Targeting Teacher Tenure

˙ PREAL Blog

Many politicians in the US are now taking steps to reform or eliminate teacher tenure in public education. These efforts are significant because tenure, a sacred topic for teachers’ unions, has not previously been seriously challenged. Recent efforts have been stimulated in part by President Obama’s repeated calls to measure and reward effective teaching.

Republican governors in at least five US states, as well as the mayor of New York City, have called for tenure reform or eradication, which some have tied to the state-level budget crises. Complaints about tenure have focused on the difficulties involved in removing bad or incompetent teachers. The teachers unions have responded that “if the biggest problem, as some of these critics say, is that we have too many incompetent teachers and it needs to be easier to fire them, I would suggest their hiring and evaluation system is broken.”

While no one argues that most teachers are incompetent, even a small percentage of poor performers can harm many students, particularly those from poor families. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek suggests that if the lowest-performing 6-10% of teachers were replaced by just average teachers, “student achievement levels in the United States could move from below average in comparison with other countries to near the top.”

Most notably, debate on the topic has grown increasingly substantive and apolitical; many states seek to base teacher layoffs – as well as salary increases and bonuses – on rigorous evaluations of job performance rather than just on seniority. “There’s a willingness to confront these issues that has never before been in play,” Michelle Rhee notes in the below Time piece, citing well-known Democratic politicians who have also taken on the cause of tenure reform.

Below are links to several articles which cover this growing trend in the US: