Home > Family, High Schools, Parenting, Public Education, Teacher Unions, Teachers, Uncategorized > Education in Crisis; Teachers and Tenure, Part 4

Education in Crisis; Teachers and Tenure, Part 4

Definition of Tenure:

A system of due process and employment guarantees for teachers. After serving a two-year probationary period, teachers are assured continued employment in the school district unless carefully defined procedures for dismissal or layoff are successfully followed.

As initially conceived, academic tenure guarantees the right to academic freedom. It protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics. Thus, academic tenure is similar to the lifetime tenure that protects some judges from external pressure. The intent of tenure was to encourage original ideas to be expressed by giving scholars the intellectual autonomy to investigate the problems and solutions about which they are most passionate, and to report their honest conclusions. Originally this was a good idea.

Tenure Today: Jennifer DeFoor, a 35 year old 2nd grade teacher, sexually abused a 14 year old female student and had sex with her 18 year old brother in front of her. She was convicted but still remains on the Alabama school payroll because it could take up to six months or more to remove her. State law requires tenured teachers to go through a dismissal process whose legal costs are formidable if not followed exactly.

Last year the Los Angeles Times ran a series documenting the unwillingness of the education bureaucracy to fire bad teachers. There was the teacher who told a student who tried to commit suicide to “carve more deeply the next time”, and another who kept pornography and cocaine at school. Both are still teaching. And then there is the notorious New York “rubber room” where teachers waiting for legal action to be completed sit with full pay and no teaching responsibilities, some for several years. They collect pay and do nothing.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Lawrence Township schools quietly laid off, with generous cash settlements and confidential agreements, a teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student; another accused of kissing a high school student, and another with a 20 year history of complaints of injuring and harassing students, including a 1992 rape allegation. When the story ran last summer these teachers still held active teaching licenses.

In New York City in 2008, three out of 30,000 tenured teachers were dismissed for cause. The statistics are just as grim nationwide; 0.01% in Chicago, 0% in Akron, Ohio, 0% in Denver, 0.01% in Toledo. In no other socially significant profession are workers so insulated from accountability. Year after year 90% of teachers are rated as “satisfactory” by their principals because firing a teacher invites a costly court battle waged by the teacher unions.  (Newsweek, March 6, 2010)

What is so disturbing, setting aside the sensationalism generated by some teachers, is the immunity enjoyed by thousands of teachers who let their students down in more ordinary ways. Their mantra is; it’s the Parents or absence of Parents, it’s society with its distractions and pathologies, it’s the kids. So they keep the assembly line flowing with “social promotion”, regardless of academic performance. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says, “By 1992 there was such a dramatic achievement gap in the United States, far larger than in other countries, between socioeconomic classes and races. It was a scandal of monumental proportions, that there were two distinct school systems in the U.S., one for the middle class and one for the poor.”  The decline in American education is embarrassing and has put our nation at risk. There was a time when American students tested better than other students in the world. Now we do as well as Lithuania. (Newsweek, March 6, 2010)

Nothing is more important than hiring good teachers and firing bad ones. Teaching in public schools has not attracted the best and the brightest. It is said that men and women enter education because they can’t make it in any other profession. McKinsey & Co., the management consulting firm, reported that most school teachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high school students. Finland takes the top 10%. Newsweek, March 6, 2010

But what makes a good teacher? Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat, “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching”. Gates said, “I am personally very curious.”

I am too!

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