Necessity, Invention and Education

Tenure is a word that one almost always associates with education. Why? Because teachers’ unions own the term. It has been with us now for about 100 years. Colorado is one of the latest states to look at the negatives of tenure and try to slim it down a bit:

Colorado is changing the rules for how teachers earn and keep the sweeping job protections known as tenure, long considered a political sacred cow around the country.

Many education reform advocates consider tenure to be one of the biggest obstacles to improving America’s schools because it makes removing mediocre or even incompetent teachers difficult. Teacher unions, meanwhile, have steadfastly defended tenure for decades.

Colorado’s legislature changed tenure rules despite opposition from the state’s largest teacher’s union, a longtime ally of majority Democrats. Gov. Bill Ritter, also a Democrat, signed the bill into law last month.

See? Even the governor has admitted that tenure is out of control. Then we have this from all the way at the end of the article:

Margaret Bobb, an earth science teacher at Denver’s East High School, said bad teachers are often quietly coached out of their jobs by administrators, avoiding the protracted tenure dismissal process. She contends tenure is still needed to prevent good teachers from being dismissed for running afoul of administrators and to prevent experienced — and more expensive — teachers from being let go by cash-strapped districts.

As a parent (if you are a parent) would you like “bad teachers” to be “quietly coached out of their jobs by administrators,” or would you like the bad teachers to be released before they have the opportunity to provide poor instruction during the months or years such coaching may take?

As far as letting experienced and expensive teachers go, in a unionized education system, the market does not set salaries and benefits–the collective bargaining of the union sets these.  So, the argument is that we need to pay teachers more than the market thinks they are worth, and then, when they are experienced and making more than the district can manage to afford despite raising taxes to pay the increased costs, we need tenure to keep the teachers on.

What happened to necessity being the mother of invention in the domain of education? Where is the apparently old-fashioned idea that failure can be a harsh but necessary teacher?

It’s been one hundred years since academic tenure was introduced. Perhaps it is time to see how much of today’s discussion regarding tenure is truly for the students and how much is for the unions.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tangled with teachers and lost after calling a special election to change tenure rules in 2005. The teachers’ union raised dues and amassed $50 million to fight the proposal.

You want to speak truth to power? Tell the teachers’ unions that they are killing the goose.