Teacher tenure in the United States has been a prominent topic since the first conference of the National Educators Association in 1887. It was implemented in each state throughout the 1900s to protect public schoolteachers from being fired for unfair reasons such as getting married, having a baby or even wearing pants to work. Teacher tenure greatly helped female teachers in the twentieth century, assuring they couldn’t be fired for personal reasons having nothing to do with their job performance. Tenure’s initial purpose of job security makes it exceedingly difficult to fire incompetent or problematic teachers today.
Alabama’s state legislature is currently trying to do away with teacher tenure with the Rewarding Achievement in Instruction and Student Excellence (RAISE) Act of 2016. The RAISE Act proposes that teachers’ job security and pay be based on their job performance rather than their tenure status. The goal of the bill is to hold teachers accountable for their students’ results.
Tenure has made it so difficult to fire problematic teachers that until 2010, the New York City Department of Education dealt with these teachers by moving them to reassignment centers, nicknamed “Rubber Rooms”, where the teachers would sit in an empty room and do nothing for the same hours as if they were working. These teachers were fully paid to do absolutely no work and couldn’t be fired because of their tenure, even if they had been accused of hitting or molesting a student, as some of these teachers were. Tenure made it so long and expensive of a process to fire these teachers that these reassignment centers were seen as the better option. It wasn’t until a documentary about these centers called “The Rubber Room” that the practice was brought up as a budgetary concern for New York City, costing over $65 million dollars a year. It was then disbanded, dispersing more that 600 incompetent teachers back into New York City classrooms.
The retention of bad teachers with tenure is a problem nationwide, including in California. California tenure laws allow teachers to receive tenure after two years, and protect teachers from being fired without substantial evidence against them, such as multiple unsatisfactory reviews. Firing incompetent teachers proves to be a very long and expensive process that school districts often don’t have the money to pay for.
In California, teachers can gain tenure after two years of working at a school, which is a much shorter time span than many other states. This is done through either the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) or Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA), a program co-sponsored by the CTC and the California Department of Education. The first two years are probationary and the teacher can be fired at any time for any reason. Once it’s decided for the teacher to return the third year and they have completed BTSA, they are granted tenure.
Tenure is essentially a synonym for job security. Once a teacher has tenure, firing them requires a case built against them proving they have repeatedly shown job performance issues that fall under at least one of the eleven different vague categories in CA Education Code 44932. This means the district needs to prove that a teacher’s behavior is immoral, unsatisfactory or unprofessional, which are all terms that can be very subjective when it comes to legality. This helps protect teachers from being fired for personal reasons, but it also means it can take years and a lot of money in legal fees to actually pull an ineffective teacher from the classroom. With today’s school districts almost always trying to manage a tight budget, it makes more sense financially to keep a problematic teacher in the classroom than to spend the money to try and get them out.
Tenure laws require districts to go through a long and expensive process to dismiss an ineffective teacher, causing the education system, and more importantly the students, to suffer. With ineffective teachers, students don’t learn and aren’t prepared to move forward with their education. Relying more heavily on performance to decide tenure, reconsidering permanent tenure or replacing tenure with incentive programs could help remove ineffective teachers from public schools and improve the quality of the public education system.