
The cri de
guerre of public-sector unions worldwide is worker’s rights, due process,
and fair play. Behind the lofty rhetoric, however, are institutions at odds
with a society’s right to self-government. Born in the 1930s, public-sector
unions were initially mistrusted by liberals and conservatives alike. In a 1937
letter, FDR noted that self-interested public-sector unions threatened
government’s ability to represent the broad needs of the citizenry. Yet they
gained much traction during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s—with many Democratic
politicians using them as a fecund source of political support. And they’ve
grown in strength since, now representing one of the world’s most powerful
interest groups. Confronting intrinsic issues with public-sector unions, such
as pensions and tenure, will be a hard-fought battle, and not just in the U.S. For
they are masters of diverting attention from strategic to tactical questions. Still,
today’s era of austerity—and mounting anger
about this privileged class of employees—may yet provide the best opportunity
Review: 2010 State Teacher Policy Yearbook: Blueprint for Change
The National Council on Teacher Quality has
issued an interim-year State Teacher
Policy Yearbook, updating its 2009
yearbook with state-specific profiles and detailed policy recommendations regarding
teacher evaluation, tenure rules, and dismissal policies. The report, available
via an online module, points to eleven areas critical to teacher reform—things
like connecting tenure decisions to teacher effectiveness and broadening
alternative-certification pathways and providers. And though states have made
much progress on the teacher-quality front in the past year (thanks, in part,
to reforms spurred on by Race to the Top), they still have a long way to go
before meeting NCTQ standards. There are a full twenty-seven states that need
to address at least nine of the eleven critical attention areas. To help states
along, the Blueprint provides relatively
concise state-specific policy briefs, pointing to policies in need of immediate
overhaul as well as those which simply require small tweaks to see gains in
teacher quality. Policymakers in Ohio, for example, should pay urgent attention
to how state laws constrain the teacher pipeline (by not allowing for
alternative certification pathways like Teach For America) and sever job
security from teacher effectiveness. State policymakers, in Ohio and beyond,
looking for a quick—and tangible—tutorial on how to improve teacher quality
need look no further.
Review: The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning
“There is a significant risk that the existing
education system will co-opt online learning as it blends into its current
flawed model.” That’s the main argument of this white paper by Michael Horn and
Heather Staker of Innosight Institute. As the authors see it, blended
learning—which is an education model blending online learning with
brick-and-mortar instruction—is a “disruptive innovation” with the potential to
fundamentally redesign American education. However, without targeted shifts in
policy, the benefits of this new education model will be squandered, tied down
by arcane statutes and regulations. To explain, the authors offer a concise
tutorial on the varieties of blended learning. They identify and define six
models, moving up the spectrum from the “face-to-face driven” model (which uses
online learning as a supplement, like High Tech High) all the way to the
“online driver” model (which allows students to learn remotely, so long as a
requisite GPA is maintained). It is from these examples that Horn and Staker
draw their policy recommendations. Some thoughts—like nixing caps on enrollment
and class-size mandates—would provide but a modest makeover for education
provision. But, others—including creating dynamic, integrated systems for
better syncing among various providers’ content and services—may truly spell profound
shifts in the way that students access education.
Review: Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century
This new report from the American Youth Policy
Forum and the Harvard Graduate School of Education challenges the “college for
all” rhetoric that dominates much of the current ed-reform movement, making
readers rethink the “college- and career-ready” call to arms. The report points
out, fairly convincingly, that only 30 percent of jobs in 2018 will require a
BA or better. But by forcing all students into an academic track that may or
may not correspond to their interests and career needs, schools are creating
bored, uninterested, and unmotivated pupils who are ready for neither college
nor career. Instead of this single tracking, the report argues, we should
create multiple pathways for students—both academic and career-based. Citing
examples from central and northern Europe (the apprenticeship structure of
Germany, the vocational-education opt-in structure of Finland), it urges an
increase in employers’ roles in student learning so as to improve rigor,
relevance, and business relationships. The report works better as a manifesto
than a roadmap, but it raises an important issue worthy of serious
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Welcome back, Rick
With Rick back in the saddle, our intrepid
co-hosts jump right into this week’s education-reform news, discussing the “Rosa
Parks” of school choice, GOP governors, and the “war of ideas.” Amber gapes at
Boston Public Schools’s teacher salary and benefits structure, while Chris
embarks on a campaign against poor spelling and tyrants everywhere.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Field notes: Big ideas corrupted by guns, drugs, and addiction
By Peter Meyer
I was just
finishing up my Sunday morning, big picture memo about school district
priorities when the phone rang.
I should know
better by now than to answer a phone on Sunday morning. But I did.
