Should Illnois Revamp Tenure? Yes.


States across the nation are thinking about reforms to teacher tenure according to this EdWeek article -- in most cases (except Florida) seeking to reform rather than abolish it.  Illinois isn't mentioned among them, and is in the middle of the pack in terms of the length of time it takes to get tenure.  Tenure is no protection against job cuts, either, making it a secondary consideration for teachers understandably worried about getting or keeping steady employment. Others will disagree, and it's not going to happen easily, but my view is that current tenure is outdated and alienating and that reforms will be an important part of moving schools -- and teaching -- forward.  What's your experience with tenure and your views on its strengths and weaknesses?


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  • Alexander,

    I'm curious about your comments. What is it about tenure that is outdated? How is tenure alienating and whom does it alienate? What is your understanding of tenure, anyway? It is not necessarily an obvious or simple answer. For instance, tenure here in Chicago can be a different thing than than in other school districts in Illinois or around the country.

  • I am a true believer in tenure. Given my experience in the system, it's the teachers who are most outspoken for the rights of students that many administrators will seek to purge first.

    If people have a problem with underperforming teachers, how about we free up the good administrators to do full evaluations and actually use the system we have?

  • In reply to xian:

    Xian is exactly right. The absence of tenure will result in compliance with authority at all costs, not better teaching and learning. Those who are the most fierce advocates for students, parents, and other teachers will be the first to go.

    Equally important is the fact that eliminating tenure gives principals control over teachers' professional and expert discretion. Professional autonomy - what to teach and how to teach it - should be left in the hands of educators, and those with whom they collaborate, who are directly connected to the students.

    The problem of poor teaching is a problem of leadership and administration, teacher training, and professional development, not a problem with tenure. Lackadaisical teachers are also not a problem with tenure. Again, that is a problem of leadership and administration. Principals in Chicago have the power and responsibility to assist and/or eliminate poor teachers. Tenure does not prevent that from happening.

    Most if not all problems people have with tenure are also symptoms of poor leadership. Rather than eliminate tenure it would be wiser and more productive to improve school based and district wide leadership.

    And for those confused on the matter tenure is *not* job protection. It is merely a process, mutually agreed upon by employer and employee, by which a poorly performing teacher may be dismissed. That's it.

    Efforts to eliminate tenure go hand in hand with efforts to eliminate collective bargaining and union representation, both of which, on a large scale, are potently and patently detrimental to teaching and learning.

  • Thank you for speaking out. Input from principals, both current and retired, is extremely important.

    The current CPS contract calls for the rights of tenure to be granted after 3 years of teaching. Most other districts require 4 years. Do you feel 3 or 4 years is enough time to adequately evaluate a teacher before making a decision on retention with tenure?

  • You are so wrong! As soon as teachers get tenure they start slacking off because they KNOW THEY CAN'T BE FIRED! A job for life and no incentive to work hard! And no way to get rid of the bums! Dining at the trough on the backs of the taxpayers!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Actually you're wrong. There is a way to get rid of the bums. It's a process mutually agreed on by the union and the administration. All the principal has to do is use the process. That's it.

    If the principal can't be bothered to go through the process to eliminate bad teachers, that would seem to say more about her capabilities and priorities than anything else.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    While it's been pointed out that tenure is only a due process right, it's important to remember that a process on paper may look different from the process as it is actually enacted. One report I've heard from administrators is that mid-level administrators and supervisors are reluctant to lay the groundwork necessary to terminate a teacher's employment. Many administrators rose from the teaching ranks, and there's a certain sense of empathy or loyalty to teachers. Socially, it's very difficult to be critical of a colleague or former colleague, and many educators don't want to upset their work relationships by becoming the "bad guy" once they're in a supervisory role.

    Still, since education is largely a public undertaking, tenure is important to protect teachers against the political will of whoever happens to be in power at the moment. If the Texas Board of Education can write Thomas Jefferson out of its history curriculum, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine a school board eliminating teachers who didn't follow the political/religious/philosophical leanings of the board's members. While the tenure system can be abused, teachers are vulnerable in ways that private sector employees aren't.

