Teachers must be judged on merit

Here's a provocative discussion of teacher tenure: http://teachertenure.procon.org.

North Carolina recently pushed through controversial legislation to revoke lifetime tenure for teachers in public schools. By doing so, that state has increased the incentives for teacher performance, and it has reinforced the crazy notion that teachers need to be good at their jobs in order to keep them. While the origins of tenure come from educators at the collegiate level who needed protection when teaching contentious ideas, through unions, it has come to be applied to primary and secondary school teachers. In Nevada, the word “tenure” is not explicitly used, but the condition of protecting teachers who have seniority and have passed evaluations from firing still exists.

My parents were both teachers in Clark County for much of my childhood. They taught at both middle and high school levels and were well-respected by their colleagues and students. But for just as many dedicated and effective teachers who live in Nevada, there are those who don’t care. Currently, Nevada’s school system adheres to a policy under which they are less likely to fire teachers for poor performance when they have what is tantamount to tenure. Instead, relatively new teachers have a higher probability of being laid off, even if they are better educators. The levels of bureaucracy that go along with such programs as well as the stranglehold of teachers’ unions have long held back the quality of education.

Teaching has always been considered one of the most difficult jobs in the public sector. Maintaining control over dozens of energetic young bodies at a time, doling out discipline, educating the next generation of citizens and doing it all on a shoestring budget for little pay is not a job that many would commit to. Sure, the summer and winter breaks are great perks, but much of that time is spent in preparation for and recuperation from the stress of the school year. It’s not hard to see why teachers might become disillusioned or try to be promoted to an administrative level. Going through the public school system myself, I saw my fair share of teachers who had either lost their inspiration to teach or had chosen teaching as a profession because they knew they could get what amounted to tenure with minimal effort. On the other hand, I had the pleasure of being taught by many competent, intelligent teachers as well who dedicated many hours to after-school help and made learning fun.

This ostensible tenure ultimately weakens the quality of a school overall because administrators can’t appropriately fire, hire and reward teachers. In fact, it seems like the only way to really get rid of a teacher is for outrageous or illegal behavior. Education has always been a highly regulated industry where the protection and growth of children is the number one priority. The problem is that the lack of ability to fire poorly performing teachers is actually a detriment to the educational system. Every other business has the willingness and capability to remove ineffective staff, but schools seemingly operate under special rules.

The aggressive nature of teachers’ unions and perceived tenure make the profession of teaching seem sacrosanct. But in reality, if quality education is the end goal, teachers can’t be given special treatment when it comes to employment protection. Good teachers needn’t be worried by such measures, whereas mediocre and bad teachers would have to improve their push for student success. Granted, a lot of student success depends on parental involvement and individual ambition, but good teachers are easy to spot by their actions. Tenure for teachers takes away the incentives for high performance and rewards bare minimum effort. If we really care about the quality of education, it will be up to Nevada voters to push for the removal of preferential treatment for “tenured” teachers so that balance is restored.