Teacher tenure policies are not the problem

Dana Goldstein said:

[Teacher tenure policies] aren’t the only, or even the primary, driver of the teacher-quality gap between … middle-class and low-income schools. The larger problem is that too few of the best teachers are willing to work long-term in the country’s most racially isolated and poorest neighborhoods. There are lots of reasons why, ranging from plain old racism and classism to the higher principal turnover that turns poor schools into chaotic workplaces that mature teachers avoid. The schools with the most poverty are also more likely to focus on standardized test prep, which teachers dislike. Plus, teachers tend to live in middle-class neighborhoods and may not want a long commute.

Educational equality is about more than teacher-seniority rules: It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers. To do that, those schools need excellent, stable principals who inspire confidence in great teachers. They need rich curricula that stimulate both adults and children. And ideally, their student bodies should be more socioeconomically integrated so schools are less overwhelmed by the social challenges of poverty. Of course, all that is a tall policy order; much more difficult, it turns out, than overturning tenure laws.

via http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/california-rules-teacher-tenure-laws-unconstitutional/372536

7 Responses to “Teacher tenure policies are not the problem”

  1. In Chicago, and maybe other cities as well, teachers are required to live in the city limits. Exceptions are made for positions that are hard to fill but for the most part, if you want to teach in Chicago, you have to live in Chicago.

  2. Great post. There is no magic bullet.

    On the other hand, I have to say I’ve been surprised at how much bald-faced changing of the subject I’ve seen in the various discussions of the Vergara ruling.

    All of the points made in this excerpt are well worth hearing, but that doesn’t reduce the legitimacy of the fact that tenure does create FAPE problems for low income students.

    If you’ve never worked in a high-poverty urban school, it can be tempting to dismiss Vergara as teacher-bashing, but if you’ve been surrounded by people who only still have their jobs because of tenure, the ruling rings very different bells.

    • And you think that the best and brightest are going to flock to low pay, difficult and emotionally draining jobs to be bashed for things that they have no control over now that they have less job security?!
      The alleged reasoning behind the Vegara decision was that poor and minority students were unfairly receiving lower quality teachers. Rather than do anything to fix the problem, the Judge made the situation worse. If you can construct a single, coherent sentence as to how this ruling could improve the quality of these children’s education, I would love to hear it.

    • I taught in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and am familiar with many other urban school districts’ seniority policies. I wonder if the ‘problem’ isn’t tenure per se but rather the collective bargaining agreements that are negotiated. Have many districts and teacher unions negotiated themselves out of needed flexibility?

      • Scott, the problem with “flexibility” is that it makes it very easy for the administration to game the system. If you allow a position to be cut or redefined, it is trivial for the administration to make a “last minute” change to get rid of a more qualified (and more expensive) teacher for less qualified (and/or better politically connected) ones. “It’s too late now, we’ll have to live with it” is a common game for many districts. Talk to anyone involved with a Teachers Union and they will tell you about the large number of attempts to violate the contracts that are made on a regular basis, and how much Unions spend in legal fees every year to uphold those contracts. Most members are unaware of how often the Unions are protecting them, their jobs, and working conditions unless they are directly involved, but trust me, it happens constantly.

  3. I know, Bill. There are lots of ways to ‘game’ the seniority and assignment systems and they’re used on both sides. One of my ‘favorites’ is the ‘we don’t need this position for a year so we’re going to get rid of you’ and then one year later ‘oh, look, we need this position again; you’re welcome to apply with all of the cheaper new teachers.’

    The complaints are legion on both sides of this issue. Rather than viewing these negative instances as indictments of one side or the other, can we view them instead as 1) symptoms of the overall dysfunction of existing systems and 2) indicators that we need to figure out – together – something different and better?

  4. Oh, I agree, but I’ve found paraphrasing Winston Churchill: Union contracts and collective bargaining are the worst type of employee-employer relationship, except for everything else that has been tried.
    The main problem is that the quality of education that all students receive is not the top priority of all those involved (and often does not appear to be a priority at all). The current wave of “reform” and privatizing being perfect examples of this.

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