Tenure is not a job for life!

At least a few times a month someone who is outside of education will utter — “if only you educators would run schools like a business we would see better results.”  The subtle message is clear — business does everything better — including educating children and if it was a business those teachers would fear for there jobs and perform better …. Most of the time I can keep my cool — but sometimes a volcano erupts and I challenge this erroneous notion.

The anger is certainly justified…for teachers and administrators its just another example of someone suggesting the corporate “fat cats” can “fix” education better than politicians and way better than educators.  I really don’t understand our fascination and mythology around the idea that “business” just operates better than any other institution.  Little or no evidence suggest this is true — in fact, one could make an argument that all of our economic woes of the last century can be attributed to colossal failures of business.

So here is the theory of the corporate reformers in a nutshell.

Boards and superintendents should have wide latitude to only keep those teachers “they” think are effective — usually measured by standardized test scores — that we know have nothing to do with teacher performance.  They believe if you fire all the bad teachers educational performance will improve. They believe this lack of job security will increase the overall performance of teachers. They view tenure as one of the main obstacles to improving schools and student performance.

This assumption has three main premises:

1.  We have lots of rotten teachers in public schools;

2.  They cannot be fired because of tenure laws; and

3.  We need corporate fat cats to fix it.

WOW.  That is so outrageous where do we begin.  It is true teachers have a great impact on students and they do matter– that is clear in the research.   But in my experience, we do not have large numbers of rotten teachers.  Teachers by and large want to do the very best job they can do — and — teaching as a profession is more of a calling than a job.  I see teachers who work tirelessly with kids who many would deem hopeless.  I know many of them work late in the evening, on weekends, without compensation,  grading papers and preparing lessons.  And yes many of them do work in the summer — sometimes teaching summer school, taking additional coursework, and many of them are working second jobs to supplement their income — because none of them went into teaching for the money.  They work hard at the craft and art of teaching.  Teaching is a complex process that cannot be scripted nor reduced to a recipe. Teaching comes from the heart and our very best teachers have passion and empathy for the kids they work with every day.

Do we have teachers that should not be teaching — yes — and in my experience if you do your due diligence as a principal or superintendent you can counsel that teacher out of the profession or terminate their employment.  Tenure or no tenure.

Tenure is not a guaranteed job for life — contrary to popular belief.   Essentially tenure is just another word for due process.  Tenure gives teachers the right to be given notice of deficiencies, reasons for the action and given the opportunity to improve.  That is tenure — not a job for life and certainly not immunity from poor performance.   Click here for a synopsis of all 50 states tenure laws.  http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/94/93/9493.pdf

Tenure has become a demonized word used as a rallying cry by reformers to remove basic protections from teachers and administrators that protect them from arbitrary and capricious actions.

The last off the mark point of the corporate reformers is this notion that business can save education, we just have to let the Bill Gates of the world make the needed changes and poof fixed.  This reminds me of the short-lived cult obsession with other fat cats like Lee Iaccoca.  Not that long ago we had tomes written about Mr. Iaccoca and his transformation of the struggling auto industry in the 1980’s.  We even talked about Lee running for President.  We routinely elevate these individuals to almost rock-star status believing that because they run a business and made lots of money — they must know better than the rest of us how to run things like governments or schools.  Remember when the great Michael Jordan decided he wanted to play major league baseball?  Most of these CEO’s are great at running their companies but would be schooled if they tried to run another industry.  Different rules, different set of skills and different culture.

We need to ask ourselves “why” the business community is so enamored with the business of schools?  We need to ask ourselves “why” that same business community would want to remove basic protections for teachers and administrators? I question the motives of that business community and doubt it has the best interest of kids at heart.  If we want to reform education lets just for once let the people who work in that industry day in and day out give it try instead of the politicians and rock-star CEO’s.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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