  • Your response is not unreasonable, but why not repair the reputation of the teaching profession by educating the public on the realities of tenure without having to give it up?

    Aren't the two principals you describe (one who fires everyone before tenure, one who fires everyone on staff) both abusive? Why would any teachers, parents, or students support a principal in either case? That just isn't a problem with tenure - that's administrative incompetence.

    I'm glad you don't hear complaints about principal abuse, but I hear constant complaints from teachers I know at Chicago's public/private charter schools with no tenure systems in place. (Noble is the only charter network in the city I'm familiar with that gets largely positive responses from their teachers.) I've also heard complaints from teachers in the reconstructed New Orleans system which has no tenure. Their top administrator, Paul Vallas, admits that massive teacher turnover is not a problem, and, in fact, is desirable because a) the youthful exuberance and enthusiasm of new, young teachers makes up for any lack in wisdom, classroom management, and experience, b) it keeps salary costs down, and c) new teachers are, in his own words, a cheap "renewable resource".

    What concessions would the CPS, mayor, and legislature make in exchange for tenure, anyway? Higher salaries like in D.C.? There's no money for it. Increased pension contributions? Obviously no money. Lower class sizes? No money and it's not on the bargaining table in CPS anyway. Better professional development? Forgive my negativy but everything CPS bureaucracy touches turns to crap. A new evaluation system? Arne and Co. are pushing for higher stakes testing as teacher assessment. Merit pay? Again, no money, and again, based on high stakes test scores. Daily preps for elementary teachers? No money. Increased extracurriculars led by teachers? No money.

    I'm sure there's something out there we could get in exchange for tenure, but I'd rather do my best to give the citizenry a clue about the importance of tenure and how it benefits teachers and students.

  • Forgive my cynicism, but perhaps you haven't worked for a nutjob principal. There are enough wackos in CPS that elimination of tenure would be highly problematic.

    I am open to changes in the tenure system, however. For instance, I am in favor of increasing the time it takes to receive tenure from 3 years back to 4 or up to 5 or even 6. But elimination of it? It's just not practical in such a massive, bureaucratic system overrun by incompetent administrators and poor, manipulative leadership.

  • Ah yes, good hardworking teachers have nothing to fear from giving up tenure...except when they do. There's an attitude in this country that we've moved beyond the job protections that so many people have fought for and it takes something like Massey Energy's mine disaster to remind them.

    I went to Catholic School and I was lucky enough to have a very gifted social studies teacher for 7th and 8th grade. She was probably the guiding force behind me becoming a social studies teacher and many politicians and college history professors looked at her the same way. Unfortunately, she was friends with the runner up in a tightly contested principal selection. The new principal couldn't get rid of the person who was her rival for principal so she got rid of the social studies teacher instead. She was fired over the intercom in front of her entire class. Angry school board meetings and a month of angry protests by former students did no good, though eventually a lawyer did.

    My first job was in the suburbs where I was let go because the assistant principal at my school had a best friend at another school in the district and my spot was the only one he was qualified for.

    I've seen teachers let go for getting pregnant (yeah I know that's illegal, but we were cutting staff), for filing too many union grievances when they were union rep and the multi-track teachers went 5 months with pay problems, and simply because a principal didn't like them.

    We've seen parental politics at work at schools like Prescott this year. Heaven help the teacher that fails the child of an influential LSC member. Tenure allows teachers to grade the children of influential parents fairly.

    One of the previous posters mentioned, "Regardless of the fact that tenure is just "due process," the public has a perception that tenure gives teachers jobs for life. Right or wrong, this perception is out there and it damages our reputation as professionals."

    In this world where so many of our education decisions as a country are made by people with no educational background opperating under misperceptions, I think we should be working to educat the public rather than cave into their base fears. I have also rarely seen capitulation lead to respect.

    Joe from CORE

  • tenure and evaluation are different but related issues, and so i thought you might want to see this post about a new 100-school pilot to revamp evaluation in Chicago

    as many have noted, improving evaluation would lower the pressure to change or gut tenure protections.

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