It was Ken, my
son’s one-time classmate and a member of the memorable third-grade basketball
team I had coached—what I remember is that the kids, three of them sons of
state troopers, spent more time fighting each other than the other team—almost
ten years before. I had recently helped bail one of those kids, now
nineteen and not one of the troopers’ sons, out of jail.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Keeping poor kids out of good schools is a nationwide phenomenon
The story about Akron mother Kelley Williams-Bolar getting
jailed for sending her two daughters to a public school in another district is
getting lots of well-deserved
attention. But of course the Copley-Fairlawn district was unusual only in
the lengths it was willing to go to enforce its boundaries. Hundreds of
districts nationwide have found lower-profile ways to achieve the same ends:
keeping poor kids out.
A year ago, my colleague Janie Scull and I released a
report, America’s Private Public Schools, which
identified almost 3,000 public schools that serve virtually no low-income
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Smart ways to stretch the school dollar
Mike Petrilli taps our recent policy brief and explains ways schools and districts can
save money without hurting student learning.
Briefly Noted: Pragmatism rears its ugly head
- Ed released its Education
Dashboard this past week, offering data on student achievement, teacher
assessment, and college completion. While Arne and his team earn an A for
transparency and effort, they earn a D for metric
choosing and comprehensiveness.
- Singapore’s got the
brains. They scored an average forty-seven points higher than the U.S. on the
2009 PISA. According
to Tom Freidman, they’ve also got the governing structure—solidified
through their two “isms”: pragmatism and eclecticism.
Boehner can’t choke back his tears when he talks about American education. And
that might be a powerful weapon in his quest
to revitalize the D.C. Opportunities Scholarship Program.
- In case
Atlanta didn’t provide enough fodder on the perils of local control, Austin has
stepped up to deliver more. Thanks to ward politics in the district, a failing
school has stayed in operation for four years after being “shut down”
(read: “turned around”) by the district. When will we learn?
- What do
Deb Gist, Andrew Coulson, Julio Fuentes, and Steve Barr have in common? They
all give one-minute interviews
on reason.tv to sum up the issues around school choice.
- Gadfly just saw a pig soar
by on his morning flight. The Village
Voice published an objective, insightful, and lengthy look at Eva
Moskowitz’s charter-school efforts in Harlem—not, admittedly, in the Village.
Announcement: New report: School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era
This new report—co-authored
by AEI's Rick Hess and jointly published by the National School Boards
Association, the Iowa School Boards Foundation, and Fordham—analyzes survey
results from 900 school-board members and 120 superintendents. The findings are
interesting but also disconcerting. While board members are generally
focused on boosting student achievement, few consider initiatives like
charter schools and performance-based pay to be important in reaching that end.
Read the full
report (7 MB) or Education Week’s
summary for more. For the Fordham team's own (brief) interpretation of the
findings, see page 6 of the report itself.
Announcement: Education Next blows out ten candles
A decade since its
inception, Education Next continues
to provide insightful commentary, innovative ideas, and worthwhile analyses. In
true form, on the journal’s decennial anniversary, the editors (including Gadfly’s
pals, Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli) have released a set of papers debating the
school-reform movement’s victories and challenges. One side humbly relishes Pyrrhic victories.
The other attests that the movement is far from victorious.
Announcement: Mind does matter
If you have a plan to
transform public education and the entrepreneurial skills necessary to put this
idea into practice, then The Mind Trust wants you to join its growing ranks of
talented go-getters who are launching the next generation of education reform.
To apply for The Mind Trust’s Education Entrepreneur Fellowship, click here. To learn
more, visit The Mind Trust online.
Announcement: Want your own federal fiefdom? Apply today!
The USDOE charter
school programs (CSP) seeks a director to administer its grants programs and
manage technical assistance, evaluation, and
dissemination. To learn more on how you can get spearhead federal charter
policy, or to apply for the position, click here.
Announcement: Dream, believe, Achieve
Bright, energetic, and ambitious education
professionals: Step right up. Achieve is hiring for multiple positions—from
director to program associate—to staff the newly formed PARCC program, the
coalition of twenty-five states embarked on development of a new assessment
system aligned with the Common Core state standards. Those interested in
learning more, head here.
Announcement: Hey, hey, Cristo Rey!
If you’re a firm believer in the Cristo Rey
network of schools—which provides college-preparatory education to urban
Catholic students in twenty-four high schools across eighteen states—then check
out Cristo Rey: Columbus. This new school, set to open next year, is searching
for a president and CEO with strong administrative and leadership skills,
experience in PR and community relations, and a desire to lead the launch of
Columbus’s own Cristo Rey. Click here
to learn more.
Fordham's featured publication:
This study examines the system and rules of No
Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provisions. Fordham selected
thirty-six real schools in twenty-eight states that varied by size, achievement,
diversity, etc. and determined which of them would or would not make AYP when
evaluated under each other state's accountability rules. If a school that made
AYP in Washington were relocated to Wisconsin or Ohio, would that same school
make AYP in its new setting? Find out.