Education equality and fairness–topics near and dear to the hearts of most Occupy Princeton readers – gets a new spin in the article that appears below about teacher tenure reforms throughout the country. Writer and education activist Brianna Meiers presents both sides of this heated debate, and invites opinions and commentary from the masses. Brianna routinely writes for a website that hosts information on where people can find teaching programs, both on and offline.
Rising Costs and Budget Cuts in Schools Force Many to Reconsider Teacher Tenure
Though teacher tenure has been a fixture of the US educational system for over a century, political pressure from state and local governments has led to many schools reforming or outright abolishing the institution. Critics argue that becoming tenured often leads to incompetent teachers becoming complacent and can make the firing of incompetent teachers all but impossible. However, many believe the actions being taken in legislatures throughout the country are overly rash and may yet lead to negative long-term consequences.
In 1910, New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation, by granting fair-dismissal rights to college professors. During the Suffragist movement of the 1920s, a time when female teachers could be fired for getting married or becoming pregnant, these rights were extended to elementary and high school teachers as well. “These laws were passed in state after state to protect good teachers from arbitrary actions,” says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. While tenure for college professors frequently requires a record of published research and probationary periods of up to 10 years, grade school teachers can achieve tenure after only working for 2 years in some states. Yet, today, many of the academic freedoms these tenured teachers once enjoyed have been curtailed through strict No Child Left Behind testing requirements, and government workers looking to raise efficiency are anxious to strip away the freedoms of tenure even further.
Incidentally, much of the recent anti-tenure sentiment has cropped up in the very state where the practice began, in the form of legislation passed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that overhauls the state’s century-old tenure law. The bill, passed in June 2012 and proposed by the Democratically-controlled Legislature, requires teachers to work for four years, one of which must be under a mentor, and earn ratings of “effective or highly effective” in at least two years. Those that fail to earn high ratings for two consecutive years will automatically face revocation of tenure unless they display improvement. This is a marked change from the old law, which essentially guaranteed tenure for teachers after three years of work.
Proponents of the bill, like New Jersey superintendent Cami Anderson, argue that ending seniority rights will allow the schools to end millions of dollars in spending on unqualified teachers who are difficult to fire. However, there are many in education who criticize the recent anti-tenure sentiment. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, agrees that the tenure process could benefit from reform, but is skeptical of many of the new regulations being placed on teachers. Weingarten says school administrators “want teachers to basically do exactly what they say, give them no resources and then blame them if they don’t in a time of tremendous fiscal instability and fiscal pressures.”
The majority of US educators and administration officials agree that education reform is necessary to assure students meet the lofty
requirements of an increasingly global marketplace. Yet, meaningful reform can only be reached if teachers, administrators and students can agree on the measures being enacted. As fervor for education reform throughout the US leads to changes in tenure policy, it is important to remember that the most effective education can only take place in a positive and supportive environment. Only if teachers and students feel confident that administrators have their best interests in mind will the education in the US be able to reach its full potential.